Build An Heirloom Rocking Horse

For Your Child or Grandchild


I made this horse for the first time in 1975. In 1979, Fine Woodworking Magazine chose it as an example of outstanding work in America, including it in their Design Book Two. It has evolved over the thirty years, although the first horse is a recognizable ancestor of the latest. I now build a few dozen horses each year, and I am pleased with their simple and sturdy design. The shallow arc of the rockers and the mass of solid hardwood allow children to rock in a fluid back-and-forth motion, rather than the rapid up and down of a spring horse.

The horse is sized for riders aged one to five. Older children will still ride, but most seem to lose interest about kindergarten. My children learned to ride at twelve months old with a bit of help and were mounting and dismounting by themselves at thirteen months. By two years they were both accomplished trick riders.

The design and construction of this horse make it very durable. The relatively large pieces of wood are unlikely to break and the use of wood dowels for the joints gives a permanence lasting long past loose screws or nails. Wood moves with seasonal changes in humidity; steel fasteners do not. This causes toys fastened with metal to come apart. Joined with wood dowels, your horse will happily hold a 300 pound cowhand. Minimal care and feeding will insure that it will carry generations of children on many happy trails.

This project requires some skill with woodworking tools. I don't recommend it as a first woodworking experience, but you don't have to be a professional. Your care and time can make up for much in experience. I hold an advanced degree from the woodworking school of hard knocks, and I hope my experience will smooth your project.

Woodworking is an inherently dangerous activity. While many companies will sell you sharp tools, they do little to help you become a safe worker. Look for instruction, preferably from an experienced craftsperson. Some wood shops and many community colleges, etc. offer instruction in safe woodworking. Use their expertise. No book can teach these lessons.


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This young woman made a horse for her nephew.

walnut rocking horse

rocking horse








It's always a little difficult for me to begin talking about wood because it is usually a matter of looking at it in one of two ways. One way is a generality, as just a material that we make things of and that for me, is too wide, shallow, and impersonal. But there are people for whom wood and working with wood is not simply a profession but a very intimate thing: the relationship between the person and the material, and how they are doing it. I mean how they are doing it in the most intimate detailed sense; the relationship between wood and the tools that they use, between their feelings, their intuitions, and their dreams. Wood, considered that way, is to me alive.

James Krenov

A Cabinetmaker's Notebook




"They sway‚d about upon a rocking-horse,
And thought it Pegasus"

John Keats



It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their tools; and it has been useful to me, having learnt so much by it as to be able to do little jobs myself in my house when a workman could not readily be got, and to construct little machines for my experiments, while the intention of making the experiment was fresh and warm in my mind.

Benjamin Franklin

John Michael Linck - Toymaker

2618 Van Hise Avenue - Madison, Wisconsin 53705

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