We love wood because it is a natural and unique material, making every piece of toy made of it one of a kind. While these days wooden toys are regaining their popularity and are getting rediscovered more and more for their beauty and benefits they provide our children with (a fact that we are incredibly happy for!), sometimes we feel that some of their properties are still forgotten and many times come as a surprise. We are still learning about them ourselves: they are, in fact, different and therefore also need somewhat different handling than mass produced plastic toys. At Malih nog naokrog, we find it important to post once in a while and start a conversation about the questions that arise the most often. So before you would decide on buying wooden toys, you can get to know every aspect of them better, and can make a more informed decision whether they are really for you and your family.

Because we understand that, while we take these properties as a natural part of wood and find even some kind of wabisabi  beauty in them, it might not be to everyone’s liking and taste – and there is nothing wrong with that either.

Wabisabi is a Japanese aesthetic philosophy that embraces and finds beauty in the constant changes and impermanence of life, as well as in the imperfection of things. Wabisabi tries to remind us that we are all transient beings in this world: us, humans, but also the material world around us are in the process of nature’s natural cycle of growth, decay, and erosion. The marks of passing time (as a wood knot, rust, marks of use, or our stretchmarks after birth or scars after operation) are seen as both glorious and melancholic, a part of the natural and unique story of things.

Wood can have knots and markings.

Wood is really perfect with its imperfections. It can have various markings by nature that can also show up in the products. It has changing structures and colours: it can have darker lines, different grain structures and even knots. Through these marks, in every piece of wood, there is written the unique history of time and place where it grew, and it also bears the marks of all the prosperity and hardships that the single tree has been through. These variations are proof of its natural origin and quality, and we don’t see them as defects at all.

Just like our birth marks, scars or skin stretches are part of our own personal story and make us special, these knots make your wooden toys really unrepeatable, too. Along with us, many of our producers, like Grimm’s or Grapat, celebrate this feature of the material. Not only because getting rid of these markings would be against sustainable forestry principles (many more number of trees would need to be harvested to produce toys with virtually no knots and streaks), but also because we strongly believe in the individuality it borrows the toys. We also see an important message in them towards our children: in a uniform, perfection-obsessed world we need not only to accept but also to appreciate again our natural diversity and imperfections.

The dark knots, that can be found sometimes on the rainbow or other toys, are spots on the tree where a branch started to develop before, but fallen or died off during the natural development. Darker lines within some lighter wood (such as maple) can be mineral streaks: lines in the wood created as the tree absorbs and deposits minerals from the soil.

Wooden toys can be less uniform.

It is not only the grain and the knots that can make your wooden toy distinctive but, since  many of them are handmade, it also means that two pieces of the same model might never be the same. A few of our partners, including Grimm’s, Holztiger, Grapat, Ocamora or Pojga choose to handcut, handsand and / or handpaint their products – and again they do it because of the values they wish to stand for. Even if it results sometimes in pieces which are a bit less uniform, or less »perfect«. Minor assimetries, variance in weight or thickness, uneven staining or the woodgrain shining through, minor paint transfers, velvety or a bit rougher finish – none of them we look at as »faults«, they are normal part of these kind of toys.

Actually, just think about it: the international demand for some of these toys are so high, that the manufacturers can hardly keep up with the supply using manual work. They could very easily avoid these characteristics if they found them unwanted, and even produce more standardised pieces faster and at a more profitable price. But they still choose not to mechanise their processes. Why? Because it is really a question of philosophy for them. Again, we do not say that it will or should appeal to all of us, but we would like that you are aware of it, so when you purchase a toy by one of these brands, you will know the style and idea behind that you are committing to. If you would like toys without these variances then please look towards some of the other manufacturers we offer such as Bajo or Plan Toys.

The Grimm’s rainbow, for example, are cut by hand and eye, not using any industrial template, and it can result in minor size differences and asymmetries. Because of manual work every rainbow has two sides, so if you find they are not fitting perfectly when stacked together, please simply switch the arcs around. If you still have doubt if it is a question of values or quality, then our prompt is to look closer at Grimm’s own logo. What do you see?

Wood can break.

Even though wood is a durable material that can serve us for generations, it doesn’t mean it is indestructible, because… well, really, no material is! We try to make sure that our partners stand for high quality: they select premium wood without structural defects, they design and test their products for longevity, and they do extensive quality control.

But wood is a natural and living material: it constantly evolves and reacts to changes of the environment, such as heat or humidity. So if a toy is not stored properly, or it has simply unseen tension within and falls or receives a hit (especially in a specific angel compared to the wood grain), it can break. This is a quality that we take almost for granted with cheaper plastic toys, but still feel a little heart-broken when it happens with a beloved, and a slightly more expensive wooden toy that we wanted to play with for years.

But the good news is that wood is still more resistant than many other material, and it does not happen as frequently. And another great thing is, that even if it breaks, we don’t need to throw the toys out because they can be healed very easily. You will only need a bit of wood glue or sanding paper – and of course some love. Beside saving a toy from loneliness (because for a toy it is really the most sad destiny if it is not played with!), we believe in today’s world it is again a valuable lesson to our children: real things can be repaired and loved the same way. Damage is sometimes normal, and wounds are part of who we are. And many times these toys will be actually end up the closest to our and our children’s heart. And another thing: giving real materials and objects to our children teaches them respectful and careful handling.

What is NOT normal, though?

Even if you accept these characteristics, it might happen that not all of the toys you receive will be perfect. Even us or our partners make mistakes, which we would never pretend to be part of our philosophy. So what are the things which are not »normal« for these toys? Upon delivery if you see any damage, such as cracks, chips, splinterings then such toys should never be played with. We encourage you to reach out in all cases if you have a concern and we will solve the problem with replacing or refunding the item.

However, we might not be able to replace toys for aesthetical reasons (excluding of course the right to withdraw from contract, and sending back the items within the given timeframe in original packaging) or if the damage happens later during usage. We will still do our best to give you a helping hand to ask for a replacement of the broken part for a fee (where it is possible), or of course send you a little first aid kit to have it repaired together.

Finally, we have collected a couple of advices (that you can read here), that will help you to keep the wooden toys in a good shape and let them enjoy for years to come.

Pictures of Grimm’s house and Grapat Nins are sent to us by Giling-Galang Photography (Hungary). Rainbow is official Ocamora picture. All rights reserved.