Toodlebug Toys

Had an interesting excursion today, to Chirnside Park, North East Melbourne where I was invited to see a new woodworking business that had just opened just two weeks ago called Pop’s Shed.  More on Pop’s Shed (inc a bunch of photos) in a post shortly, but ‘next door’ was a brand new business that had just opened today, so in honour of their opening, I’m going to briefly talk about Toodlebug Toys first! (The manager is related to the two soon-to-be Pops (grandfathers) next door!)

Toodlebug Toys

Might seem a little strange me writing about a toy shop, but this is one with a difference.  That difference is their very strong belief that parallels what regular readers of Stu’s Shed will probably have picked up on: I am a firm believer that wooden toys are a very special gift for a child.  They have substance, texture, presence, and longevity.  They are very tactile, and rather than high-tech, high gloss, complex plastic toys, a wooden toy doesn’t deny the child the opportunity for imaginative play.  So many modern toys have solved all the imagination challenges already, and as a toy they get boring quickly.

Ros, the business’ manager has a solid background in early childhood education, and the toy ranges she has chosen for her shop reflects this.

Shop Window

The shop has a really interesting range of toys, from the handmade rocking horse in the window, through to the baby toys on the back wall.

Aussie-made animals

Unfortunately it is cost prohibitive to source many Australian -made toys, but there are some – these animals made by a Victorian couple.

Toys

Baby Toys

Even the baby rattles, and “first reader” books are wooden. So that is a quick look around the shop.  If you are looking for quality wooden toys, or are simply looking for an alternative from the plastic junk out there these days, give them a call, or just drop in!

They are located in Unit 10a, Rear of 288 Maroondah Hwy, Chirnside Park. (03) 9727 0911

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.

Toy-Maker Magazine

Finally got around to picking up a copy of the annual Toy-Maker Magazine (2007/2008 ) from Skills Publishing.

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This year has been so full on (not the least of which being this website), that I didn’t get close to writing an article for it. Had a pretty fair showing in it last year (article reprinted here for those who haven’t delved into the earlier posts on this blog). I also used to write quite a few articles for another of the magazines from Skills Publishing – House and Home Magazine that used to have a Triton Workshop section.

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(3rd image down on right-side)

Got me thinking – if I could only choose one tool for toymaking, what would it be? For me, I’d have to say the bandsaw – it is such a versatile tool. It is true to say that no one machine can really work in isolation from others, and it is the combination of machines that really makes for a functional workshop. Some of the combinations that seem to go hand-in-hand are the tablesaw and router table, the planer and thicknesser (or jointer and planer if you prefer that terminology), and it may seem a little strange, but I find the bandsaw and spindle sander are a formidable pairing. (Obviously it depends on what you are making, but dragging this back to toymaking again, the bandsaw does the bulk of the stock removal, and the sander finishes the job – with a coarse grit, the sander is pretty potent where it comes to stock removal, especially in pine!)

Bandsawn Castles

One of my work colleagues bought one in for me to have a look at. I have a book with plans for a few, but had never seen one in-person before, so thought I’d put some photos of it here for you as well.

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This one starts off as any other lump of branch, with a few bandsawn squiggles running through it. (The base is cut off initially, and glued back at the end.) The timber is Tasmanian Huon Pine.

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Here you can just make out that the cuts have been made at a slight angle – 1/2 to 1 degree or so.

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When you open it up (basically by tipping it upside down), the castle suddenly appears! (The windows have been burnt in with a pyrography pen) What I like is different layers of the castle have different amounts of extension, because of the variation in the angle they were cut. Very clever and effective!

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This last view is from the back, just to give you a better idea on how it all works.

Happy New Year!

Boy was last year a big one – so much going on, think I only took about 3 breaths all year!

So onto the new: I haven’t gotten my head around just what I want to achieve this year, but it will certainly involve in keeping things moving forward.

This site is now just over 6 months old, and has had over 30,000 visits in that time.  That has completely exceeded my expectations (didn’t really have any to start with, so guess that wasn’t too hard!), but 30k is great!  A lot are return visits which is something I really do like to see – it means that there is actually enough here that people are wanting to come back to see what is new.  It does mean I need to keep on top of it, keeping producing new content, so that is definitely a good thing!

So what do I see coming up this year?

As I have said, I haven’t gotten my head around it all, but it will include an upgrade to how the videos are being done – it will be a gradual transition, but I want to keep improving their look and feel, and the amount of depth of information as well.

The shed itself is obviously becoming quite a critical choke-point, so there are some tentative plans on how I can increase its size, and get it more organised (and perhaps upgrading my ‘blue-box’ collection that you see on one wall – there have been some comments about it on one of the woodworking bulletin boards.  Not quite sure why the comments, but they were always a temporary/stop-gap solution, and I’d like to produce something a little more stylish, and in wood (funnily enough!))

With the shed upgrade, it will be an ideal time to finally implement a decent, fixed dust collection system.  I did have one working at one stage, but it has fallen into serious disrepair.  It isn’t very likely, but with more space, there is an opportunity to fit in a proper cabinet saw…..now that’d be a real coup!

I really want to improve my woodturning skills this year, and of course [some of] that will come through in the posts and videos.  I’ve been turning pens for a while, but want to really try my hand at some larger items, such as bowls.

I also want to really improve my skills with the Incra, master some of the amazing joinery that is possible, and try my hand at some of the projects in the Incra Project Book.

Some videos planned for this site include the above (obviously), and also a look at some of the different sharpening techniques, including the Scary-Sharp using an Alisam Engineering Jig that Professional Woodworker Supplies has generously offered, along with one of their coarse diamond stones, and possibly a Hock blade.  Also, using diamond stones, Japanese waterstones (using a Veritas Mk2 and some blades supplied by HNT Gordon), and water-cooled grinding wheels (we have the Triton slow-speed wet grinder, and the Australian supplier of Tormek have very generously offered a T7, so I am really looking forward to getting to review that in late January).

I still have a review of the Triton 15″ thicknesser, and 12″ bandsaw on the way as well, so it already is looking like a busy start to the year (yay!!)

I’ve also been asked if I can make another of my toy sink/stove sets, and there are a whole heap of other projects I need to do this year.

So hopefully there are things of interest to you in there, and if you have any other areas you really want to see covered, do drop me a line!

To everyone, hope you have a great New Year, and that you get plenty of time to make as much sawdust as possible (and safely!!)

Thanks for all the emails and encouragement over the past 6 months, it really is appreciated.  I’ve had emails from all sorts of places – it’s amazing to see the range of locations of visitors – quite mind-blowing!

Hope to have you visit again real soon!

Stuart.

Work-in-progress Dinosaur #3

Thought I’d post a pic of the dino that I’ve been working on. Currently at the test-assembly stage. You can still see the remains of the pattern from the plans I photocopied, then stuck to the prepared timber. The timber was originally 19mm stock that I resawed on the bandsaw, then ran through the thicknesser until it was the required 6mm thick.

The next step is to sand each part, and glue the sculpture together, followed by a coat of stone-effects paint (for that fossil look).

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It is strange, changing from one bandsaw to another. Wouldn’t have thought I’d notice much difference, and it was subtle, but there. (This is between the Triton 12″, and a Jet 14″, both running a 1/8″ blade). Thinking about it, I’m not sure if one doesn’t have finer teeth than the other, that may make some difference. I don’t think that either stood out as being particularly superior to the other, just that it was a different feel between the two machines.

Router Bit of-the-Month (November)

With the upgrade to the blog (and the new template that gave me the extra column), I was able to make use of the new real estate to add the ‘featured router bit and tool’ (and I may expand this further if new ideas hit me).

Both have featured in videos recently, but I didn’t expand my writeup at the time (and it was really back in late September….slowly getting the machine into gear…..December’s bit will be along shortly) Enough of the pre-blub, let’s jump into it.

The router bit for November is the Carb-i-tool Wheel Cutter (featured in Video Episode 11). It is not strictly a router bit, as it is designed to be used in the drill press (and would be very dangerous if used in the router), but I’ve included it in this category as it has many aspects in common with router bits. – method of manufacture, 1/2″ shaft, large chunk of Tungsten Carbide, the teflon or powder coating (depending on the bit’s purpose) (that is a standard on Carb-i-tool bits).

The bit itself is built on a 1/2″ shaft of mild steel (there are a whole range of steel grades that are used, depending on the specific bit in question, and the sort of loading it would be expecting during use). It has a removable drill bit held in place with a hex grub-screw (I guess in theory you could change the bit to suit different axle diameters, but I haven’t investigated this), and the two wings of the bit have hefty chunks of tungsten carbide which are the cutting surfaces (and edges). The bit itself is powder coated to provide a low-friction surface (although in this case, the body of the bit does not come into contact with the material being cut). Being that the bit is designed for the drill press (which is a much lower-speed machine than a router), and that it is an end-cutting bit, there are no anti-kickback features in the design. (One of reasons it would be almost suicidal to try to use this bit in a router).

There are in fact 3 wheel cutter router bits available – 40mm, 50mm and 60mm. With the quality carbide cutting edge, these bits will each produces 1000s of wheels.

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The wheels it produces have rounded edges, and an inset hub. They work obviously well as wheels for toy cars, or doubled up as wheels for toy trucks etc, but they can also be used in other ways.

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As toy taps, or knobs on stoves, even one cut into a 1/3 as a clasp to hold a hinged (toy) oven door shut.

To use the bit, you cut the first half of the wheel, then turn the blank over. Using the axle hole created on the first side, align the blank up for the second cut. The wheel will break loose leaving a very thin ridge of wood (that if this were a metal casting, would be known as a parting line – don’t know its term here) that is easily removed by being snapped of, or with a quick sanding.

Some timber is prone to tearout, and given the wheel is cut circular manner, there is with-grain and cross-grain portions. If there is excessive tearout, it can be minimised by taking longer to perform the cut, especially slowing near completion.

In any respect, this bit creates toy wheels very quickly and easily, and you soon find that you don’t want to throw offcuts away, at least not until you have cut as many holes as possible to make more wheels!

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