American Woodworker

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Winter 2013-2014

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Toy Story


Toy Story

Virginia students build 1000 toy trucks for charity.

By Paul Steiner

I teach construction technology at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia. I love woodworking, and working with wood is a large part of the construction industry, so I’ve tried to integrate woodworking into my classes whenever possible. The perfect opportunity came last fall when I developed a community service project that required some production woodworking.


The Project

The goal was to teach students how to safely use several woodworking machines while learning about the industrial revolution and assembly line production. The plan was to build 1000 toy trucks to donate as Christmas gifts to the US Marine Corps’ “Toys for Tots” program. I chose 1,000 trucks because the number was big enough to capture my students’ attention.

Designing a toy that could be produced in a classroom assembly line—using different machines for each operation—was a major challenge. I decided on a tanker truck because it was an action toy with a simple design.

Tech. Ed. teacher Tim Zich volunteered his engineering classes to help with the design (Fig. A, page 24). While drawing up plans for the truck using CAD (computer aided design), they discovered that mitering its rear end would cut production time and decrease waste. They also helped design jigs and even solicited vendors to get the best prices on wheels. Including the engineering students was critical to the project’s success and almost doubled the number of students that participated.

The truck bodies were made from 1-1/2-in.-thick lumber ripped to 2-1/8 in. widths. We used recycled dimensional lumber and leftover hardwood from previous projects to reduce costs. The wheels (which came with wooden axle pins) and 1-1/4-in.-dia. dowels had to be purchased.


The assembly line process

1. Cut the truck bodies to length on the miter saw, with the blade angled 12 degrees.

2. Establish the cab’s back by cutting a 12-degreeangled slot on the tablesaw, using a miter gaugebased jig to hold the truck body in position.

3. Create the truck bed on the bandsaw, by using the fence and making a stopped cut.

4. Use a template to mark the window and axle locations on the truck body. 5. Drill window and axle holes on one drill press.

6. Counterbore the windows on a second drill press.

7. Cut tank body dowels to length on the miter saw.

8. Belt sand the bottom of each dowel flat.

9. Miter one end of each dowel on the bandsaw.

10. Sand the parts.

11. Glue the tanks on the trucks.

12. Install the pin axles and wheels.

13. Apply mineral oil finish.

14. Package the trucks for delivery.



The first day of production was devoted to teaching. I demonstrated every step in the process and trained each student to use every machine. We also discussed the importance of quality control and ontime delivery of parts. Then students rotated through machine operation, assembly, quality control and transportation assignments. Cardboard boxes would keep parts and assembled trucks organized. That first day, my five classes produced only 21 trucks. Daily production numbers kept rising, and by the seventh day of production, we reached our goal. Students made about 125 additional trucks to sell for future fundraising. Then we shifted to finishing the trucks.

As a finish, each truck received a coat of mineral oil. Students were aware of recent news stories about toys with lead paint and wanted to make sure the finish on our trucks was safe. Mineral oil can be found at any drugstore.

Setting the trucks out to dry was a real eye-opener: What do 1000 trucks look like? How many benches will they cover? Seeing all the trucks helped my students realize the magnitude of what they had accomplished.



After the toys were delivered, the Marine commander presented a Marine Corps Toys for Tots 2007 coin as thanks to all who participated. The coin now sits on display in the window of my office with photos from the days of production. Students admire the coin and the pictures on a daily basis.

Allow plenty of time if you decide to pursue a “Toys for Tots” project with your woodshop class, as a key element is delivering the toys to the Marines on time. Donation stations and due dates for toy delivery in your area can be found on the Toys-for-Tots website, Follow the links “Contact Us” and “Donate Toys” to get in touch with your local Campaign Coordinator to discuss the details of your project.


Tell us about a dynamic woodworking school or vibrant teaching program. What makes it work? Point out notable teaching strategies and student accomplishments.
Explain how the program excites students about woodworking and tell us how it helps them develop woodworking skills. Whether the program operates in a public school, community center or a private workshop, we want to hear about its success. E-mail your story to

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2008, issue #137.

September 2008, issue #137

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As part of the project, students learned how to safely operate several woodworking machines.

Forest Park H.S. engineering students used CAD programs to design the trucks.

Students used assembly line production methods to build the trucks. Here, Brandon Crawford prepares to drill window and axle holes in the truck body after Corbin DiMeglio uses a template to mark the drilling locations.

Five construction technology classes (about 100 students) manufactured all the parts and assembled all the trucks in seven days.

"No rough edges and no splinters for the little kids,” explains Cameron Vigliano (center) as he sands. “Make sure they're safe." Luis Almendarez (right) adds, "This is an experience that we will never forget."

Students applied mineral oil as a non-toxic finish for the toys.

In the military, commemorative coins are given as thanks for a job well done. The Marine Corps presented this coin to construction technology and engineering students at Forest Park High School for their “Toys for Tots” donation.