Steam­punk toys


The Shed - - Contents - By Coen Smit Photograph­s: Coen Smit

Coen uses a vivid imag­i­na­tion to cre­ate some ex­tra­or­di­nary toys

Asteam­punk toy (for want of a bet­ter term) com­bines two pas­sions of mine. First, I love mak­ing things that are a bit dif­fer­ent, even a bit quirky. Some­thing that stands out from the run of the mill stuff that you buy at the shops. Sec­ond, I en­joy the chal­lenge of bring­ing to­gether bits and pieces to make seem­ingly dis­parate ob­jects into a semi­plau­si­ble whole toy. Steam­punk toys give me the op­por­tu­nity to do both.

I built the race car pic­tured here us­ing a va­ri­ety of odds and ends. The en­gine came from an old air com­pres­sor, the wheels were turned out of wooden shelv­ing, des­tined to be burnt, and were com­bined with a set of stain­less discs that pre­vi­ously helped to sup­port a net­work of shade cloths over a court­yard. The head­lights were made from a cou­ple of egg fry­ers and lit­tle brass taps, while the ex­haust was res­cued from a kitchen tap shroud and the ra­di­a­tor had a past life as a heat sink in a com­puter.

More than a toy

My sec­ond steam­punk toy, the con­struc­tion of which I de­tail in this ar­ti­cle, is an ar­tic­u­lated three-wheeler, again built from odds and ends, in­clud­ing some alu­minium off-cuts and bits of box sec­tion. Stick­ing to my mantra that these things should have some prac­ti­cal use when pos­si­ble, the three-wheeler can also do duty as a light for a side ta­ble or cab­i­net.

My inspiratio­n for these toys gen­er­ally starts with a cen­tral com­po­nent or two, around which the rest of the toy is fash­ioned. Once I have de­cided on these crit­i­cal com­po­nents, I then search for other bits and pieces that will add to the over­all look of the fin­ished toy.

For the race car it was the old com­pres­sor hous­ing and the stain­less discs, while for the three-wheeler it was the valve cover from an old mo­tor­cy­cle en­gine, which forms the cen­tral el­e­ment. As for the race car, I built the wheels for the trike out of Tas­ma­nian oak sal­vaged from tim­ber shelv­ing and in­cor­po­rated the discs of dis­carded com­puter hard drives as hubs. Their chrome fin­ish im­parts in­stant bling. (In­ci­den­tally, each

I love mak­ing things that are a bit dif­fer­ent, even a bit quirky

hard drive has two small-but-pow­er­ful mag­nets on plates that are per­fect for screw­ing to your shed wall to hold those small tools you al­ways seem to mis­place when you’re work­ing.)

BMW do­na­tions

The head of the en­gine be­came the valve cover mounted on a tim­ber en­gine block. The tail above the rear wheel is from an air-in­take man­i­fold and a left­over hous­ing from a door lock that hap­pened to fit per­fectly in­side it. Some plas­tic and rub­ber parts were do­nated from a dis­man­tled BMW car. The novel steer­ing wheel was also made from a cou­ple of the dis­carded com­puter hard drives.

Turn­ing the wheels was the first or­der of busi­ness as their size de­ter­mined the over­all scale of the fin­ished toy. I did this by cut­ting out six rough tim­ber cir­cles on my small band­saw and glu­ing them to­gether in pairs. I then turned them down on my metal lathe to get a uni­form size and re­cessed their cen­tres to ac­com­mo­date the axles and the com­put­er­hard-drive discs as hub caps. A can of flat black spray paint ap­plied to the wooden wheels gives an ac­cept­able ap­prox­i­ma­tion of rub­ber tyres.

The next step in­volved cre­at­ing a sim­ple T-bone chas­sis with a pivot in the mid­dle made from two short sec­tions of steel pipe (see the ac­com­pa­ny­ing di­a­gram).

I clad the chas­sis by shap­ing off-cuts of alu­minium sheet us­ing an old guil­lo­tine and my home­made sheet bender. An in­verted U-shaped sec­tion con­nects the rear wheel to the chas­sis. Hav­ing con­structed the ba­sic de­sign I could then move on to the best part of the project — bring­ing the var­i­ous bits to­gether to make the toy look plau­si­ble.

Fit­ting the light

First, I con­structed the rear mud­guard and mounted the tail­piece on it. The air­in­take el­bow was ex­actly the right size to hold the chrome lock hous­ing, be­hind which I sit­u­ated a 12V halo­gen down­light. I wired that to a switch hid­den in one of the rub­ber arms ei­ther side of the swivel and lo­cated a small speaker jack un­der the chas­sis so that the 12V transforme­r could be lo­cated dis­creetly some dis­tance from the trike, or not used at all.

I un­earthed an old rub­ber trailer lamp as­sem­bly the ex­act size to house the deeply con­vex lens from one of the BMW’s bro­ken head­lights. To hide the 12V halo­gen light, I used the sec­ond chrome lock hous­ing and re­cessed it into the front of the en­gine block to hold it in the cor­rect place against the rub­ber trailer lamp. By not glu­ing these pieces to­gether, if ei­ther light hap­pens to fail in the fu­ture, it can be re­placed.

Once the ba­sic en­gine block was formed it needed to be made a bit more be­liev­able by adding an ex­haust stack on the left­hand side and by drilling out and in­sert­ing three So­das­tream car­tridges on the right. Af­ter a few coats of cop­per-coloured spray paint were ap­plied it was time to mount the block and at­tach the parts, fin­ish­ing it off by mount­ing the valve cover on top of an alu­minium plate. To add a touch of dif­fer­ence, I sourced some stain­less

Hav­ing con­structed the ba­sic de­sign I could then move on to the best part of the project — bring­ing the var­i­ous bits to­gether to make the toy look plau­si­ble

se­cu­rity screws to lock the plate and valve cover down.

Body­work and seat­ing

Fash­ion­ing the two front mud­guards was largely ac­com­plished by trial and er­ror to en­sure that the bend for each was uni­form and that they matched the rest of the toy in size and shape.

To com­plete the trike I used an old fan blade and bent up a sec­tion of alu­minium to act as a seat, rem­i­nis­cent of the style found on old mo­tor­bikes. Fi­nally I fash­ioned the steer­ing arm by tap­ping a thread on both ends and screw­ing it into the valve cover, then fix­ing the two hard­drive arms to form the steer­ing wheel on the other.

The cost of cre­at­ing the trike was min­i­mal, some­where less than $25 for the lights and as­so­ci­ated transforme­r as well as some stain­less se­cu­rity screws. The rest came from sal­vage­able items. Of course this ig­nores the cost in time the project in­curred (some­where around 20 hours, I’d guess), but what shed­die ever counts this as a cost? We do it be­cause we en­joy it and we can’t put a price on that!

Purists will quickly re­al­ize that nei­ther of the toys could ever be suc­cess­fully cre­ated as a life-size work­ing ve­hi­cle. How­ever, that has never been my in­ten­tion in cre­at­ing them. I be­lieve that they should be ap­pre­ci­ated for what they are: fig­ments of imag­i­na­tion akin to the fan­ci­ful ma­chines that artists cre­ate to il­lus­trate pulp sci­ence-fic­tion sto­ries.

They should be ap­pre­ci­ated for what they are: fig­ments of imag­i­na­tion

A steam­punk race car rem­i­nis­cent of the grand old sports cars of the pre–World War I era, when util­i­tar­ian de­signs based around four wheels and an en­gine with a nod to ac­com­mo­dat­ing the driver, were the norm

The rolling chas­sis un­der con­struc­tion

The en­gine block tak­ing shape

Front of the trike

Above: Close up of the front end Right: True­ing the wooden wheels for the toy

The essence of a steam­punk ve­hi­cle, com­bin­ing old, tested de­sign fea­tures with flights of fancy to cre­ate a unique ve­hi­cle

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