What power tools do I need to make precision wooden children’s toys?
About 30 years ago, I had a fully equipped, full-sized hobby woodworking setup of power tools that filled my basement at the time, and included an original 1940s DeWalt radial arm saw, and Delta or Powermatic shaper, joiner, planer, drill press, sanding machine, etc.
It was for purely hobby use, and I made intricate all-wood children’s toys whose features included, for safety reasons – and just because “I could” – no screws or nails (all press-fit parts), colors provided by the natural colors of the hardwoods used, very “tough” in terms of durability during child play, and an edible oil finish. I gave some away and sold some through boutique shops, and had a GREAT time doing it!
Then I got too busy with my career and kids and other hobbies that required smaller chunks of time and space, and weren’t a danger for the kids.
Now, I’m retired and want to do it again, but this time there are serious restrictions:
- VERY limited space
- The space cannot be used full-time for woodworking, so all equipment must be realistically portable (nothing over what one strong but unassisted man can carry or roll on a portable stand)
- One or more household moves are likely within the next 5 to 7 years, so portability also means “movability”!
- I have to be able to do planing, ripping, crosscutting, mitering, beveling, compound bevel/miter cuts including steep angles (ideally up to 60 degrees), drilling, sanding, pressfitting, and polishing
- The toys I like to create are small, typically averaging in overall ASSEMBLED dimensions 3 to 6” wide by 9 to 18” long, and 1” to 6” thick. The largest individual component pieces of wood I need to handle are probably going to be 2” thick by 6” wide by 48” long, and the 48” length is only because I like to make duplicate multiples of some toys with minor variations, and handling the raw lumber in longer (multi-toy) initial lengths makes some operations, like ripping, a lot safer. The “finished” length of any individual component piece is rarely going to exceed 18”, and is usually under 9 or 10 inches (Is there any woodworking machine other than a table saw that can safely rip pieces that are only a few inches long, without requiring hand or hands near the blade? The exposed blades of table saws intuitively scare me a bit!)
- Precision is pretty important, as the toys typically have multiple compound angular facets, and cuts that are slightly off become highly visible and many cannot realistically properly be corrected via sanding or other rework
- Drilling operations also have 2 prominent challenges: They have to produce PRECISE diameter holes (the toys are assembled via pressfit dowels of multiple standard diameters), and the drill press has to have enough power to push Forstner bits up to 1-1/2” in diameter through up to 1” of depth, in ANY wood I might use, which includes some of the harder exotic hardwoods, without butchering the wood (or the bit!). Smaller diameter bits, typically ¼” to ½” diameter, need to go as deep as 4” in hardwoods. The drill press cannot allow significant run-out, because that would very adversely affect both the assembly dowels and other rotating assemblies. The drill press "throat diameter" need only be a maximum of maybe up to 8” (that means 8”/2 = 4” of clearance between post and drill bit) – certainly no more. So if I get a small enough throat drill press, machine distortion should be minimized, leaving only the need for a great chuck and a low tolerance spindle setup
- For space reasons, I’d like to avoid the need for a jointer, so the quality of the saw cuts on ripping needs to be pretty good – good enough for sanding to do final smoothing
- The planer is required because many of the exotic woods I use are not available in S4S or S2S, but remember the board size is relatively narrow and never more than 2” thick
Because of the above constraints and needs, I am thinking that I need “very compact” and “benchtop”, but good quality, versions of:
- A small planer (to plane the raw boards)
- A table saw (to do ripping because I can’t think of anything else that can do ripping properly and safely, but not using it to do much else because I consider table saws inherently the most dangerous tool in a shop)
- A dual sliding 12” crosscut/miter/bevel saw (to easily and more SAFELY set up and execute all those compound angle cuts that are a prominent feature of my toys). This needs to be able to hold precise angles rather closely. I would also strongly prefer a design that enables me to clamp a workpiece before cutting it, for safety reasons, and I am willing to use wooden fixtures to enable that where necessary
- A drill press that has the precision and the power to handle the drilling tasks described earlier
- A sanding machine (For my application, do I need both a sanding disc and a belt, or ? A belt SEEMS like a better solution so I can sand with the grain consistently)
- A small arbor press (to push the assembly dowels in, and to push individual doweled components into other components with matching dowel holes)
- MAYBE a band saw (to do non-linear cuts, but one of the identifying features of my toys in general is the use of hard compound planes versus soft curves; the minimal soft curves I need can easily be created by sanding adjacent hard surfaces so they “blend”)
- MAYBE a jointer (if you guys and gals tell me that simply ripping won’t be good enough, but then it needs to be a pretty tiny benchtop model)
The budget is a bit flexible, but I cannot afford to fill the mini-shop-space with Festool products.
It's been 30 years since I last did this, so I am certainly open to hearing about new techniques and tools that may have become available or common since then!
Given all the above, and keeping the space, portability, and benchtop preference requirements in mind, what suggestions can you make?