The Rocking Horse Project

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I’ve had a couple of pdf files sitting on my computer’s desktop for a really long time, which contain the plans for a simple child’s rocking horse woodworking project. I initially downloaded them from a site called www.woodstore.net (an American woodworking magazine) back when I was first getting into woodworking. However, I didn’t know anyone with children at the time and didn’t really feel the need to actually use them, so the pdfs have just remained on my desktop collecting virtual dust. It wasn’t until the arrival of our little baby daughter last summer, that I was prompted blow off the cobwebs and actually start to build the project.

The designs for the rocking horse project which I downloaded from woodstore.net

The rocking horse is designed for children aged 12 months to 3 years and so as Olivia was only 5-6 months old when I started the project, she would have to wait a little while before she could actually use it. However, knowing how long it would probably take me to finish I figured that it would be a good time to start.

The design was pretty simple and also quite efficient, in that it was almost entirely cut from one large laminated furniture board. The only other required material was a short length of wood dowel which would be used as the rocking horse handles.

The rocking horse was cut almost entirely from one piece of laminated furniture board

The laminated furniture board which was to make up most of the project

The first step in the build was to mark out the pieces on the board. The design contained a handy set of images as part of the pdf which, when printed on A4 paper could be combined to create an actual size plan of the rocking horse parts. The idea was to then glue the printed designs onto the board and then use them as a template to cut around. The prints included all of the more complex shapes like the horse body, tail, ears and foot rests. The other details were carefully measured out and drawn onto the board with pencil.

The plans could be printed on A4 paper and stuck together to form a template for cutting around

The printed plans were stuck onto the furniture board with spray glue. Other parts of the plan were measured and drawn with pencil.

Only one side of the horse was cut using the printed plans. The other side would be cut later by using the first cut-out as a template for the second. So now with the plans either stuck to the surface or drawn in place I used my jigsaw to carefully cut out the shapes.

Using the jigsaw to cut the shapes

The board was securely clamped down while cutting

All the pieces cut to size

With all of the individual pieces cut there was still one more task to perform before removing the templates. All of the screw holes which were needed to attach the various parts of the horse, needed to be drilled in the correct places. Fortunately the designs had all of the holes drawn in place and so drilling them was pretty much a case of point-and-click. I used a counter-sink drill bit to but cut the hole and also create a sunk recess so that when screwed together, the screw heads would be kept below the surface and out of harm’s way.

All holes were clearly marked on the plans.

With all of the holes drilled the paper plans could then be removed and the cleanup stage begin. Because the two sides of the rocking horse had been separately cut, were not exactly the same size. In order to remedy this I clamped the two halves together and using a long bearing-guided router bit, I trimmed the excess from the larger of the two halves flush by using the other half as a guide.

Using a long bearing guided router bit I matched to two halves by trimming one flush to the other


The next (laborious) step was to use a combination of sanding and planing to smooth off all edges of all pieces. This took a little time but once done, all the sides were perfectly smooth and flat.

Sanding the edges of both halves together

Sanding the smaller pieces

Some pieces could be flattened with a smoothing plane

Being a child’s toy, it was important not to have any sharp edges exposed on the rocking horse. Therefore all of the edges needed to be rounded over. For the larger pieces like the horse sides, seat and saddle I did this using a roundover bit in my router, whereas for the smaller pieces I had to put in some more elbow grease and sand the round-over by hand.

Larger pieces could be rounded with the router while smaller pieces needed to be hand-sanded

The final bit of cleanup was to give everything a full sanding to 240 grit in preparation for finishing.

Everything was sanded first at 120 then at 240 grit to make it nice and smooth, ready for finishing.

All pieces sanded smooth

Before going any further I test-fitted the project to make sure it was all proportioned correctly, drill holes were lined up correctly and I hadn’t missed anything. This gave me the opportunity to make some adjustments to the woodwork before I applied the finish. Waiting until afterwards would have meant I’d have spoiled the finish and would have had to do some touching up.

The rocking horse was test fitted before going any further to ensure everything was correct.

Next it was on to the finishing stage. I wanted to keep the body of the horse as a bare wood colour, and have the other parts painted or stained dark. After some consideration I decided to give everything a base coat of shellac to both seal the wood and also enhance the natural wood colour. I then planned on painting the other parts with acrylic paint.

The horse sides undercoated with shellac

Seat and foot rest pieces undercoated with white paint

I used acrylic paint to paint all of the smaller pieces

For the horse’s mane I again used acrylic paint, but in order to maintain a consistent shape on all sides of the horse, I cut a template from a piece of plywood and clamped this to the horse while painting. This ensured consistency across the sides of the horse.

The template used to paint the mane was cut from a piece of plywood

The mane painted onto one of the horse sides

With all the painting completed and dried I then applied 2 coats of a hard clear varnish to give the rocking horse protection and a nice sheen.

All parts were topped with two coats of a hard wearing clear varnish.

Next I started to put together the horse parts. Most of the parts were held together with screws, but a few parts needed to be glued on with construction adhesive. These needed to dry overnight and so this stage took a bit of time while each part dried.

The main body of the horse was screwed together

The saddle sides neede to be glued on with construction adhesive and held in place with clamps overnight

The seat was also glued on with construction adhesive

The seat was added and just given a little bit of weight to help the glue set firmly. At this stage I also added a couple of googly eyes


So with the horse complete, the only remaining thing to do was to present it to Olivia! Even thought it wasn’t any sort of special occasion like Christmas or her birthday, it seemed only right to wrap it up for her rather than just plonk it in front of her (Yes I am a big softy 🙂 ). You can see from the photos that she seemed to like it quite a lot…although she’s still a bit to small to really use it. I’m pretty sure however that it wont be very long before she’s big enough to enjoy it.

Olivia about to unwrap her present

Wow Daddy…a rocking horse!

Well she seems to like it anyway 🙂