Blog Archives

Trees for the Future

Trees for the Future

Trees in Northern Michigan along Lake Superior

Using wood in my toys comes with a bit of guilt. Trees are beautiful and bring so many benefits to our world. Yet they make pretty good toys too, toys that last and last. Still cutting down trees seems somehow wrong. So to remedy this unease I always plant more trees than I consume. You should see the forest in our backyard; it is getting hard to find space to swing a cat. And I have to find a place for our potted Christmas tree that will need planting December 26th. Since my own backyard is limited I support organizations that plant trees. One of my favorites is Trees for the Future. They plant millions of tress around the world and are highly ranked by the folks who evaluate non-profits. If you are able I encourage you to join me in supporting Trees for the Future. They are good folks doing good work.

He who fails to plant a tree…
Shall go coffinless to the grave

A Chinese proverb


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December 12, 2013 · 6:09 pm

Shop built ambient dust collector

Shop built ambient dust collector

This is the ambient dust collector I made to gather dust missed by my main dust collectors. Dust is most effectively captured near the source and I work hard to make that happen, but fine dust always seems to escape to cloud the workshop air. This pictured collector captures most of these fine particles and provides other benefits as described below.

I use a Panasonic bath fan rated at 258 cfm.(Panasonic FV-20NLF1 WhisperLine™ In-Line Fan 1.4 Sones 258 CFM Energy Star) Its quiet, rated for continuous duty and uses very little energy. I have it wired to my light switch. I chose a common filter size (24 x 24) so its easy to find at retail, though I shake it out carefully and expect it to last for years.

You can see the 6 inch exhaust feeds into a T fitting with a valve on the leg that blows into the shop. The other leg blows outdoors. I seldom blow outdoors but the T will always direct a small portion of the filtered exhaust outside or a large portion when I close the valve at the bottom of the T which blows toward the floor. This way the workshop is always under a slight negative pressure which helps keep dust from filtering into the other parts of my basement. In the dead of Winter I often close the outside leg completely. In the Summer the shop can get pretty warm on active machine days. Then I close the valve and the fan takes the warm air near the ceiling and moves it outside. The resulting negative pressure pulls more cool air from my central air conditioning supply register at the opposite end of the shop. There are no HVAC returns in the workshop so this supply usually doesn’t blow much. It all works surprising well.

ambiant dust collector 1024 2
ambiant dust collector 1024 1

Dear John:

The Clacker was most well received by our daughter-in-law, speaking for her daughter (our grand-daughter, of course, who is 13 months old), who is not given to enthusiasms but who said over the phone, twice, and emphatically, that your Clacker is “beautiful” (and on inquiry that it doesn’t make the kind of noise you want to run away from after hearing for 5 minutes as so many toys do). Thank you for contributing to our family what will be an heirloom. — and you’ll probably receive orders from us in the future. Keep on truckin’.

Sherry and Jeff

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra

Shop built ambient dust collector


October 14, 2013 · 5:24 pm

The Five Baseball Dad Commandments

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 9.54.08 AM

This sign was posted in front of stands at the Little League park in Maryland where my son played a tournament this weekend. If only I had seen it before I wrote about cretinous baseball parents a month ago. The sign is like a Dante’s Inferno for Little League parental sins, perfectly capturing the loutish behavior in order of severity:

John Dickerson of Slate Magazine – full article

I used to go to my kids’ soccer games and I was the only parent who wasn’t screaming, because I’d have to do a show that night. It was hard. Moms and dads get more emotional at those soccer and Little League games than at a professional game.
Neil Diamond

The biggest thrill a ballplayer can have is when your son takes after you. That happened when my Bobby was in his championship Little League game. He really showed me something. Struck out three times. Made an error that lost the game. Parents were throwing things at our car and swearing at us as we drove off. Gosh, I was proud.
Bob Uecker

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August 26, 2013 · 10:11 pm

Fascinating Wood and Resin Table

Fascinating Wood and Resin Table

I found these folks on the wonderful site Core77. They come from British Columbia and gather their wood on Vancouver Island, one of my favorite places on earth. See more of their work at

One who works with their hands is a laborer; one who works with hands and brain is a craftsperson; but one who works with hands and brain and heart is an artist.

paraphrasing Louis Nizer (1902 – 1994)

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July 8, 2013 · 4:59 pm

Five train locomotives

train five engines

Five Train Engines were made today and show their fresh Walnut Oil finish in the picture above. They are made from Walnut, Beech, Cherry, Ash and Birch. Walnut oil is a traditional wood finish, used for centuries, and has the advantage of being a drying oil. This means that it avoids the mess and possible rancidity of other vegetable oils and it has the added advantage of being safe to touch and taste. I usually make toys in small groups; groups large enough to gain some efficiency, but small enough to avoid boredom. So my smaller toys are born in single digit litters and the larger toys as twins or triplets. And while they arrive at your door newly born they are fully ready to play.

train building (1)
Two engine chassis in rough form made from American Beech wood. You can see 23 other train cars at my website.

The best friend on earth of man is the tree.  When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the earth.

Frank Lloyd Wright

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June 25, 2013 · 10:17 pm

Band-sawing a steam boiler on a wooden toy train.

Band-sawing a steam boiler on a wooden toy train.

This picture shows how I make the boilers on my train locomotives. It isn’t difficult but does take a very sharp band saw blade to rip thru 4 inches of White Ash long grain. Significant operator care helps to prevent blood stains on the wood. They are so time consuming to remove. 😉

I use a 4 tooth per inch, hook style blade. The hook shaped teeth almost draw the wood into the blade lessening the feed pressure I have to exert. A routed, bored and sanded boiler can be partially seen in the lower left of the above picture. An older bandsaw is pictured below showing fewer guards and covers than modern tools.


“Apparently the new high-tech Star Wars toys will be in stores any day now. The toys can talk and are interactive, so they can be easily distinguished from Star Wars fans.”
— Conan O’Brien

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June 24, 2013 · 6:11 pm

John in the toyshop

john in workshop

Sanding a rocking horse seat

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June 12, 2013 · 3:50 pm