wood toy rhino toy for boys

Wooden Toy Rhino

Most animals are better admired from the far.  The rhinoceros, weighing “a million pounds” and armed with “giant sword horns” is certainly an animal better admired from afar.  Even without the exaggerated quotes from small children.

This rhino toy was one of Happy Bugnalow’s first animal toys and still one of our most popular.  We craft our rhino from red oak, carefully sand all corners smooth, and finish it off with a beeswax polish we make ourselves.  As with all our toys, it’s made to be passed along to another generation.

Take home your own wooden toy rhino from our online toy shop today!wooden toy rhino

decorative circle

One Simple Trick to Happiness

One Simple Trick to Happiness

You can’t flip through a family magazine, play a parenting podcast, or tune into a talkshow without being bombarded with advice, tips, tricks, and strategies to spend more time with your family and lead a happier life.

Want to spend more time with your children?  Have more quality family time, happiness, and all that?  Forget all the articles and books you’ve seen.  When it comes to spending more time with your family there is only ONE SIMPLE TRICK you need to know.

And honestly, feel free to substitute anything you’d like in place of spending time with your family.  This simple trick is fairly universal.

And unlike all those silly internet advertisements, this simple trick is real.

Looking for a way to spend more time with your children?  It’s easy:  JUST SPEND MORE TIME WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

But before the spade of “buts” come, there is one simple catch that accompanies this one simple trick:  YOU’LL ALMOST CERTAINLY EARN LESS MONEY AND HAVE LESS TIME FOR YOURSELF.

My wife, Liz, and I have been testing this trick since the day our oldest child was born.  We work(ed) very hard to spend a lot of time with our children.  On workdays we have breakfast at home, some days we even make pancakes or waffles from scratch.  We hunt for bugs under rocks or blow bubbles on the porch.  At a time when most people are still working at their desks, we’re sitting down to dinner.

The best of all, with few exceptions either Liz or I, if not both, have spent Fridays with our children.  For us three day weekends are the norm.  For us Fridays aren’t that slackadasical last day of the work week, instead they’re trips to the less-crowded zoos and museums, picnics in the park, hikes in the woods, puzzle-building in the dining room, block building in the living room, and all around fun-having.

Though we didn’t take up this grand experiment so willingly.  Initially we had no choice in the lifestyle.  I was laid off from my job as an architect when our oldest child was just four months old.  I made due with part time and odd jobs for a few years and in doing so Liz and I came to cherish all the time we had together with our growing family.  It’s nice to be up every morning before the sun is.

I had time to make some playthings for the Kids and heard a few too many “you should sell these” comments.  So I did.  Thus Happy Bungalow (famous wooden toy company) was born in our basement.  It has been a tremendous amount of work, but has allowed me to earn enough money while working from home and spending more time with my family.

Now every morning isn’t berry topped oatmeal for breakfast.  And every Friday isn’t a Mary Poppins inspired romp through the chalk drawings.  We have to leave early or work late sometimes.  Fridays see sick or grouchy kids (or parents).  And now that our oldest is in school, mornings have become much tighter (and funny enough, the school doesn’t subscribe to our three-day weekend schedule).

The catch though?  Working less to spend more time with our children means earning less money.  This means we’ve become even handier at fixing lawn-mowers, repairing leaky gutters and toilets, and getting by with clothing that’s more worn than we’d like.  We make pancakes from scratch, because it’s so much cheaper (they taste pretty darn good too).  We eat in more because we can’t afford to eat out as often as we did pre-children.

Then there’s the stress, the worry, the anxiety, and the occasional fight.  Liz has had a full time (though flexible) job throughout our children’s lives, but I’ve largely had unpredictable work.  Initially as a part time architect, then as a newbie professional toy-maker.  So for several years the burden of supporting the family financially fell on Liz.  Again, very stressful for everyone.

BUT WE’VE MADE IT WORK

Sticking with this lifestyle hasn’t been easy on the accounting end, but it’s been wonderful on the personal side.  Our children will only be young for so long.  We’ll play catch-up on the monetary side in a few more years when the Kids aren’t so into spending an afternoon playing made-up adventure games in the park.

I know, this isn’t easy, and it may not be possible for you.  Though I will say that before we were put into the situation, we wouldn’t have thought it possible for us.

circus ring with elephants

Circus in Town – All This Week

Smell the popcorn, taste the cotton candy, and hear the calliope music filling the air! It’s a Three Ring Circus! – right in your home. The circus will always be in town with this fantastic wood play set. The children in your life will love the lions, tigers, elephants, dogs, ponies, and people. And become a kid again as you relive your own circus memories.

Take home the excitement of the circus with Happy Bungalow’s 70+ piece wooden circus toy set.  (click here to purchase)

threee ring circus advertisement

wood train buildings

Throw Back Thursday – Too Many Train Buildings

Just because you make it, doesn’t mean they’re going to buy it.  Say like you make 300 and some odd little toy train accessory buildings for your first craft show (that’s modestly attended by the way).  Let’s say you make all these buildings.  Not everyone wants to buy them.  You can worry all you want that you’re not bringing enough product, but there’s no need to.  YOU WON’T RUN OUT.

toy railroad track and buildings

Ok.  I didn’t expect to sell 300 little buildings at my first [small] craft show, but there was like 12 different kinds of buildings, so there’s only 20 of each type . . .

We’ve had big runs on one items at shows before.  You know, big shows in the Fall when people can’t buy enough cool toys.

The train buildings were one of the first Happy Bungalow toys.  The thinking was:  everyone sells those little toy train track and magnetic trains, but accessories are hard to find.  And if you can find any buildings, they’re always painted.  How about some plain and simple accessory buildings?  Guaranteed to sell right?  We identified a product missing in the marketplace.  A NEED that all those business books always talk about.

Being one of our first toy lines, it took a while to figure out just how to cut the wood safely.  The saws in our shop cut fingers just as easily as they cut wood – and these toys are so small – and if you don’t/can’t hold the wood firmly in place it will fly away from the machine at high speed.  So once we figured out the techniques and process we maximized our tool setup overhead and ran off a few hundred buildings.

toy railroad track and buildings

For our first show we put together a train demo display on the ground for the kids to play with (see below).  Then on the table above we lined up a few dozen of the buildings.  We really fussed over the best train layout too.  Probably went through a half dozen configurations beforehand (don’t miss those days).  So it was a lot of work, you follow?  And did it pay off?  Did it pay off?! The NUMBER ONE product people wanted to buy that day?

Yeah, the trains.  The dumb old trains.  The only thing on display that we didn’t make.  [insert Charlie Brown hopeless sigh]

This was the first and only show the train and tracks were ever displayed at.  The buildings come to shows from time to time, and they do well enough.  Though we still have a box full of the suckers.

first art show booth

For all the fussing about the layout we did come up with a cool idea for the table toppers – using a sort of butcher paper that we wrote little product descriptions and prices on.

A note about the first two pictures.  They were part of our first photo shoot.  We drug furniture, ladders, props, and back drops out into the back yard.  Spent and afternoon shooting hundreds of pictures and another afternoon editing them.  Eek.

Read the rest of our Throw Back Thursday series here.

Happy Bungalow

Wooden Toy Safety Warning

So we had a little incident here a few weeks ago; apparently you can have too much fun!  A few hundred toys were gathered, creating a sort of critical mass of fun.  There were a dozen or so rainbows emanating from our living room, and we’re pretty sure we saw a real life fairy.

To be clear, no irreparable damage was done, but the folks from NASA and the NOAA asked us to put a new notice on our toys:

“Playing with Happy Bungalow Toys may open a rift in the PLAY-FUN continuum.”

But we really don’t see the harm in honest play, so we added:

“Please play with joyous abandon!”

Interested in some living room science?  Pick up some toys in our online toy shop.wooden toy safety warning

first wood toy

Throw Back Thursday – Bunny

Today we throw it back to just about the first Happy Bugnalow toy ever prototyped.  I think it was just about the first thing I ever made on a scroll saw.  This was made when Happy Bungalow was just starting up.  We were ordering a few pieces of new professional grade equipment, but still trying to make it by on the thinnest shoe-string budgets.  So this little animal was cut on a piece of pine that was hanging around the shop.

scroll saw rabbit

I drew from (cartoonish) memory the shape of the animal.  I was happy that others recognized the shape was a bunny, but disappointed in how lame the thing looked.  So I set about drawing animal profiles from real animals (usually from pictures, but occasionally from real life as in our bison toy).  When we fist started there were two primary animal lines:  farm and safari.

Since we’ve added to our shop woodlands animals, dinosaurs, and mythical animals (think unicorns).  In addition we’re working on adding water animals, Australian animals, and just about every other animal that can be rendered in wood.

scroll saw rabbit profile

Reproducing real life animals into small wooden form took some tweaking.  Legs were too thin, bellies to bulgy, and the like.  Legs are the biggest problem.  Like, have you ever seen how thin a horse’s legs are?  Or a chicken’s?  In the beginning there was a lot of tweaking and fussing to get the animals just right, but now,  I think we’ve made close to one hundred different animals so far, we usually nail it down pretty quick.

So kids, remember – what they say is true.  Practice Makes Perfect!  Or just a lot better.

farm animal wooden toys

woodland animal toy porcupine

Wooden Procupine

Everyone knows what a porcupine looks like.  All needles and gnarly sharpness.  You know, like this:

porucpine in the wild

source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:African_crested_Porcupine_-Hystrix_cristata-.jpg

Except (as I’m guessing is the case in real life), such a creature rendered in wood doesn’t make for such a smooth experience.  So in the interest of not making a 10 MOST DANGEROUS TOYS list, we smoothed out the spikes.  Which takes away the wooden porcupine most distinctive feature, but leaves the little guy open to more imaginative play.

 

wooden porcupine toy

And imaginative play is all right by us.  Call him a porcupine, a sloth, or a snarled up house-cat – just don’t call him spikey!  Cut from hickory wood, sanded extra-smooth, and finished with our own beeswax polish, you can find Happy Bungalow’s wooden porcupine toy in our online toy shop.

Castle toy prototype

Throw Back Thursday – Castle Model

Last time on Throw Back Thursday . . .

digital castle bookend model

We dug up an early prototype of a castle bookend.  Well, here’s the computer model that preceded it.  Pretty neat looking, and probably pretty fun too, but none of them ever made it into production (read more about why in the original post).

I’ll ramble on a bit about computer models and prototyping.  We do all of our 3-D models in Sketchup.  It’s a free program that is super-handy, and relatively easy to learn.  I’m not the best self-taught computer person, but I figured out the basics of Sketchup in a day or so.  A few projects later and I was competent enough to do interior architectural models (I wasn’t always a toy-maker you know).  With computer models you can know exact dimensions, work out potential problems, and generate cut lists (how many and how long of pieces of wood you’ll need).

prototype castle bookend

Though, I like to work on the fly, working from simple sketches and physical protoypes (see an example in a post about toy car design and a bit about toy car construction).  So we don’t produce too many digital models anymore.  I will say though, if we were working on any sizable pieces, we would turn first to a computer model.

You can see in the built prototype that most everything is the same as the digital model.  The little dowel people were simplified and the upper windows were more real, but the physical castle was the same.  I probably went through 5 different hinge types for the little draw bridge.  That was tricky.

The Kids ended up with the castle prototypes, there’s a half dozen of them.  So we would hook all the individual wall pieces together (nothing was glued) and make super giant castles.  Never a roof though.  Inside the castle would sleep cars, princesses, blocks, and whatever else was around.  This was in the days when our oldest was figuring out how to go to sleep in a big kid bed by herself, so a lot of play time was devoted to putting her toys to sleep.

Liz and I don’t miss those battles of getting the two year old to go to sleep at night, but we sure do miss that play-time.  In case you’re wondering, we have discovered the secret to getting little kids to sleep at night – give them a sibling to sleep in the same room with.

Castle tower toy prototype

Throw Back Thursday – Castle Edition

wooden castle prototype

In recognition of Throwback Thursday we post this old prototype.  It’s one of about a dozen attempts at creating castle themed bookends.  I never figured out how to make them to the level of quality we strive for, and for the price we thought they could sell at.  The idea was for the bookends to be playable toys, outfitted with simple dowel people (much like the little peg people you see everywhere).

Perhaps we need to go back a little further.

Before Happy Bungalow was Happy Bungalow it was Kiddie Kottages.  When Liz and I were first dreaming up this business we were going to create playhouses for children (spurred on by the encouragement of friends, see the playhouse here).  We made notes and sketches.  We created 3D models of the playhouses.  We thought up just the right business name and registered domains (until recently kiddiekottages.com and kiddiecottages.com redirected to happybungalow.com).

And then we thought up some little products to accompany the playhouses.  The idea was that we’d make the playhouses and everything you needed to put in them.  So the original Happy Bungalow product line started out as accessories to Kiddie Kottages’ big playhouses.  But starting a new business and creating these multi-thousand dollar playhouses was too much, so we focused on the smaller pieces at first with the goal to move on to playhouses later.

We’ve pretty much given up on the playhouses for the immediate future, but some of those original products still hang on (our wooden animal toys being the most notable).  Much like the never realized castle bookends, the dollhouse bookends below went through extensive prototyping (and before that digital models you can read about here), but end the end it was hard to find a workable price-point for them.  It was also difficult to generate the level of quality (again at workable price point).  Though the shop has expanded its tooling, we might take another attempt at it.

dollhouse family

The simple little furniture did prompt a friend to ask if I could make some furniture for her daughter’s inherited dollhouse.  Well, that is a product line that has done quite well (read more dollhouse furniture posts here).

dollhouse bookends

So in the end the castle bookends never made it into production.  The corner joints (box joints) were the problem.  I was attempting to create a faux quoining (fancy architecture word for those stones that stick out on the corner of buildings).  Perhaps one of these days . . .

industrial baby bottle illustration

This Toy Will Make Your Kid a Genius

We have loads of toys here at the Bungalow. After all, we make wooden toys for a living. The Kids here have plenty of the same toys we sell, loads of toy prototypes, and scattered one-offs & specials too impractical to produce for sale.

And we have mass-produced, mass-marketed toys as well. We love and adore and appreciate the support of small boutique shops. They’re wonderful, sell awesome stuff that’s just about impossible to find anywhere else. And the people working the shop are terrific passionate people.  But . . .

But they don’t sell Barbies. Or Strawberry Shortcake. Or Lights and Sirens On! Firetrucks. And Legos. We have loads of fun with Legos around here. Sure, the wooden toy maker’s kids have plastic toys. Sure, we’ve heard the arguments against these sort of toys. Overseas labor, bad for the environment, durability, etc. And while there are valid points to be made, the world is a complicated and cruel place. We haven’t seen the absolute rule that serves the best interests of the global community.

Mass-produced doesn’t have to mean cheap, and if you take care of the toys, they can hang around for a good while (of course we’re the biggest fans of quality handmade wooden toys – it’s just hard to hand carve a wooden doll that looks just like the ones on the television).

We are firm in having no pretend dangerous toys. We have no toys guns, knives, or swords (as if kids didn’t pretend every stick was a gun or sword anyway). And we certainly don’t endorse toy tools! Last year a gift toy chainsaw spent all of two minutes in the house. Our woodshop is in our basement, and while it’s safely behind a locked door we educate our kids on the dangers of these tools. It’s a hard and fast rule that tools are not toys. There are three saws in our shop that will cut off a hand just as easily as they cut wood. So we want none of our children in the habit of regarding any saw as a toy.

We’re comfortable with some mass-produced toys, but too many are groan inducing.

Like the countless primary-colored, battery-required, insanity-generating models. Especially tiresome are the “educational toys”. I’m pretty sure we’ve never bought one, but they show up here none-the-less (sort of like the dolls and trucks I swear are self-replicating). But you know those “learning toys” that “teach” shapes and colors. And the A, B, and C. Because all you really need in life are three letters.

I suppose one or two of these fellas wouldn’t be so bad, but after a few dozen of the battery hungry monsters accumulate . . .

The packages tout their benefits. Letter recognition. Color recognition. Hand/eye coordination. They’ll improve thinking skills and boost creativity. A greater understanding of math and geometry. Perhaps they’ll increase your child’s IQ. Good grief! Read enough of it and you’d think that singing light-up helicopter will have your kid solving algebra problems in kindergarten.

Even the non-battery operated toys tout their giftedness. We have a fun little block set that promotes color recognition and hand/eye coordination. Doesn’t picking wildflowers do the same thing?

You want a child to learn something? Teach them. Read to them. Once they learn to read on their own, buy them books. And paper. Pencils. Crayons and markers. Get em a cheap camera. Let em loose in the backyard, in the park, go explore your local urban environ. They’ll learn a ton, and I bet they’ll have fun doing it.

You want a child to have fun? Give them a toy. Make a toy with them. Play with them. Before long little worlds will be born and flourish. Great tales will be written by you and your child. You’ll both have a ton of fun, and I bet you’ll learn something while doing it.