Whittling up a modern take on a old-fashioned craft

David and Judy Johns may be retired, but they haven’t stopped hustling. Their home off Walnut Hill is just as much a workshop as it is a residence. “We will have most of our toys on display on our dining room table,” David warns in an email to the Advocate before their interview. “This is the kind of house we live in.” The dining room table is indeed filled with wooden playthings — race cars, airplanes, dollhouses, miniature Noah’s arks, trains etc. — that the Johns’ manufacture and sell at farmers markets and craft shows. David started the company, which he calls The Toycrafter, more than 25 years ago, but he has been interested in woodworking for much longer. “Growing up I always had tools and I always wanted to make things out of wood,” he says. “When I was in high school, they had what you call shop class and I took a couple of those. That was just about the only formal training I had.” Lack of formal training has not hindered David. He’s a prolific craftsman and, according to Judy, a demanding teacher. She began helping her husband make toys a couple years ago when she retired from her job as a laboratory assistant at the University of Texas Southwestern. It wasn’t easy. “He doesn’t like the way I sand,” she says. David confirms this is true: “I wasn’t too fond of her sanding.” He and Judy laugh. They’ve been married since 1968, in part because they don’t take minor tiffs like this too seriously. She might not be great with a sander, but Judy’s excellent with a paintbrush and that’s worth a lot. Each toy must be hand-coated in a non-toxic polyurethane finish. Judy’s also the face of The Toycrafter. “She takes pride in selling,” David says. “At the shows, she stays in the booth and talks to people.” The Johns’ attend three to four shows a year in places like Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico. Making a little dough is nice, but it’s not their primary motivation. “We just enjoy doing it,” Judy says. The couple also maintains a website. If you’re looking for it, you’ll need to be specific with your Google search. “Up in New York there is another Toycrafter, so we couldn’t call [the website] that,” explains David, who seems humored rather than irritated by this fact. “We’re toycrafterdave.com.”