Saturday, April 26, 2014

Homemade Heirloom Wood Toy for Less Than $10

When I was in college, I spent several school breaks visiting my roommate's family in Ohio. One time at Swartzy's parents' house, he showed me some of his old toys. They were mostly wooden and handmade by the Amish (if any Amish are reading this, you can sponsor my blog for a rocking chair and/or a jar of apple butter). Even at that time, I remember thinking that it would be really cool for my kids to have wooden toys like those. And then I thought that it would be even cooler if it were something that I made. More than a decade later, I made this for my daughter when she was 18 months old.

It started with a visit to the local lumberyard. When I say "lumberyard," I am not referring to Lowe's or Home Depot. This was a visit to a lumberyard that has a wide variety of woods in many different sizes. They have a bin at the front of the store with scraps - pieces of wood that are too small for many projects. But these are ideal for most toys, and because they are scraps, they are quite inexpensive. I purchased five different pieces for $1 each. In addition, I used some scraps that I already had in my workshop.

First, I made the base. I cut and sanded the shape that I was looking for and determined where the stackable pieces would be centered. I then drilled 3/4-inch holes, and glued in 6-inch pieces of a 3/4" oak dowel.

Next, for the square pieces, I measured the largest dimensions and cut that square, drilling a 7/8" hole in the center (I wanted it to be easy for my daughter to place on the dowel). I then made the next square 1/2 of an inch smaller, and repeated for the next four squares, with a total of 5 stackable squares.

Next, I made circular pieces using the same method. I used a compass (remember the wonderful instruments from Geometry that we used to poke holes into our shoes? They actually have a real life purpose. Aside from poking holes in shoes). I used a ruler to find the radius of the first circle, and then made each subsequent circle 1/2 of an inch smaller in diameter, for a total of 5 circles. Finding the center was easy, as I had a mark from the point of the compass already in the wood.

I made sure that all of the pieces were sanded smooth. For this particular project, I did not apply any finish, since I knew that my kids would inevitably chew on it. Actually, once everything was smooth, it looked so good that I took a bite. 

Finally, I wanted this to be a pull toy, so I installed wheels. I used wooden knobs from the hardware store (about $.75 each), and used wooden pins to hold them in place. The wooden pins were glued into the base, making sure that the glue did not get on the wheels. I then tied a decorative piece of rope through a small hole in the front, and I had a wonderful toy that has brought my children years of joy!

As a woodworker, this was a fun project because I used many woods that I never would have bought. The platform is made from purple heart, which is normally an expensive wood. But using the scrap allowed me to get away with an expensive looking toy at very little expense. The basic shapes also made this a project that I would recommend for most beginners. It requires nothing more than a drill and bits, a jigsaw (you could use a circular saw if you keep the cuts to squares only), and sandpaper, although an electric sander really speeds the sanding steps up.

With a little time, you will have a project that will be handed down from generation to generation. I would love to hear from you if you have similar projects that you have made for your children or grandchildren, or if you remember a handmade toy that somebody made for you when you were a kid (i.e. I'm looking for new ideas of things to make).


  1. Great post! We've found some other great wooden toys made by the Bruderhof in the 1980s. These things are indestructible.

    1. Thanks, David. I just finally got around to figuring out how to respond to comments. That website is amazing. I just might have to see if they would be willing to sponsor my blog in exchange for some products...

      Thanks for reading, and for being my inspiration to build toys for my kids.