or … how I started making wooden toys
I guess I have always been interested in traditional toys. One of my earliest memories is from 3 or 4 years old, when we visited a neighbour who had a suitcase full of mechanical wind up toys. Looking back, I assume he was a toy salesman or something, but I have always remembered what seemed like a treasure chest being opened, and toy after toy scurrying around the edge of the room. This would be about 1963 or 4 and fitted carpets were of the future; our rooms had a square of carpet in the middle, with polished wood or lino round the edges – perfect for toy cars and wind up toys.
As a young adult I wanted to make toys, but skills, tools and space were always limited. I recall attempts at making puppets, kites, toy theatres, and more – with varying (mainly disappointing) results.
Fast forward to 2014 and my first granddaughter’s approaching 3rd Christmas, for which I decided I was going to make a doll’s house! Although I had never done anything like this before, I think a combination of miscellaneous skills picked up along the years, the right tools (or the ability to get them) the internet for research and software for designing made it achievable. I must confess I did not make furniture or residents, but I was delighted with the result, and fortunately Mindy was too.
2015 is granddaughter #2’s 3rd Christmas and of course I can’t leave her out, but don’t want to do another doll’s house (by now there are 4 granddaughters across 2 couples and I’m thinking they don’t want 2 doll’s houses per family) so decide on making a castle. This is in fact a mini doll’s house as the rear of the castle, with a courtyard in front, high castellated walls and 4 towers, finished off with a dungeon, drawbridge and portcullis. All scaled for Playmobil Knights.
2016 and 2017 I get a break from these big projects, which is just as well because looking ahead I realise the final 2 granddaughters both have their 3rd Christmases in 2018. For some reason, still not entirely understood, I decided that as I had to make 2 big toys at the same time, I would do something extra ambitious and make another all-time classic traditional wooden toy; Noah’s Arks. Big ones. And complicated, in a mix of hardwoods. WIth lots of animals (2 of each).
This was by far my most ambitious toy making project and took pretty much all my spare time for a year, especially the animals as most of them are made up of 3 pieces, which of course is x2 per ark, x 2 arks. Plus Mr and Mrs Noah, and I had to be clever and add the snakes and some dinosaurs. By now I had a decent sized workshop however, and had started to equip it with bandsaw, router table, scroll saw, drill press etc – all of which came into use on the arks. The arks themselves were made in alternating Oak and Sapele layers, the same woods being used for decks, stems etc. The animals were made from a variety of hardwoods to bring a variety of grain and colour.
And I made boxes for them to live in.
This was the toy-making project that started the “Wow, you should make those and sell them!” comments, but as I only half-jokingly would reply, if I accounted for the materials and my time (I’m not a fast worker as a rule) they would have to cost about £10,000 each! But it got me thinking about what I could make that would be satisfying to do, but efficiently enough that I could sell them for a price people would pay.
… and that, at the beginning of 2019, along with stepping away from my full-time career, is what led to TreeHouse Toys and the cars I make (the tree house itself is another story). Careful design, sourcing materials, and small batch production all combine to allow me to make real handcrafted wooden toys that are certified CE safe, and sell them for a price that is affordable in the marketplace. And a chance to combine toy making with my love of cars.
The first year of TreeHouse Toys ended with a few hundred vehicles having been produced and sold, with 10 different Vroom models in 4 colours and 2 natural finishes, 2 different Blockster trucks, and 3 UK toy shops stocking them on their shelves.
Looking ahead, plans include increasing production and sales, adding in new models (farm vehicles? construction?) and colours/finishes.