How To Make Wooden Toys

Kids playing toy blocks

Wooden toys can be fun to make, and fun for creative play.  The wood used can be cheap, or even free, or can be exotic and expensive.  There are quite a few patterns in existence for making wooden toys that can be obtained at a woodworking store, and there are finishes for the wood that are non-toxic, once they are dry.

The Wooden Top Toy  If you have a lathe, you can make a very nice wooden top with smooth and even sides.  When I first began making wooden tops, I was using a handheld sabre saw, and cutting along a line drawn with a compass.  This meant that my first tops were not always even, but with a little practice, you could get quite close, and make a top that would spin for several minutes.

  1. Draw that circle, and cut out the round disc of wood.  If you have an easier way to do it than with a sabre saw and a compass, use whatever makes it easier.  I bought a hole saw that was three inches (76mm) in diameter, and with that I could make a perfectly round disc with a centered hole.  The only problem was that the hole was the width of the pilot drill in the center of the hole saw, and if that pilot drill was small, so was the hole, so it might need to be widened.  For widening, I found that standard all-purpose bits worked better than specialized wood drilling bits because they had a center point, and tapered down so they would almost find the center of a hole in a piece of wood by themselves.  An alternative to this would be buying a precut wooden disc which is available from such companies as Cherry Tree Toys.
  2. Cut a dowel for the axis of the top about four inches (100mm) or so long.  Smooth and round off the ends.   Get a new shoelace with the end protectors still on, and measure the thickness of the end. 
  3. Drill a hole in the dowel that will let the end of the shoelace go in easily.  This hole should be about a quarter of the way down from the top of the dowel.
  4. Cut a ring with a handle on the side so it looks somewhat like the shape of a magnifying glass, and drill a hole through the center at ninety degrees to the big hole, so that the dowel will slide into and out of it easily.
  5. Gently push the disc onto the dowel, making sure not to stress it excessively, especially at the shoelace hole.
  6. Glue the disc to the dowel around the short (bottom) side of the disc.
  7. Temporarily slide it into the handle to see how it will fit together.
  8. Put a good toy finish on it.  I recommend Behlen's butcher block and toy finish, because it is easily to apply and non toxic when dry.

You then let it sit overnight to allow the finish to dry, and you can then let it be played with, or play with it yourself.

To spin the top, you put it through the small holes in the handle, and then put the shoelace through the hole.  You then rotate the top until almost all the shoestring is balled up around it, and holding the handle, you quickly pull the shoelace out.  This causes the top to spin and drop out of the ring, and begin spinning across the floor.

Wooden Vehicle Toys  Simple toy cars and trucks are easily to make, and precut wheels are easy to find in woodworking stores.  Simple cars and trucks are easy to make with a jig saw or sabre saw.  Not much detail is needed for them to be easily recognized as toy vehicles.  A child's imagination can make up for a lack of detail, and is probably better for the child anyway.  Just be sure that the child is old enough that he doesn't automatically put every new unidentified item in his mouth.

Other Wooden Toys  There are many other wooden toys that can be made, but these are just a sample of the simplest ones to make.  There are a number of books on the subject at wood stores or lumberyards that can be of help.

I have been making and selling wooden toys over the last forty years.

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Taunton Books has a number of books on the subject that have additional information on making wooden toys. I recommend them.

By Donald Pelton