One of the reasons I love being a woodworker is being able to “do it myself.” This project is a perfect example. Not long ago, friends of mine showed me a rocking toy they had bought that was made to look like a motorcycle. It was such an interesting variation on the classic rocking horse idea that I had to discover how it was built. It wasn’t long before I had tweaked the idea into plans for my own rocking motorcycle.
This project looks complicated, but it’s actually easy to put together. Templates are one reason why. I’ve created them for the frame, all the main components, fenders and almost everything else.
As with any real motorcycle, the frame is the foundation. I’ve designed this project so most components are glued and pin-nailed to the frame to create depth and detail. The frame itself is a one-piece design made from two layers of 5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood, glued face to face.
Begin by making all the templates you’ll need. Start with paper, then use that to prepare solid versions made with 1/4"-thick hardboard.
With paper in hand, use rubber cement to glue the sheets of paper onto 1/4"-thick hardboard, then cut right through the paper using a jigsaw or bandsaw. Be careful as you work because each hardboard template needs to be a perfect copy of the part you’re making. The templates determine precise part sizes and shapes, so accuracy is key.
With a complete collection of hardboard templates, you’re ready to begin production. Since these templates are durable, you can reuse them many times. Trust me, once friends and family see this project, you’ll practically need an assembly line to keep up with demand.
Start by tracing the two frame outlines on 5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood. Rough-cut the shape with a jigsaw or bandsaw, leaving 1/8" to 1/4" of waste wood beyond the lines. It’s critical that you don’t let any of the cuts wander past the good side of the traced lines, as you’ll see.
Template routing is the next step, and it’s the reason why it’s so easy to make all the curved parts you’ll need accurately. The process involves three steps: temporarily fasten the template onto the part you’ve rough-cut to size; install a bearing-guided, flush-trim bit in your router table; adjust the height of the bit so the bearing rides only on the edge of the template, not on the workpiece; carefully pass the template/workpiece combination across the spinning bit, removing all wood on the workpiece that extends beyond the bearing.
Template routing provides an exact duplicate of the template with almost no need for sanding. It’s a powerful technique. You can rout the frame like this in two separate halves, then glue them together. If you have a tall enough flush-trim bit, glue the rough-cut blanks together first, then rout them together for perfectly matched edges. The handlebars are also two layers of plywood, so you need to complete them in the same fashion.
With your frame complete, now you need to repeat the template-routing process for each part. I used a variety of woods, including Baltic birch ply, cherry and oak. You can substitute other hardwoods that you have on hand.
With all the components rough-cut and template-routed to final size and shape, go over every edge with sandpaper. The precision of template routing makes for some surprisingly sharp-edged parts, and you need to keep things safe.
To make the components stand out, I stained the handlebars, foot pegs, tank, seat, rear fenders, primary cover and engine cylinders. Details are entirely up to you. If you do decide to stain, keep it off areas that will come together as glue joints later, since stained wood prevents strong joinery. After the stain has dried, glue and pin-nail all the side components to the frame.
The small and large exhaust pipes are made with 3/4"-thick cherry, but not by using the template routing technique. Since these parts are so narrow, you should skip the router and simply trace the template and saw following the lines, then finish-sand by hand. It’s safer that way.
You’ll need 1 3/4"-diameter maple dowels for the 16"-long forks. Take a look at the plans to see how the 5/8"-thick front wheel spacers provide separation between the front wheel parts and the forks. And notice how the rear axles are also 5/8" thick, providing both mechanical functionality plus visual details.
The foot pegs are made of a 9" length of 1"-diameter dowel with grooves on the last 2 1/2" of them for better traction. To cut these grooves, head to your tablesaw and raise the blade to 1/8". Hold the foot peg dowel against the mitre gauge while the end is against the fence. Once the dowel is at the top of the blade, rotate it to create the groove. Move the fence at 1/4" intervals and repeat the process to create multiple grooves.
The headlight is a part that needs a litle more imagination than the others. I found the perfect option at my local Lowe’s store. A round bun foot (Waddell #2741), meant to be a furniture foot, happens to make the perfect wooden motorcycle headlight. All I did was cut the rounded end flat and sand the entire piece. Stain all accessories the same way as you did for the components, but wait until after final assembly for sealing the surfaces.
Before you bring all your motor-cycle parts together, you need the rocker. It is made up of seven parts. Four need to be template-routed and three are simply cut to size. The rocker base is 11 3/4" x 15 1/4" and the rocker rails are 11 3/4" x 3 3/4". (Refer to the plans to see how the rocker rails are notched.)
The rocker base is made from a solid piece of plywood to prevent little bikers from getting caught as they climb on board. With the rocker base cut, take it to your tablesaw to saw kerfs on the underside. These allow the base to bend to the curve of the rocker assemblies. Set your blade 3/8" high, then make kerfs every 1/2" along its entire length.
With all rocker parts on your workbench, start by pin-nailing and gluing two outer and inner rocker assemblies together. Next, bring together the rocker assemblies with the base and rails, using 1 1/2"-long x #8 wood screws. These screws reinforce the rockers, which carry all the weight of the bike and rider. Cover the screw heads with plugs for good looks.
With your workshop now looking a bit like a bike shop, bring all parts together to make the project complete. Start with your frame laying flat on a work surface. The side facing up will be the primary side. (Look at the plans for direction in laying out the parts.) As you work through the various components, decide if each goes on the primary or the exhaust side. Focus only on the primary side for now. The exhaust side will come later.
Attach your components, except the seat, the front fender and the tank, using pin nails and glue. The pin nails simply hold the parts in place while the glue dries. You can also clamp the parts tight if the pin nails don’t create gap-free connections on their own. The nice thing about pin nails is that they’re virtually invisible, yet they also prevent glue-covered parts from sliding out of alignment. Flip the frame over and add the components on the other side, including the exhaust pipes.
Attach the seat to the frame from below with two 5/16"-diameter x 1 1/2"-long dowels, making the seat a solid part of the bike.
The tank comes next. Attach it with 1 1/2" wood screws from the exhaust side and 5/16"-diameter x 1 1/2"-long fluted dowels inserted from beneath the tank.
Start by gluing and pin-nailing the front wheel spacers to the wheels, then slide the two triple trees onto the front forks. The dowels that form each fork should be 1 1/4" proud of the top of the triple tree for mounting the handlebars later. Mount the front forks to the front wheel assembly with 3" screws driven through predrilled holes in the forks, then through each front wheel spacer and into each wheel piece. Move the triple trees into their final positions, then drill holes through them and into the forks. Secure the forks to the frame with 3" screws. Add glue to the round openings in the handlebars, then slide them down over the tops of the forks. Drive more 3" screws into the fronts of the handlebars to attach them to the forks to make the handlebars solid.
The front fenders need to be notched to fit around the forks. I used a drum sander to make this happen. Besides looking good, these small fenders actually strengthen the forks. Finish off the front end of the motorcycle by securing the headlight to the forks with two 5/16"-diameter x 1 1/2"-long dowels.
The last assembly step is to bring the motorcycle and the rocker together, secured with 3" wood screws. Drill holes from under the rocker rails up into the wheels, then add two screws per wheel to hold the bike firmly in place. With everything together, seal the entire project with three coats of urethane.
I truly hope you will take the time to build a motorcycle rocker for a loved one. I also hope you change the design to make something unique. Innovation is what woodworking is all about.
|Part||Material||Size (T x W x L*)||Qty.|
|Frame||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||2|
|Rocker base||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||1|
|Rocker rails||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||2|
|Outer rockers||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||2|
|Inner rockers||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||2|
|Engine cylinders||3/4"-thick cherry||4|
|Primary cover||3/4"-thick cherry||1|
|Seat||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||1|
|Battery covers||3/4"-thick cherry||2|
|Tanks||1 1/2"-thick oak||2|
|Rear fenders||3/4"-thick cherry||2|
|Front fenders||3/4"-thick cherry||2|
|Rear wheels||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||2|
|Front wheels||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood||2|
|Handlebars||5/8"-thick Baltic birch plywood (two layers for each)||4|
|Triple trees||3/4"-thick cherry||2|
|Small exhaust pipe||3/4"-thick cherry||1|
|Large exhaust pipe||3/4"-thick cherry||1|
|Front forks||1 3/4"-diameter maple dowel||2|
|Front wheel spacers||1 3/4"-diameter maple dowel||2|
|Rear wheel axles||1 3/4"-diameter maple dowel||2|
|Foot pegs||1"-diameter maple dowel||2|
|Headlight||Bun foot (Lowe's, Waddell #2741)||1|
* Length indicates grain direction
Jigsaw or bandsaw