An introduction to wooden toys (part 1)
The United Kingdom lost its roots with Wooden toy making during the plastic boom. The General public was told plastic was better and more educational if a toy ‘did’ something. This is changing a lot as more and more people look into wooden toys for both enviromental reasons and for educational theories such as the Waldorf/Steiner movement. This sometimes means, as consumers, we don’t always know what to expect, especially with toys that are not only handmade but using plant based natural oils and finishes.
Wood is a natural and living substance. It can be easy to forget this when we are presented with packaged, shaped and brightly coloured toys. It is because of this that no two wooden toys will be identical, the wood’s structure and fibres are different across species and even within the same tree. This means each item is truly unique whether handmade or machine made.
What’s this mark?
The most common wood markings are knots. Thes are created as a tree with branches grows larger and the base of the branch becomes part of the tree. Knots come in all shapes and sizes and each knot tells the story of how that tree grew.
Some knots are purely aesthetic, they are just as solid as the surrounding timber, other knots can be loose and sometimes the wood can develop a hole where the knot has dried out. By the time timber is ready to shape into toys or furniture any changes in the wood have stabilised and knots that affect the structure of a product can be eliminated. Any that are left should be purely a visual reminder of the life of the tree that provided it.
Of the countless markings that can be seen in wood, my personal favourite is spalting. Spalted timber is in very high demand in furniture and musical instrument making due to the uniqueness, beauty and rarity of such markings. Spalting is actually created by a fungus in the tree when it was living, but don’t worry it isn’t harmful.
A second favourite is the mineral streak. You guessed it, this is a line in the wood created as the tree absorbs and deposits minerals from the soil. These lines run straight along the grain and can be dark and striking or very subtle. These are more common in lighter coloured woods especially in Birch, Maple and Lime.
Even if the above are not present the grain of any wooden toy will vary. The age of the tree and the section of the wood the toy was cut from will produce different grain patterns. Each tree species has it’s own grain pattern and, like snowflakes or fingerprints, every pattern is unique.
Hand made toys although all made of wood come in a variety of styles and variations. To love or not to love?