Monthly Archives: November 2013

Handmade or Machine Made?

Many folks have questions about my toys and how I make then. A frequent question is, “Are these toys handmade?” It is a simple query that requires a complicated answer. Sure they are handmade, my two hands. But, always a but, I use a variety of tools.

shop photos 1 In the picture I am using my hands and a steel file to smooth the wood in a train’s caboose. Such fine detail requires a hand’s touch.

I use a variety of tools in my hands. Many have sharp edges to cut wood fibers and they range from Gouges to Sandpaper.

shop photos 10 Two razor sharp steel tools.

At this point its still my hands and a few edges sharper than my fingernails. Yet to make a living at my work I bring in a variety of machines that push the sharp steel cutting edges for me. Often the wood is in my hands but the machines bring speed and non-fatiguing power into play.

shop photos 8
An electric drill rotates two sharp edges to bore a photos 5A few of the many drill bits I use for boring holes. (pardon my dust)

I made this inflatable drum sanding machine to push thousands of tiny sharp crystals against the wood in my hands to smooth the rough edges. I use various sanding sleeves in a sequence of decreasing crystal size to achieve the silky smooth wood surface that’s a joy to touch.
shop photos 9

You can see that I use my hands a great deal. So the toys are handmade. Yet I use many hand tools in my toy making so the toys are made with hands and tools. Additionally, I use several machines in the workshop proving the toys are hand, tool and machine made. Some of my woodworking friends even have computer guided machines and most toys at toy stores are made in huge automatic factories, often untouched by human hands. So, what do you think? Are my toys handmade?

Please leave your comment below. John

Workmanship of the better sort is called, in an honorific way, craftsmanship. Nobody, however, is prepared to say where craftsmanship ends and ordinary manufacture begins. It is a word to start an argument with.
David Pye – The Nature and Art of Workmanship

I’ve never believed that a really good craftsman is intended for a tremendous public. A museum can show a thing or two to countless people, but the craftsman lives in a condition where the size of his public is almost in inverse proportion to the quality of his work…finally, this craftsman is the one who does the work himself, and gives people something very personal; not very much of it, but very personal and therefore not accessible to everyone.

James Krenov – A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook


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How to drill axle holes in train chassies

I make hundreds of train cars each year. Each has an identical chassis with 4 axle holes. These holes need to be bored quite accurately and in the same plane or the train car will wobble. I use a clamping fixture to align the stock to facilitate this. It consists of two parallel fences mounted on a plywood base. The stock slides between these fences as the holes are bored one at a time. I use plexiglass strips on the near fence to apply pressure to keep the stock in close contact with the back fence. This keeps chips from slipping between which makes for inaccurately placed holes. I also use a pneumatic clamp to apply about 30 pounds of pressure to the stock to hold it securely in position. I bore slowly with a high quality brad point drill bit to prevent the bit from wandering thru the varying densities of the rings in the White Ash hardwood. I also make sure I have a good book to listen to while doing all this boring boring. You can see a video of the process on youtube.

Looking down at the fixture on my drill press table.drill jig for train chassis

“You can discover more about a person in an
hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Hi John,
We bought our first toys from you—wooden block cart and rocking horse- when I was pregnant with our first child. We met you then—27 years ago this summer—in State College Pa. This Christmas we are delighted to be able to buy the same toys for our grandson and granddaughter. Is there still time to get them for Christmas?
We still have those original toys as well as several others we have bought since and they have been well loved by all .
Thanks for the many years of enjoyment.

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