Toy Making For Profit And Skill Development

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& Rewards Of Survival” Section

Toy Making For Profit
And Skill Development

©1977 By Kurt Saxon

About 1943 when I was a child in Chicago, I got my first
plastic toy, a large car for Christmas. It was about a foot and a half long
and came with interchangeable parts. The top could be taken off to make it a
convertible. It had a regular hard-top and a clear plastic top. There were
different colored fenders and various other parts so it was about ten cars in

I was delighted with it–for about three days. The parts
fitted to the car by plastic pins projecting from them to be snapped into
holes around the car. The pins and their holes were very exact and there was
no room for error or forcing.

It would have been obvious that any vigorous child would have the pins broken
off in no time. Nothing would stay on without the fragile pins. Soon I had a
convertible with no fenders, no bumpers, no hubcaps, no hood and no trunk
cover. I rolled it off the window sill and watched it fall four stories to the
pavement in the alley below. That was the most fun I had with it since the
first day.

In the ’60’s I was a house painter and about a week after Christmas I was
working in a poor black neighborhood redoing the insides of some homes for the
landlord. As I would take empty paint buckets out to the trash cans in the
alley, I noticed the Christmas carnage. Trash cans all up and down the alley
were overflowing with broken plastic toys.

I remembered my first plastic toy and pitied all the kids who must have been
so excited at the new toys, then must have been so disappointed when their
wonders came apart so quickly.

It might be far-fetched, but some juvenile delinquency could be caused by the
impermanence of modern toys. After all, if a child’s toys break so easily, he
might well come to accept breaking things as a part of life.

But enough social comment. After my first plastic toy, I never got another or
approved of such junk since. Increasingly, I hear parents complain that toys
cost too much and do not even last through the holiday season.

This in itself creates a ready market for the old-fashioned toys of my early
childhood and of the 19th Century. Not only are they quaint and interesting,
but they last until the child gets tired of them.

Aside from the general toy market, you might also consider the growing
miniatures field. Most large stores sell elaborate doll houses furnished with
very expensive miniature furnishings. The miniatures can also be bought

Depending on the skill with which miniatures are made, they can command
extremely high prices. Of course, they are bought by collectors and are not to
be played with by children.

Depending on the skill with which miniatures are made, they can command
extremely high prices. Of course, they are bought by collectors and are not to
be played with by children.

If you learn to make miniatures of a quality to interest collectors, you will
have a steady job. You can sell them through craft and antique stores in your
area. Shop around at stores selling miniatures and check their prices. I am
sure you will see where the money is then. Many pieces of miniature and
life-size furniture are detailed in THE SURVIVOR.

In making miniatures, you do not have to be wealthy, as the cheapest lathe and
improvised tools from the hardware store will set you up. You do not even have
to be strong. An older or even a handicapped person in a wheelchair can make

Miniatures, however, are not strictly toys. If you have a smart little girl
who appreciates them, you might outfit her doll house with fragile miniatures.
But your time would be wasted if she were the typical grubby child. They would
not last ten minutes if actually played with by the average youngster.

On page 1123 of THE SURVIVOR, there is an article on wire drawing. By making
your own wire drawing plate, described on page 1129, you can turn out any
number of decorative wires in copper, brass, steel, etc. These wires can be
used to make miniature brass bedsteads, chairs, candlesticks, chandeliers,
decorative balustrades for doll houses and all sorts of miniature metalwork.

You might also consider making and selling lengths of such decoratively drawn
wire to other hobbyists. You could sell it through hobby shops or advertise it
in hobby magazines. After making the whole range of decoratively drawn wires
in various metals, you could have them laid side by side and photographed with
numbers under them. Your local print shop could print a one page brochure with
the photo, description and prices. These could be sent to those answering your
classified ads for decorative wire in the hobby magazines.

The article on page 1493 of THE SURVIVOR, concerning adapting your lathe to
accommodate smaller items will enable you to make any variety of table and
chair legs, bedsteads, tiny vases and any number of miniature components from
either metal or wood.

Now on to toys to be played with. Throughout THE SURVIVORS are some of the
best toys. These toys are sturdy and fun and their variety has something for
any little boy or girl. The tools for these are simple and you might consider
at least making all your own children’s toys and those for children of
relatives and friends to whom you feel obligated. This will save you quite a
bundle and give you assurance that you can, indeed, go into making toys to
In starting your toy making projects, you should know something about child
psychology concerning toys. Babies like bright, moving things. Toddlers like
bright things they can move themselves. Their dolls are teddy bears or other
cuddlies which make them feel secure. Little girls like dolls, which are their
babies. Little boys like soldiers, which are their armies.

When a girl stops playing mother, she wants grownup dolls, which represent
herself as mother or glamor girl, hence the Barbie Doll and the little girl’s
imaginary boyfriend, Ken. When a little boy outgrows his toy soldiers, he will
play with Incredible Hulk, G.I. Joe, Mr. Spock and other hero dolls in whom he
projects himself to fight the bad guys.

When I was seven I got a Pinocchio doll. I liked it but I do not remember
playing with it. After all, I was a real boy so I could not identify with the
puppet of the movie. I cannot call to mind any hero dolls in my day. My toys
were mainly soldiers, forts, guns, a milk truck, fire engines, cop cars and

I do not approve of hero dolls or Barbie and Ken dolls for girls. I think the
hero dolls are too exaggerated, as was my Pinocchio doll, and boys who
identify with them are fantasizing in a kind of weirdo training. Barbie and
Ken dolls are fashion hacks which make little girls fantasize being frivolous
and worthless. Maybe that is why so many teenagers who identified with hero
and glamour dolls are such frustrated, unfulfilled creeps.

All children will fantasize while playing with toys. But the fantasizing
should be imaginative and creative. Older boys will always want combat toys
and older girls will always want glamour toys. But they should be encouraged
to want constructive toys which will fit them for adulthood.

In the meantime, children under ten should play with toys which develop their
imaginations and motor skills. The toys in THE SURVIVOR largely qualify in
these areas for all children from babyhood up to the age of ten.

If you set up your own toy business, you should keep away from the “hand
made”, so very high priced image. I have seen several examples of such toys,
such as some simple, unpainted animals on wheels. They were like the lame duck
of page 132, only did not bob up and down or anything. They sold for over
$4.00 each, even though the materials could not have cost over 15 cents. Any
competent craftsman with a bandsaw could have cut, sanded and nailed on the
wheels in about 15 minutes.

Although they were skillfully made, they were not at all colorful. The maker
obviously thought that the hand work made them collector’s items and somehow
worth such a price. But a child would not care how they were made and their
drabness would be a turnoff.
If you want your toys to sell, you must consider the child, not the parent.
Any colorful plastic rolling toy for 50 cents would attract any child more
than the $4.00 item, even though the plastic wheels might be off in no time.

When competing in the marketplace, you must lose all illusions about the value
of hand work. “Handmade” is meaningless to a child and the parent knows this.
So if you want to spend hours making a simple looking toy, you will do it for
your own satisfaction because you will certainly not get paid by the hour from
a store owner.

The best way to price your toys is to take them to local stores which take
craft items. The dealer will have a better idea of their market value. He will
probably take at least 30% profit for himself. If your toys sell, when you
expand to the point where you can put out your shingle as toy maker, you can
knock off 30% or leave it on, depending on how easily they sell.

If the dealer actually pays you cash for your work, you can feel right in
matching his prices when you sell them yourself. However, if he takes your
work on consignment, that is, giving you nothing until he sells them, the
price might be unrealistic. Selling anything on the consignment plan is the
worst way. First, the dealer might price them as high as he thinks some sucker
might pay. Second, since he has no investment in your products, he will not
promote them. If he has to pay cash, he will display the goods prominently and
even talk them up to prospective buyers so they will move and give him his
investment back. Otherwise, he will put them in the most out-of-the-way place
in the shop and never mention them. So if you have to sell on consignment,
price them as low as you can afford. This does not apply to shops selling only
dolls and other toys and miniatures. They deal mainly on consignment and so
will promote your products to their best advantage. Also, some gift shops deal
mainly on consignment and will also give your product a good showing.

If you do not have a workshop, you can start by getting simple hand tools such
as a fret saw, drill, etc., from your local hardware store. With a small
investment you can make one of several of the toys shown in THE SURVIVOR. Once
you realize you have, or can develop the skills to turn out toys, you can go
on to invest in the proper machinery.

I would advise against buying the cheap hobby machinery on the market. Such
tinny junk does not hold up, especially if you mean to go into mass

Ideally, you should have a well equipped workshop with all the needed
machinery, whether you are interested in toy making or not. But when you buy a
machine, buy the best and sturdiest you can possibly afford.

For a lot of toys and miniatures, you will need a lathe. For doll houses and
other flat toys you will need a fret saw. For thicker toys, one inch and more,
you will need a band saw. You will also need an electric sander to both smooth
and to grind down splintery areas.

Materials for toy making are fairly cheap. For the more solid toys, you can
pick up scrap lumber at the junk yard or even in alleys. Doll house material
should be quarter inch plywood of good quality. You can get this, plus veneer
for doll house window frames, etc., through your local building supply
company. There is no purpose served in buying expensive wood for toys which
will be painted.

For miniatures to sell to collectors, your wood must be the finest. Your
building supply company can order any kind you want. Wood for miniatures
should be of the hard, straight-grained variety. Although expensive in terms
of building real furniture, a block of redwood, walnut and even teak, would go
a long way when making miniatures. Also, a few miniatures are painted. They
are mostly polished and stained and sometimes varnished.

Paints for toys to be played with should be lead-free enamels, bought cheaply
at any paint store. Regular wood stains should never be used on toys to be
played with. Many of them have toxic ingredients a tot might ingest by putting
the toy in its mouth. Regular food coloring makes a nice wash for something a
toddler is likely to put in its mouth and is very safe.

A good use for your bulkier scraps would be building blocks. Children love to
stack blocks of any shape. Just make sure they are not small enough to be
swallowed. The blocks should be sanded smooth to prevent splinters. Rather
than paint them, you can soak them in various colors of safe vegetable dyes.

Aside from miniatures, doll houses, animals and other wooden items, dolls are
easy to make and greatly in demand. Also, if you have a pottery kiln, doll’s
heads, miniature tableware and other ceramic items can be made for the toy

There is no limit to the toys you can make. If you are imaginative and
skillful, you can count on a good living, now and after the crash. The skills
gained in their production will also assure you of a future in any number of

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