Blocks and building toys

In this first installment of my blocks and building toys series, here's a pair of classic boxed hardwood block sets in a similar style.

One set's pretty old, the other's getting there fast.

The smaller box is a recent acquisition from a dealer in California. The larger set is home-grown right here in North Carolina- more on that later.

Both boxes are finger-jointed with a bottom panel inlet into the grooved sides, and feature similar angle-bored finger pulls. The wood for the boxes and blocks is walnut (or a hickory family member for the smaller set, hard to tell).

The small box shows several clumsy glue repairs along the top edges of the grooved sides.

The lids of many boxes typically bow quite a bit over time, popping the sides' edges along the weaker rabbets. For the builder or owner there's no easy remedy excepting careful wood selection- and conditioned storage for the finished box.

The dimensions are 8-3/4 x 6-5/16 x 3.  It's really quite a delicate block set.

The lid's thickness is just under 3/16"; it's edges are not chamfered but rather shaped as an extremely shallow cove, the width 1/4" on the long edges and 3/8" at the end.

The turned detailing of the columns is neatly done.

Note the lathe's center marks on the column ends are left "as-is-" where in our next box the ends are trimmed to eliminate indents.

This set has seen some hard use by happy kids, and I'm glad to own it- dings and all.

Here's a larger set built by Bob Clarke at his Sugar Hollow Block Shop in Fairview, North Carolina in 1992.  I'm told by friends that Bob (now deceased) made these block sets as a retirement business, basing them on blocks he enjoyed as a child.

I inherited this box from my father who purchased it new almost two decades ago for the grandkids… truly an heirloom set.

The dimensions are a hefty 11-5/8 x 8-13/16 x 4-3/16. This is one heavy dude.

Bob's inspiration from older block sets was dead-on, as were his technical skills.

The lid is figured book-matched walnut to limit bowing, and the edges are rabbeted, not coved.

The 1/8" finger joints (32 teeth at each corner) are flawless, as is the book-matched floating panel for the bottom.

The box has achieved a mellow tone through the years while the blocks inside retain their original fresh look.

His version features two column sizes and other variants on block sizes and shapes… four layers deep!

I can't say enough about Bob's attention to detail. Not only in the amazing columns, but in every piece in this superb box of 122 blocks. After two decades of play by my now-grown toddler daughter and her cousins- and not a few adults!-  the finish still feels like silk in the hand.

Curly walnut… it doesn't get much more beautiful than that.

My college-age daughter had a lot of fun with the block set when she was young, as did I. Wish my grey hair still looked like that.

Thanks Bob for the inspiring play- and rest in peace.

Kind regards to the Ager/Clarke family for the research.