The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Jim Balestreri

Wooden Toys for Tots

This photo of Jim Balestreri was submitted by Fred Wilmott. It appeared in the August 2007 issue of the Orange County Woodworkers Assn. newsletter, "Sawdust and Shavings." If anyone has other photos, please send them to us. (Jim passed away in early 2010.)

Five-time blue ribbon winner makes very special wooden toys

Jim Balestreri is a member of an Orange County, California woodworking club that makes toys to be donated to needy kids. In the past year they have donated several thousand toy cars, trucks, trains and other wooden toys to kids in homeless and battered women's shelters who might not otherwise have much to smile about. However, in addition to his generosity, Jim's work exhibits an excellence in craftsmanship that goes beyond what is normally seen in wooden toys. Though the toys they give away are all nicely made, Jim now and then takes on a special toy project that puts all his tools and talent to work. These are the models that have one him five blue ribbons at local fairs and contests.

While on a recent visit to the home of the Craftsmanship Museum, Jim brought some photos of his work. We share those with you below. Here is a little background on Jim and his work.

Military and industrial training sets the stage for quality work

Jim was born, raised and lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin until high school. Before graduating he joined the Navy near the end of World War II, completing his high school diploma while in the service. He spend 2-1/2 years in the Pacific on a mine sweeper and a very old World War I era 4-stack destroyer. Upon discharge, he went to work as an apprentice machinist with Nolberg Manufacturing in Milwaukee, which at the time built the largest diesel engines in the world. Three years into a 4-year apprentice program he was recalled in the service for the Korean conflict and spend 18 months on a destroyer, being discharged as a 1st class machinery repairman.

His Navy discharge took place in San Diego. At the time it was 30° in Milwaukee, and the prospect of returning to that climate was not at the top of the list of a young man in a position to make a choice. He stayed in Southern California and found a job with Douglas Aircraft where he went back to school again and took the machine design course. He then worked as a designer for over three years before the industry started to take a turn for the worse.

Looking for a more stable job in 1954, he then went to work for Southern California Edison as a machinist and worked there until 1988 when he retired. During his 34 years with Edison he worked on all types of equipment used to produce electrical power, such as turbines, generators and pumps. The last eight years were spent at the San Onofre Nuclear plant as a Maintenance Engineer.

From model ships to wooden toys

Jim started building models in the mid-1970’s. With his experience in the Navy, ship models were a natural, and he joined the ship modeling club in San Diego where he was a member for two years. About that time he attended a woodworking show where the Orange County woodworkers had an exhibit, and he was immediately drawn to a project they were working on. This involved making wooden toys to give to underprivileged kids as Christmas presents. He joined the Orange County woodworking club and has found the projects to be very rewarding. This year they distributed 4200 toys through approximately 35 different charities.

Jim still has time to use his woodworking skills to make projects for himself as well, and some of those are illustrated here. Though many are made from purchased plans, the quality of workmanship and finish is at a very high level. Jim also has the satisfaction of seeing his craftsmanship bring joy to many children who might not otherwise have the brightest of Christmas mornings.

We note with regret that Jim Balestreri passed away at the age of 84 in late March, 2010.

Here are several examples of Jim Balestreri's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

A finished Reading 4-8-4 steam locomotive and tender are displayed in a Plexiglas case. Color and contrast is created in the models by using different varieties of wood.
Details of the Reading 4-8-4 under construction show the many parts that need to be made and assembled to make a model this detailed.
Old Fashioned 4-4-0 steam locomotive, tender and passenger car
A closeup of the Iron Horse passenger car
Both locomotives in their display cases
Articulated 3-axel road grader, front view. Though built from commercially available plans, this project shows Jim's touch in choice of materials, detail and fine finishes
Side view of partially assembled road grader
Cab detail of road grader

Fixture used to mill tread pattern into grader tires

Grader tire and wheel are each made from separate color woods. All wood pieces are left in their natural colors, but each type of wood is carefully selected for its purpose in the finished toy.
Assembled wheel and tire
Detail of the grader blade assembly
Another detail of the indexing mechanism for angling the grader blade
A selection of railroad wheels, springs and valve gear before assembly.
  Jim has recently completed a 1935 Duesenberg in various varieties of woods.
  Fenders,wheels/tires and the main body are some of the parts that go into making a detailed car model in wood.
A couple of carriages...Cinderella's royal coach is a model involving a lot of detailed scroll saw work.

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New Submissions Welcomed

If you have additional information on a project or builder shown on this site that your would like to contribute, please e-mail We also welcome new contributions. Please see our page at for a submission form and guidelines for submitting descriptive copy and photos for a new project.

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