Newberg couple manufactures new style of time-honored toy out of their garage
The move toward locally made and artisan goods has been visible in food, drink, clothing and more, but there are some products that seem to have mass-produced imbued in their nature.
Take a spinning top, for instance, a cheap staple of childhood play. One imagines a factory pumping out millions of plastic tops per day and shipping them to trinket shops around the globe.
But a growing circle of manufacturers, including Newberg couple Jennifer and Matt Domes, are proving that even among the most unlikely of industries, quality can win out over quantity.
The Domes interest began with learning on the Internet about a different brand of tops: they were sleek, made with high-quality metals and intricate designs and employed small-batch production.
We saw some YouTube videos and thought, We could do that, Jennifer Domes recalled. We thought we would try it.
While researching the idea they went on Amazon and looked up what kinds of tops were on the market. Thats when the first big question arose.
How do we compete with a $4 or $5 item, mass-produced in China? Domes said.
The answer, as a growing number of industries are learning, is to put more effort into the product itself, emphasizing craftsmanship over quantity.
There is that market, Domes said, people who want quality, handmade, not mass produced.
Although there are top competitions that show off the spinning time and other attributes each unique top carries, the Newberg couple says many of the top buyers are more into purchasing an assortment of different tops than competing with each other. Theyre purchasing for aesthetic purposes, and as some manufacturers only make a few of a specific model, buyers become intrigued by the rarity of the unique tops.
Collectors really like them, Matt Domes said. Guys wont buy the same one five times, unless its made in different materials. But they will buy 15 or 20 or 30. Youll see some guys out there with 30 different tops in their collection and theyre all different.
With a product like an artisan spinning top, the market is understandably niche – and like the vast majority of artisan top-makers, Matt and Jennifer Domes, who attended George Fox University and Linfield College respectively, create the tops as a side business.
But, thanks to the Internet, the niche top collectors can communicate and connect with top manufacturers worldwide. For the Newberg top-makers, that means their buyers have hailed from Australia to Europe to Malaysia.
After getting the business of the ground about two months ago, theyve sold more than 100 tops made out of metals ranging from brass, aluminum and copper, to stainless steel, Damascus steel (which is hand-folded and twisted) and titanium.
Theyre all fairly heavy metals, Matt Domes noted, which is important for a top. Center of gravity is pivotal in how the top spins, affecting spin time, wobble and more.
Creating the tops is an interesting process to observe, not unlike stepping onto a small-scale manufacturing floor.
Matt Domes father, a retired engineering teacher at Hillsboro High School, had an interest in a brand of old CNC machines and purchased some with the purpose of fixing them up and reselling them. But they ended up sitting at the high school for years and when he retired he passed them down to his son.
Now, theyve been installed in the Domes garage, which has been transformed into a tidy manufacturing workshop.
A CNC machine controlled by an old computer (running Windows 98) is the key component: Matt Domes codes the top designs using a CAD (computer-aided drafting) program, which produces the design as a text file that the CNC machine then reads and transforms into a series of cuts into a stock metal bar.
We can get pretty darn good accuracy with this thing, Domes explained.
As the shavings come away and a sleek metal top emerges, the final touches begin. The upper portion of the top goes through a knurling process to add the grip, the top is polished with sanding blocks and abrasive pads, while with a lathe a small shallow hole is bored into the tip of the top, in which the contact point will be inserted.
The contact point is of paramount importance, as it has a bearing on the spin time and the balance of the top. The top must make contact directly in its center, otherwise a wobble will develop quickly.
For one model, the Yakima Hop, a silicon nitride ceramic ball bearing is used as the contact point.
The Domes different top models are all named with a Northwest theme: besides the Yakima Hop their line includes the Jefferson and the upcoming Rainier, each of which contains its own unique traits. For their performance tops, a seven-minute spin is possible, and theyre shooting for a model that will spin more than 10 minutes.
To view the various tops and learn more about the Domes business, visit www.nwtops.com.