Making Wooden Toys

      Safety regulations discourage small shops from making wooden toys for sale. September 29, 2010

Question
Is there anyone here who runs a wooden toy making business? My wife and I are doing research about this for the "fun" aspect of it. But is it at all a profitable niche market? Return on investment seems good considering the startup costs for the basic tools and materials are low. But there isn't a huge demand for wooden toys. This would be more of a hobby for us now, but in the future if it really takes off, who knows.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor W:
Unless you really want to just have a hobby, I would pursue something with a much larger market. China can pump out something like that for almost nothing per piece.



From contributor T:
And they include lead paint for no extra charge. You know how great lead paint is for the growing mind.


From contributor O:
While I can understand how toy manufacture can be fun (long ago I made a huge Brio train layout for my son and a very detailed dollhouse for my daughter), the liability issues and compliance with Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines may suck the fun (and profit) out of your venture.

I have a test vial that the CPSC used to distribute, and if any piece of your product would fit completely inside, it was considered a choking hazard. This is just one of many safety considerations you would have to comply with. This may not necessarily be true, as mentioned above, for some of your competition.

If you feel compelled to do it, go for it. But I think you would be wise to assess the risk first.



From contributor G:
After the recent "lead from China" fiasco, trying to make wooden toys in the US on a small scale is almost impossible. The laws about having each of your products tested by the government agencies at a tune of about $4-5K per test has put many existing makers right out of business. China doesn't care about the cost or the fines, so good old Uncle Sam just put more small USA businesses down the tubes by putting these laws into effect.


From contributor N:
25 years ago, I got a wooden train for Christmas. Each unit (engine, caboose, box car, etc.) was about 12-14" long. I still have them, and they are on their second generation of use. It was pretty cool when you connected all of them and had a 12'+ train to drag around the house. They were American made, in a small shop in the Midwest. A handful of local toy stores (probably not here now) sold them by order for a handful of clients. I am sure the builder did not get rich, but had fun. I know each unit was $25-$45 (1970's money). The engine or caboose cost more than the flatbed or crane. I am not sure what they were finished with but I am still here and my kids have not choked on them yet...

On that note, I wonder if it is possible to sell anything similar today?

*Gov testing - $4000 to $5000
*Product design - $2000 to $4000
*Marketing - (I would guess $5000 - $20,000)

That would be $11,000.00 of risk on the low end to start making some toys, money or fun. That said, if you can make a toy and sell it, and you get some more orders for it, you should be headed in the right direction.



From contributor K:
Nothing is foolproof. When I was a kid my grandparents had a box of blocks. Some of those blocks were only three quarter inch square by 1 inch long. I wonder what our government would think of those! No one ever choked on them, but then again, I would never let my grandkids play with them. Also I have been asked in the past to build baby beds. That's another problem area for government regulations. I will build them for my grandkids, but no one else. Just lately in the news they recalled thousands of them because of a death. I don't build mine with mechanical locks. Obviously from the posts above there is a reason wooden toys are not in demand.


From contributor S:
We make wood components for toys for some companies, but we don't make a complete toy. From what I read, toys made in America are coming back in style. Maybe have toys that the family paints or decorates, avoiding all the hazmat testing.


From contributor R:
You need to Google "CPSIA" to find out about the law that just officially took effect this year.

Basically making a toy or anything for a child 12 years and younger is out of the question for a small shop unless it is 100% wood and has no finish. That means no nails, glue, paint, etc. Anything other than raw wood will have to have each toy lot tested for lead by a third party certified lab costing serious money. Also, tracking and labeling laws apply.



From contributor J:
There are a number of wood toy manufacturers here in Minnesota. I know one, BEKA, is doing quite well and growing.

I have to strongly disagree that there is no market for toys, made here at home. There are several stores here in town that specialize in exactly that. I try to buy as little as possible that isn't American made - and it is hard - but I'd rather pay more for a better product, that gave somebody here a job and wasn't shipped halfway around the globe. I'd encourage you to do your research and go for it.



From contributor U:
There is lots of info available at handmadetoyalliance.com. There are plenty of people making and selling wooden toys in the US. Unfinished or beeswax, various oils, and vegetable type dyes, etc. Check out some sellers at etsy.com. Enter search term "wooden toys" and about 3400 listings will come up. Can't say whether they are making any money at it, but many Etsians are blissfully happy doing what they do, and that ought to count for something.


From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the feedback. From what research I have done, Etsy seems like a great way to market and sell wooden toys. I'm still not 100% sure how one would go about with business licensing and taxes using Etsy, though.

Also, I don't know if Etsian wooden toy makers really adhere to the government requirements for their toys. Their finishes are usually mineral oils or no finish at all.

The lead paint scare a few years ago actually helped the "Made in U.S.A" market for wooden toys. And according to Handmade Toy Alliance, these new regulations were simply a knee jerk overreaction to harmful imported toys. The regulations will be revised soon.

And one more thing. Just because the Chinese can make something cheaper doesn't mean that is the end of American production. There are some people who would rather spend a little more for something that was made in the U.S.A., especially in their hometown.



From contributor L:
I made a (meager) living for about 8 years making toys, traveling the art and craft fairs. It was fun, met a lot of interesting people. Then we decided to have kids and the traveling came to an end! I tried wholesaling but couldn't make it work. My understanding of the law is you have to track your product, lot number each piece, and have every lot tested even if the finish is oil or veggie dye. I have a friend that has made very nice marble (glass, not the rock) and wire mobiles that are also puzzles. He checked closely to see if he was making toys and if they also needed certification and lot tracking - they did - he quit.


From contributor C:
I have been making wooden toys for about 20 years now. It is very hard to make it really profitable, but I've been stubborn trying and have now made quite a good reputation here in Finland.

In the last year I have also been making wooden signs, as I got myself a CNC, and wow - what a difference! My cheapest sign model gives me almost the same money as my most expensive toy; and I can make it in one piece in 5-10 minutes (versus a log truck built from 15+ pieces!)

So yes, the world needs more high quality wooden toys, but no, unless you are a real enthusiast (or idiot) like me.



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