Lexington toymaker Dave Kacmarcik has a sophisticated quality control system that would be the envy of many multinational manufacturing companies.
"Every time I make a new toy, I give a copy to my son, Stone, who is 5," Kacmarcik says. "I let him play with it, and if he likes it, I know it probably will go over well."
Right now, Kacmarcik is as busy as any of Santa's elves, hurriedly turning out handmade wooden toys for the Christmas season.
He leaves for his regular job at a Lexington supermarket at 5:30 each morning but gets up early enough to spend 45 minutes or so woodworking in the shop behind his house. After work, he spends more time in the shop before bed.
Kacmarcik has a few basic toy designs, mainly a cargo truck complete with cargo, and a train with four cars. He also makes cutting boards and bread knives, but wooden toys are his special favorites.
He sands and smooths his creations to silky perfection but doesn't paint them. Instead, he applies a simple finish using non-toxic mineral spirits, relying on a variety of woods in each piece to provide the color contrasts he wants.
"I like to go for an old, vintage-style look," he said.
Most of the time, Kacmarcik uses cherry, walnut, poplar, maple or oak. But for added flair, he sometimes adds pieces of purpleheart, which comes from a species of tropical tree that grows in Central and South America.
Occasionally, Kacmarcik also will pick up a discarded piece of furniture along the roadside and turn it into a thing of beauty.
Kacmarcik, 46, whose nickname is "Kaz," grew up in Cleveland and moved to Lexington with his family in the 1970s. He always liked working with wood, and he began by making puzzles and kaleidoscopes for his family. He started making wooden toys in a serious way about six years ago.
"It was always a dream I had in the back of my mind," he said. "I used to wander around craft fairs and look at things people had made and think, 'Wow, I could do that.'"
Now, Kacmarcik sells his creations at some of those same craft shows.
He says much of his creative inspiration came from his grandfather, who was an avid woodworker. Kacmarcik still sometimes uses pieces of wood that his grandfather left him. He also uses some tools that belonged to his grandfather.
"Making toys is somewhat of a lost art," he said. "They are pieces that, hopefully, people can hang on to for a long time. I often have someone look at my toys and say, 'That reminds me of one that my grandfather made for me a long time ago.' I like that."
Today, making wooden toys is still a hobby that puts some money into his son's college fund. But Kacmarcik would like to make toys full-time someday.
"I know it's nothing I can get rich off of, but I've always had a love for wooden toys," he said. "Kids seem to love them and enjoy playing with them.
"So, for right now, I'm comfortable just being able to do something I love to do."