Rubber Band Toy


Confronted with the challenge of creating a toy using solely rubber bands and one other material, I thought of a variety of ideas. From the myriad sketches, one concept that stuck out to me was inspired by a childhood joy I share with many: a ride-on car. Looking to effectively employ rubber bands and enhance the user experience, I decided to design a life-size wind-up car for people of all ages. Ideally, this oversized wind-up vehicle would not only be an attractive decoration and entertaining toy to observe, but also something the user could sit on for an exhilarating experience. The life-size wind-up wooden car would both blend in with a child’s toy collection and could free an adult’s inner child.









I fear I nervously rushed through my presentation, thinking I would disappoint my peers and the critique guests due to the inability to ride on the car. However, I think David Ringholz epitomized my design when he acknowledged although it cannot transport a person, the product still accomplishes my goal of evoking an adult’s inner child. As he explained, in reality this is probably a side table that doesn’t get much attention nor use beyond holding items. On the occasion, though, that an adult does reel it back, there is that inherent, childish joy.

Until David said this, I think I was too focused on making the car transport a human and unable to step back and neutrally evaluate the life-size wooden wind-up toy. David accurately expressed my frustration when I couldn’t find a rubber band that would make the car work, pointing out that during the design process, when you reach a daunting, maybe impossible, challenge you question your concept and wonder, “is this worth it?” For example, is it worth finding the world’s strongest rubber band to make this work? Is this a good, worthy design? Thus, I was elated when David resolved this question with, essentially, “I think you proved it was,” and furthermore, “for the challenges you faced and things you had to learn, you’re asking the right questions, moving the design forward at a good rate, and, for a young and new designer, this was a successful project.”

I recognize my design is not perfect and there are a variety of ways it could be improved. Likewise, I have a lot of room for personal growth in sketching, designing, craftsmanship, photographing, presenting, and more. However, especially after the critique, I feel like I have grown as a student and I am proud of the work I produced for this rubber band toy project.


I want to stress that although my current wind-up wooden car is my final product for this project, I see the piece as another model working towards a greater design. As I said, throughout constructing and after completing the model, I saw a variety of elements I could change and improve. I pondered these changes and new ideas as I fell asleep last night and continue to do so now as I prepare to present my final model. While taking pictures of the model at various locations, I have assembled and dissembled the car numerous times. This process taught me more about the design and thus more things to consider when devising the next iteration. During my most recent photographing session, I asked my friend to sit on the car to show off how the side windows also served as handles and to put the concept into context. He too hesitantly sat on it but I reassured him although it would not propel him forward (which, I’m fairly confident in saying, is due to the band being too weak for the way I designed it to work), if he didn’t shake it, the car would support his weight. As he got more comfortable, he began lifting his feet. After a lifting his legs a couple times, the top piece fell out of place and hit his hand. Aside from feeling bad, I was reminded that the structure was not reliable the design should have more secure connections between faces. Better connections, I thought, could also aid in assembly as the stretched band between the front panel and rear axle makes adding the sides to the car challenging. In an effort to resolve these issues, I quickly sketched the following design on my iPad.

Next Wooden Wind-Up Design iPad Sketch

While I thought it would make it easier to put together and stronger, I now see how it could still be difficult to assemble. Locking in the front axle via two front pieces and having those and the remaining three sides secured in between the rubber-band-help top and bottom pieces would be more secure. Attaching the band between the front panel and rear axle, though, might be more difficult. This design does not touch on a more reliable or effective way of attaching the wheels. Currently, the wooden pegs work but they are not very attractive and I think a better means exists.

In creating my final model, I encountered a variety of challenges and thus opportunities. I headed home this past weekend but this would not stop me from working. I cut out the main pieces for my car, packed them up, and headed home. After a quick assembly of the main box body, I compared the car to my cardboard model and decided I needed to cut it down. So I headed to my grandparent’s house, marked them up, cut them down, and then began detailing.

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My grandpa is an avid woodworker and was excited to help me out. I tried to stress that I needed to do the work and would appreciate his help but probably should take no more than his seasoned advice. However, he was unable to simply watch. After marking up the wood myself, the two of us cut out box joints.

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The joints took longer to cut than I had hoped; halfway through we called it a night and I returned to finish the next day.

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After cutting out all the joints, I went through and saved them down to ensure the pieces would be able to come together.

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We then moved on to other cuts. Although I was not able to get as much done with my grandpa as I had hoped, we did accomplish a nice amount of work. We cut holes in the wheels and then my grandpa brought out a special tool that allowed him to cut out holes of any desired size. We used this to custom-cut holes on the wheels and in the sides for the rear axle.

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We also cut and sanded the arch that would be above the front wheel.

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With the special hole-cutting tool from before, we cut the ends of the window forms on the sides of the car, giving me a head start when I went to cut them completely out.

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Before I left, we also pre-drilled holes in the wheels so that I could attach them to the axle via a wooden peg.

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I got back to Ames and quickly sketched out what I needed to accomplish in the shop the following day (it was closed when I got back into town), thinking it would not take me very long. Was I wrong. One of the greatest lessons this project reinforced was the importance and advantage of working ahead. Stressed with time, my final model was more of a working model and I made a variety of mistakes, choices, and changes along the way (opposed to knowing exactly what pieces I needed and needing solely to concern myself with craftsmanship). A few mistakes I made included accidentally cutting a ledge (to hold the top piece) on the wrong side of the right side board and cutting the top board down too much. While these were frustrating, the most cumbersome challenge, the most difficult piece for me, was the front axle. Thinking I simply force the piece into place was a mistake and I had to devise another solution. I ended up creating a variety of iterations.

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Between my various axle attempts, I cut out my side handle/window forms.

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I found the axle was too small, so I worked on a new one.

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I was unsuccessful in creating a sturdy, reliable, and effective axle, so I consulted Peter Brue for help. He recommended and showed me how to chisel out the axle.

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I added holes above and below the axle slot on the front board so I could strap in the piece with rubber bands.

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With the front axle in what I thought was a functional state, I filed down a smaller dowel to make wooden pegs that would attached the rear wheels to the axle.

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Without a complete model, I could not test whether my concept or current design would work. Once again, there’s power in working ahead. Not until I had a complete model could I test my concept. I had to design, cut, and build pieces with the presumption that the design would work. Unfortunately, this did not prove completely true. During my first test, the rubber band chain snapped.

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After switching out the chain for a single large band, the front axle broke and again I had to create a new design.

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I decided I needed the axle to extend further pas the front board. Luckily, I previously made small wheels that would fit around the larger dowel in case I wanted to use them in the rear. I was able to use one of these wheels and cut down the larger dowel.

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When I finally had a complete, working model, I identified a variety of ways I could improve it. Last night I struggled falling asleep as I pondered different designs and means of joining the faces of the car together. I hesitantly sit on the car, fearing it will collapse beneath me. Simply carrying the vehicle around poses a risk for the pieces to explode into chaos. The model does work; you can wind it up and release it. You can also sit on it. However, it remains stationary, whether or not it’s wound up, when bearing my weight. During one test, the green “light” exercise band snapped and I moved up to the “medium” gray band. Still though, it will not move when I sit on it.

With a design in mind, I created a rough build plan and purchased wood.

Wooden Life-Size Wind-Up Car Rough Build Plan

Upon purchasing wood, I analyzed the dimensions to ensure I could get all my desired pieces out of it and then created a cut plan.

Life-Size Wind-Up Car Wood Template

Life-Size Wind-Up Wooden Car Cut Plan

I then began cutting.

Life-Size Wind-Up Wooden Car Pieces 01

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From here, after speaking with Peter Brue and some peers, I plan on cutting finger joints to connect the box from of the car. Pete recommended I do so on a band saw and said I could further reinforce the hold by drilling down through the joints and driving a dowel into the hole. As you can see in my build plan, I was planning on attaching the wheels to the axle by cutting a plus shape into each. However, after discussing, I think I will drill a hole though the wheel and axle and drive a dowel all the way through (this is an idea I pondered earlier after speaking with the Landscape Architect, as mentioned in an earlier post) and/or locking the wheel in place by drilling holes on either side of the wheel and driving a dowel pin through, locking the wheel in place. My hesitation with the latter idea is I fear if the wheel is not locked onto the axle, it will spin freely and not propel the vehicle forward.

Sketches by Erdem

Sketches by Erdem Selek

Erdem, my professor, quickly identified my design was getting too complex. Scanning through my sketches and looking at my model, he said the design of the vehicle was distracting and overshadowing the rubber band element of the toy. Thus, Erdem recommended I stick with a simple form, such as the box of my original, cardboard model or a simple cylinder shape. He conveyed he preferred the proportions and feel of my first, cardboard model and that the wooden model was getting too big and complex. He demonstrated the effectiveness of a simpler design through the sketches pictured above, showing that the design put a greater emphasis on the rubber band and its imperative role (whereas the user might look at one of the more complex designs and question, for example, “why use a rubber band?”). With the more basic design, though, Erdem stressed there still must be a sense of direction in the vehicle, that the user should comprehend which side is the front. If done well, a simple vehicle design with relatively nonexistent or hidden mechanics has the potential to spark more interest within the user. That being said, he pointed out I could reveal or hint at the rubber band through a slit on either the top or side of the car. Erdem pointed out these could also function as handles. With a simple vehicle design, as he explained, the vehicle could sit in a room, decoratively, but also serve a functional purpose and, ideally, the user will look at and question the product. What is that box? What does it do? Is it just a box with wheels? What’s inside the hole? Why is there a rubber band? Upon interacting with the box, the user will discover that it is in fact a large wind-up toy.

Based on my model, I’m not sure if I can accomplish my goal of being able to ride on the wind-up vehicle, at least within the product time frame. This is disappointing and unfortunate but, as Erdem expressed, even if the vehicle could not bear a child’s weight, the idea of a large wind-up toy still holds potential for fun. Furthermore, my final product for this project could be the first version, the first prototype, of an eventual model that can transport an adult.

After receiving input from a variety of peers, I set out to revise my wooden life-size wind-up car model.

Revised Wooden Life-Size Wind-Up Car Model 01

I extended the axle around which the rubber band would wind up and cut an in-wheel hook. I tried securing the wheel to the axle by cramming rubber bands under and immediately next to the wheel on both sides.

Revised Wooden Life-Size Wind-Up Car Model 02

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I lined the wheels with rubber bands to increase traction and, like the axle, secured the wheels with rubber bands.

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When I tested the vehicle, I discovered the rear crosspiece, despite the hole, hindered the band. Thus, I decided to remove the piece for at least testing purposes.

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Despite the new axle and rubber bands securing the wheels on the sides, the car did not work and, instead, spun in place. The issue was, in part, due to the fact that the band did not wrap around the larger axle piece. and instead, after hooked, wrapped around the dowel. In an attempt to resolve this, I added a grove around the axle wheel. I also added the rubber bands around the wheels as did I with the first attempted wooden model.

Revised Wooden Life-Size Wind-Up Car Model 11

Still, though, the vehicle did not work.