The design for any toy I make must satisfy three important criteria. First, the shape and appearance must be pleasing to the eye. I prefer a simple design that suggests the horse, yet leaves the imagination free to add the details. Also, if the appearance is nice, the horse will become a permanent part of a home's decor when children grow, rather than garage sale fodder. Once the child climbs on, the second criterion becomes important. Any toy has to be safe. It should not have sharp edges or a toxic finish. It should be low to the floor to minimize falls and their consequences. In a rocking horse, which moves by its nature, the motion should be limited. I use a gradual curve on the rockers to make over-turning difficult. Finally, a toy needs to be durable. Nothing is as disappointing as a broken favorite toy. The "acquire and cast-off" cycle of mass-merchandised toys doesn't teach values I respect. I want my children to be good judges of quality and value. Finely made toys help teach these lessons.
Many people have told me stories of their favorite childhood toy and how they continue to derive pleasure from it. Others have expressed sadness that a favorite toy was given to a cousin or friend. They never seem to come back. The most emotional stories come from those who have a toy made by a parent or grandparent. They value it far more than its objective worth.
I recommend that you personalize your horse in some way. This can be simply carving an inscription, attaching an engraved brass plate or signing and dating in permanent ink. This vastly increases the chances that your horse will become a family heirloom. Heirloom seems an overworked word in our modern world, but your horse will deserve the description.
A consideration important to me, but less so to you, is the ease of construction. Because I trade my toymaking for dollars in the marketplace, I need to make a horse quickly so that I can sell it at a reasonable price. You can spend more time on yours and make it even more wonderful. I expect you can complete your horse in about ten hours. Balance this small effort against decades of happy rocking children.
One builder modified my horse a bit to suit his pleasure.
The only trouble with designing and working in wood is that it has the advantage - or disadvantage, however you look at it - of being beautiful in itself...take a piece of wood - plane, sand and oil it, and you will find it is a beautiful thing. The more you do to it from then on, the more chance that you will make it worse. Therefore, working with a material of such natural beauty, I feel that we have to design very quietly and use simple forms.
Teaches Woodworking - 1979
"The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive ... and pass away, and he knew they were only toys and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it."
"What is REAL? asked the Rabbit one day ... Real isn't how you are made, said the Skin Horse. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real ... It lasts for always."
From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. 1922
A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and
Time is a dimension of all workmanship.
It all fails, to be sure: but it fails either sooner or later.
Durability is thus a preoccupation of every workman.
The Nature and Art of Workmanship
John Michael Linck - Toymaker
2618 Van Hise Avenue - Madison, Wisconsin 53705
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