Christmas is still several months away, however, you might be mistaken into believing ‘tis the season to be jolly’ or feel like you’re a child again in a toy shop when you visit toymaker Stephen Dalla Costa’s workshop in Woodbrook shaping and sanding planes, trains and automobiles out of blocks of wood.
There is a sense of peace, a calm focus about the artisan craftsman that surrounds him as he shapes a wooden toy, an atmosphere of tranquillity like zen working meditation.
Looking at the fine quality and intricate quality of his handcrafted creations, one is surprised to learn that he has been making wooden toys for only two years.
Speaking to Guardian Media Dalla Costa said, “I have always enjoyed woodworking my entire life, from refinishing furniture to building pieces for my house.
I am always looking for ways to recycle and use the cut off pieces instead of throwing them out. I have two friends who also do woodworking, building cupboards and cabinets and I get bags of cut off ends to make my toys.
“I decided to try a few pull toys at first and progressed to trucks, cars, planes and trains. I wasn’t taught woodworking or toymaking by anyone, I am self-taught through trial and error over the last 50 years.
“I don’t have an apprentice to pass on my knowledge to. I don’t think I would be a very good teacher, though.”
When the 74-year-old Dalla Costa was asked if he was getting more work or seeing an interest in wooden toys moreso during the COVID-19 lockdown, he said not so much more of an interest, but he was using his time at home to make more toys and try and perfect his craft.
He said toys made of plastics and electronic toys contained chemicals and toxins which were harmful to children, on the other hand, his wooden toys were children-friendly bonded together with glue, using no nails and a mineral oil coating, environment-friendly, safe, durable and timeless and can engage children’s imaginations and creativity for hours.
Dalla Costa said he used mostly mahogany wood to make his wooden planes, trains and trucks usually making them in batches which can take about three weeks to make a batch of six.
He said he also made wooden tops that were used for top fighting and batons in the past but he no longer had a lathe, which was necessary.
When asked if he had any challenges in getting material, Dalla Costa said he got all his wood locally and his two friends in woodworking also gave him their ends.