Aaron Nuland enjoyed playing with the wooden toys his father made for him when he was a boy. Now that he has sons of his own, Aaron makes wooden toys not only for his sons but also for thousands of children across the country through his business A Summer Afternoon.
Making toys wasn’t Aaron’s original life plan. Five years ago, Aaron supervised multi-million dollar construction projects that kept him away from home for extended periods. When he and his wife Erin were starting a family, Erin kept suggesting alternative careers that would give Aaron more time at home. The toys he made for his first son received such acclaim from family and friends that she finally convinced him to make a business of it.
Four years and another son later, Aaron and Erin have changed roles. Erin commutes to a full-time job, and Aaron works near home. He helps watch over their sons’ schedules while turning out toys in his workshop at the north end of Fort Collins.
Inside A Summer Afternoon
The shelves at Aaron’s workshop are piled high with solid hardwood from local cabinetmakers who let him have their scraps without charge. Free wood helps him keep his prices below what he has seen in catalogs which, as a new father, he used to scan with dismay. By using different types of wood in a toy, he varies the color without using stain.
Each toy from A Summer Afternoon receives individual attention. To meet demand, Aaron uses a computer-driven machine to cut multiple outlines of a toy on a piece of wood. But after that, he guides each toy by hand to separate it from the others, round it at the edges, and sand it. Assembly and finishing are done by hand too.
Family and friends come to help during the busy season. Last year from September through December, they helped Aaron turn out an average of 2,000 toys per month.
The toys Aaron’s father made have inspired some of the toy designs at A Summer Afternoon. Aaron developed the designs further by watching his sons play. When he created something the boys particularly enjoyed, he added the design to his business line.
He also made a careful study of the standards of the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The materials he chose and his design details all meet the Commission’s standards, Aaron told me, including finishes of mineral oil and beeswax on toys for the youngest children. Toys that include his “little people” are rated for three-year-olds and up – although he admits that his sons have enjoyed them at much younger ages.
A Summer Afternoon has now reached a stage that can plague successful small businesses. I learned from Aaron that meeting the demand for current products takes so much time that the development of new toys has largely gone on hold. Nonetheless, he’s working on the design of a more complicated workbench for his older son. When it’s perfected, he expects to add it to A Summer Afternoon’s online catalog.
In Time for Holiday Giving
Customers across the country order toys from A Summer Afternoon’s website or from its shop on Etsy. On the Front Range they have the opportunity to check out the toys in person at Madelife in Boulder and Clothes Pony & Dandelion Toys in Fort Collins.
Sally Hooper, a manager at Clothes Pony & Dandelion Toys, spoke enthusiastically about toys from A Summer Afternoon. “We truly love the product,” Sally told me. “New parents put them on their registries. We’re always having to order more.”
Aaron is the last artisan featured in a series of posts about handcrafted items for children and their families, in anticipation of the holiday season. To view all of those posts, scroll down the home page or enter “children” in the search box.
Featured next will be stores that carry handmade items, particularly those made along the Front Range. As the holidays grow closer and time starts running out, watch for ideas of where to find something for the special people on your shopping list.
Do you already have a favorite store featuring artisan work? Let me know. Click on “reply” immediately below the title of today’s post.
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