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       They say that Joseph was a carpenter.  If so, he surely knew what every other carpenter knows: kids love to play with cut-offs and other fall.  A wooden blocks set will keep kids occupied for years.  This page is for people who would like to read a little about building blocks and don't know a lot about them. We want to tell you more about our unit blocks sets and what you might look for when buying.   If you prefer, you can skip it.  Just surf our web site to find what you need.

        Barclay Blocks has been on the web since 1999 and sold over ten million blocks. We manufacture and sell classic, standard, school size wooden unit blocks for children made of premium, Midwestern, American Hard Maple in over 50 different hardwood block sets. This is a small factory and we make all of our blocks here in the USA of American Hard Maple - no Rubberwood, no borates-insecticide, no container fumigants, no indentured labor. Our hardwood blocks are completely free of noxious chemicals and are tested by an independent laboratory to conform to the rigorous CPSIA and CPSC rules in regard to chemical and mechanical safety.


    Our Sets of Wooden Blocks

          Sizes - All of our blocks are the same scale (size).  But our wooden block sets vary from very small to very large.  Don’t be confused by the difference between the size of the blocks and the size of the sets.  All of our blocks are the same Standard Size Unit Blocks.

         “A” Sets and “B” sets - Many of our sets come in two versions: “A” and “B”.  “A” sets are more detailed and have more pieces; “B” sets are chunkier, have more big blocks and fewer blocks overall.  All of the pages have a table where you can compare them.  “A” and “B” sets are the same size (weight/volume).

         Premium Color and Firsts and Seconds Color – Kiln Dried Maple comes with grey spots and streaks from natural enzymes. Blocks without spots are “Firsts.”  Blocks with Spots and streaks are “Seconds.”  The only difference is color.  

         Booster Sets - We have a wide range of Booster Sets that you can add to augment a set that seems too small.  

         Individual Blocks - We sell over 110 shapes in Open Stock, individual blocks available in any quantity.  This includes all of the standard pieces, but also oodles of shapes that are not found in the sets.  Buyers should investigate the Individual Blocks pages to see the range of possibilities.   

    What are Standard Unit Blocks?

        Schools have long used blocks that are a standard size based on a metric of 1-3/8 inches (11/16, 1-3/8, 2-3/4, 5-1/2, 11 and 22”).  Other attributes to consider are the type of hardwood and the source of materials.  Here's the check list - this has been the standard for quality wooden building blocks for over 100 years:

    1.  Are they the standard school size blocks? (a full 1-3/8 thick with a unit block 1-3/8 by 2-3/4 by 5-1/2 inches) and the remaining blocks a multiple or fraction of these numbers.
    2.  Are they made of Hard Maple? (not some vague "hardwood."  Heck - Balsa is a hardwood!)
    3.  Are a wide range of individual blocks shapes available in open stock to add later? In any quantity?  In any shape?  At any time? Does anybody make as many different blocks shapes as we do?  Anybody?
    4.  Are they independently, lab tested for safety? Are they absent insecticide residue? Absent residue from fumigating shipping continers as required by law?
    5.  Are they made in the USA? Not by laborers in Myanmar or Thailand?
     
          Wooden building blocks are the premier educational toy.  Few playthings have aged so well.  Their long pedigree according to Witold Rybczynski can be dated to (at least) the end of the 18th century: 

        The earliest mention of building bricks for children that I have come across is in Maria and R.L. Edgeworth's 'Practical Education', published in 1798.  It is no coincidence that this is a pedagogical text, since building toys were, from the beginning, not merely for fun. Building bricks were called "rational" toys, and they were intended to teach children about assembling many small different parts into a whole, about gravity and physics, and about how buildings were made. John Ruskin, referring to the Edgeworths, wrote that thanks to his wooden toy bricks - 'my constant companions' - by the time he was seven or eight years old he had mastered 'the laws of practical stability in towers and arches". That would have been about 1825. Twenty years later, Henry Cole's famous series of Victorian children's books, 'The Home Treasury', included a box of terra-cotta toy bricks that was accompanied by actual building plans contained in a pamphlet titled 'Architectural Pastime'.    
              (Witold Rybczynski in "Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture," Penguin (1992) with permission)    


          Simon Schama also mentions Henry Cole, the inventor of the Christmas Card, as an early promoter of building blocks made of ceramic.  Americans credit Caroline Pratt, who encouraged the development of kindergarten in the early part of the 20th century.  Ms. Pratt's wooden blocks set the standard for those in current use in Kindergartens and Preschools all over the US.  There is also a loose connection to Fredrick Froebel, a mid 19th century German educator who developed simple sets of wooden blocks for research purposes.

     

        Personally, I think The evolution of Unit Blocks is probably more prosaic, the true inventor a nameless zimmerman.  And I harken back to Joseph and children who love to play with cut-offs and other fall.  There is little doubt that children have been playing with these hunks of wood since time immemorial.  (In years past parents told us their children were stacking up  and making houses out of VHS cases - blocks as ephemera!) 

     

         The "unit" concept continued to evolve into such famous offshoots as Erector Sets, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Legos, and K'NEX.  These are the survivors among hundreds of other innovative, though less successful unit construction toys that have passed from the scene.  This scaling idea is ubiquitous: addition and multiplication objectified, and the term "building blocks" has become a cliché for the modular concept in general . . . there are "building blocks" for computer programs, mental health, school programs, lesson plans, nutrition, . . . whenever someone wishes to impart the idea of an organizational structure, the "building blocks" concept is invoked.  Here they are.  The Real Deal. Maple Building Blocks!

     

          The best wooden blocks are hard and stout and made to the customary scale for school size blocks from a heavy, fine-grained hardwood.  But the term hardwood isn't very informative - it refers to the tree being an angiosperm. Many hardwoods are soft (like Aspen or Balsa) and many softwoods (gymnosperms - like Fir and Pine) are quite hard. It isn't a question of blocks being made of hardwood, but of a hard hardwood. The premium choice is the American Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) which has been used for years for floors, basketball courts, bowling alleys, and countertops. Hard Maple is a premium hardwood and this kind of quality comes at a price.  Other "hardwoods" are much cheaper.  The term hardwood by itself is meaningless and does not mean that the wood is "hard."  It means that the leaves fall off in the winter!

     

          An additional virtue of Rock Maple is that the blocks are fine grained. For example, Oak and Walnut are very hard hardwoods, but they tend to have large pores which result in very rough blocks. The Soft Maples (Red Maple, Silver Maple, Big leaf Maple. Western Maple) have a similar color and texture to Hard Maple, but these woods are materially lighter and softer than Hard maple.  Wood blocks take a terrible pounding over a lifetime and there is no substitute for quality. Hard Maple is the best. Hard Maple blocks get the job done and they last.  That's why Rock Maple has been the woodworker's choice for Unit Blocks for 100 years.


          Sugar Maple (Hard maple) is a uniquely North American tree - it only grows in the eastern US and Canada.  It is noted for its spectacular colors in the fall so familiar to the residents of Vermont and New Hampshire.  The Canadians put it on their flag.  Europeans substitute European Beech which is a little lighter and a little softer.  The best blocks are completely uncoated. In times past, manufacturers painted their "seconds" bright colors and made a virtue out of necessity, but these days painted and colored blocks are viewed by many people with suspicion.  Most of these painted toys come with little assurance that the paint is safe, and under the best of circumstances this means only that they are absent lead or heavy metals - not that the paint is edible.

     

         The best storage for wooden blocks is a small bookcase.  Simple bookshelves from Wal-Mart and elsewhere are excellent for storage and your building blocks won't become mixed with other toys.  Even the smallest bookcase will store a lot of wood blocks as they stack together tightly.  Rolling plastic carts from Wal-Mart and elsewhere will also serve, but there are important lessons to be learned in putting the blocks away by shape, it is far easier to use the blocks when they don't all have to be dumped out on the floor, and a simple bookcase is the right solution.  We hope you enjoy our wooden blocks and spend some time exploring this and other pages.