Point Reyes laser meister cuts toys and more on supple wood

David Briggs
TOYS: Kris Backenstose produces laser-cut wooden toys and other objects in his Point Reyes Station home.  

When he was a child, Kris Backenstose helped his father, a carpenter with a pilot’s license, build an airplane from scratch. It was his father’s lifelong dream to own an airplane, and the project took the pair years to complete. Today, Mr. Backenstose, an IT consultant living in Point Reyes Station, is making airplanes again, but this time with a new purpose: “How do I make a toy for kids that is environmentally conscious and inexpensive?” he asked. The miniature toys are made with computer software and lasers, and are sold through his company, Wood-A-Majig. Mr. Backenstose said that two years ago, he began purchasing the “cheapest possible machines from China” and rebuilding them with different parts and mechanisms of his own design. His original kits are now made of lauan, a sustainable, pliable hardwood made from a type of southeast Asian tree, and designed using software called Laserweb. He currently has a motorcycle, a schooner and six different airplane model kits, all at a cost of less than $3 and with minor assembly required. Mr. Backenstose has also branched into commercial projects: coasters for Smiley’s Schooner Saloon, a house kit to promote Bolinas builder Lloyd Kahn’s newest book as well as hundreds of artist palettes sold at Garden of Eden Apothecary. “People come to me with great ideas and I get to help them with it,” he said. Mr. Backenstose said he was raised in a family without means in Wyoming, and that his reason for starting Wood-A-Majig was that he “never really had access to the toys he wanted...When I was a kid, all I wanted was toy airplanes, but I couldn’t have them,” he said. Although he learned craftsmanship from his father, his skillset is largely in computers and design. “I don’t know the toy business, so I’m learning how to do this. I’ve had a really delicate way of dealing with decisions. [For example], do I go through Etsy?” he said of the challenges of building a brand. He plans to expand his operation and envisions a future in which Wood-A-Majig kits are created mostly by automation. “I want to sit on the beach while my robots make the toys,” he said. Wood-A-Majig products are available at Bolinas Bay Lumber & Landscape and at Pump Espresso Bar in Forest Knolls, as well as online at woodamajig.com.