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Making Toys That Teach

My son is getting to the age where he wants to play with more interesting toys. I’m getting to the point where I want to make those toys for him. There is no greater satisfaction than having a child enjoy a toy created by your own two hands.

Last week, I bought Making Toys That Teach, by Les Neufeld. Let me tell you, this book is awesome. It is exactly what I was looking for. Toys that are simple, fun and educational. I liked it so much, I had to make it this week’s Book Of The Week.

These toys are designed for children between 7 months to 12 years old. Each toy offers numerous teaching opportunities, but still allows room for creative play. They teach the basics like manipulation, shape recognition, sorting, and pattern making. But they also teach more advanced concepts like fractions, decimals, geometry and even basic structural engineering! These toys will provide countless hours of play, and they’ll be learning too. Its a win-win situation!

This book has 9 fantastic projects. I know I’ll build each one of these wonderful toys. The coolest toy, in my mind, is the Ultimate Building Block Set. It is the best blocks set I’ve ever seen. I wish I had this when I was a kid!

OK. Here’s the rundown.

Pros:

  • The toys are simple and elegant.
  • The toys offer creative play and learning opportunities.
  • Each toy has a section on how to use it for teaching opportunities.
  • The projects are easy to make.
  • Only basic tools are needed.
  • Easy to read plans and measurements.
  • Clear instructions with plenty of color photographs.
  • Lots of lists; Cut lists, Materials List, Recommended Tools List.
  • Great bibliography for further reading (mostly academic).
  • List of resources and suppliers.

Cons:

  • I wish the book would go into more detail about safe finishing techniques.
  • I also wish the book would include information of toy safety.

If you have kids or grand kids, this book is perfect for you. It is worth it just for the building blocks alone. The toys you create will provide countless hours of fun, and help foster creativity and problem solving. I can’t recommend this book enough. Grab yourself a copy!

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Fantasy & Legend Scroll Saw Patterns

I’m a sucker for the fantasy genre. I love wizards, dragons and evils that must be vanquished by a group of unlikely heroes. Naturally, I’m always on the lookout for fantasy based scroll saw patterns

When I came across Fantasy & Legend Scroll Saw Puzzles, by Judy and Dave Peterson, I knew I had to have it.

Judy and Dave create free standing puzzles. These are thick puzzles that are intended to be handled and stand on a shelf by themselves. They prefer using hardwoods to utilize their unique color and grain patterns. Their book takes you step by step in great detail for creating your first puzzle. Each step includes a close-up photo as they cut the puzzle. They cover everything from basic techniques to specific techniques required for puzzle making. They show you their method of sanding and finishing so you too can achieve the finest looking puzzle possible.

The book is 75 pages long and includes 28 unique patterns. Each pattern includes an accompanying photo of the finished puzzle with notes on the hardwood they used. Each pattern is presented in black, white and gray and includes a grain direction indicator for maximum stability. They have a wide variety of mythical creatures, including
dragons, centaurs, gargoyles, griffins, mermaids, unicorns, pegasus, tree spirits, hippogriffs, phoenix, and landscape patterns. The puzzles are stunning and would look great your shelf.

The Pros

  • The patterns are optimized for photocopying.
  • Each pattern includes a photo of the finished product, noting the hardwood used.
  • Each pattern is categorized according to skill level.
  • They give resources and specific information on the tools they use.

The Cons

  • Most of the puzzles do not lend themselves well to be colored with paint or stains.

Overall Impression:
I really liked this book. I love freestanding puzzles and the fantasy genre makes this book a must have. There isn’t a pattern in this book that won’t cut. I highly recommend this book to anybody who is interested in making unique puzzles or who has a soft spot in their heart for dragons and other mythical creatures.

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Absolutely Free Scroll Saw Patterns

In my last post, I mentioned Absolutely Free Scroll Saw Patterns. AFSSP is an online community with over 3200 members. Here, you can get advice from other members and exchange ideas and patterns. One really neat thing they do is have a monthly design competition. They choose a subject and members submit their designs. The winners receive a hardy pat on the back and a few bragging rites. But the true reward is seeing how different artists interpret the monthly theme.

But a community wouldn’t be a community without discussion. And AFSSP has plenty of that. The website is broken into several different sections. The General area is for general discussion about scroll sawing. You’ll often see people displaying their new cuttings, asking for advice, or sharing the latest happening at the recent craft show. Toolish Thoughts is a great place to get some advice and reviews for that next tool for your shop. Ever think about selling your work, but don’t know where to start? They’ll help you in the Business Side. Seasoned veterans of craft fairs, online sellers, and casual sellers offer their advice in this neat little section.

Sure, that’s all well and good. But what about free patterns? Well, my friend, you hit the mother load. They have nearly 4,000 patterns developed by scrollers for scrollers. The most recent patterns are posted in Hot Off The Press with the older patterns categorized in the Archives. You can also request a custom pattern in the Request Pattern section. Thousands of patterns, right at your fingertips. There isn’t enough time in the day…errr…week…errr…year to cut all of these patterns. So, what more can you ask?

AFSSP does require a membership to access all of their goodies. But the membership is free and easy to get! So what is there to lose? Join now and become apart of a really great community.

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The Flying Dutchman

When I first started scrolling, I knew right away that I needed to find better blades. I was using the Craftsman blades from Sears and my results were awful. Up to this point, I was lurking in the forums and heard of a few different manufacturers of quality blades. The one that caught my eye was a German company called Flying Dutchman. It seemed that people who use these blades usually buy from Mike Moorlach of Mike’s Workshop. Being new at this, I emailed Mike and asked for some advice on the type of blades a newbie should start with. He replied almost immediately and gave me some great advice on choosing blades.

He sells an assortment pack of 5 dozen of his most popular Flying Dutchman blades so you can try several different styles. That’s what I chose to do. And, while talking to Mike, I showed interest in the puzzle and spiral blades. Much to my surprise, he threw in a couple of samples of those blades, too! How cool is that? And best of all was the speed of delivery. I bought my blades on Friday, and by Monday afternoon, I had my scroll saw blades waiting for me in my mail box! You just don’t see that kind of service anymore.

You can find more information about Flying Dutchman scroll saw blades on his website; http://mikesworkshop.com/blades.htm. Mike is so confident that people will really enjoy using the Flying Dutchman blades, he’ll give you a sample of 2 blades of your choice for free! Try before you buy! You can’t beat that! Just shoot him an email and request a sample!

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