Show me the best wooden toys
May 13, 2010 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Seen some delightful, charming wooden toys? I want to make some...

My wife sews and knits to make lovely gifts for our kids and others. I'd like to do the same with wooden toys. I am a fairly competent hobbyist, I've made furniture and am pretty handy. I have a well set up workshop and access to more hardcore machinery if I don't have it myself.
What I lack, is inspiration (and maybe any tips or hints).
Point me to your favourite, special, charming or whimsical wooden toys - plans or just pictures of anything you thought was "Wow".
Bonus points if it was something you or your kids actually play with.
posted by bystander to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I liked a Jacob's Ladder quite a lot and often buy them for kids. The flippy-clacky-woodeny Jacob's ladder, not the ouchy-burny-shocky jacob's ladder or the incoherent-vaguely-Lovecraftian Jacob's Ladder.
posted by adipocere at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Growing up I had wooden vehicles (sedan, sports car, truck, helicopter) in a similar vein as this. Now nearly 30 years later, my nephews happily play with these wooden vehicles too.
posted by mmascolino at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2010

There are a lot of interesting 3d wooden puzzles out there that I would imagine would be quite a challenge to build.
posted by tuck_nroll at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2010

I've seen a toy that is a barbell shape, with wooden rings around the middle of the barbell, obviously carved from 1 piece of wood. i thought that was cool. My son's little red wagon has lasted forever; I use it in the garden now. Maybe a wooden wagon mounted on a chassis, or one of those lovely baby toboggans they used to sell at LLBean.
posted by theora55 at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2010

This guy's wooden puzzles are amazing. The squirrel family is killing me with cute. Could you do something like that?
posted by peep at 3:01 PM on May 13, 2010

Oh, I recall being rather fond of a toy which was a basically a propeller on a stick. You held the stick between your palms, which were laid together, and the propeller would be above your clasped hands. If you held tightly and moved your hands past one another fast enough and let go, the propeller would lift up rather far — I was able to get well over ten feet off the ground.
posted by adipocere at 3:03 PM on May 13, 2010

I have this book and it is well worth the money. It's not just toys, but there are quite a few plans for toys in there.
posted by Ostara at 3:05 PM on May 13, 2010

My mom used to own a furniture store and had a little play area with wooden toys for the kids to goof around with while their parents dithered over which dresser to buy. The little flip car track was far and away the most popular.
posted by contraption at 3:07 PM on May 13, 2010

Ball machines are fun. Either a modular set such as Quadrilla or just a fixed track of your design.
posted by bondcliff at 3:13 PM on May 13, 2010

There were some really neat wooden toys in the movie Witness... I always think of them when looking at toys.
posted by bardophile at 3:14 PM on May 13, 2010

Haba's marble runs are popular around my house (or they were, neither kid is at the right age at the moment) and some of the pieces are very clever.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:17 PM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: Check out the wooden toys from Lehman's. The marble track and the farm anumals are my favorites, but I'll take one of everything, thanks...
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:26 PM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: Also, one of everything from Lapp's, especially the double car racer (a big hit at my house).
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:28 PM on May 13, 2010

Propeller on a stick = Whirlygig(pdf)

Blocks are a pretty simple project that most kids love, just make sure you make a ton so that there are plenty to share.

I got a book for my husband on Amazon, I think it cost a penny plus $4.99 shipping. American Folk Toys by Dick Schnacke, it has some frightening looking toys but also some really great ones.

In my experience as a kid and now as a parent the toys that move are the more popular ones. Marble race tracks can keep a kid entertained for hours, especially the kind where the marble goes through a kind of maze. Anything a kid can ride on or pull around is going to be a huge hit.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:33 PM on May 13, 2010

when I was little, the 2 toys I had that received the most use were a little wooden wheeled scooter / pushbike type thing and a rocking horse. Hobbyhorses (broomstick horses) would be super fun, too.

I was a mobile, active kid though. And I don't know enough about modern parenting / safety issues with these kind of old-skool "mobility" toys to comment on safety factors involved. I imagine a motivated toddler could beat the living hell out of his/her siblings with a broomstick horse, for example. Which, on review may, or may not be, a feature.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:41 PM on May 13, 2010

This wooden pulley caterpillar in the last issue of Readymade won me over.
posted by Syllables at 3:52 PM on May 13, 2010

Brio makes those wooden trains that everyone loves. You could make specialized things that would roll on those tracks. My kids have their names spelled out in letter versions (each letter is an individual "train car").
posted by wwartorff at 3:56 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh my gosh, stick ponies! I had totally forgotten about the ones I had until I read this thread. My dad made us a set complete with yarn hair and little smiles. He just used a flat board and cut out a horse-head shape and affixed it to the stick. And of course he added reins--very important!

My sister and I spent many delightful hours galloping around the backyard on these guys.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:01 PM on May 13, 2010

Watching Cabaret Mech Theatre's youtube channel might give you a bit of inspiration.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:18 PM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: Der Hampelmann.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 4:26 PM on May 13, 2010

A friend of my wife made us a rocking horse and it was such a big hit that we paid him to make rocking horses for our daughter's cousins when they were born. A brass plate engraved with the recipient's name was a nice touch as well.
posted by TedW at 4:54 PM on May 13, 2010

My cousin's granpa made her the coolest, most detailed doll house I have ever seen. I think that would be an awesome idea, 'cuz you could forever be adding to it. and every few years I'm sure the kids will want to redecorate
posted by purpletangerine at 5:37 PM on May 13, 2010

Puzzle boxes! Here's a fine example, from these guys. Here's some instructions.

Evan a simple box, personalized with a name, makes a nice gift for anybody.
posted by hydrophonic at 5:59 PM on May 13, 2010

What ages are you planning to make toys for? My toddler's favorite wooden toys right now are this pound-a-peg set and a simple puzzle. I think wooden puzzles are really great. My kid has this crazy need to figure things out on his own, so having a puzzle he can complete keeps him happy for minutes (which is a long time when you're dealing with a toddler). He's also really into pushing things around, so I think something like this would be really fun for a little kid.
posted by lexicakes at 7:15 PM on May 13, 2010

One year when I was broke at Christmas-time, I serendipitously happened on a mall vendor selling these charming Russian wooden kinetic toys, all for under $5.

The basic idea was a flat paddle with a handle, and a hole through the middle. On the paddle, one a variety of articulated bears or foxes or other anthropomorphic animals, conducting music or playing the piano or steering a boat. Depending through the hole in the paddle, a pendulum, a string with a smooth polished tear-drop shaped wooden weight.

Gently "stirring" the paddle caused the pendulum to swing and the weight to oscillate, which in turn caused the bear to swing his baton and turn back and forth to conduct his unseen orchestra, or to lift his arms to plonk left-right-left on his "piano", or to turn his boat's wheel, or whatever.

They were apparently hand-carved, unpainted, un- or only lightly varnished, made only of wood and string and glue, and entirely charming.
posted by orthogonality at 8:04 PM on May 13, 2010

I don't know what the proper name of this thing is. I call it a "Marble Tower." You turn a crank to move marbles to the top and then watch them fall down through a Rube Goldberg type contraption to the bottom. It looks a little complicated to build, but it's unusual and you could get very creative with the "Rube Goldberg" part of it.

Both kids and adults seemed to love playing with it. I think I have some more pictures of it and another one they had at the show. Contact me privately if you would like them.
posted by 14580 at 8:19 PM on May 13, 2010

You could work with your wife together to make a collection of Marionettes (you make the control rod, head, hands and feet, she makes the clothes) and if you are ambitious you can even make a puppet theatre with fantastic curtains too (I'm thinking the Sound of Music...). Seriously, my children's puppets have lasted for years and are wonderful tools for storytelling. Look at the Czech puppets, in my opinion the most creative ones out there.
posted by saucysault at 8:24 PM on May 13, 2010

Not exactly a toy but how about a screw-style nutcracker?

These things (if they're made well) crack the hardest nuts without any effort at all. Make the knobs big enough and even someone with arthritis will be cracking nuts like crazy.

Google around and you should be able to find tons of different designs.
posted by porpoise at 8:43 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really like the look of this wooden toy tool kit.
posted by illenion at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I've marked best answers I really liked, and hadn't thought of, but I may well go back and try some others too.
Any latecomers, feel free to keep adding, I'll be checking back for more.
posted by bystander at 12:28 AM on May 15, 2010

My kids are still hankering for the duckling version of the waddling duck. The duckling is nothing special -- cute and yellow -- but there's something about the oversized flapping feet, and the way that they sound on a hard floor, that's amusing.

Making wooden toys is a great project. Good luck!
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:07 PM on May 16, 2010

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