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Buyer’s Guide to Tumi Ishi Wooden Balancing Blocks

tumi ishi balancing blocksOK, so this is a slightly (very) biased guide, but when I first got interested in making Tumi Ishi I spent a lot of time looking at how other people have approached this, and the feedback from buyers for the different block types on offer.

As a quick aside for the uninitiated, I should explain that “tumi ishi” in Japanese is variously translated as pile of rocks, or balancing stones. It is thought to have its roots in the practice of balancing rocks on top of each other – as seen on beaches and riversides around the world as well as in Zen gardens. In a wooden toy context, Tumi Ishi are wooden balancing blocks – but not the regular square and rectangular blocks. Tumi Ishi blocks have many irregular faces, allowing – indeed requiring – more variety and ingenuity to balance them.wooden balancing stones

The benefits of Tumi Ishi as a toy include improving fine motor skills, understanding of balance, as well as helping concentration, problem solving and perseverance. Additionally the blocks make great landscapes for other toys – acting as anything from construction truck materials to prehistoric caves and mountains.

But back to deciding which Tumi Ishi to buy… 

In researching, I looked at Tumi Ishi offered for sale on Amazon and Ebay, as well as on Etsy and on Facebook – this included ads to other sites, as well as those made by people as a side hustle or home business selling direct to parents in FB groups.

What I saw, and how it informed my approach to making Tumi Ishi:

What I See In The Market

How That Influenced My Tumi Ishi Design

Softwoods are not a good choice for blocks that are going to tumble and roll time after time. They will dent, splinter or worse – possibly very quickly.

I have seen some beautiful looking blocks made from spalted timber, but as spalting is a fungal infection of the wood and the attractive grain lines are actual defensive zones set up by the fungi, I don’t think it’s a great choice for toys.

Similarly proud claims of using recycled, found – or even pallet – wood seem misplaced to me.

My Tumi Ishi blocks are all made from hardwoods – which are beautiful as well as very resilient to damage. The added weight is helpful in building solid towers too!

I only source new, unused timber from reputable, sustainable supplies. That does make me dependent on variable availability – but species typically include oak, sapele, beech, walnut and ash.

I don’t use recycled or spalted wood – for safety.

 

Some blocks look like great value as you get 15, 20 or more blocks in a set – until you realise they are very small blocks, some no bigger than large marbles. Not really suitable for building solid stacks, and in any case only safe for age 3+

Looking at buyer feedback, I often see buyers saying “smaller than expected” and similar; I think there is a certain size expectation for balancing blocks that is bigger than many people are making.

My Tumi Ishi are larger than many others.  Sizes vary according to the original wood and the number/size/angle of faces, but the largest blocks start out as blanks up to 10cm long before cutting the facets. The smallest blocks start as 5cm blanks. “medium” blocks are (amazingly) between the two!

In user testing, these seem to be a good solid size that can be handled by younger children with one or two hands depending on the size.

Too many toys – including Tumi Ishi – are being offered for sale illegally – because they have not been tested and certified safe. All toys sold in the UK – even if you are selling them on a Facebook group – must show they are certified safe by means of the UKCA mark (this was the CE mark before “Brexit”).
I guess the lack of moving parts makes people think this isn’t a problem, but there are several ways in which some blocks I’ve seen would risk a fail in UKCA safety testing:

  • Paint finish that isn’t safe and/or will flake off in normal use.
  • Wood that will splinter when used as intended
  • Sharp edges on faces that haven’t been rounded over.

Like the rest of my toys, the Tumi Ishi sets are certified to the new UKCA safety standards (which are the same as the previous European CE EN-71 standard). This includes, not only materials, but their design and construction.

Just one detail this affects is that all the edges on my blocks are slightly rounded to avoid any sharp edges.

And talking about finishes – it’s common to see balancing blocks painted with finishes that are not going to stand up to the rough and tumble of building rock towers, indeed in some ads they are already marked or damaged. The hardwoods I use don’t need a protective coating, but I use a natural wax/oil mix that provides some protection, especially resistance to moisture. But mainly it enhances the natural grain of these beautiful woods.
Some blocks I’ve seen have lots and lots of small faces,. The randomness of these angles, and the small balancing point, must make them difficult to stack.
In other block sets I’ve seen, every block is identical, with the same combination of faces on every, identically sized blocks  – yawn!

My blocks all include a different mix of 90, 45, and 30 degree faces in different planes, which guarantees a variety of balancing options that will work … as well as some random angles for extra challenge.

Some are a bit gemstone-like, others more like round boulders, some are very random. And even the smallest set includes a mix of large, medium and small blocks in at least 2 different hardwoods. 

If you’d like to know more, my Tumi Ishi wooden balancing stone sets are available for sale in my Etsy store at https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/UKTreeHouseToys

best quality wooden stacking stones stacking wooden blocks - tumi ishi

 

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