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Wooden toys showcase detail, patience
Paul Barnes woodworking hobby allows him to explore a new world in miniature
1010toys1 SJ
Paul Barnes spends hours making wooden models of trains, cars, trucks and other vehicles, all with great attention to detail. Many of his creations are made from plans, others are made from photographs.

Paul Barnes has a lot of patience.

In the early 1990s, at the start of his retirement, Barnes decided he should take up a hobby. So, after flipping through some magazines and getting ideas, he settled on one that would allow him that opportunity to focus, create and enjoy machines: Constructing wooden toys.

But these toys aren't the kind your toddler would play with; rather, these are intricately pieced Volvo dump trucks, Caterpillar bulldozer and freight trains from various eras. Some are based on plans made by Toys and Joys, a company that specializes in woodworking patterns, and others Barnes just created after studying photographs.

"I started out real simple - cars and trucks," he said. "And putting little stuff on them to make them look more like cars and trucks."

The first train he built was out of spruce - in fact, most of the toys he makes are out of spruce, because the softer wood is easier to work with - and when it was finished, he built the same train again in black walnut. Now they sit beside each other, one gleaming in a natural, light gloss and one in a sturdy dark finish.

After the trains, Barnes began working on larger construction equipment. The first big dump truck he built was a Volvo. He didn't have any plans for it, he said - he just looked at photographs and built it.

One of the things many people don't realize about the wooden models is the number of hours that goes into making them, he added.

"The wheels I made myself," he said of the Volvo truck's notched wheels. "It takes 56 or 58 measurements on each wheel. And then of course you cut out each individual tread on them. It takes about an hour, an hour and a half to do a wheel, and there's six of those. And those are just the wheels."

Barnes' shop is an accumulation of various saws, sanders and planers he's accumulated over the years. His main saw is a table saw, but he also uses a chop saw, a Skilsaw and a few smaller saws for intricate work.

"What I would do is I would find someone who wanted to sell an older saw, and I'd buy it because I couldn't afford to buy it new. And then, when I could afford it, I'd buy another saw or a planer," Barnes said. "To build things like this it takes anywhere between $5,000 and $8,000 worth of equipment."

About 12 years ago, Barnes took on the job of recreating a Caterpillar bulldozer - the kind of heavy machinery you'd see pushing dirt around on a construction site, with a track connecting wheels like on a tank. It's made entirely out of oak and the tracks on the wheels actually roll.

"It's made like a bicycle chain, and each one of these are independent. That's about six (hundred) or 700 hours in that thing," he said. "There's a fire extinguisher, and it's got a tool box and here's the oil container and here's the air intake for the engine. I looked at the pictures and seen them in the pictures and I said, ‘That must be this, that must be that.' And that's how I did it.'

More recently, Barnes has invested in a book on trains, with photographs of every train ever made in the United States or Europe. He has a few new projects in mind, each one getting a little more elaborate - just in miniature wooden pieces.

One of his more recent projects is a 1919 Virginian 2882 Mallet train built out of black walnut and teak. It took about 800 hours to built it, he said, and took a solid week just to measure and cut the pieces in one section of the train. For the curved piece over the engineer's cabin, Barnes soaked the wood in water for a week, then clamped it into the correct shape for another two weeks.

"I try to get as much detail as I can in them," he said. "I enjoy making toys. I gives me something to do and it relaxes me. I enjoy this and I enjoy gardening."