Free Rocking Motorcycle Plans

When starting my first motorcycle rocking horse project, which I later named The General, I thought it would be easy to find free woodworking plans online. However, the only truly free plans I could find at the time was a design by a guy named Wolfgang Besler in Germany. Unfortunately, his design doesn’t capture the look I wanted. But just in case someone else likes it, here’s the instructions in semi-broken Google translated English:

The rocking motorcycle shown here has been in use for two years, the wheels turn freely and as does the front forks.

Motorcycle Rocker Built by Klaus Oekler

The items to be created and then the structure is explained by itself when you set the dimensions of the wood panels in conjunction with the plans.

Materials:

  • Spruce 28 mm – Centerpieces
  • Spruce 28 mm – lateral patch parts
  • Beech 19 mm thick – for wheels (x2)

You’ll also need M8 threaded rod, matching nuts and washers, and various key and lock screws.

To always have the same outline, I had cut from heavy cardboard for each part of a pattern with the approximate outline of the parts and then subsequently adjusted so that they fitted with cutting edges on the plates.

Everything else was then a matter of sanding. The wheels are double sized and the other round parts then revised on the lathe.

The bike itself can be removed by 2 carriage bolts are removed from the upper block, and thus be used as a solo part in the rocking part. That will set the wheels and the steering, I Alurohrstückchen respectively (10 foreign and 8 domestic) used as an additional hub. In between, then the threaded rod parts with M8.

After completion, I used an inlet base, finely sanded and then sprayed with clear lacquer. The second bike I’ve ausbearbeitet as in the drawing up models of cylinders and the exhaust pipes of the router.

The templates provided below to download do not meet the original size but are sized so that they are just printed on a sheet of A4 paper. Should be sufficient to order it to make their own enlargements or recreate the outline accordingly.


Motorcycle Rocking Horse by Wolfgang Besler

(Click to view larger image)

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Part 5: Involving Olivia

It’s easy to forget that before reaching the age of eight or nine, everything your parents do is at least somewhat interesting. So when I started the motorcycle rocking horse project, it didn’t occur to me that my six year old daughter Olivia would pay much attention.

In fact, this assumption was reinforced early when I decided to show Olivia how I was using the simple math she was learning in first grade. She politely watched as I measured 12 inch intervals along the seam between two 2×12 boards for a biscuit join. After about 45 seconds Olivia interrupted sarcastically, but still mindful of my feelings, and said “You’re doing a great job Daddy… you really are.” Then she added, “But this is boring. I’m gonna go watch TV.”

Still I wasn’t surprised a few weeks later when she came over to watch me arrange pieces on the dining room table and asked “Are you going to make one for me?” I expressed the opinion that Olivia was too old for a rocking horse. She disagreed, but was satisfied with being the first to ride it and my promise to build her something else. Unfortunately, with a new baby and a kitchen table I promised her mother I’d build, it would be a while before I could fulfill my promise to Olivia.

It soon became clear that Olivia didn’t really want a rocking horse. Her real concern was the amount of time and attention I was giving to a project for her unborn brother. In fact, one evening she broke down in tears telling me how she thought I wouldn’t want to play with her after the boy was born. So we planned a Daddy-Daughter day and I tried to think of ways we could work together on the motorcycle project. But how? She’s too young to use power tools. Sanding is only fun for about two minutes. And trusting a six year old with wood stain and polyurethane was completely out of the question. Good thing my daughter is so creative, because she came up with the answer for me.

On her own, Olivia started gathering scrap wood discarded from the rocking motorcycle I was building. Working independently alongside me in the garage she used the wood glue to assemble the found pieces into small sculptures. There were about four or five in all, but I could only find her “Eiffel Tower” to take a picture.

Olivia then progressed to bigger, more elaborate pieces. She even started providing specs, asking me to cut some of the scrap wood to match her vision. Using her own paints to add color, the result was a towering masterpiece. She insisted on calling it a house, not a tower. Whatever you call it, I was both impressed and proud.

The paint Olivia splattered on the garage floor didn’t make me very happy. But I can live with it, because it reminds me of working side-by-side in the garage with my little girl.

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Rockin’ Choppers

From 2007 to 2010 Rockin’ Choppers of Lake Lure, NC, produced heirloom quality motorcycle rocking horses built by Louis Mihniak with cabinet grade plywood.

An heirloom Rockin' Chopper by Louis Mihniak.

Featured in the 2009 book Made Here, Baby! The Essential Guide to Finding the Best American Made Products for Your Kids, author Bruce H. Wolk wrote the following:

This may indeed be one of the most unusual children’s rocking toys you’ve ever seen. The Chairs are made using poplar dowels (no screws, nails, or metal fasteners are used) to avoid any injury to children, and the main wood used is a Baltic birch. The seats are covered in real leather. All of the finishes are nontoxic. This is a limited production item, and no two are ever exactly alike.

Interesting Fact: About 6 years ago, Louis the owner of Rockin’ Choppers, was looking for an interesting present for his nephew’s first birthday. Unable to find anything he liked that could be store bought, he started playing around with bits and pieces of wood he had in the basement. He was particularly fascinated with a couple of large dowels that were sticking out of a box and reminded him of a motorcycle tailpipe. One wooden piece led to another, and before he knew it, he had created the very first Rockin’ Chopper, a motorcycle rocking chair!

Unfortunately, Rockin’ Choppers stopped taking orders after Louis was sidelined by an injury in September 2010. The Rockin’ Choppers website was taken down shortly thereafter and he posted the following Facebook update on December 9, 2010:

To my fans, you guys are great! Your support has inspired me. It’s an amazing feeling when people like my work.
I was injured in Sept. and can’t build so Rockinchoppers.com will be down for at least a year while I recover. Don’t worry though, this page will stay up. I’ll post pics of new ideas once in a while. Meanwhile “Keep the paint up, and the rubber down.”
Thanks all,
Lou

Rockin' Choppers at the Bele Chere Festival, July 2010.

For his outstanding Rockin’ Choppers designs and craftsmanship, Louis has earned the honor of being inducted in the Motorcycle Rocker Woodshop Hall of Fame.

Let’s hope he is making a full recovery and will be back in his shop soon.

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Rocking Motorcycle Patents

Believe it or not, the idea for a motorcycle rocking horse has actually been patented more than once.

On March 25, 1980, inventor Carl H. Alley of Baltimore, Maryland, was issued U.S. Patent No. 254,561 for a Rocking Toy motorcycle, which expired in 1994. Suspended by springs from a metal frame, it’s not technically a “rocker” from a purist’s perspective — and not wooden — but apparently the first of the genre.

Carl Alley design. Patent filed Nov. 7, 1977.

On January 22, 1985, inventor Richard A. Whitehead of Spokane, Washington, was issued U.S. Patent No. 4,494,763 for a Wheeled Rocker Toy, which expired in 1999. Mr. Whitehead’s innovation was a front wheel that makes contact with the floor as the child rocks forward. This allowed the toy to be scooched forward by the rider.

Richard Whitehead design. Patent filed March 7, 1983.

On Halloween 1995, inventor Mark M. McNett of Great Bend, Kansas, was issued U.S. Patent No. 363,745 for a basic Rocking Motorcycle Toy, which expired in 2009. Personally, I think the McNett design is kind of ugly little resemblance to any street motorcycle, or motocross bike I’ve ever seen.

Mark McNett design. Patent filed Feb. 2, 1995.

I recall 1995 was just about the time Internet fever was beginning to revolutionize business, and patents were being issued for basic ideas like wireless email and one-click online checkout. This filing strikes me as being in the same vein… an idea that’s clearly not original and with no significant innovation that nobody ever thought to file a patent before.

On November 28, 2006, inventor Michael L. Cline of Alpharetta, Georgia, was issued U.S. Patent No. D532,833 for a Motorcycle-Themed Rocking Device, which will expire in 2020. This odd-looking design with one wheel is more akin to a seesaw where two children ride facing each other, simulating a thrilling game of chicken without the risk of a fatal collision.

Michael Cline design. Patent filed. Nov. 16, 2005.

It’s interesting that a low-tech toy inspired by motorcycles — a turn-of-the-2oth-century invention — would itself be patented 100 years later. Now that the basic rocking motorcycle concept is in the public domain anyone can exercise their inalienable right to build one — commercially or otherwise. In fact, KidKraft now offers a line of Harley-Davidson licensed rockers (made in China of course). But I suppose due credit should be given to Carl Alley, Richard Whitehead, Mark McNett and Michael Cline as men of their time, sharing credit for a quintessentially 20th Century interpretation of the classic, timeless rocking horse.

Will kids born 100 years from today see any real gasoline burning motorcycles on the road?

 

 

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Lumber Sizes and Measurements

Lumber sizes are indicated by the board height and width. However, woodworking beginners quickly discover that a 2×4 board actually measures only 1½ inches by 3½ inches. This is because the rough cut from a log is green, relatively wet and not finished. In fact, rough cuts shrink as they dry before being planed to create smooth, uniform, finished lumber. As a result of processing, the nominal size of lumber as labeled (e.g. 2×4) differs from its actual size (e.g. 1½” x 3½”). Typically, there is a ½ inch difference in nominal sizes of 2 inches or more and ¼ inch when the nominal size is less than 2 inches.

Note: The ” (inch) symbol is used in lumber measurements when referring to the actual size (e.g. 1½” x 3½”). This symbol is omitted when referring to the nominal size (e.g. 2×4).

Finished Lumber Sizes

Framing lumber, is usually sold by the piece in standard lengths and dimension. The lumber is generally sold in lengths of 6′, 8′, 10′, 12′ and 16′.
This table shows the Nominal and Actual Measurements of many standard sizes of lumber:

Nominal Size Actual Size
1×1 3/4″ x 3/4″
1×3 3/4″ x 2 1/2″
1×4 3/4″ x 3 1/2″
1×6 3/4″ x 5 1/2″
1×8 3/4″ x 7 1/4″
1×10 3/4″ x 9 1/4″
1×12 3/4″ x 11 1/4″
2×2 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″
2×3 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″
2×4 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
2×6 1 1/2″ x 5 1/2″
2×8 1 1/2″ x 7 1/4″
2×10 1 1/2″ x 9 1/4″
2×12 1 1/2″ x 11 1/4″
4×4 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
4×6 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″
6×6 5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″
8×8 7 1/4″ x 7 1/4″

There is a standard lumber size known as 5/4 that is an actual 1″ thick. This size is often used for deck surface boards.

Unfinished rough lumber sizes

Standard thicknesses for rough lumber are 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″, 1″, 1-1/4″, 1-1/2″, 1-3/4″, 2″, 2-1/2″, 3″, 3-1/2″, 4″, 4-1/2″, 5″, 5-1/2″, and 6″. One inch and thicker may also be expressed in quarter inches as follows: 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, 10/4, 12/4, 14/4, 16/4, 18/4, 20/4, 22/4 and 24/4.

Engineered Wood Sizes

Standard plywood comes in sheets that measure 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. Plywood is generally available in thicknesses of 1/8″, 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″, and ¾”. Many hardware stores and home centers sell pre-cut plywood in 2′x2′, 2′x4′ and 4′x4′ sizes.

Laminated pine shelving — or Lampine Shelving — is made from 2″ wide lengths of pine timber bonded into flat boards about 21/32″ (20mm) thick. It can be found at home centers in various sizes including 18″ x 48″, 24″ x 48″, 18″ x 72″ and 24″ x 72″. Laminated pine shelving is not only good for shelving. It is also used for furniture manufacturing and is great for a many DIY projects.

Other types of manufactured boardengineered woodcomposite wood, and/or man-made wood include particle board, chipboard and a variety of industrial building products.

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Building the General, Part 4: Selecting Materials

The motorcycle rocking horse woodworking plans I am using call for joining a couple 2×12 and 1×12 boards edge-to-edge, making larger boards big enough to accommodate the motorcycle frame pieces. I thought for sure I could find an alternative that wouldn’t require all the extra work and mess of gluing. Unfortunately, there’s no feasible way to avoid this for the 1½ in. thick center piece (2×12 boards). However, there is an alternative option for the ¾ in. thick outer layers, making the project a little bit easier.

Laminated shelving panels I found at Home Depot worked quite nicely for the outer layers. At 21/32 in. (about 0.66 in.) they are slightly thinner than the ¾ in. boards called for in the plans. But this reduces the assembled width by only about 0.36 in. — not enough to make a difference. Made from 2 in. wide strips of solid pine, these manufactured panels come in various sizes, including 18 x 48 in., 24 x 48 in., 18 x 72 in. and 24 x 72 in., eliminating the need to biscuit together boards for the larger pieces of the rocking motorcycle. Best of all, they are stainable for a much nicer, traditional look than you can get from other manufactured panels like plywood. In fact, the quality and grain is generally pretty good — especially for a child’s toy.

I bought five 22 x 24 in. panels for my motorcycle rocker project at Home Depot because it’s closer to my house. But I’ve also seen them at Menards and Lowes. Other than a couple knots, which have been prefilled, the common flaw you need to watch for is a tendency for splits to form at the ends  between the joined boards. Also, whatever type of glue they use in the manufacturing process gives some boards a yellowish color. But it doesn’t seem to have any noticeable affect on the final stained color after cutting, sanding, etc.

« Part 3: Collecting Tools

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Building The General, Part 3: Collecting Tools

Since this motorcycle rocking horse is my first woodworking project, I don’t have a fully equipped workshop at my disposal. In fact, I was hoping to build The General with what we had on hand. Unfortunately, my tool collection consisted of socket wrench sets and a variety of miscellaneous hand tools for household jobs and auto maintenance. The only tool I owned that might be useful for woodworking was a power drill my dad gave me several years ago.

Fortunately, Dad had a jig saw, a belt sander, a miter saw, various clamps and other things I could use. I figured I would need to buy a few extras to complete the job, but I was in pretty good shape to start … or so I thought.

When the plans arrived the first step called for joining together two 2″ x 12″ boards to make a 2″ x 24″ board wide enough for the bike frame. The instructions matter-of-factly told me to use a table saw to cut off any bad edges, then dowel or biscuit the two boards together. Two problems: 1.) I didn’t have a table saw, and; 2.) I never heard the word biscuit used as a verb before. I hit a wall before I even started.

The great thing about Google and YouTube is you can search for things like “what is a biscuit in woodworking” and “how to use a biscuit joiner”, getting all the information you need and an expert demo in less than 10 minutes. I discovered that making an end-to-end butt joint using a biscuit joiner looked a lot easier than using dowels. And you can find cheap biscuit joiners on eBay for around $40. So that’s what I did.

I also bought a Craftsman table saw from a guy on Craig’s List for $75 (and he threw in a stand for free). The plans also called for the edges of many parts to be rounded over with a ½ in. router roundover bit. So I bought a cheap router table combo set from Menards for $79 on clearance after Christmas.

So here’s the list of necessary tools (roughly in order of use):

  • Table Saw
  • Biscuit Joiner
  • Jigsaw with two clean-cutting wood blades
  • Power Drill with various bits and a 1 in. hole saw
  • Router and Router Table with ½ in. roundover bit
  • Belt Sander (3 in. x 21 in.)

Dad’s miter saw made a few cuts easier, but it’s not absolutely necessary to complete the job. All together I spent about $250 on new tools and supplies, including wood glue, bits, blades, files, sandpaper, finishing nails, etc. Finishing supplies, including stain, brushes and varnish, would later cost an about $70 for a total investment of about $320. But I promised my wife I would also use my new tools to build a trestle dining table, deck furniture and some other things. So for me the cost will be spread-out over more than one project.

« Part 2: A Good Plan Now | Part 4: Selecting Materials »

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Building The General, Part 2: A Good Plan Now

Initially I thought I might try designing an original wooden motorcycle rocker, similar to those Doug Premo used to make. But considering this is my very first woodworking project, I thought it better to find some existing woodworking plans. I was excited to get started, and I didn’t want to waste a lot of time researching the proper dimensions and going through a trial-and-error process. So I got busy Googling.

This is one of those times you rediscover that you get what you pay for. The only free wooden motorcycle rocker plan I could find was by a couple guys in Germany. And while I appreciate their sharing it with the world. It just didn’t like the way it looked.

Continuing my search, I found a variety of sites selling wooden motorcycle rocker plans, including designs by Armor Crafts, Meisel Hardware SpecialtiesThe Winfield Collection and CherryTree Toys. Few achieved a good balance between the look of quality handcrafted woodwork and an authentic biker aesthetic. Many give a nod to the Harley-Davidson tradition with a mock V-twin motor, but most didn’t do it for me. The exception was the Roarin’ Rocker designed by Sherwood Creations. Requiring more than 50 pieces it’s one of the more complex plans available. But that’s kind what I like about it. It has the both the sculptural quality and an authenticity I wanted. And it’ll take some effort to build, so you’re not likely to see too many just like it.

I found the woodworking plans I would use to build The General.

« Part 1: The Concept |  Part 3: Collecting Tools »

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Doug Premo

Note: The original version of this article was published on March 4, 2011, a few months before Mr. Premo apparently ran into some trouble with the law. I have never met Mr. Premo and have no first-hand knowledge of his personal character, but the nature of the allegations are a little creepy for a guy who used to make toys. In spite of all that, taking a look at the technical quality of his work is valuable for anyone interested in building a wooden motorcycle rocking horse.

In October 2008 a feature story about Doug Premo by UtahStories.com appeared on the KJZZ Café morning program in Salt Lake City, Utah:

From the video it looks like he had a well-equipped workshop with all the high-end tools to do it right… and fast. Most people don’t have a huge belt sander like that, but time and elbow grease will also get the job done.

Premo’s original designs sold for $350 – $450, which I think is kind of inexpensive considering the quality craftsmanship and time they must have taken to build. His full line of Rocking Choppers included three Harley-Davidson inspired models as well as a motocross-style bike seen here:

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Building The General, Part 1: The Concept

I am turning 40 later this year and find myself working as a public employee for someone ten years younger with half the experience. For the most part I genuinely respect the people I work for, but there is an uneasiness between us. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I have good reason to believe it’s not just my imagination. The truth is I just want to show up in the morning, contribute in some meaningful way, then go home to my family at the end of the day without any trouble.

The last few years have put my wife and I through a lot. As if living under a dark cloud, we’ve seen our businesses go down in flames with the economy, placed my mom in a nursing home, suffered the loss of her father, and weathered other challenges I won’t bore anyone by telling. About a year ago I took up motorcycle riding because the excitement helps fight off depression the same way physical activity does. But things are starting to look up, because we’re expecting our first son to be born in about six weeks. He’ll be joining seven year old big sister Olivia to complete our family and I have decided to build him a motorcycle rocking horse.

I was originally inspired by a simple rocking motorcycle I saw at the home of a good friend. It was made by her uncle who sadly took his own life not long ago. As a new motorcycle enthusiast I thought it would be a great way to share one of my interests with our little guy.

Although I really like the classic wooden “amish” look, I am a professional graphic artist. So I’ve got other ideas for the finished look. And I think I’ve narrowed it down to either a rat rod bobber with red rims and white wall tires, or an military-style bike. I’ve pretty much decided to do the army one first, calling it The General. I’ll probably end up doing The Rat Rod too, because it’ll be way cool and I can probably cover my expenses by selling it. But The General will come first and it will be the heirloom kept in the family, because I like what it symbolizes.

Rad Rod Bobber Motorcycle

A typical "rat rod" or "bobber" motorcycle. This one is built from a "metric" donor bike (i.e. a Japanese model).

For some people the military represents only bad things. Maybe I’m old fasioned, but to me – in spite of growing up watching M*A*S*H on TV – the U.S. Army embodies many good qualities, including duty, honor, perseverance and discipline. And if this rocker represents any of those important qualities for my son as he grows older — and maybe in turn for his son — then that’s a positive thing. Also, my grandfather, an Italian immigrant, served in Patton’s army during World War II, and my father-in-law, a Puerto Rican immigrant, volunteered for two tours of duty during the Vietnam War. So there is also some family history connected to the army. It is for all these reasons that I’ve decided to go with the military concept.

U.S. Army Motorcycle

A WWII era U.S. Army motorcycle.

But first things first. I’ll need some good woodworking plans to start with.

Part II: A Good Plan Now

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