How to Care for Antique Wooden Toys

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How to Care for Antique Wooden Toys
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How to Care for Antique Wooden Toys

Humans have been making toys from wood that have captivated our imaginations since time immemorial. Antique wooden toys can be objects treasured by a family for many generations. Hard woods can last hundreds of years, though they're susceptible to fatigue from numerous sources. When caring for such treasures the two important words are preservation and restoration. This eBay guide serves as an introduction for caring for antique toy treasures.

Preservation

Preservation can be as simple as dusting the dirt off a toy. When dusting, use a brush that's not going to mark or scrape any fragile wooden surfaces. Heavy dust can also be picked up using a vacuum cleaner through a piece of gauze; make sure that neither touches the surface of the wood.

Always use your judgement when selecting the right cleaning apparatus for each particular toy. Different sizes and ages of toy are suited to different cleaning methods. If in doubt, do a little research or ask an expert; you may find some helpful enthusiasts amongst the sellers on eBay, happy to discuss and compare preservation tips.

It's important to make sure all surfaces of the toy are clean. Substances that stick to the toy can, over time, decay its surfaces. Sometimes cleaning can be as simple as dusting. Other times dabbing with a small rag wetted with warm water can be the easiest solution. However some highly sensitive truly antique toys may need to be sent to a specialist to remove engrained deposits or staining, especially if they're intricate.

Other considerations include:

  • dampness
  • sunlight

Wood exposed to strong sunlight can dry out and crack, rapidly accelerating the disintegration of a wooden toy. It might not be the best idea to put that beautiful wooden ship grandpa passed down in pride of place in the window if it's going to be basking in the sun day in day out. With dampness, wood can swell and warp. Most wooden toys are intricately assembled and any swelling or warping of wood can bust apart the joints of the toy, disfiguring it and often breaching its structural integrity.

Varnishes, paint and oils are all commonly used in order to protect wood from swelling. Make sure that you check the toy over thoroughly to see that its paint or varnish coating is intact, and keep antique wooden toys in environments away from damp. If storing the toy away, things like silica gel which is cheap and easily available can be packaged in with the toy to absorb any residual humidity, helping to preserve the wood.

Restoration

If the varnish, painting or staining of a wooden toy is damaged it's important to repair it before deeper issues are created. Sometimes this can be as easy as touching up the affected area with a small brush and some varnish or paint. However, some paints and varnishes change colour over time meaning that any touch ups will be a different colour to the rest of the coating and readily apparent. If you're concerned with making sure the toy has a consistent coating sometimes - very carefully - sanding off the original damaged coat of varnish and applying a whole new coat can be the most attractive - though not always the easiest - option.

Small parts that have broken off or cracked may need to be replaced. As with all restoration, your safest bet is handing the damaged toy to a specialist to repair. Finding a craftsperson to take up the job in your local area is usually easy with a little research. Look for a specialist antique furniture restorer.

For those feeling adventurous and wanting to deploy or brush up on their carpentry skills however, restoring an antique wooden toy can make a satisfying project.

  • Replacements for broken parts can be fashioned with the right tools and materials
  • Damaged wood can be sanded down and re-varnished
  • Joints may need to be oiled
  • Strings can be replaced
  • Details can be repainted.

Each activity can require a lot of specialist knowledge found through research.
When thinking about restoring an antique wooden toy it's important to consider a number of factors also applicable to new and used wooden toys. These are wood type and safety suitability for children.

Know Your Woods

It's important when caring for an antique wooden toy that you understand the materials it's crafted from. There are hundreds of different types of woods, each with different properties which make them suitable, or unsuitable, for various uses in toys.

Woods are generally classified as being either:

  • softwoods
  • hardwoods

Hardwoods usually come from trees that drop their leaves once a year and take a long time to grow. The wood these trees produce - and we're talking species such as Birch, Oak and Chestnut here - is typically very hard, though not necessarily difficult to work with. Exact properties vary from species to species.

The key property of hardwoods when thinking about antique wooden toys however is its resilience. Due to its compact nature, hardwood carefully cared for can last hundreds of years. When choosing a antique wooden toy or making parts with which to repair an existing heirloom, it's useful to bear in mind that choosing the right hardwood can boost your toy's chances of bearing up well against the terrors of time.

Softwoods on the other hand are, as the name suggests, softer. Because of the speed with which softwoods grow, the wood is often cheaper to buy, and can be easier to work with. Softwoods are amongst the most common type of wood from which modern toys are made, due to varieties like Pine being in plentiful supply and having a beautiful grain, which can be brought out simply through a nice sanding down finished with oils or varnish which highlight the inherent beauty of the wood.

The third type of wood is of neither the hardwood or softwood families, and that's because it is manmade. MDF is a composite of wood fibres produced using high pressures and heats. It has the advantage of being uniform in composition, unlike hardwoods and softwoods which have a natural grain that often moves in waves and contains knots or burrs that a craftsperson has to consider when carving a piece of wood. However, unlike naturally occurring woods, MDF has no grain and is not commonly thought to be the most attractive of materials. For this reason it is usually painted over rather than oiled or varnished. MDF may be a cheap choice for repairing parts of the toy that are hidden from sight, but is not likely to be an attractive choice with which to replace the broken mast of Grandpa's Spanish Galleon.

Safety

Always of core importance when restoring, preserving or purchasing anything which will eventually end up in the hands of children should be safety.

Antique toys were sometimes produced in times less safety conscious than our present day and may present risks to industrious, strong and curious infants.

Small parts which may be easily broken off can present choking hazards, outlying limbs and sharp parts could injure eyes and old varnishes or at lead components may be toxic and best kept away from teething mouths.

It's always key to do your research on what makes a toy safe or unsafe for children and use due judgement before handing anything to them to play with unattended. Then again, not all toys are made to be played with - few will blame you for keeping a beautiful model intact and out of a child's clutches.

Caution

Beware when carrying out any repairs that a significant part of the value of an antique wooden toy may be in its patina. Generally avoid making repairs, especially if they are visible.

How to Buy Antique Wooden Toys on eBay

Now that you've worked out which antique wooden toys you want, find them quickly on eBay. To start shopping, go to the Toys & Games category. Click the Wooden Toys portal.

Categories: The Categories list on the left side of each page will help you narrow down your listings by item type. You'll find links to shop for Kids or Collectors & Hobbyists, and the ability to refine your search by Brands including Brio, Early Learning Centre ,Chad Valley, Fisher Price, Mothercare and Marks & Spencer. As you refine your search you'll be able to narrow down your choice by subcategory.

Product Finder: Use the Wooden Toys Finder to quickly narrow down item listings by type of Sub-Type, Brand, Character Family, Age Level, Gender, Condition, Price and Item Location.

If you can't find exactly what you want, try browsing eBay Stores or tell the eBay Community what you’re looking for by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay and eBay will email you when a matching item becomes available.

Buy Wooden Toys with Confidence

Make sure that you know exactly what you’re buying and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know Your Item

Read the details in the item listing carefully.

Remember to add delivery costs to your final price. If you’re buying a high value item, check that the seller will insure it until it is delivered to you.

If you want more information, click the “Ask seller a question” button on the seller’s profile or the “Ask a question” link at the bottom of the item listing page.

Always complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy it Now or Best Offer) otherwise you will not be covered by eBay Buyer Protection.

Never pay for your eBay item using an instant cash wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. These are not safe ways of paying someone you do not know.

Know Your Seller

Research your seller so that you feel safe and positive about every transaction.

  • What is the seller’s Feedback rating?
  • How many transactions have they completed?
  • How many positive responses do they have?
  • What do buyers say in their Feedback? 
  •  Are they positive about the seller?

Most top eBay sellers operate like retail shops and have a returns policy.

  • Do they offer a money-back guarantee? 
  • What are their terms and conditions?

Buyer Protection

In the very unlikely event that you do not receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection your purchase price plus original delivery cost.

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