As I’m based in my garden workshop, I was able to continue working during lockdown in the precious hours when I wasn’t homeschooling my 3 sons aged 4, 8 and 10. At the beginning of June 2020 I received an email from the leader of a COVID resilience response team in Chapelhall, near Glasgow.
British Made Wooden Toys
Kirsty had been desperately looking for good quality British made wooden toys. The idea was to add them to activity packs for local children and I was her last hope. She felt that they’d provide an intergenerational and cultural element to the packs. Thus allowing them to encourage and facilitate shielding Grandparents and other individuals to demonstrate and share memories with younger children digitally. It sounded like such an amazing project that I wanted to help. So I created some custom wooden toys just for them.
I was happy to help out. I made 20 small spinning tops and 80 whipping tops or ‘whip and peerie’ as they’re known in Scotland. Because of their limited budget I adapted the design to reduce costs. This allowed the project to afford the number they needed.
The whipping tops were left undecorated as traditionally kids would chalk their own patterns on them and watch them spin. This was what they hoped the older generation could teach the younger through the project. As well as the technique for spinning in the first place.
Kirsty, the project co-ordinator, was delighted with them and they were distributed at the beginning of August. There’s a professional photographer attached to the project who’s documenting it. So I’m looking forward to receiving photos of the custom made wooden toys in use. I also hope to hear stories of kids learning top whipping skills from their grandparents.
Being able to make objects that fulfilled a real need in these strange times was really rewarding. It reminded me that toys have an important place in children’s lives, not just to provide fun and education opportunities. They’re also a means of connecting with those most important to them and creating positive, loving memories.
I recently completed my second custom wand commission. Despite already writing about making a wand I had such fun designing Mark’s wand with him that I wanted to share the experience with you. I really enjoy it when customers get involved as I love collaborating with them.
Mark, like many people, visited the Pottermore (now Wizarding World) wand quiz, to discover his perfect wand. It turned out to be a 13 inch chestnut wand with a dragon’s heartstring core. However, he was unable to find one to buy anywhere online. So that’s when he got in touch with me.
defining the brief
One of the hardest parts of designing a unique item is understanding exactly what your customer wants. So to get a better understanding of exactly what Mark’s dream wand looked like I asked him a series of preference questions. Mark’s answers (in italics below) helped me understand what kind of wand he would like.
Do you have any design preferences? Obviously it’s to be a 13” slender, wand in Chestnut wood, but in terms of style what would you like?
Coloured/natural?…….. Natural but may contain some colour if your creative flare thinks so
Ceremonial/everyday use?……….it will just be on display so probably ceremonial
Runic inscriptions /initials/ plain?…………….no inscriptions plain will be fine
Wild(some bark left on)/ smooth and polished?……..smooth and polished but i like the idea of a pummel that may have some bark on it but not a deal breaker if it doesn’t
initial design ideas
From these answers I produced initial sketch ideas showing a variety of possible designs. I asked Mark which wand, colours and ideas he preferred and told him he could ‘mix and match’ features from the different wands if he liked.
finalising the design
In response, as well as telling me what he liked, Mark also helpfully produced this sketch. In it he pulled together all of his favourite design features to make his perfect wand. I thought it was pretty awesome so we had our final design.
The wand would have 3 sets of burn lines along the shaft but otherwise it would be left natural. The handle would retain some of the bark, but where it was to be held would be smooth and curved to fit comfortably in the hand. This area would be scorched with a blow torch to leave a slightly shiny, black surface. The end of the wand would then be cut diagonally, with the dragon’s heartstring core being represented by a circle of red woodstain at the centre of the wood grain.
the turning process
Once the wand was shaped and coloured, I applied a couple of coats of natural plant based sealant. This protections the wood from dirt and makes wiping it clean much easier.
the completed wand
further reading …..tree folklore
The idea that different woods exhibit different characters is a very ancient one and my research into the subject of tree lore was fascinating. I will certainly be exploring it more fully as I plan to make more real magic wands in the future. If you’d like to find out more about our native trees and their associated folklore why not visit these wonderful nature websites?
When you buy a toy do you check for a CE mark? Do you know what the CE mark stands for? One of my proudest achievements as a craft business is completing the CE certification of my first collection of handmade wooden toys. Never mind testing the toys, going through the process really tested me. I’d like to share that experience with you.
All toys sold in the UK must legally comply with the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011. These Directives apply equally to the big toy manufacturers and small scale makers like me.
However, finding out how to comply isn’t straightforward. An email to my local trading standards office produced a reply saying yes, I needed to comply and a link to a guidance page telling me broadly what documentation was required but not how to go about it.
I was left scratching my head for a few months until I had a conversation with a member of my local craft group who told me about a Facebook support group for people who wanted to certify their toys themselves.
I joined the group and started to learn about the world of self certification. It was a steep learning curve and I can never thank the members of that group, and the one I joined later specifically for wooden toys, for their help, advice and support during the whole process.
The Facebook group led me to the CE Marking Handmade Toys Collective website. I joined the collective and was able to download a clearly written CE marking guide which helped me decifer the legal documentation I’d been reading so far.
I learned I had to comply to EU Toy Safety Directives 2009/48/EC, harmonised standards and EN71. The relevant EN71 standards for wooden toys are EN71-1: Mechanical and Physical Properties and EN71-3: Migration of Certain Elements. You can self-certify EN71-1 but you need laboratory test results for EN71-3.
EN71-3 means ensuring and proving the materials and components you use don’t contain any of the toxic metals listed above the required threshold levels. I was able to obtain the relevant certificates of compliance from the manufacturers of the paints and finishes I use. For the wood there was no option but to send a sample of each away to be tested in a lab. This might seem a bit ridiculous. Is wood likely to contain chromium? However, you aren’t allowed to make that judgement. You must have proof.
With natural materials, like wood, the material is not as controllable as a man made material, like plastic, however, I’m not able to have every wood delivery tested due to expense. A lot of the compliance relies on the maker showing ‘due diligence’. Basically, I decide when I need to get my wood retested, for example if I change my supplier.
Proving compliance to EN71-1:Mechanical and Physical Properties involves performing a series of physical tests in a specific order. It took a while to source items like ‘a 4 mm thick steel plate with a 2 mm thick coating of Shore A hardness (75 ± 5)’ as well as ‘a metallic weight with a mass of (1 ± 0,02) kg, distributed over an area with a diameter of (80 ± 2) mm’. These are direct quotes from the documentation which did take time to unpick and work out. I also had to some make test rigs and templates.
Below is the video evidence taken of testing the Gnosi Wooden Rattle. They’re listed in test order. There was also a decibel test, a soak test, a sharp edges test and a small parts test.
Once testing was complete I moved onto labelling and tracability. There are as many requirements to meet for this as for testing, so it took a while to come up with a solution that met the requirements but also satisfied my own Eco friendly criteria.
Legally, at point of sale, toys must be labelled with:
the CE mark, at no less than 5mm in height.
Manufacturer / company business name
Traceable manufacturer’s address
Model / batch number Required in relation to traceability, so if the toy itself is customised or named specifically and recognisable as an individual unit.
Relevant warnings if applicable
To reduce waste and for practicality I decided to brand the CE mark directly onto my toys (see featured image at the top of the page). Branding also means the CE mark’ll still be there if the toy’s passed on. The rest of the required information is printed onto the cotton bags that my toys come in. I decided to package my toys in reusable bags instead of cardboard boxes as this reduces waste and they can be used to keep the toys clean and safe for years to come. For the toys too small to be branded, I’ve designed a tag, printed on recycled card, with all the relevant information, including the CE mark.
Once this was done I compiled all my evidence and documentation into a technical file. This is a live document which means any changes to the design, the making process or the materials must be documented in it. The technical file contains:
A Full Product Description
Claim of Compliance
Manufacturing Location & Storage
Product & Packaging – Product images, description and packaging, including images.
Materials and Components – Outline all materials and components used in all variations of your toy.
Manufacturing Process – Outline your manufacturing process, step by step.
Show your Labelling & Traceability
Testing Checklists & Photographic Evidence
EN71-3 Test Results & Evidence
Declaration of Conformity
Oh yes, and each toy must have it’s own technical file. Phew!
If you’re still reading, you can now see why I’m so proud of myself. I deciphered the legal jargon, figured out what tests were needed, paid for chemical analysis, creating test apparatus, conducting the tests and creating a mountain of paperwork.
It’s not surprising given all of that time, effort and expense, that a huge amount of wooden toys being sold are not CE marked. So why bother you might ask?
As well as the fact that it is a legal requirement I want to prove that my toys are completely safe. The thought of selling potentially dangerous toys to babies and small children is not one I care to entertain.
Although the self certification process is complex and needs to be completed for each new toy or change in design, it gives me total confidence in the safety of my toys. That for me as a mother and a toy maker is the most important thing.
If you are looking to CE mark your toys please visit the Handmade Toy Collective’s website for further help and guidance.
As a craftsperson I have total control over how my products are made. I collect most of the wood myself and the rest comes from the trusted Brian. I also spent a lot of time researching the most ethically and sustainably produced finishes to use on them.
However, I can’t make everything myself. I always envisioned my toys being presented in fabric bags because they’re long lasting and practical. A cardboard box is discarded as soon as it’s opened and isn’t really of much further use. Whereas, cotton bags are great for storing and transporting toys and when they get dirty you can just chuck them in the washing machine. Unfortunately, I’m absolutely hopeless with fabric. I needed some help. That was when Jo Salter from Where Does It Come From? came to my rescue.
Jo founded her business in 2013 after becoming concerned that the clothes she was buying for herself and her family were not being created ethically, and that she may indirectly have been helping to sustain cruel labour practices and contributing to the world’s pollution problems.
This motivated her to seek a way of providing an ethical alternative for garments people needed to buy. Finding like minded people to partner with such as Moral Fibre Fabrics enabled her to produce her first ranges of traceable clothes.
Through her ethical connections in India, Jo enabled me to have my bags ethically and sustainably made by hand. Even the Love HeartWood logo is screen printed by hand.
Having them made in this way means they’re 300 times more expensive than having them made in China. However, it’s important to me that they’re made in as sustainable way as possible and that the people making them are paid a living wage. For me, and I hope for you, this knowledge is worth the extra monetary cost.
So you can trace Love HeartWood bags right back to the field the cotton grew in. View their life story here and find out who made your bag.
Wooden spinning tops make great eco friendly promotional products for trade fairs and events. Handmade and on brand they are a memorable way of highlighting you companies’ eco credentials.
Zoe from Camira’s marketing team contacted me at the end of March to discuss just such an order.
“Camira is a textile mill based in Huddersfield and for us spinning tops represent a link back to the traditional craft of weaving. I’d like to see if it is feasible to create spinning tops for use as a giveaway at an exhibition we are attending in Chicago at the beginning of June. Could they also be painted to a specific colour scheme? I would need them by mid may in order to meet my shipping deadline. Please advise if this is something you could help with. “
I replied saying it was all entirely possible. I also suggested they might like the company name engraved onto each top. She agreed and supplied me with an idea of the colour palette they’d like to match their showroom. “
Camira are a global textile innovator who design and manufacture upholstery fabrics for commercial offices, hospitality, government, institutional interiors, healthcare, cinema and auditoria. They’re an independent UK textile company and very proud of their history and sustainable philosophy.
In 2015 they were recognised for outstanding achievements in continuous environmental improvement and best in class performance with our second successive Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development. They’re pioneering a sustainable textile industry through environmental product design, supply chain integrity, resource efficiency, people development and CSR. So I’m very proud they chose me to make their unique, sustainable giveaways.
NeoCon is the largest commercial interiors show in North America. The three-day event attracts nearly 50,000 design professionals and showcases more than 700 leading companies. Camira were there celebrating two new fabrics Zap and Armadillo. These were originally created by Danish American designer Jens Risom, a pioneer of mid-century modern design, now reimagined by Camira.
I slightly altered the design of the tops to better fit with Camira’s showroom style, completed the order in good time and dispatched it in plastic free, recyclable packaging. I also emailed Zoe a photo and little video showing the making and engraving of their tops.
“Placing an order with Love Heartwood was extremely simple. Due to the custom made option, I was able to specify paint colours and branding required for the tops.”
“The wooden spinning tops looked great and the paint colours were chosen to match the colour scheme used within our showroom launch. The order process was very simple and the tops arrived very well packed and on time.”
“The exhibition was a huge success and the showroom looked lovely. It’s the fine detail, like the little spinning tops that make all the difference!”
Zoe Milnes Exhibitions and Events Manager Camira Fabrics
If you’d like a custom order please get in touch. Use the contact form or email firstname.lastname@example.org to start the conversation.
Those of you that follow this blog will know I wrote about the Be The Change Awards back in March when I found out I’d been selected as a finalist. To go back and read my first post click here.
I decided to enter because competitions and awards are a great way to gain recognition and exposure, especially for a tiny business like mine. To enter there is often an entry fee however not in this case. It was completely free to enter. All I had to do was submit a video explaining my background, what obstacles I’ve faced, what motivates me and what my biggest achievements have been. As well as outlining my goals and bigger mission. Not easy in under 3 minutes!
The awards ceremony was held at the Museum of Brands on Friday the 26th of April. All 12 category winners were announced by Sian Conway and Jo Salter and there was much drinking and networking in between.
Sian and Jo explained their reasons for founding the awards which, funnily enough, were the exact reasons I entered. To give a platform to independent, ethical & sustainable brands who are working towards Sustainable Development Goals and creating positive impact in inspiring and world-changing ways. To attract enough sponsorship to allow entries for free was extremely tough but they felt it was important to provide access to all, no mater how small. It’s been hard work so thank you Sian and Jo for your dedication and passion.
I’m not a great networker, especially if I arrive alone and know absolutely no-one in the room. Even the word ‘network’ puts me off, it’s so impersonal, making me think of faceless corporate suits throwing business cards at everyone they meet. However, once I took the plunge and started talking to people I discovered some wonderful stories and inspiring brands.
I made a point of trying to meet everyone who was a finalist in the Babies and Children category. I particularly enjoyed talking mentors and marketing with Miriam from Nurture Collective . The winner Happy Pineapple, is an eco friendly publishing company. The dedication and completeness of their approach is inspiring and has given me loads of ideas to make Love HeartWood more sustainable, behind the scenes, as it were.
I arrived at the event with a slight imposter syndrome and feeling very much a single unit. I left feeling inspired and part of something bigger and bolder than myself.
This year is only the beginning for the Be The Change Awards. Jo and Sian have big dreams. So to find out more about this year’s changemakers and their stories follow the Be The Change Awards Facebook Page over the next few weeks. Then stand by for an exciting announcement about plans for 2020. I can’t wait.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”