Perhaps it’s because I’ve become a father myself – or maybe it’s just a sign of getting older – but I’ve found myself thinking fondly of old toys. I’m not talking about the Transformers, Stretch Armstrongs and Star Wars figures of my youth (though, I love those toys with all my heart). Those kinds of toys are special in their own way with their wonderfully cheap plastic and bright colors, but I’m talking about handcrafted wooden toys – the toys you play with when you visit your grandparents.
My own grandpa had a workshop. He had a lathe and used it to make all kinds of stuff. In fact, when we went to visit we hardly ever saw my grandpa because he spent all of his time in the shop, only coming in the house for a quick dinner before returning to his work (he was an engineer). He didn’t spend much time with us kids, but we knew him by the toys he made.
I remember playing with a huge bin of homemade Lincoln-style logs that he’d crafted. They were the first thing my little sister and I dug out whenever we went to visit. But there were other things: wooden games with marbles, peg games, carved snakes that wriggled on hinges, wooden race cars powered by rubber bands, spinning tops and strange whirligigs. These toys were all over my grandmother’s house – and I say “grandmother’s house” because I’m very serious when I say my grandfather pretty much lived in his workshop. His wooden toys held a fascination for me because they were so different than the plastic sheen of my everyday toys. Even as a kid I sensed that these toys were something special. We were careful when we played with them. Those old toys were, in a word, charming.
My grandfather never invited me into his shop to show me how he made the toys. I guess he thought me too young at the time, and I suppose I had other things on my mind – like Star Wars. If I had it to do over, I would have asked him to teach me, but sadly he passed away before I ever had that notion. But whenever I see handmade toys I think of him in his shop making whatever popped into his head. Now that I have children of my own, the desire to make toys that they’ll play with and cherish and perhaps even pass on is something I now think about.
“Making Classic Wooden Toys” was created because of that love of classic wooden toys. Selected from projects that have appeared in past issues of Popular Woodworking Magazine and American Woodworker, the puzzles, toys and games in the book are full of nostalgia and similar designs have been played with by children for generations.
Put simply, wooden toys stand the test of time. Perhaps this book will remind you of a beloved toy from your own childhood – and inspire you to make a handmade toy for a kid you love.