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Down Hill Race Track Adventure!


Christmas 2003

(This is a ridiculously simple project, so of course I thought I should come up with a ridiculously pretentious name for it...)

At Christmas time my wife and I like to have at least one handmade toy for the kids. In previous years I have made a Nativity set, and a Table Hockey game. (I've also made a wagon and rocking horse, but those weren't Christmas gifts, so perhaps they don't count. They were toys though. And I did make them. Oh never mind.)

This year I came up with about the simplest idea yet for a Christmas gift.

Like many other boys who grew up in the 60's or 70's I had a Hot Wheels race track. Back then, the majority of us had simple gravity-fed setups. You clamped the track to a table or chair, or even to the basement stairs, and let the cars zoom down the track. Simple to set up, no batteries required, and there were umpteen different ways of arranging the track, which allowed you to use your creativity. Oh, there were some boys who had the battery powered sets that would let you shoot your cars around a track, (and around, and around, and around...) but that was rare.

Last year I browsed through the department store, looking for plain Hot Wheels track. Couldn't find any. It was all these prepackaged kits with loops and curves and jumps and so on -- all of them a variation on the battery powered oval. And all of them costing $30-$40 and up.

* * *

Let's just pause there and say that my wife and I really like to focus on toys and games that encourage activity and creativity rather than inactivity and passivity. Our extended families have standing instructions when it comes to toys for our kids: No batteries please, no blinky beepy noisy auuugh-its-driving-me-crazy-with-the-repeating-song thingummies.

* * *

Now, we do have a bunch of Hot Wheels imitation cars that we picked up a few years ago and stashed away for when the kids got older. Older is now. However in three to four years of occasional garage sale cruising, and Value Village visits we have yet to come across a stash of loose Hot Wheels track. So we needed to come up with an idea.

Grampa to the rescue.

My Dad was a carpenter, and at some point he had come up with a simple gizmo for his grand-kids to use to zoom cars at his house. It was just a four-foot long by four-inch wide board, with edges on it to keep the cars from falling off. Dead simple to build, easy to set up and put away, and the kids like to play with it.

So I did like any other self respecting craftsman down through the ages would do: I copied his design -- putting my own stamp on it in the process.

I happened to have a handy piece of seven-foot long by five-inch wide cherry laying around my shop. It had a large amount of sapwood showing and a slight bow to it, so it wasn't the best stock for fine furniture making. For fine race track building, though, it seemed like it should do the trick.

Rather than attaching sides, I decided to dado (repeatedly) the board, to take it down thinner while leaving thicker walls at the edges. This would make the board lighter, which would make it easier for the kids to handle. It also gave me edges, to confine the cars as they zoom down the slope.

Serendipity had a part to play in the process also. I had the dado blade set on my saw, and I started the fence at about 3/16" away from the blade, to leave the "tall" side. Then I ran the board through. Next I flipped the board end-for-end and ran it through again, to give the other side of the board the same treatment. I moved the fence over about 5/8" and repeated the process, and then a third time. Finally I was going to move the fence once last time and clear out the center. However, as I looked at the board, I noticed that I had one skinny bit of wood left in the middle, which evenly divided the board into two lanes. I thought for a few moments, and decided to leave it like that. Now the boys can have races. See the photo if you don't understand what I just wrote. The close-up was actually a bit fuzzy, so I drew on the picture.

That's about all there is to say. I applied a few coats of Waterlox Tung oil to bring out the colour then rubbed in and buffed out some furniture wax. It's now stashed up in a corner of the shop waiting for the 25th to roll around.

Summary: I dado'd a board, and slapped on some finish and wax. I hope the kids like it.


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