By Maryann Valentine

                Little Sapling Toys is a handcrafted wooden toy company that began back in 2008 when husband and wife, Nick and Kimber, decided they wanted to have a lifelong working partnership. The couple has built LST into one of the biggest sellers of handcrafted wood toys, and have been featured in publications such as Forbes, Instyle, Country Living and more.

The beginning:
“It all started with a small hobbiest machine that we purchased to get started. The machine lasted for less than 8 months before it was beginning to break down. It wasn’t stable enough and wasn’t built heavily enough for what we were doing. So, we purchased a pin router. It was about 19 inches long with a 10 inch bed—an extremely small machine, but it was a start for our business. We started with a few designs that were easy to manufacture with very basic equipment. We started by using Plexiglas templates to trace out the shapes and then we would stack the wood about 3 pieces high, using double-sided sticky tape, where we could then cut out the wooden teethers with a band saw. That lasted for about 3 years until we decided it was time for us to invest in a CNC router. Once we did, there was no going back.”

Investing in a CNC Router:
The company works with a lot of solid woods– great for all ages and great for safe play. The wood blanks are not very wide, so the company decided to invest in a router where they could put a bunch of the wood pieces on the machine at one time. “Our production had increased so much within those 3 years, we knew it was time for us to purchase one of the big boys. I knew exactly what I was looking for in a router and that is ultimately why we chose Techno CNC Systems. The T-slot table especially drew me to Techno CNC because we used solid woods. I also knew most of the stuff we cut was tiny and, because of that, a vacuum table wouldn’t work for me, so I needed a machine with t-slots to clamp the blanks to the machines bed surface. That was definitely the biggest draw– no other brand compared.” So the husband and wife team purchased a Techno LC Series 4896 CNC router to move forward with production.

Learning the software:
The machine was delivered to Little Sapling Toys shop in Wisconsin. “There was no going back. The router was insane. We were able to triple our production in just one cut.” A dealer from Chicago came to set up the machine and hosted a training session for Nick and his crew. “Since I had some form of CNC knowledge, I knew the basics. I just did not know the interface. I was stunned at how easy it was to learn. I think the biggest thing that intimidates people is the thought of the complexity of CNC equipment, which turned out to be farthest form the truth. Once you understand the basic fundamentals of CNC, it becomes a repetitive process. Techno’s CNC interface is really easy to learn and use. I trained 8 or 9 people on it already, by myself, and they all pick it up quickly, as well.”

Nick spoke about creating a checklist before running the router. He finds it easiest to check off each task after it is completed, just so he doesn’t forget anything. He makes sure the machine knows the right tools, offsets, starting point, etc. Once the check list is complete, they execute the cut. “We do not use any stain or paint. All of our products are made with wood. We start our production with getting the blanks to size. We have a few different sizes/thicknesses for all of our products. My team knows the sizes by the file names. I think it is great that I can save all of my files and then just have the team upload the files into the machine. We use tabs a lot to hold the products in place since they are so small. Once the block is cut, it is put on a table with the tab facing up. We then cut them out with a special tool where they are then routed, sanded, and then taken off the machine and put into inventory.

Nick and Kimber are continuously designing and routing new toys for Little Sapling Toys, especially, the very popular, baby teethers. They also produce rocking horses, toy boxes, dollhouses, and puzzles as part of their repertoire. The couple intends to continue expanding and building a brand that focuses on creating naturally beautiful, high quality products that parents can feel comfortable giving to their children. And with a little help from Techno CNC Systems, Little Sapling Toys is able to do that, and more.


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