The Woodbotherer is a collaboration between creative couple Phil Stokes and Sam Dickenson. Phil is a scenic carpenter for film and television and Sam is a craft whizz. Whilst juggling a busy family life with two kids, they make toys and games from their home workshop in a quiet suburb in Auckland.
What do you make?
We make natural wooden toys, dolls and children’s furniture. We describe our toys as traditional heirloom toys for modern families that are fun, long lasting, safe and made from sustainable and natural materials.
How did you get into your craft?
We have both always loved making things and learnt our craft from our parents and grandparents. Phil’s grandfather was a great influence on his love for wood and they spent many happy hours in the workshop together when he was a child. In fact, Phil spends so much time bothering wood that we jokingly call him the Woodbotherer – and that is where our shop name comes from.
I (Sam) grew up in a creative family. My Mum had a craft business and I would go to craft fairs with her and look at all the stalls and ask the people how they made things! I have a degree in Ceramic Design and worked as potter for five years until I had my daughter. After she was born I began exploring crafts I could do at home in between nap times – sewing, felting, knitting and crochet. I made my first doll for my daughter when she was three and have been making them ever since.
What inspires you?
Of course we were initially inspired to make toys because of our kids. Phil made the first tree stump fairy house for our daughter’s 4th birthday and has gone on to make many more. The swords and shields were made initially for our son’s ‘knights and dragons party’ and were such a hit that we made more and they have gone on to become one of our best selling toys.
Now we are inspired by the wonderful feedback that we get from our customers. Sometimes I meet or hear about some of the dolls I have made, and hear about their names and the adventures they have been on.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
We endeavour to make toys that are unique, affordable and long-lasting. Designed to endure the rigours of play that we know from our own children that kids put them through.
Our toys are non-gender-specific, open-ended and do not come with their own brand, name or story. It is all left open for the kids to create. Whether they are playing role play games with our swords and shields, practising their aim with the bow and arrow set or crossbow, play cooking dinner on one of our wooden ovens, or creating magical miniature worlds in our fairy houses or castles. We want to encourage kids to play and create their own stories as it is now well accepted that imaginative play is an essential part of a child’s development.
We believe people should be able to buy toys for children that are affordable, ethically made by people who love making them and that are gentle on the environment.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
We aim to limited our impact on the environment with the material choices we make. We use mostly New Zealand pine which is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) ensuring that it comes from a sustainable source and small amounts of reclaimed hardwoods.
We use natural products to finish our work, Tung nut oil is food grade and is very safe for toys. It also gives a wonderful warmth to the finished piece.
Phil has a passion for tools as you may expect. A few favourites would be the wooden bandsaw he found on Trademe home-made by an engineer – great for cutting the curvy lines his work is known for. A bobbin sander and good old jig-saw are a must. Finally, he is never without his Leatherman.
My favourite would have to be my sewing machine. Apart from that I have recently started using a pyrography machine to add finishing details to woodwork and am looking forward to exploring this craft further.
Describe your workspace:
We work from home. Phil has the double garage at the bottom of the driveway which is pretty full of tools, projects and wood! The kids scrape the sawdust off the floor to use in mudpie making and the like!
I use what is supposed to be a guest room for sewing and finishing. Although I think any guests we have would have to squeeze between the piles of fabric and dolls.
Although we work in separate spaces we have regular meetings over cups of tea and coffee and are never without our sketch books – mine for endless lists and Phil’s with his product sketches and designs.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
‘The items we purchased were for our son’s birthday, he just loves them. You are very talented, the wee bow and arrow set is quite ingenious, I love how safe it is for him to play with, I don’t have to worry, and he can fully get into role play games!’
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
We have been loving revisiting our childhood favourites with the kids. For me (Sam) it has to be Winnie-the-Pooh for the sheer joy it brings, evoking that magical carefree dreamy world of early childhood. For Phil Dr. Seuss’ Sleep Book. He has fond memories of reading it whilst on holiday as a child.
A favourite quote:
‘Play is the highest form of research.’ – Albert Einstein.
Do you have any pets?
Yes we have two sweet and slightly neurotic cats – Kitty Kate and Tabby.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
The last handmade item I bought was a thrown earthenware mug for Phil for Father’s Day. I loved the green glaze and the generous size – plenty of coffee to keep him going in the workshop.
Sam and Phil have have a great giveaway offer for buyers from their Felt shop this fortnight: while their feature is running, anyone who buys from The Woodbotherer will receive one of these adorable red Christmas gnomes with their purchase.
They’d also really like to know what your favourite product is from The Woodbotherer range, who you’d give it to and why – so please have a wander through their shop and then comment away below!