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Does it HAVE to be wood?

on June 25, 2015

large_DKL_make_and_create_construction_Wonderworld_Trix_Track_two_2_Way_Flipper_wooden_marble_run_block_kit_set__W_Occasionally a customer comes into the shop and wants to see nothing but wooden toys. It happened again a few days ago and sparked up a wee behind the scenes debate between the staff: Is there really something inherently wrong with plastic toys? Well yes and no; the funny thing is that wooden and plastic toys are simply different from one another; neither is better as such. However, it can still help to understand the pros and cons of each type of toy. For starters lets be positive and go for the pro lists:

What’s good about wood? There’s something timeless about a wooden toy. If it’s designed with care we can picture it being handed down through generations. Not only is wood a sturdy material from which to construct a toy, it’s also wonderfully resilient, even after rough treatment (a bit of wood glue can leave the toy looking none the worse for wear). The tactile quality of wood can’t be underestimated either and it’s hard to imagine simple building blocks made out of anything else (though we recently got some stone blocks in store, very different tactile experience and fun to build with). What’s more, left untreated, wood can be a material that will satisfy even the most adamantly safety-conscious parent. Wood is natural, traditional, timeless, and repairable. Here are a selection of our favourite wooden toys (click on the images to be taken to the product page on our website):

djeco filabellule nature themed lacing toy fine motor skills developmentlarge_DKL_make_and_create_construction_Wonderworld_Trix_Track_Throw_and_Roll_wooden_marble_run_block_kit_set__W_large_Arty_Toys_Ze_Castle_Complarge_MBL_B_Little_Forest_Train_Set

Can plastic be perfect? Of course it can! You can dunk it in water, leave it outside (OK colours can fade a little in the sun), and depending on the type of plastic used it’ll bounce back from heavy treatment. Overall, plastic is a superb material from which to construct a toy. What plastic might lack in timelessness it makes up for in a dynamism in form and function; plastic is lightweight and the average plastic toy can easily house any motor or electronics you might like without getting unrealistically heavy (or making components overheat). Plastic can provide a degree of detail that few other mass-production materials can, a child’s favourite character can be produced in miniature and still look instantly recognisable. Plastic is bold, bright, dynamic, versatile, and can be bursting with personality. Some of our boldest and most beautiful plastic toys can be found by clicking the images below.


The fall of wood: Wood is expensive to produce, it’s heavy, and it can be difficult to manipulate with precision on a factory scale. However, the most problematic issue is wood’s relative inability to deal with water in all of it’s forms; it has a tough time dealing with atmospheric conditions that plastic can take in it’s stride.  There are few wooden toys that could survive as a bath toy without swelling up into a distorted mess, plus dampness is also an issue for outside play meaning that something made from wood will typically solely work as an indoor toy. On top of this the colours that plastic boasts can only be achieved in a wooden counterpart with the aid of paint or other wood treatments, some of these treatments are superb and could weather the very chompiest of babies and toddlers, but you do have to be careful of what you buy, check for CE marks to ensure that what you’re buying will be OK for your child. The final issue with wood is obviously deforestation. However, unlike plastic which is drawn from a finite resource like oil, new trees can be planted. We take care to make sure we stock a range of minimally impactful wooden toys. Here is a selection:

hape toys go fish go fine motor toy manetic wand with metal balls perspec covert700_632b3e1b4ce9d80a4432c7ea5b5535c4goki cement mixerIMAG1644_BURST001_1

There’s plastic and then there’s plastic: Just like wood, plastic has it’s downsides. Sure you can use it to create bright, durable, toys for all weather, but when play gets a little too much for a plastic toy it’s got nothing on wood when it comes to recovery. Even if you’re a dab-hand with a tube of super-glue you can only work with what you’ve got. Plastic toys, when broken, are rarely an easy thing to fix.

Also worth thinking about is that on an aesthetic level some parents have a fixed aversion to plastic, with its garish colours and more flimsy feel (at least when compared to wooden equivalents). In themselves, these features have basically no bearing on how the child themselves will react to the toy (in fact most younger children respond best to bright, high-contrast colours) but if you’re buying a gift it’s always worth considering the tastes of the parent as well. Despite some truly beautiful plastic toys, there will always be some people who simply want nothing to do with it.

You can’t have a winner when it isn’t a competition: There simply isn’t a competition here. From the outside it may look like the same toy could be made in both materials but in practice you’ll find marked differences in the way toy manufacturers utilise the strengths of the respective materials. Wood is solid, dependable, natural, and traditional. Manufacturers using wood don’t typically try to make it look like a plastic toy, instead they play to these strengths, hoping that wooden toy owners take the necessary care to ensure that their toys stay away from water and other things that might damage their toy.

The same goes for plastics manufacturers; they acknowledge the limitations of their chosen material and then do as much as they can with the most dynamic, lightweight, and versatile manufacturing material available to the toy trade. There is no winner between the two, the simple fact is some toys will always work best made from plastic and others will work best when made from wood.

A quick ‘also ran’: It seems a shame not to mention die-cast metal. There are countless superb toys made from die-cast. In many ways it’s a material that bridges the gap between plastic and wood. It’s versatile, strong, it can be weatherproofed, it’s traditional and sturdy, not to mention the fact that the detail that can be achieved can be equal to (if not better than) what you could see on a plastic toy. However, it has it’s own downsides too, most notably its weight, take a die-cast tractor to the head and you’ll maybe be inclined to consider plastic alternatives. However, as above it isn’t a competition, die-cast is simply better-suited to some kinds of toy than wood and plastic, and vice versa.

wpid-imag1643_burst005.jpgOh and here’s a picture of the stone building blocks were talking about, very unusual to use but amazingly tactile blocks, and they balance brilliantly.

Hope this has been helpful, all the best, the Fun Junction Team


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