Toy Blocks

For my son’s first birthday I wanted to do something special.

I had some 12/4 poplar and decided to make 2.5″ blocks and a box to put them in.  Originally I was going to make 27 blocks arranged in a 3 x 3 x 3 cube.  However my wife who always has a great sense of aesthetic suggested a 3 x 5 x 2 arrangement making it look more like a traditional wagon with cargo.  I cut up two Amazon boxes and played with the dimensions.  I wasn’t sure if the height of the edges should be 5 or 6 inches so I cut the difference and went with 5.5″.


In the base of the wagon I used pocket holes and eventually filled them with red oak plugs and sanded it down.


I have a box joint jig on order from Incra but for now I had to settle with joining the side boards with wood screws.  This is a mechanically strong way to join the boards but embarrassingly left the screw heads exposed.  I got the idea of hiding them with stiles on the corners, a trick I learned from the Mobile Planar Stand.  I used a few scraps of jatoba from that project to complete this build.


Selection of wood grain is always a consideration.  You want to pick sections of board that look good.  I had eight feet of poplar and was originally penciling out the choicest areas for the different parts of the box.  In the end I used a single continuous piece and cut it so the front, right, rear, and left sides were uninterrupted grain.  The casual observer would never notice or care about the continuity but I would.

I used a stop block on the miter saw to get all the blocks the exact same dimensions.


I also tried wood burning for the first time to inscribe his name on the front.  As a finishing touch I added casters so the wagon would roll, and a cord for him to pull it around with.  Another first for me on this project was use of a Duncan Uni knot to attach the cord to the wagon.

We were expecting he would try to put the blocks in his mouth so I just used salad bowl finish.  I applied three coats, let it dry 24 hours per coat, and gave it 72 hours after the final coat to finish outgassing.  We can’t have the baby receiving a stinky toy now can we?  72 hours was not quite enough.  If you are using salad bowl finish I recommend giving yourself 4-5 days for the mild odor to completely dissipate.  Also I think it would have been slightly better to use four coats instead of three, but I ran out of time.

I also experimented with colored dyes but didn’t like how any of them turned out.

Turned out pretty well I think!


Just a few moments ago I got to watch him play with them for the first time.  Warms my heart to be able to make him something rather than buy it.


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