Endgangered Danish Wooden Toys Being Saved By Chinese Woodturners

Did you know Danish handcrafted iconic wooden toys are now being handcrafted in China? I would like to raise the question: Does an old craft in one country where the locals don't have the craftsman any longer to make the designs become new again because they are now being handcrafted by a different country filled with woodturners who are eager to learn about the quality level and detailed work of traditional Danish craftsmanship? 

This subject came to my attention in 2007 whilst I was working on British ELLE Decoration. I was at an event celebrating Scandinavian design and over canapes and champagne the main UK supplier of Scandinavian design, Skandium, told me that Kay Bojesen's hand crafted wooden monkey produced by Brdr. Kruger  was endangered in becoming extinct. The reason:  the skilled craftsman were retiring or dying and sadly they couldn't find young apprentices who wanted to learn the skill. I was literally devastated and it was the first time it came to my attention how craft in the western world in general was in crisis. 

Last year I noticed there was new additions of handcrafted wooden Danish toys appearing in design stores. Well obviously this raised a lot of questions for me. Has there been a Denmark initiative to educate young people in the craft of this iconic Danish skill? Well with so many other countries in the same situation in losing key craft skills I wanted to find out what this initiative was so I could share this with other government bodies across the globe. 
 I was put in contact with the producer of the Kristian Vedel's Danish BIRDs, ARCHITECTMADE
Morten Jensen, CEO,from ARCHITECTMADE told me "there are only two professional wood turning companies in Denmark. One who produces the Kay Bojesen monkey and an even smaller one who makes the wooden BIRDs". 
With the demand of the wooden toys growing both producers of the monkeys and BIRDs were not able to find extra crafts people in Denmark or Europe who were able to make the their products who were willing to give the time to care about the details to make the wooden animals. 
The key to the wooden toys is although the products are handmade you should not be able to see that they are handmade. This is the perfection level both brands strive to achieve. 
 "We want to be part of pushing the general public away from the use and throw away culture. We hope to make a few, well thought out, products that will last a lifetime," says Morten. 
With quality being the main concern for both companies, ARCHITECTMADE and Brdr. Kryger decided to find wood turners in China who had the time to care about the details which many Danish suppliers simply did not have. 
ARCHITECTMADE are very proud to be teaching the quality level of high end Danish design to the Chinese craftsmen. Actually they feel that it is their responsibility to do so.  "We are working very closely with them in order to insure that the quality is perfect. We have found that these small wood shops in China are eager to learn about the quality level and detailed work of traditional Danish craftsmanship," explains Morten. "It is however necessary that we work closely with them throughout the production cycle which is both challenging and rewarding". 
All images of BIRDs supplied by ARCHITECTMADE
"The result has been that, although we proudly explain that some of our products are hand-made in Beijing, nobody can neither tell that they are made outside Denmark or that they are actually hand-made, which to us is a great success, since the craftsmanship is of this high quality".
Duck and Duckling by Hans Bølling from ARCHITECTMADE
ARCHTECTMADE  believe well thought out products is what, at least their customers care about. People like their products because they are designed by the most acknowledged architects in the world. Architects who were frontrunners and thereby able to make some items that are so harmonious that you just do not get tired of looking at them. 
Isn't it the producers  job to make these products in a quality that not only look perfect but also lasts for a very long time? Surely when the consumer  picks up the  wooden toys in store shouldn't they feel this immediately and then recognise that this is the reason for the price (and that it actually then is rather inexpensive)? Should people care where products are made, as long as the quality on every single product is high? The reality is if it wasn't for the craftsman in China the beautiful wooden toys of Denmark would be EXTINCT but now young children and adults will be able to enjoy a new handcrafted wooden monkey or bird for a very long time. 
"I think we are getting lazy in the west! We want everything to be as easy as possible. Learning and perfecting a craft takes time and few people value this anymore. I am sure it will change at some point again though", says Morten. "To me it is important that the skills and the ways of working is kept simultaneously with the benefits of big factory production from IKEA".
With a country like China filled with craftsman who are eager to learn this Danish craft and be trained in the quality of detail that western people are too lazy to learn and now many young designers concentrating in the likes of 3D printing etc is it not a good thing that at least somewhere in the world that you will be able to gather the knowledge of this beautiful craft and hopefully continue to see the evolution of this design continue? 
All Duck and Duckling photos supplied from ARCHITECTMADE Beijing wood turner
Morten concludes, "I think a fundamental change in attitude in society is needed so it is cool again to be an engineer and a skilled craftsman. I am confident that at some time it will change back again, which is why it is important to maintain the knowledge till then". 

I had the chance to talk about this subject for 5mins during Sydney Design Festival 


  1. This is really interesting I have a Kay Bojesen's wooden monkey - well actually 2 (one is broken and no one knows where I have him fixed :(

    I also give all my friends one on the birth of their children - a piece they will hopefully appreciate when they are older. They are the most beautiful and tactile objects.

  2. Fascinating story, and some really good points brought up. Thanks for sharing this... Lots to ponder about the nature of "traditional" craft and who owns it: the originator, the maker, the (gulp) marketer?

  3. camilla svendsen19 August 2011 at 12:27

    just a comment to Mary: you can get your monkey fix! so hope you have not thrown it out.. if you visit rosendahl.com and find out were they are sold near you they should sell a reparation kit for the monkey. it does not cost that much and comes with an instruction as to how you can fix it yourself. (it is an elastic-band that holds the arms and legs on so at some point it will fall of and you have to fix it)
    If you do not find any supplier near you I know that illumsbolighus.com sells them-you can email living@illumsbolighus.dk in Denmark and ask if they can send it to you.
    hope the info will help you:)

  4. Wow ! I love it .......Great creativity

  5. There will be a monumentous shift in understanding of manufacturing and quality in design and product. Assuming we are not discussing design being stolen or replica's being produced, then the the discussion about authentic design will need to become less about geography and more about the quality of the result, and the integrity and respect of the original design.

    We can arrange to fix your rosendahl monkeys in Australia :)

  6. This is such an important discussion and I'm so glad you wrote about it. I believe that it has to turn around again soon. Hand made items - uniqueness, it is art!

  7. Hand-made, but without the fingerprints of the maker. Danish, but made in China. I do not believe that with all the good makers and craftsman in Europe these have to be made in China. This is justification for an ecomomic problem, it is simply too expensive to produce these intricate items and maintain profits.

  8. As founder of Playsam I can agree with all said here. On top of that we demand a perfect paint quality on top of the prefect turned wooden parts. We found it in Taiwan and China. 1000 year old habit of wood work. We can not find these skill in Sweden today! Period!

  9. Great! This is exactly how things will/must go on in the nearest future. Europe is getting lazy and impacient as you say. I'm totally agree with yiur explanation

  10. I love to have that kind of machines.
    What an artistic ideas.

  11. wooden train track
    Fascinating blog, and some really excellent factors raised. Thanks for giving this... Plenty to consider about the characteristics of "traditional" art and who has it: the founder, the manufacturer, the (gulp) marketer.

  12. thank you for this article - very informative. I am very new to the art of Danish handmade wood toys. It is a lost art form that I wish I could learn myself

  13. if you love Kay Bojesen, check out "Kay Bojesen USA" on Facebook

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  22. Interesting article. Though I wish I was Danish cause I would enjoy apprenticing to learn the craft.

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