I just made a whole set of homemade wooden toys for my son. There are some tips that can get you on the right track for making homemade toys, and they will help you have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.
In this Article You Will Learn:
- Wood Selection, and Why it’s Important.
- Making Strong Glue Joints.
- Using Dowels For Strength.
- Researching Allergies.
- Safe Finishes, and How to Select a Finish
- Sometimes, You Can Leave a Piece Unfinished.
- No Sharp Edges or Points.
- Considering the Age of the Recipient.
- No Loose or Small Parts.
- Using Non-Toxic Glues.
- Good Design, and Making Realistic Toys.
Wood Selection For Homemade Wooden Toys
Wood selection is the primary consideration that most woodworkers go through when they decide to make something. This is an even bigger consideration when making homemade wooden toys, because it has to be a wood that works for the child.
If I were making a wooden toy tool set for myself, I would definitely make them from an exotic hardwood. Cocobolo, Rosewood, and Goncalo Alves come to mind immediately. The problem with exotic wood is that some people have allergies.
When making homemade toys, be sure to look at the kinds of woods that you are using. Choose from the same kinds that are already being used successfully, and you will be on the right track.
Most wooden toy makers use Pine, Maple, Beech, and Cherry when they make toys. These woods have a decent track record with a small amount of allergies, and are a good place to start looking. There is no wood that anyone can recommend to you that will be 100% safe for every child, so you need to talk to the parents and see if they have any known issues with certain types of wood.
Making Strong Glue Joints On Your Wooden Toys
When you glue things together, the glue forms a bond between the two pieces. The bond is only as strong as the relationship between the pieces, and the quality of the joint.
A loose joint, or a poor fitting joint will not hold up well. If you have pieces that don’t lay next to each other without wobbling, all the glue in the world won’t help you. It is important that you spend the time to make good fitting pieces before you glue them. I wrote a whole article on Gluing Wood if you need more information.
Using Dowels For Additional Strength In Homemade Wooden Toys
One way to do this is by reinforcing your glue joints with dowels. This adds another layer of security, and helps keep the pieces together longer.
Dowels come in a wide range of diameters. They can be very small, or very wide. For most homemade wooden toys, a 3/16″ to 1/4″ dowel is perfect. This small addition helps pin two pieces together with a mechanical joint. There will be a piece of physical material in the joint that prevents it from coming loose. I recommend that you use dowels on all of your wooden toys that are made from more than one piece of wood.
Research Any Allergies Before Giving Away A Wooden Toy
Kids have allergies. The unfortunate thing is that many times just asking a parent can help you avoid a huge mistake. Some parents will not know what their kids are allergic to, because it hasn’t presented itself yet. In that kind of case, it is up to the parent to decide whether to try out a new material.
Researching allergies also applies to anything that you use on the toy. This includes any fillers, and any finishes. All of these things have the potential to cause an allergic reaction. Make sure that when you give something like this as a gift, that you really spend the time needed to ensure the safety of the child. Being a parent myself, I made sure that my son did not have any problems with the materials I used in all of his wooden toys before I gave them to him.
Safe Finishes and How to Select a Finish
I am going to start out by saying that there are no safe finishes. Until you know that a finish works with a child, then all you can do is make the best decision you can when deciding what to use on your work.
My son has zero allergies that we are aware of at this point. With that in mind, I tend to use a lot of natural oils and food safe finishes.
These are meant to be used around food, and are considered food safe once they are completely cured. I have not had a single issue with any of these wipe on products, and my son does chew on his wooden toy tools more than I would like him to.
You can also use things like pure food grade mineral oil. A combination of mineral oil and bees wax also works, and can last a little longer. Mineral oil is sold in drug stores, and is used orally. You can also find food grade mineral oil in finishing stores for use on cutting boards. This does not mean it will be 100% safe, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Skipping the Finish All Together
You can always not finish the piece if you are extremely worried about an allergic reaction. A piece will tend to last longer with a finish, but if your kid is going to be eating their toys it may not last long anyway.
The thing that you really need to pay attention to is how well you prepare the surface if you are going to leave it unfinished.
Any loose wood fibers, or a wood that likes to crumble and break is not a good choice for a wooden toy. Also, leaving sawdust and splinters on the surface can cause problems. Make sure that you sand the piece extra fine if you are leaving it unfinished. This will give a smoothness and a nice feeling, even though there is not a finish present.
Removing Sharp Edges or Points on Homemade Wooden Toys
In the final sanding phase, you should go over the piece incredibly well. Carefully run a finger along all edges. Test them for sharpness. If you find a section that needs attention, fix it.
Go over the toy several times. Make sure that you have addressed every place that is a little too sharp. Break the corners and points with sandpaper, and blend them into the rest of the piece. Working like this, you will make the wooden toy far less likely to cut or hurt a child.
In your design, you can eliminate sharp points by taking them out right from the start. This will make it easier in the sanding phase to round and remove these pointed or sharp edges.
Consider the Age of the Final User
However, younger kids tend to need different things taken into consideration than older kids. A young baby may have an issue with sticking everything into their mouth. This will limit your design options to things that cannot fit down their throats.
An older kid may be able to play with things in a more adult way, which means you can have narrower designs. The older a kid is, the less design restrictions you will face in most cases. I made my son a wooden rattle, and had to make it bigger than I would have to now if he wanted the same thing. For a baby, I was worried that he would get it stuck in his mouth, so I made it much bigger. Now, it would be less of an issue because he is older.
This again depends on the child. Some kids keep putting things in their mouths until they are old enough to have a logical conversation with their parents about it. The situation will all depend on the individual, and how they interact with their toys.
No Loose or Small Parts On Kids Toys
Homemade wooden toys will tend to look more realistic if you build them just like what you already have in your shop. However, small and loose parts can cause a problem.
If something falls off your design, now the child has a much smaller thing to play with, and they may put it right in their mouth. Your design may have been safe at first, but broken down it can be dangerous.
If you have smaller parts on your toys, make sure that they are well secured. Good joints, and dowels can help. If you can eliminate it from the design, or work around it another way, that’s even better.
For example, if I were making a wooden combination square, it would not have the small scribe that comes apart the store bought versions. I may put a lathe turned fake scribe on the stock, but it would be permanently glued in place. This gives me the look I am after, but still eliminates the small piece.
Use Non-Toxic Glues for Wooden Toys
I really like using Titebond glues. They were the first glue I have ever used (on recommendation from my father) and I have never looked back. A great feature of Titebond is that it’s non-toxic.
Titebond also is approved by the FDA for use on food surfaces like cutting boards and serving trays. The formula is just as strong as any other wood glue, and it makes an incredibly strong wood to wood joint. If you are going to be using any type of glue, pick up a bottle of Titebond for your homemade wooden toys. It’s inexpensive, and will last a long time.
Follow the instructions on the glue to make sure that you are using it in a way that conforms to the safety standards. If you hose on the glue, it may not be as safe as the manufacturer had originally intended.
Using Good Design and Making Realistic Wooden Toys
If I were making a wooden replica of a toy or a tool for my desk, then I would make it as real as possible. I would use exotic hardwoods, epoxy for the joints, and small inlays. The piece would be exactly what I wanted for a design.
When making homemade wooden toys for kids, you need to think safety before anything. My example design would send some kids right to the hospital, especially depending on the wood choice that I made. If the child ate some of the epoxy, or swallowed an inlay, that would be another trip.
You come up with your design, make sure it’s safe, and remove things that would make it not safe for a child. It’s a challenge to come up with interesting designs in this manner, but it will make you a better woodworker.
One Last Secret about Making Wooden Tools
Lastly, I know that the safety stuff can get boring…and I know that I talked a lot about safety in this article. However, I know that I would personally be devastated beyond words if something happened to my son as a result of a toy I made for him.
The responsibility is completely on you as the toy maker. If you make something for a child, you need to do absolutely everything you can to make it safe. Don’t let that discourage you from making toys, but make sure to work it into your designs. There are billion dollar companies that make wooden toys for kids, and they do it as safely as they can. You can do the same thing on a smaller scale, and you will be able to make a kid just as happy.
Additional Reading on Wooden Toy Making
When I made a toy tool set for my son, I also photographed the process along the way and turned that into a book. Wooden Tools For Kids is a great introduction to making homemade wooden toys.
This is the exact set that my son plays with now, and it even has a farm style tool box to hold them all. There are step by step instructions for 20 tools, and a chapter at the end that deals with finishing.
My tiny boss has directed the majority of my woodworking projects since he was born. I really like making things for him, and love the feeling I get when I give him a new wooden toy.
If you ever want to feel truly appreciated as a woodworker, then make something for a child. The look on their face when you hand them something you made is amazing. I have never gotten a reaction like that from any adult that I made something for.
If you would like to make a nice set of heirloom homemade wooden toys, then this book is a great place to start. Each tool is explained well, and you can pick and choose what pieces you decide to make. This is a great project for anyone with a child or grandchild.
If you have any questions about 11 Great Tips for Making Homemade Wooden Toys, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Also, please share my work with your friends on Pinterest!
Additional Information About Westfarthing Woodworks
While I publish the overwhelming majority of my woodworking content for free, I also have several books available as well. You can see them on my Available Books Page, and they cover several different woodworking disciplines.
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