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The Three-Piece Construction Crew

Norm Marshall's creative toys stimulate the imagination


Norm Marshall, retired Naval aviator, husband and father had a happy passion: making toys for children.

Norm passed away in 1982, but it's fitting that he was born on Christmas Eve in 1932 because, based on the quality and “playability” of his toy plans, we're certain that Jolly Old St. Nicholas smiled down on Norm a lot!

There's nothing Norm enjoyed more than making toys designed to bring long-lasting smiles to the faces of children and their parents. Interestingly, he refused to sell one of his toys. “I'll build them to give away.” he said as he leaned back at his drawing board, “but I'll never sell them.” “I'll gladly teach someone how to make them...but I don't want to get into mass production.”

A 1978 graduate of The Shopsmith Woodworking Academy, Norm sat down for an interview with “Hands-On!” shortly before his passing in 1982. This series of projects begins with that interview.

The interview: I started this little hobby of mine under doctor's orders. I guess that 25 years of military service, more than 5,000 flight hours and over 500 landings on aircraft carriers for the Navy left my nerves a little strung out. I needed some relaxation.

In casting about for a hobby, I read Peter Stevenson's book, “The Art Of Making Wooden Toys”. I really liked what he had to say. I started making toys with hand tools but found that it took just too much time. In 1978, I bought my Shopsmith MARK V and attended Shopsmith's Dayton-based Woodworking Academy. I'll never forget the fun that we had in that class. That's when the woodworking hobby really started opening up for me.

I'm having a ball, now. In my opinion, toymaking is perfect for novice woodworkers. The Bandsaw or Scroll Saw will take a lot of the tedious labor out of it. They're easy tools to use...someone who knows how to use a sewing machine can learn the a few minutes.

When you actually get into the workshop, making a toy should be a leisurely, inexpensive four or five hour project. It should let you unwind. The idea for the toy can ripen in your mind for days or weeks. Then, it mellows on the drawing board and finally evolves under your hands on the workbench.

There are no big secrets to it. Well, on the other hand, maybe one: HANG LOOSE! Just remember that when you're making a toy, you're not working on something that's going to change he world. You should be happy to make it, happy to give it away...and the person who receives it should be happy to get it.

We're all kids at heart. When I see a train locomotive, a bulldozer or a crane, I ask myself: “Where are the things on it that I'd like to play with?” Then, I go home and doodle with drawings.



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