Friday, October 3, 2008

A Return to Simplicity

The Etsy community is filled with talented artists and crafters selling beautiful and unique pretend play toys that help preserve the magic of childhood. This post is part of my weekly writing series, "Imagination at Play". Stay tuned for more every Friday!

Children are masters at open-ended, imaginative play. They can turn ordinary everyday objects into spaceships, cars or castles. The simplest of toys become the inspiration for fantastical adventures and stories populated by amazing characters, proving that sometimes the simplest toys inspire the most creativity in our children.

Many of today's parents are starting to grasp the value of simple, well made toys. You'll find evidence of this on Etsy, which is populated by many talented artists and crafters specializing in toys designed to inspire imaginative play.

One such Etsy shop is Black Dog Woodshop, which specializes in handmade wooden toys. Sure, you may have noticed that mainstream toy shops and discounters like Target are beginning to stock their aisles with wooden toys, but you won't find anything approaching the creativity, warmth and quality of the toys sold in Black Dog Woodshop.

From tiny maple barns meant to house your little farmer's cows to play swords designed to help your pint-sized knight slay dragons, you'll find beautifully crafted wooden toys that will spark your little one's imagination. The quality of workmanship ensures that not only will each toy stand up to years of play, they will also become cherished family heirlooms.

"I try to create toys that inspire imaginative play," said shop owner Daniel. "I hope that my toys will be played with, saved and passed down."

Daniel puts love and care into each toy sold in his shop, all of which are made using local domestic hardwoods such as Maple, Cherry, Catalpa, Kentucky Coffee Tree and Sassafras. Each wood has been carefully chosen for its beauty, strength, durability and non-toxic nature and finished with a non-toxic mineral oil to bring out the natural beauty of the wood.

"Each toy that I make is unique not only because it is made by hand but also because the wood itself is unique," said  Daniel. "I take great care in making sure that my toys will stand up to play. I make sure that edges are eased and corners are rounded."

Like many Etsians, Daniel is self-taught in his art. He began woodworking five years ago after getting the notion to build a canoe. "I'm quite sure my wife believed I was crazy," he said. After finishing his canoe, he moved on to building furniture and then began making toys for his children, his nieces and his nephew. A short time later, his wife encouraged him to try selling his toys on Etsy, and he's been part of the Etsy family ever since.

When creating new toy designs, Daniel works with imagination in mind. Inspiration sometimes comes in the form of custom orders, but he's most often inspired by his wife, who Daniel credits with coming up with ideas for a number of different toys such as the maple barn, and his children. Last year, he built a set of "tree blocks" for his 2-year-old son using part of a small Sassafras tree. Of course, this is no ordinary set of blocks. Each block is irregularly shaped, with flat or rounded sides. 

"I enjoy the creative ways that children find to play with my toys," he said. "My son uses these blocks several times a week, usually to construct caves for his animal figures to hide in."

Daniel's toys exude a warmth and sense of history that you won't find in any factory-made toy. It's easy to imagine children of yesteryear playing with these very same toys. I encourage you to take a look inside Black Dog Woodshop – I think you'll like what you see!


  1. great post - love this shop! what a good find :)

  2. whoa those are so nice.... they remind me of my childhood.. I didn't have wood but the simple something out of what apparently is nothing applies... great craftsmanship and simple is better!