Using figured wood for making wooden toys is can really bring them to life. Figured wood is simply wood that has a striking appearance or grain pattern. Most commonly used woods for kids toys have figured versions that are available to buy. The most common of them all being Maple, which comes in several types of figure including Flamed, Quilted, Curly, and Spalted.
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Figured wood like Curly Maple can add beauty to your wooden toys.
This is a piece of Curly Maple that I split open on the table saw. The color is like any other piece of Maple, but notice the wavy pattern on the board. These are from compression in the tree, and the result is a more beautiful looking piece of Maple.
Most of the time, figured wood is going to be more expensive than a plain version of the same species. The rarity is what drives the price, and figured pieces are always going to be more.
However, if you pick out a species that has a more common chance of having figured wood present, then you can reduce your expenses a little. Figured Maple is one of the least expensive you can buy. The pieces are found commonly in Maple trees, and therefore are not nearly as scarce. That being said, very highly figured and beautiful pieces can still fetch top dollar, but pieces with a nice amount of figure are still fairly inexpensive. Look around your local hardwood store and you will see several examples.
Figured wood changes dramatically when you apply a finish.
On the surface, figured wood does not tend to look that much different than plain wood. Once you know what you are looking for, you will be able to see the subtle differences and pick out a great looking piece. The real magic in figured wood is when you apply a finish.
The wooden toy wall sander that is pictured on the left is a perfect example of how a finish works on figured wood. I applied finish only on the bottom half of the base to show the contrast. The top section of wood looks nice, but it looks nothing like the bottom area.
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The finish that was applied to this wooden toy was Tried and True Danish Oil. A simple coat of oil with a cloth is what made that piece of wood come alive. The streaks of lighter and darker wood just explode, and the wood really shows off its character. The whole bottom block on this wooden toy ended up looking the same once I applied the oil, and it’s one of my son’s favorite toys. Many finishes will do the same thing to figured wood, but oils really do it the best.
Combining figured wood and straight grained wood can provide contrast.
Here is another example of how figured wood makes a difference. The wooden hand plane toy on the left has a gorgeous design. The addition of using figured Maple instead of plain Maple on the faces takes it to the next level.
The straight grain Walnut center also lends contrast to the Maple. Not only through color, but in the grain as well. The Walnut has very straight and regular grain lines. In contrast, the Maple has wavy and irregular markings. These two things combine together to make a wooden toy that looks far better than if it were made from a couple pieces of wood without any thought for how they were placed. Figured wood made the difference here, and the results are beautiful.
This same piece of wood was used in my wooden toy tools book.
I really enjoyed using figured wood when I made my son a set of heirloom toy tools. I knew that I wanted to use Maple and Walnut, and thankfully there was a lot of figured Maple to choose from at the hardwood store.
This one simple change really made my tools stand out more. Having made several wooden toy tools in the past using whatever was in the shop, I noticed that these were far more interesting and received more positive feedback.
My book, Wooden Tools For Kids has step by step instruction for making over twenty different wooden toy tools. There are also instructions for making a farm style tool box, and a chapter on finishing.
When my son was born, I knew that I wanted to introduce him to woodworking at a young age. He is still too young to be out in the shop with me, so I made him a set of wooden toy tools that we could play with together. He loves them all, and I get to expose him to the craft that has been a lifelong love for me.
My son still uses most of them as hammers or cars, but that’s fine. The memories that I have watching him enjoy something I made can never be replaced. He will eventually know what all of them do, but until then I’m going to enjoy watching him push around that wooden hand plane while making car sounds.
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If you have any questions on Figured Wood For Making Wooden Toys, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Also, please share my work with your friends on Pinterest! Happy building!
- More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
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