Make your own Tootsietoy tires

Tootsietoy wheels frequently go missing. Sometimes they dry-rot away. Sometimes kids played with them to death. Tootsietoys with missing wheels usually sell cheaply. Unused, old factory-stock Midgetoy tires are readily available and fit perfectly. But it can be fun to make your own. Here’s how to make your own Tootsietoy tires.

We’ll be making these out of wood. Early Tootsietoys had wood wheels. Wood is cheap, easy to work with, and if you leave it unfinished, it looks like the early white rubber tires. If you want dark tires, just paint them black.

In theory, you can make hundreds of tires out of a single 48-inch piece of dowel. In practice, you’ll break a few and you’ll lose some of the length to sawdust. Regardless, you’re still talking pennies per wheel. Your time isn’t free, but the exercise is worthwhile.

Tools and materials

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1/2-inch or 3/8-inch wooden dowel
  • Saw with a fine-tooth blade
  • 3/32-inch drill bit
  • Existing tire to use as a pattern
  • A very sharp pencil
  • Miter box (recommended)
  • Drill press (recommended)
  • Pliers

Making wooden wheels

Cut a 1/8-inch length off the end of your dowel using your saw. Use the miter box to hold the saw square against the dowel. Hold the dowel as steady as you can with your free hand so you don’t end up with crooked wheels. They’ll still work, but they may roll strangely.

When you make a wheel, you might as well make at least four, so repeat until you have a usable batch of wheels, plus at least a couple of spares.

Hold the original wheel you use as a pattern up against your blank. Mark the center with a sharp pencil. If you have a punch or an awl, poke the blank in the center to give the drill bit a place to start. This will help it avoid drifting.

Next, drill a 3/32-inch hole in the center. Tootsietoy axles are 1/16-inch thick, so a 3/32 hole allows the wheel to turn. A 1/16 hole would fit tightly like an original rubber wheel, but I tend to break those wheels trying to put them on. I prefer to use a slightly bigger hole and put a spacer on the axle to hold the wheels in place.

Drilling safely

Do not hold the wheel in place with your bare hand. There’s only 1/4-inch of space between you and the drill bit if you do. If the drill bit wobbles, it will injure you. I still have a scar from an incident in 2006 where a wobbly bit grazed me.

Hold the wheel with a pair of pliers while drilling. Even with a tiny 3/32 bit, it goes fast. You’ll spend more time lining things up than you’ll spend drilling. Turn off the drill between wheels.

Using your wheels

Remove any burrs or rough edges on the wheels with a bit of sandpaper if you want them to roll well.

Paint them if you wish, or leave them natural. Wooden wheels look better on closed-fender Tootsietoys than on open-fender ones.

Since the wheels fit a little loose, I put a spacer between the wheels on the axle. It turns out that the plastic sticks from dollar-store cotton swabs fit just right. So after I use cotton swabs in other projects, I save the sticks to make spacers.

I put my homemade wooden wheels on my lower-quality cars, and save the good rubber wheels for better cars. I’d rather put makeshift wheels on the lower-quality stuff than put it in a junk pile.

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