Wooden toys have remained popular for many years because of their aesthetic and durability. Their minimalist look has also been said to encourage creativity and imagination in children. However, they can be somewhat expensive depending on where you purchase them.
But there’s no need to spend large amounts of money on these old-fashioned toys. Most are easy and quick to make. Here’s a list of nine great wooden toys you can create for the children in your life. Most of these can be made from scrap wood you probably already have around your shop.
Painting and Sealing Toys
For finishing wooden toys, use non-toxic liquid watercolors, milk paint, or acrylic paint. To seal them, beeswax is one of the safest options. But some finishes will start to bleed and stain the skin if the toys are being used by infants or toddlers who may put them in their mouths. A non-toxic acrylic sealer is best for that age range. Play around with different products and combinations to find the best method for your children’s toys.
9 Wood Toy Projects
Blocks are classic toys that can be enjoyed by many different ages. They are also extremely simple to make. Here are two simple downloadable guides you can center on a 2×4 to help guide your cuts. Just print off however many you would like to make. They wont be perfect on the board since they are in 1cm squares but if you center them the cuts will even themselves out.
Materials: All you need is a 2×4” and some power tools.
Cut the 2×4” into 4” square segments. You can cut some of those diagonally across the center to make two triangular blocks.
For longer rectangular blocks, cut out 6 to 8” segments. You can angle the edges of some of those to create roof-shaped blocks.
Sand all of the pieces down so they are nice and smooth. You can even slightly round the edges for a more polished look, or to make them more baby-friendly.
See the note on staining and sealing at the beginning of this post for finishing your blocks. You can even use a woodburning technique to add designs.
2. Lace-Up Toys
- scrap wood
There are many different variations of lace-up toys that you can make, but to make one that is geared towards shoe-tying simply take a piece of scrap wood and outline a basic shoe shape.
Cut out the shoe shape and drill two rows of about four to five holes. The specific size of the holes will depend on the size of your shoe. Think of where eyelets would be on a shoe to determine good placement.
Sand down the wood until smooth. You can also bevel the edges if you prefer. Then paint and seal.
Once dry, run the ends of the lace through the bottom two holes, as you would with a shoe. Tie knots big enough to prevent the string from being pulled back through the holes. You can skip the knots so the lace can be removed, but smaller children may struggle with accidentally pulling the lace out while they’re working with it.
Do a demonstration on how to do the lacing and tying to get your little ones started, and then let them play!
3. Toy Cars
- 1 x 4” scrap wood
- wooden dowels (about 6” per toy car)
- toy wheels (bought pre-made, or see below for how to make your own)
- wood glue
Cut the wood into 6 ½ x 3 ½” sections – one for each car you want to make. Cut two 2 ½” long sections of the dowel for each car.
First, draw the shape of a car or truck onto the wood. If you’re not comfortable free handing it, you can print out a basic car shape and use it as a template. Just search the internet for car clipart, or something similar. Adjust the size of the image to fit your wood blocks. Print it, cut it out, and trace around it.
Once your outline is on the wood you can use a jigsaw to cut it out. You can even add a window or two.
Drill holes for the wheels that are slightly bigger than the size of your dowel.
If you want to make your own wheels, all you need is a 2 ½” diameter hand saw. Use this to cut out four wheels (for each car) and to make a round slot to insert the dowel into. Then you will need to sand them down really well.
Once you have your wheels, purchased or cut out, you may want to go ahead and paint and seal all of the pieces before assembling your car. You can just coat the wheel dowels in beeswax.
When everything is dry, glue one end of each dowel to a wheel. Thread the dowel through the drilled holes in your car, and then glue the last two wheels to the other end of the dowels. The wheels should rest on either side of the dowels so they’re free to turn as you roll the car around.
4. Stacker Toy
This toy is as simple to make as the toy blocks but is an ideal option for infants and toddlers. It also helps with the development of hand-eye coordination and sorting skills.
- 1” x 8” x 36” piece of wood
- 7/8” thick dowel – 6” long
- wood glue
Cut the wood into 7 squares in the following sizes:
6”, 5 ½”, 5”, 4 ½”, 4 “, 3 ½” and 3”
You don’t have to be perfectly exact with these measurements. Just so long as the blocks stagger in size from large to small.
Set the 6” square aside as you won’t need it for the next step.
Use a 1” drill bit to drill a hole into the center of each square.
For the 6” square, you will use a 7/8” bit and only drill about halfway into the wood, being careful not to go all the way through. Sand all of the pieces until they’re smooth, then stain and seal everything.
Once dry, you can glue the dowel into the opening you drilled into the 6” square. This creates the base and completes the project. Now the blocks are ready to be stacked on the dowel!
Geoboards are extremely simple and can be made in a number of different sizes out of wood scraps. You can even use a section of a large log, that is cut to be a few inches thick. They can be used just for fun or as an educational tool.
Materials: A square or rectangular block of wood, or a section of a large log. Wood glue. Wooden pegs or dowels.
Sand down the surface of your wood until it’s smooth.
Mark out where the pegs will go by simply placing a series of equally spaced dots in rows across the surface of your wood.
Once you have marked out where each peg will go, cut the appropriate number of pieces from the dowels. Each one will need to be long enough to fit securely into your wood, while still having an inch to an inch and a half sticking out of the top.
Drill partially into the wood and glue the dowels into each slot. Stain or paint the piece and then seal it.
Once finished, you can add numbers on two of the sides vertically and horizontally to make a multiplication times table. Or just leave it plain. Children can stretch rubber bands from peg to peg to create designs and shapes.
You can really get creative with wooden puzzles, making them very elaborate for older kids or simple for younger ages. This is another great toy that can be educational as well.
Materials: All you need are some scrap wood squares!
The first thing you need to do is plan out the design of the puzzle. You can outline simple shapes on your wood. Or draw out more complex pictures. Refer to the template technique in the toy cars project above if there’s anything you don’t feel comfortable freehanding.
Once your outline is complete you can cut the image into squares, which, upon completion, can be reassembled into a completed puzzle.
If working with perfect square shapes, you can do different designs on different sides of the squares for multiple puzzles in one. To do this, cut out and sand down all of your squares first. Then line them all up and outline a design. Rotate the squares until you have a blank surface once again and draw another design. Continue doing this until all sides of the squares are covered.
If you want something more complex than basic square shapes, you can use a jigsaw to cut out more elaborate puzzle patterns. You can even create a platform for the puzzle with or without outlines.
Once everything is cut, sand the pieces enough to prevent splinters but not so much that it affects how they fit together. Then you can paint and seal the puzzle.
7. Fishing Kit
- 1 ½” thick wood block- cut down to about 4 to 5” inches in length
- ½” dowel – approx. 10” long
- wood scraps for the fish
- wood glue
- a piece of string – about 40 to 50 inches long
- Purchase a wooden wheel or spindle, a couple of inches wide, or cut one out using a hole saw.
- 2 or 3 wooden pegs or a thin dowel, cut to be about an inch long each
- Round magnets: one for the fishing rod, and one for each of the fish toys
- A cork or a short, thick dowel.
Sand the 1 ½” x 5” wooden block down until smooth.
Drill partially into the top of the wooden block to create an opening for the dowel. This will be the handle of the pole.
Glue the dowel into the opening on the handle, and then glue the wooden wheel or spindle onto the side of the handle. The wheel is the pretend reel, though you could also create a more elaborate design to make a reel that turns, releasing or retracting the string.
Glue the wooden pegs or dowel pieces onto the rod. Place one on the side of the end of the rod, and space the others across the rest of the rod.
Once all pieces are sanded and finished, tie one end of the string tightly around the reel. Then run the string to the first peg on the rod. Loop it around and tie a knot. Run it to the next peg and repeat until the string is hanging from the last peg at the end of the rod. Secure each knot with some glue to ensure it doesn’t slide off of the pegs as its being played with.
Once you’ve tied the string to all pegs so it hangs off the end, you are ready to attach the magnet to the end. Use a hammer and nail or a drill to create a small hole in the middle of a cork or small, thick dowel piece. It only needs to be big enough to run the string through it. Run the end of the string through it, loop it around and tie a knot at the top of the cork. Trim any excess string. Use a heavy-duty adhesive to glue a magnet to the bottom of the cork.
On some wood scraps, outline some fish and other water creatures. Use a jigsaw to cut out the shapes. Sand them down and use a heavy-duty adhesive to attach a magnet to each of them.
Now your kids can use the magnet on the end of the string to “fish” around for the cutout water creatures.
8. Shape Sorter
This is another toy that is great for the younger age range – infants and toddlers. It helps them to learn shapes and hand-eye coordination. Here is a easy pattern you can use to cut out the shapes for a simple shape sorter. Print two if you want to cut the blocks out of a seperate piece of wood. This could even be done with a 2×4.
Materials: Enough wood scraps to build a small square box.
Construct a simple small square box, only assembling 5 of the sides at first – leaving the top open.
Use a jigsaw to cut several simple shapes out of the remaining top of the box, such as a circle, square, and a triangle. Cut these out carefully in whole pieces, since the shape cutouts will be a part of the toy.
Once you have cut out the shapes, you can attach the top of the box. You can trim the top piece so that it fits inside of the box and create corresponding grooves so that it slides in and out of the top of the box. Or you can attach hinges so that the top opens and closes. This makes it easy to retrieve shapes from the inside of the box.
Then sand, paint, and seal everything, including the cut out shapes.
9. Wooden Laptop Chalkboard
This is a more modern wood toy that is portable and perfect for creative fun.
Materials: two wooden boards – approximately 8 to 9” x 12” and about ½” thick, hinges, chalkboard paint, small chalk.
Sand the wood boards until smooth and bevel the edges. Use hinges to attach them together, so that it opens and closes just as a laptop would, with the flat sides of the board meeting on the inside and the beveled edges facing outward.
Open up the “laptop” and chisel out a square indention on the bottom board that is about 2 ½ x 4”. This resembles the mouse pad on a laptop, and it’s where you will store the chalk once finished. So keep the thickness of the chalk in mind when deciding how deep your groove should be.
Use chalkboard paint to create a “keyboard” area just above the mousepad. Then use the paint to create a screen on the inside of the top board. If you’d like you can create a groove, centered on the edge of the top board to make it easier to open.
Store the chalk in the groove, and you have a pretend laptop that doubles as a chalkboard.
10. Toy Food and Cutting Board
Materials: thin scrap wood, wood block scraps, and heavy-duty adhesive velcro.
Cut out a square with beveled edges for the cutting board.
Draw the outline of a basic knife shape and cut it out. Sand and round all edges, making the “blade” thinner at the edge.
Create food shapes like apples, cucumbers, and carrots by rounding out the edges of wooden blocks. Once shaped the way you want them, cut them into thin sections. You can also make a loaf of bread by cutting a wooden block into squares. Sand the edges of all pieces.
Attach velcro to the sides of the cutout pieces so that they can be stuck together and pulled apart. Kids can place them on their cutting board and use their wooden knife to chop them up, and then put them back together to use over and over again.
Keep this list handy for birthdays and holidays. The recipients of these toys will treasure them not only because of their quality and durability but also because they are handmade by a loved one. If you build them well and refinish or reseal them every so often, they can even be passed down for generations.