Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow

Good Grief

Good Grief

In 2016, once a month [or so], Happy Bungalow will be pulling back the curtain on the wood shop to show what life is really like owning a small / family / crafty / handmade / diy / maker / struggling / mom&pop business (further referred to as SFCHDMSMP business).

Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow

I have been struggling to write this article for months.  My life and family’s life was turned upside down this year.  Ultimately it was a good thing, but oh man was it a HARD year.  So hard that everything suffered, including my business.  I won’t go into the details because apparently I can’t get it all straight and on paper.

However, I’m not sure if I’ll continue this whole behind the scenes business.  I really want to, but I’m struggling to make it interesting and honest.  Especially this previously mentioned article.  It’s a mental weight I’m going to put aside now.  I’ll focus on writing the fun and silly articles.

I want to say this though – for the small business, the one-man shop, and honestly any living person: Read more

Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow

Selling at Craft Shows is Easy

Selling at Craft Shows is Easy

Earning Money at it is a Bit Harder

Doing it Without Breaking a Sweat May Be Impossible


In 2016, once a month, Happy Bungalow will be pulling back the curtain on the wood shop to show what life is really like owning a small / family / crafty / handmade / diy / maker / struggling / mom&pop business (further referred to as SFCHDMSMP business).


Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow



Craft shows span the spectrum from the elementary school fundraiser to the High Brow Art Faire. From the 2 hour church bazaar to the hip pop-up shop in the old hat factory. From the corporate office employee-only “farmers market” to the Crafty / Craftin’ / Handmade / Rebel / Outlaw / Misc. Profanity / Etc. Indie Art Show.

In more than four years of business I haven’t set up toy shop at every type of show, but I’ve done most of them. I’ve been out in the baking sun, in back hallways where the scant crowd didn’t even know I was there, out in the cold spring day that unexpectedly turned rain-storm, and at those beautiful shows where people are almost throwing money at me.
Read more

Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow

I’m a Work at Home Dad

I’m a Work at Home Dad

No, I Don’t Wear Pajamas All Day!

I Work at Home!!

I Don’t Stay at Home!!!



In 2016, once a month, Happy Bungalow will be pulling back the curtain on the wood shop to show what life is really like owning a small / family / crafty / handmade / diy / maker / struggling / mom&pop business (further referred to as SFCHDMSMP business).


Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow


Hi, I’m Don; I’m a father and I have job. Conveniently my job is based in my home. I’m a Work at Home Dad. And while I stay at home to work, I’m not a stay at home dad.

Confused? You’re not alone.

Most people who know me personally – I believe – don’t believe I have a real job. It’s possible some, perhaps most, believe I don’t even work. Let me explain, I believe this because –
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Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow

Inside the Small Crafty Maker Business aka Inside the SFCHDMSMP Business

Inside the Small / Family / Crafty / Handmade / Diy / Maker / Struggling / Mom&Pop Business.

Inside the Small Maker DIY Mom and Pop Struggling Business by Happy Bungalow

It’s a new year! Hoorah!

We resolution that running your own business is downright hard and it’s time we talk about it.

In 2016, once a month, Happy Bungalow will be pulling back the curtain on the wood shop to show what life is really like owning a small business. Well, that’s not totally accurate. Small business doesn’t quite describe us.

How about instead we call it a small / family / crafty / handmade / diy / maker / struggling / mom&pop business (further referred to as SFCHDMSMP business). We plan on showing everyone our accomplishments, just as we’ve always done, but we want to give some consideration to the struggles, disappointments, and hard work that is required to be successful (whatever that means).
Read more

Happy Bungalow's wooden toy warranty

Super Official Toy Warranty

Happy Bungalow's wooden toy warranty

Happy Bungalow’s Super Official Toy Warranty:

For a period of 10 years Happy Bungalow will repair, replace, or refund materials (exclusive of shipping) that prove defective, upon inspection (or emailed photo) by us, during normal residential use.
This Warranty does not cover:

Scratches, dings, and dents that may occur through typical use.  Damages caused by abuse such as, but not limited to, smashing, kicking, throwing, hammering, tantrumming, Evel Knievel stunt reenactments, attempted sub-orbital space flights, etc. etc. This is an indoor product – left outdoors for a period of years it will do what natural wood naturally does and turn into dirt. We will accept no returns on products that have been allowed to turn to dirt.

Of course, you may have other rights based on the state you live in.

*Yes, we’re being silly,
but if you have a
problem call or write:
(+1) 513-442-6924

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.


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.

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 and redirected to

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 . . .


Math is Important for Making Toys

We’ve been making a lot of stars lately.  Hundreds and hundreds of stars; which is awesome because someone is paying us to make stuff!  How much cooler of a job can you have?  But, as we’re making hundreds at a time, it’s best to be efficient at it.

math workd out on boardSo the stars are laid out on the wood before cutting (no, even though I’ve cut more than a thousand stars, I can’t cut them from memory).  So I laid out a few stars and then measured to see how many stars would fit onto so many feet of board.  It’s something like a word problem:

Don has to make 100 stars.  If 7 stars fit onto 1.8 feet of maple board, how many feet of board will he need to make 100 stars?  (assuming no knots or other defects in the wood that would have to be cut out)

Except there’s no calculator in the shop – only old fashioned long-hand math.

I also figured up how many square inches of wood each star used – this told me my raw materiel cost for each piece.

So yes, math is important.  I don’t use calculus in the shop very often, but geometry and algebra are very important.  Kids!  Pay attention in math class!  Don’t end up being the person that needs a calculator to double check his 7 + 7 math.


As a side-diversion:

Before I made toys, I was an architect (technically I still am, I just haven’t done any for-hire work in a while now).  The number one response when telling a stranger I’m architect:  “You must be good at math.”

Well, I am good at math, I think it’s fun – like solving a puzzle – but surprisingly to most people great math skills aren’t essential to architecture.  Basic geometry and a little algebra is all you really need to be competent.  A high-schooler would be able to handle most of the math work.

So what’s the number one skill essential to being an architect?  Working an unspeakable number of thankless (and unpaid) hours.

As a toy-maker at Happy Bungalow I work more hours, but they are the opposite of thankless.  I have fun every day, almost without pause.  I mean come on!  We’re making toys here.  My job is to make toys!

Stop into our online toy shop to take home some of our work.

kid illustration of family

Happy Bungalow’s Wooden Toy Promo Video

Our first promo video – put together for a grant application.  Filmed on location in the Bungalow.  Featuring our super-fun wooden toys, head-artisan Don, and an artist rending of the entire crew.