Another wire frame and tissue owl. Waterproofed with outdoor varnish.
One of my model testers, Laura painted a narrowboat model for me, entirely her choice of design. The name chosen may be appropriate as sales of my range of models – 17 different boats and aircraft – are almost non-existent.
A simple frame of florist’s wire – galvanised is best – covered with wet strength tissue, using pva, could use starch paste but then not at all waterproof. This owl is hanging in my cherry tree and hopefully deterring cats from my little garden.
Some of the world’s largest ships are those which lift other ships, rigs and cargo, the largest of these is the Thailf, a Norwegian monster used to build and dismantle oil rigs. Working on the rather smaller scale of 20 or so centimeters I have made a model kit Crane Ship which will soon be sale at Miller Toys and Models. My kits should be challenging for a six or seven year old – they might need a little help – have great play value and provide a sense of achievement when complete. Using 3mm laser grade birch ply means that the models can be robust enough to stand up to repeated play.
The simple mechanisms help demonstrate how mechanical systems work and provide pleasurable toys. The kit is supplied with a grab bucket (not shown) as well as a hook. All my kits may be painted with acrylic paints, not supplied but widely available.
I’m still looking for varities of ships and boats to make into model kits. The dredger seemed interesting so I started with a basic hull, a shape I’ve now used many times and then added the dredger structure. The rotation was simply and the winch I’ve used before seemed to work but getting the bucket and the bucket arm to stay in place proved more difficult.
Above all I want the kit to be easy to assemble for a six year old and so any mechanism has to be as simple as possible. The kit also needs to fit onto four A5 sheets of 3mm plywood. Play value is also essential, my young testers check out this and other aspects of the design, especially it’s durability!
After some false starts I have used a living hinge and a cog arrangement on the bucket arm to rotate the bucket. The arm itself is also rotated with a similar cog winch but is held by a gravity pawl, giving just enough resistance.
This model will soon be available from Miller Toys and Models for just £18, 42 parts of press-out 3mm plywood, pva glue and string included.
This is a style not usually associated with children’s toys or models, but my young testers were interested in my initial attempts so I have tried creating some construction toys in the genre, in 3mm laser-cut plywood.
Steampunk is sometimes described as retrofuturistic, a sub-genre of science fiction. It roots are in the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson, Bruce Willis and others, mixed with the gothic and scientific romance of Mary Shelly (Frankenstein), Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) as well as more recent authors such as Michael Moorcock.
Visually, the American steam locomotives and steamboats had an impact on some TV designers in the 1960s, and the artist Remedios Varo produced work that examined machinery and artefacts. But literary influences defined the genre in the west, while in Japan the manga comics were creating steampunk imagery from the 1940s onward, long before the term steampunk began to be used.
The steam engine itself provides many of the most popular images, heavy iron, riveted plating, brass pipework, dials, valves, levers and obscure machinery. This is often combined, anachronistically with the imagery of the airship, a device which was thought to be the future of air transport at the beginning of the 20th Century. The games industry has created many of the most familiar images, with a wide range of styles in games such as Rise of Legends, Final Fantasy VI, The Chaos Engine et al.
No one ever powered a flying machine with a steam engine and it seems unlikely that anyone ever will, but it can be fun to imagine doing so. There are very few steampunk aeroplane drawings or models which look as if they might fly, those that do tend to be ‘diesel punk’ which allows for similar solidity and style but with far more apparent power.
There are some interesting steampunk helicopter designs on the web but as with the aeroplane designs many tend to use the gas bag or the jet engine to overcome the obvious visual discrepancies with apparent weight. Adding weapons is popular but is still more visual weight and it’s not something I would do.
Plywood is not the most obvious material to use when trying to use the steampunk style, but the designer in me wants to rise to the challenge. I try to avoid the most cliched elements in my own steampunk designs – not always successfully – and to combine easy of assembly with good play value and hopefully something to attract children of all ages. I can’t get much cutting done at present due to the Corvid 19 lockdown but hopefully this will ease soon. My web site – Miller Toys and Models – will have new models as soon as possible.
30cm Greek Ship construction toy
This construction toy is the largest I currently make and the only one I design and make that isn’t entirely 3mm plywood, in this case the sides are 1.5mm thick.
High grade birch plywood gets more expensive as it gets thinner, a reflection of the manufacturing costs and the much smaller demand. This model has a working winch/anchor and is supplied with pva glue although this is not essential. I try to design models which are a good introduction to model-making and have some play value. All the models can be painted, acrylic is best and available from many low-cost shops.
Suitable for girls and boys over 3 years. On sale at Miller Toys and Models. There are 10 models to choose from and as the Corvid lockdown eases I’m hoping to add at least six more, manufacturing is not possible at the moment.
Miller Toys and Models
My new website – Miller Toys and Models – is up and running – thank you Bristol Web Design – and during the lockdown I have designed a further seven plywood models plus two variations and two steampunk(ish) models. But I haven’t been able to cut any of these because if my cutters at Basically Wooden are working they are working on protective equipment, not toys.
Of course until I cut and assemble the prototypes I can’t go any further. There are always some errors in the design, no matter how much I check them on screen or make them in construction board. Construction board is soft and bends easily of course and so model parts can appear to fit when in fact they don’t.
On a positive note CATO Press in Easton, Bristol is reopening soon and I will be able to do some print making. Time to get some collagraph plates ready.
Models and printing
I’ve been working on several new models and now that we have lockdown for the foreseable future – in the UK anyway – I’m spending even more time on these. I’m lucky enough to have a (dry) studio at home. But the laser cutting at Basically Wooden in lovely Devon has stopped for now.
Cato Press (of which I am a member) is closed but some plate making can be done at home, especially for collagraph which only needs card and paste, at it’s most basic. Great examples at the Collagraph World Wide Facebook page.
MixPly Self-Assembly Toys