Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Wooden Toys
In Europe and Britain in the 18th century, there
was a huge growth in the number of craftsmen calling themselves toymakers.
Miniatures were made of soldiers, coach and horses and ships as well as
games – exquisite trifles for an elegant society.
Meanwhile in Nuremberg the craze was for increasingly
elaborate automata (moving toys operated by clockwork or trickling sand or
water). The recipients of these masterpieces were usually the nobility.
Indeed in the 18th and 19th centuries
Germany was renowned for its wooden toys. It is something of a surprise
therefore that today the strongest movement in hand made wooden toys is in
This has come about largely due to the efforts of Yootha Rose
and Sam Smith. After the second world war wooden toys were hard to come
by, so Yootha and Sam began making their own toys for their children.
By his death in 1981, Sam Smith’s work had achieved the status of art, with wonderful, humorous carved toys on display in respected galleries. Today, toymakers are once more emphasizing the playability of toys, while still maintaining the high standards of the craft.
Design is the first and most important step as, by their very
nature, toys require imagination to make them fun. This applies whether
they are instructional (alphabet blocks were one of the earliest learning
toys), representational (say, of an animal or object), or something for
Simplicity is essential, in the sense of refined rather than
basic. For example a few deft cuts can suggest the shape of an animal, or
precise balance will set a circus clown into perpetual motion. Brightness,
friendliness (no fierce expressions) and safety are other important
factors to consider when designing a toy.
Materials – Beech is an ideal wood as the close grain does
not splinter easily and it takes paint well. Ash and oak are also
excellent, the latter especially if the grain and beauty of the wood is to
be fully exploited.
However, these are expensive and quite difficult to obtain.
Pine is widely used but it is not so durable, while most hobby or DIY
shops stock ramin, a reasonable materials. It is worth keeping all scraps
and off cuts for details on future projects.
Equipment – The equipment should be dictated by the design,
not the other way round. Begin with the tools necessary for what you want
to make and then add to them as your ideas and skills grow.
Four important pieces are:
Fretsaw – used to make flat toys with interlocking parts
such as jigsaw
puzzle. A design drawn onto the surface of the wood is
followed by the blade which, as it becomes familiar to the user, can begin
to dictate quite different ideas.
Lathe – used for turning wood to produce for example,
Circular saw – the tool needed to cut building blocks for
Band saw – cuts curved shapes through thick wood.
Any toy may, of course require a combination of these. In
addition basic equipment includes a sanding machine (or sandpaper and lots
of energy), a drill, screwdriver, small hammer, sharp penknife, set
square, spirit level, ruler, a combination and mitre square (with a 90º
and 45º arm), compass, pencil and sharpener and reinforced sticky tape.
Decoration – Bright paint is obviously high on the list
when it comes to appealing to children, and a sense of humour can bring a
shape to life. Paint, varnish and lacquer should be non toxic.
If the wood forms part of the intrinsic beauty of the piece
the grain can be highlighted with sanding and stain. If it is an animal,
effective scales or feathers can be created by scorching the surface and
wire brushing away soft parts of the wood. Pine is especially good for
this as it has soft and hard areas.
A beginner may start by tracing from pictures or photographs,
and patterns are available in books. As your technique and experience
develop it is your imagination that takes over, and will lead you to make
a piece of wood into something to be played with, enjoyed and admired.
Moving Toys – Toys can be made to move in all kinds of
ways. Wheels can be attached, either directly to the body of the toy or to
axles held on runners glued underneath it. Joints allow the limbs of a
doll or animal to be put into any position, but need to be tight enough to
hold the shape.
A lot of fun can be had with figures astride moveable
parallel bars; these clever balancing toys depend upon the precise
identification of the centre of gravity.
A relatively new technique in Britain, inspired by a crude
Peruvian model, is articulation, whereby toys can be made to bend and
wiggle by cutting the wood into thin sections. Wooden fish and snakes are
very effective made in this manner.
The basic shape is drawn on a piece of wood which is then sliced
through horizontally with a band saw. The two pieces are then taped
together, and the shape cut out. Slits are then cut at intervals of about
6mm along the length of the shape, almost sliced through to the other
side. The pieces are separated and canvas is then glued in between the two
pieces, to hold them together. Excess canvas is trimmed from the edges.
The shape is then refined still further before the piece is sanded either
by hand or on a machine. At this point the wood can be scorched and
brushed to bring out the grain patterning.
Each slit is then cut right through, releasing the block into a piece of flowing wood. This is then ready for decorating with paints.
Safety Precautions – Most countries have special
regulations on toy
These guard against toxic paints, flammable materials and dangerous methods among other things and are worth adhering to even if you do not intend to sell your creation.
Contributions to this page are more than welcome - please send us your inclusions for approval.
You may copy this article and place it on your own website, as long as you do not change it and include this resource box including the live link to Walkaboutcrafts.com Copyright © Walkabout Crafts
would like to make a donation towards the upkeep of this web site then
that would be greatly appreciated. Please click below to make a donation.
Spread the Word...
We are a non funded, non profit organisation and we need your help. To help us promote 'Walkabout Crafts'; Please recommend us to your friends or if you have a web site / social network page please add our link (selection of banner and text links can be found at http://www.walkaboutcrafts.com/banners.htm ), or if your feeling really generous please send a donation.
If you have suggestions of how we can improve our service, please let us know. We love to hear from you!
Find the perfect gift; Exquisite hand made gifts, art, crafts and souvenirs...
Sell Crafts online, Craft Courses, Events, Projects and business advice...
Colouring pages, recipes, Celtic fonts, music, competitions, downloads...
home | about us | buy | sell | gift shop | craft topics | free gifts | contact
. . . .
Walkabout Crafts is a non funded, non profit web site. 100% of all sales go directly to the members. Please support us by telling your friends about us - thank you. Copyright © Walkabout Crafts All rights reserved. Telephone: +44 (0) 773 328 4443