MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Parents shopping for toys this holiday season face a conundrum. Does that one have lead paint? Will this one be recalled? To put her own fears to rest, producer and mom Erika Kelly decided to take things into her own hands.
ERIKA KELLY: I've had it. Trains covered in lead paint? Plastic beads dipped in date rape drug? What's next? Like thousands of other parents, I discovered that my son's toy box was filled with hazardous materials. A few pieces of his favorite Thomas the Train collection were recalled for lead paint. And so was his silly parts talking Elmo, a Mr. Potato-Head type doll with its own collection of ears and noses. I can't say I was too sad to see that one go.
(Soundbite of toy)
KELLY: Still, with every recall I got angrier - at the toy companies, Chinese manufacturers, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And then I had to admit it. I was part of the problem. I love buying toys for my son Alex. But this Christmas I decided to make him a toy. Now, I'm not what you would call crafty. So to make a gift that wouldn't be destined for the Island of Misfit Toys, I needed a guide.
Mr. CRAIG COLVIN: So I'm Craig Colvin, and I'm the owner of the Sawdust Shop.
KELLY: The Sawdust Shop is a do-it-yourself wood shop in Silicon Valley which caters to both experts and complete beginners like me. When I arrive, Craig shows me a wall of toys - baby cradles, games and lots of things with wheels.
Mr. COLVIN: They have a crayon truck, which is a truck that you can actually stick crayons in the back standing upright.
KELLY: So we're talking two - a two-year-old and a novice woodworker.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KELLY: I like the idea of a truck. Would the crayon truck be too much to take on?
Mr. COLVIN: No, not at all.
KELLY: The wood shop is filled with the sweet burnt smell of sawdust. We pick out a rough pine 2 x 4, and Craig shows me how to measure and mark the wood. Then it's onto the table saw.
Mr. COLVIN: This is a new table saw in the market called the SawStop. It detects contact with human skin and will stop the blade before it can cut you.
KELLY: That's really good news.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. COLVIN: It is, especially in a shop like this, where we have lots of people using the saw with all experience levels. We feel confident in letting anybody use this saw because they can't get cut on it.
KELLY: Have you ever tested that out?
Mr. COLVIN: We do test that out. We use hotdogs to test it as opposed to our fingers.
KELLY: So the hotdog comes away unscathed?
Mr. COLVIN: It has a slight nick in it. You'd need a Band-Aid, no stitches.
(Soundbite of table saw)
Mr. COLVIN: And just like that, you just feed it right through.
KELLY: After the table saw, I'm introduced to the drill press. There I drill the holes for the wheel axles and the crayons. But my smooth new technique falls short as I drill the truck's window.
(Soundbite of drill press)
Mr. COLVIN: There we go.
KELLY: Oh, a big chunk came off.
Mr. COLVIN: Oh no. So we can glue that back in.
Mr. COLVIN: If we can find the other piece. The other thing we can do is we can make our whole truck a little narrower.
Mr. COLVIN: We just sand it all down, right even with that. That's part of being an experienced woodworker, is how to cover up your mistakes.
KELLY: So maybe I'm not exactly elf material, but bit by bit I get the hang of all the tools - the band saw, the router, the electric sander. And slowly my 2 x 4 is transformed into a real-live toy.
I have no idea whether my little truck will win a place in Alex's heart. It's awful hard to compete with Thomas the Train's multimedia empire with its videos and Web sites. But at least I know it won't be recalled for lead or some other neurotoxin. Still, we will have to watch out for splinters.
For NPR News, I'm Erika Kelly.
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