Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Amazing Finger-jointed Block System


As a kid I had every manner of toys that allowed me to build stuff, from my grandfather’s set of wooden blocks to Lincoln Logs, LEGO, Spinwelder, Girder and Panel, Erector sets and on and on. But I never had Crandall’s Improved Building Blocks for Children.

This fascinating system of components is based on the machine-made finger joint to allow children to build anything in their imagination with the help of friction – no glue. This week I’ve been poring over historical documents unearthed by Jeff Burks on this 19th-century toy.

The blocks were patented by Charles Crandall on Feb. 6, 1867, according to patent records. Here’s the patent:


Crandall started in his father’s woodworking and furniture business. After his father died, Crandall switched to making toys exclusively. You can see some of the toys Crandall made here.

The building blocks were successful enough that they were still in production in 1882 – many years after they were patented.

I’m fascinated by the blocks from a woodworker’s perspective. Clearly machine-made, these blocks were probably manufactured using the machinery that cranked out finger-jointed boxes by the thousands in the 19th century.

One of the advantages of the Crandall’s building blocks compared to regular toy blocks is that you can move a structure after building it without too much danger of it falling apart.

My kids are too old to play with blocks now. So I’m going to need to come up with an excuse to make a set of these some day.

— Christopher Schwarz

5 thoughts on “The Amazing Finger-jointed Block System

  1. philjohnwilliams

    Maybe you could build a set as part of the research for your upcoming book The Anarchist’s Toy Box.

  2. DaveS2

    “So I’m going to need to come up with an excuse to make a set of these some day.”


  3. Kevin

    OMG Spinwelder!! I’ve been trying to recall the name of that toy for years now. I LOVED that thing to death. I couldn’t build worth a crap with it but the process fascinated me. Thanks for the jog down memory lane.

  4. JMAW Works

    I suspect if you messed a bit with the spacing by judiciously skipping fingers, you could get to a system that would also allow T or even cross joint connections.

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