Several years have passed since I took on the parental role of the Tooth Fairy, but now, with 18 grandchildren, my thoughts have turned back to this custom as I watch my children turn into Tooth Fairy proxies. I must say, I was a very clever Tooth Fairy protégé. I won’t share the details of the deception I practiced on this blog site in case some of my more tech-savvy grandchildren read this blog. I have sent my underhanded Tooth Fairy techniques to some of my children via secured server (the one in my laundry closet).
The history of children being paid for their lost teeth goes back to early written records of the Norsemen and Northern Europeans. In Northern Europe this tradition was called ftand-fé or tooth fee.
Wikipedia on dealing with the use of baby teeth:
“During the Middle Ages, other superstitions arose surrounding children’s teeth. In England, for example, children were instructed to burn their baby teeth in order to save the child from hardship in the afterlife. Children who didn’t consign their baby teeth to the fire would spend eternity searching for them in the afterlife. The Vikings, it is said, paid children for their teeth. In the Norse culture, children’s teeth and other articles belonging to children, were said to bring good luck in battle, and Scandinavian warriors hung children’s teeth on a string around their necks. Fear of witches was another reason to bury or burn teeth. In medieval Europe, it was thought that if a witch were to get hold of one of your teeth, it could lead to them having total power over you.
The modern incarnation of these traditions into an actual tooth fairy has been dated to 1927, 1962, or even 1977. However, there is an earlier reference to the tooth fairy in a 1908 “Household Hints” item in the Chicago Daily Tribune:
Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions. Lillian Brown.”
There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what the Tooth Fairy looks like. Images range from dragons to little fat men, to little winged girls. The general view is that the Tooth Fairy is more like the little winged girl. This was the image that came to my mind when, as a child, I put my tooth under the pillow. Practically, this could have worked since the average tooth payout was a dime and I could see how a little winged girl might be able to sneak under my pillow, take my baby tooth and leave a dime. But with the 2013 survey by Visa Inc. reporting the average US payout as $3.70 for a baby tooth, I’m not sure a little Tooth Fairy could carry around this much cash. It may still be a bargain for the Tooth Fairy since adults probably paid the dentist several hundred dollars for the care of this tooth that ultimately fell out!
A few months ago I turned a small lidded box for one of my grandchildren to use as a tooth fairy box. I used pyrography to place her name on the lid of the box and some decorative piercing around the side. It was an ugly prototype but my son loved it and took it home to his daughter. The moral of this story is to never bad mouth one of your creations, no matter how ugly it may be, because in the eye of the beholder (my son), the pig’s ear evidently had a silk lining.
So, on to prototype two. I took a piece of southern magnolia, my favorite prototype wood, and turned a 4-inch long, 2 ¼-inch diameter cylinder between centers and then cut a ¼-inch long tenon on one end. I mounted the blank in a scroll chuck and used a 1 ½-inch Forstner bit to drill out the bottom to a 1 ¼-inch depth to accommodate an electric tea light with a fake flame. Originally I was only going to drill to one inch because I had some of the tea lights that light up on the inside and are flat with a little fake wick. The flame would cast more light above the tea light, which would better suit the purpose of my design.
I then sanded the bottom inside and outside of the box. I turned the box around on the lathe, setting the bottom of the box in the scroll chuck. I didn’t worry about chuck marks on the box because I had plans for dealing with that later. I then used a parting tool to form a 1 3/4-inch diameter tenon about a ¼-inch down from the end of the blank. This tenon would provide the socket fit for the lid. I then sanded and applied several coats of sanding sealer and parted off the lid.
Using a 1 5/8-inch Forstner bit, I drilled down to about ¼-inch above the hole drilled into the bottom of the box for the tea light. The ledge this formed would be used later to support a clear plastic disk. Then, using the tenon on the lid as a guide, I opened up the sides of the 1 5/8-inch hole for the lid tenon to fit. I used a parting tool to cut three decorative grooves in the side of the box just below the lid opening. Later I would drill holes around the box in the grooves to let the light through. I sanded and finished the top portion of the box.
Wrapping the top section of the box in paper towel to protect it from the scroll jaws, I turned the box around and secured it in the chuck. I didn’t worry too much about the scroll making marks on the sides of the box since the jaws sat in the grooves I had cut. I then turned grooves in the bottom section of the box where there were scroll marks, did some light sanding and applied another coat of sanding sealer to blend in with the top portion of the box.
I was going to laser engrave a cartoon figure of a tooth holding a toothbrush, with the child’s name on a contrasting piece of wood, and glue this to the top. This is why I only made the top ¼-inch thick on the prototype. However it was easier to just laser engrave directly on the lid, so in the final versions of this box, I made the lid ½-inch thick to begin with. Since I had originally thought of gluing on the engraved cap to the lid, I had used a pointed live center which left a divot on the top of the lid. This would have been covered up by the engraved cap. On the final versions, I used a cup center.
The laser engraving worked well on the sanding sealer surface. I didn’t fuss about centering the image on the prototype so it came out a little off center with the divot in one of the eyes!
I cut a plastic disk out of the side of a clear plastic container that rice came in. After drilling all the holes in the grooves, I placed the plastic disk on a bed of thick super glue applied to the ledge in the box. This let the light through to the upper part of the box where the holes had been drilled and acted as a bottom for the upper compartment holding the tooth and cash!! I must mention here that when the Tooth Fairy visited my house when I was a child, I received a dime for each tooth. This dime wouldn’t have much effect on the amount of light getting into the upper compartment of the tooth box. In testing the final version of the box, a paper bill was folded and inserted into the box and the tea light was turned on. The light seemed to still shine through the holes. If the Tooth Fairy decides in the future to use debit or gift cards, I’ll have to revisit the design!
If you were to use the other flameless type tea light, you could drill holes around the bottom set of grooves in the box to let the light through.
The most recent version of the fairy tooth box is shown below. I’m not satisfied with the proportions of this box. The height-to-diameter ratio is about 1.77 which should be pleasing to the eye, but to me, the box seems to be too tall. Maybe if the box was tapered with a larger diameter base it might be more esthetic. The location and the spacing of the grooves needs to be investigated also. I plan to work on the design and will provide a post in the future to describe these efforts.
A special thanks to my friend Adam and one of his relatives for the wood.
Daryl Aukeman, Hudsonville, MI
Daryl has an unbelievable supply of wood which he will be selling to us wood-starved Florida woodworkers.