The Dale C. Maley Family Web Site

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Buildable Large Fire Engine

Several years ago, I built several large fire engines to sell at a charitable auction.  For some reason, the last one I built, I did not finish.  All the parts were made, and everything painted except the main fire engine body. You can see this earlier project here.

Then my grandson came along.  I got to thinking he might like to tear apart and put the fire engine back together, better than just playing with the finished fire engine.   I was right, he loves taking it apart and putting it back together at age 2.5 years.

Mother from Texas

A mother from Texas saw my woodworking web site, and asked me to build another fire engine for her son.  The father is a woodworker, but is serving in the military, and is too busy to make one.

So, I decided to make another one, but this time, design it to be taken apart and put back together. I am going to try to make as many parts as possible one this one.  

My original Sketchup model is in the Sketchup Warehouse here.

Main Rail

I decided to make the 2 axle housings removable.  I have not decided whether or not to glue on the wheel axle pegs or not.  If you do not glue them, then wheels come off when you push it around, and you have to "fix" the wheels.........but it is more parts to have fun and assemble.  If I glue them on, then less parts to have fun and assemble, plus you don't get to fix the wheels every so often.  I will decide whether to glue them on or not later.

Removable Fenders

The fenders will be doweled to the sides so you can assemble them.  I will put 3 dowels in 1 side, and just 2 on the other, to force you to assemble it the right way.  I also made the dowels as long as I can, so the assembled fenders are pretty sturdy.

I used a scrap board to help locate the fenders properly when I doweled them to the rail. This worked well.  I used my old Sears aluminum dowel centers to mark the mating holes for drilling.

I used the oven at about 115F to make the glue dry faster......

Big Blank for Engine

The engine takes a chunk 4.5x4.5x3.25 inches.  I had to glue up 2 pieces of 2x6 and 1 piece of 1x6 to get a blank big enough for the engine.

Radiator Grille

I set the table saw to cut 1/8 deep.  I marked the end where the saw cut grooves go. Then I cut them on the table saw, indexing the fence 1/4" for each slot.

Rabbet grooves for cab

The original plans for this fire engine called for rabbeted corners on the cab.  Back a few years ago, I did not see how to cut them safely, so I skipped them and used simple butt joint corners.  This time, I just set up the table saw, then sawed both sides of each board, then kept indexing the fence until I achieved the desired 1/2" width. No problem. The rabbeted joints help you keep the cab square when you glue it up........versus butt joints.

Making the Engine from a big block of glued up wood

The air nailer worked ok for nailing the cab together. It is glued also.

I used the table saw to cut a 45 degree angle piece that goes in the bottom of the cab. The steering column will be drilled into it later.

Simplified Cab interior design

The original cab design had a complicated seat, so I simplified it.

Band-sawing the roof

I sawed the blank to the right length, and it just fit in the band-saw in the vertical  orientation.  I was able to saw out the curve, but the resultant curved top looked inconsistent because of blade drift.  I had to do some belt sanding to get it to look right and even on the borders.

I did temporarily clamp a short pieced of 2x6 horizontal to the vertical piece being cut, like is shown on photographs of the other large fire engines I built.

Fixture for Making Ladder Sides

I made a simple fixture for making the ladder sides.  You saw some 1/2x1/2" pine to 10" long for the ladder sides.  You slip 1 side into the fixture and push until it bottoms on the LH side. You can then quickly pilot drill the rung holes.  Remove the side, and drill the (5) 1/4" diameter holes from each side to avoid tear-out.  It worked pretty slick.

Lathe Work

I made the 2 headlights and water tank using my wood lathe.  I used some new carbide tipped lathe tools I recently bought at the St. Louis woodworking show.

Old Big Fire Engine with 15 pieces

New Big Fire Engine with 23 Pieces

Closing Thoughts on This Project

I can't wait until my grandson tests this new design!!  He really liked the old fire engine with only 15 pieces...........he should really like the new one with 23 pieces!

It still takes a while to make all 33 pieces required for this fire truck. The only issue I had was some un-anticipated belt sanding on the cab roof, due to band saw drift while sawing the curved top.


Update on Buildable Fire Truck

I donated the buildable fire truck to a family in Texas. The father was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and his son received the fire truck as a surprise gift. I donated the truck to thank the father for his service to this country.

3rd Large Fire Engine - August 2020

My Grandson is now 5 years old, and he loves to build I am going to make another buildable fire engine for him and the other grandkids to play with.

Drill Bit sizes for 1/4" Dowels

For the hole the dowel will be glued into, I used a 17/64" bit............for the hole the dowel will not be glued to I used a 9/32" bit.

Limited Photos for this 3rd Project

I will only have a few photos for this project, since I already have photos for the first 2 engines.

Patterns make it much easier

I have made patterns or templates from 3/16" thick Luan plywood to make most of the pieces.  This sames a bunch of time compared to measuring each piece.

How to Make top of Cab sides all flush with each other

I used 2 passes on the table saw to "kiss them" and make them all flush. I used the new air nailer to make the cab and it worked great!

Cab Roof

Process for making the roof cab with curved top:

1. Make blank from 2x6 pine piece. Start out 12" long so will go into planer ok. Plane to 7/8" thickness

2. Table saw to width needed

3. Using template of end, pencil mark both ends of the know how to sand

4. Using large 3" drum sander on drill  press, sand down to pencil lines

5. Finish sand with 220 grit

This worked better than trying to band saw the curve, because you get excessive drift with band saw

2 Head Lamps

I used some 1.25" dowel stock for the headlamps.

In Feb of 2019, I bought some carbide tipped lathe tools, and they worked great on this project!

Water Tank

The most difficult piece to make on the fire engine is the water tank.  On the first unit I made, I just turned a cylinder on the lathe.  When kids play with it, the tank slides sideways and knocks the ladders off.  So, I added a vertical dowel to the 1/2" horizontal dowels that hold the ladders..........and made the inside of the water tank bigger so it can't slide out.

I glued up 3 pieces of 2x6 pine for the blank which gives 4.5" inches thick...........then I sawed all 3 boards to same 4.5" width.

I put the table saw at 45 degrees and took off the 4 corners to make it easier to turn on the lathe.

Ladder rung width

Make dowel rungs to final width of 2-1/8", not 2-1/4"...........because I could not press out 1 side in big vise when squeezing both sides.  Better to just make dowels to finished length and vise squeeze so dowel ends are flush with outside of rails.  If ladder width is too big, ladder hits top of rear fender.

All Built except mounting head lamps and doweling bed to frame

How to drill head lamp 3/8" dowel holes on angled engine

I retrieved the 2 tapered pieces from the scrap bin........from band sawing the engine.  I used these to get the engine back horizontal when I drilled the 3/8" holes needed to mount the 2 front head lamps. This worked well.

Ready to Paint

I used my smallest, 1/8" roundover bit on the router table to break all corners I could get to.


I hate to paint my toys generally speaking, but I decided to paint this one...........using oil based enamel paint.

I used my oven at 120F to speed the drying of the paint, but with oil based paint, you have to watch and not leave parts too long in oven, or they will make bubbles.  Sometimes you have to do 10 minute heat and 10 minute cool-down cycles to avoid the bubbles.

Hand Lettering

I tried to hand letter the Fairbury Fire Department on the cab, but I was not happy with the quality of my lettering, so I painted it over in Red.

Finished Painted 3rd Large Fire Engine

Model in Sketchup Warehouse

Closing Thoughts

I think my grandkids will have fun putting together and taking apart the 23 pieces on this big fire truck :)

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