Wooden Toys

Toy making is one of the most rewarding things I can do with woodworking.  It isn’t for everyone, and perhaps part of it is that is where the seeds were sewn for me to start this whole passion.

Perhaps in time, as skill levels improve that I will find something else that is even better, but at the moment, from the time I pick up the first bit of timber (or even the pen to come up with an idea), I can imagine the end result, and the pleasure it gives in its use.

I read recently about a 61 year old gentleman with a 60 year old wooden toy.  Nothing overly complex, or sophisticated, but of all the toys he received as a child, this one has stuck with him.  Not plastic, not die cast, but wooden.  I’m sure it isn’t a case of that is all they were ‘back then’ – I imagine of all the toys I’ve had over the years, the only ones that last the distance are the wooden ones as well.  It adds another dimension onto what you are making to know that if designed and made well, that there are generations of children who will enjoy your creation.

That might also inspire us to go that extra distance when building something to put a little more effort into it, use better timbers, make it just that much more sturdy etc.

I’ve been wandering around a few of the toy sales recently, Christmas shopping (sounds way too organised doesn’t it!), and the sensory assault is unbelievable, as is the amount of junk that is sold, at unbelievable prices.  So little of it are wooden toys too – yet there is something inherently tactile about a wooden toy that a bit of plastic crap (even one that walks and talks) can’t match.  So if they can’t be found in the shops, it is up to us as woodworkers to instill in the current generation of children a passion for the more traditional play things.

A couple of years ago, I gave a couple of young friends of mine a wooden marionette each.  One was a dinosaur, the other a duck, based on the designs of ones my uncle made my brother and I years ago (which I still have).  Of all the toys that I have seen come and go in their respective bedrooms, these are still hanging in pride of place.  They may not get played with much, but already they are treasured, and so the seeds are being sewn about the virtues of quality, longevity, hand made rather than mass-produced, traditional materials etc etc.  It is not going to change the world, but preserving a tiny corner of simpler times is worthwhile.

As I have written before, this is a sink and stove set I made for a nephew and niece.

It may not have all the bells and whistles of the current plastic fantastic toys being sold

But does it really make it less of a toy?  For a young child, does it matter if a car is a lump of wood with 4 wheels, or if it looks (and drives) like a Ferrari?  Often, it seems, they tire of the one with the bells and whistles faster than the simpler toy – perhaps because one supplies them with the details, and that wears thin, whereas the other evokes their imagination (for life).

I still remember the wooden toys that I’ve had, particularly the ones that were made for me.  The billy cart when I was 4, the marble roller, the dinosaur puppet etc.  I remember the ones that I made as a child too – planes that flew, cars etc.  I struggle to recall many of the commercial ones, other than perhaps the one company that made plastic toys that really evoked the spirit of a wooden toy – those of Fisher Price.

But back to wood – it is the duty of Parents, Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, friends etc who are woodworkers to make toys for the young people in your lives.  You don’t suddenly have to become Santa’s Workshop, but you’ll be surprised just how much impact making a single toy can have on the recipient.  You may never know, it may be at 60 when that child looks for something to do in retirement that the seed that was sewn finally germinates.  Just a thought for the day.

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