Making wooden tools for kids is a great way to share woodworking with a young child, and get their imagination going. Wooden toys have been quickly replaced with things that make noise. These require little imagination. A handmade wooden toy becomes something amazing in the hands of a child.
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As a woodworker and a father, one of the best feelings in the world for me is when I hand my son something I made for him. He still thinks everything I give him is a hammer, and my end tables have the dents to prove it, but he loves them all just the same.
Giving away your art as a woodworker, especially to a child, is an extremely satisfying feeling. We all want our work to be loved, and children love wooden toys.
One of the most important things to remember when making wooden toys is safety. The piece will not be used as an adult would use it. Most things end up being thrown around, hammered with, or chewed on. These are things you have to consider when building.
Look for species of wood that are relatively safe. Maple, Pine, Spruce, Basswood, and Poplar are all good choices. Though the exotic woods have a much more interesting look, many of them are respiratory irritants. Children’s allergies need to be taken into account as well, as most kids chew or suck on their toys. I use Walnut for my son, however I know that he has no allergies to the species. If he did, I would have chosen another wood.
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Another thing to look at is securing pieces together. Wood glue does a great job at creating a strong joint. However, a little extra insurance is nice to have. Consider using dowels to add another layer of security when joining pieces.
A couple dowels glued into the joint between two pieces will hold them together well. On my wooden tools for kids, I drill almost all the way through the joint on the drill press. Then, I drip glue into the hole. After that, I drive a dowel into the hole.
Finally, the end of the dowel is cut off after the glue has dried and sanded level with the surface. I set up a stop on the drill press to help the process. In the picture you can see that I go through all three layers of wood. The drill stops just before coming out of the bottom, because I set the stop on the drill press to only go that far.
Drilling all the way through can sometimes make it difficult to get good glue adhesion. Many times the dowel pushes out the majority of the glue, leaving a weak joint. This method ensures that there is good glue contact with the dowel, providing more security.
Safety should always be your number one concern when making tools for kids. Everything from wood choice to design, and construction to finish, makes a difference. Think safety all the time.
Lastly, the finish used is important as well. For kids that are very young and will be tasting their toys, look for a finish that is non-toxic and child safe. Wooden toys are typically finished with Mineral Oil and or beeswax, which is safe for most children. Older kids that will not be putting the toys in their mouth can have a different finish.
I like to use finishes from Tried and True, natural oils, and food safe finishes for salad bowls and utensils. Again, making sure that there are no allergies or issues is something you have to look into for the specific child that will use the toy. All kids are different, so I can’t tell you something will work 100% of the time.
My article on Making a Wooden Toy Car shows another great toy for kids. This little car always works, because the body is smaller than the wheels. Even when it flips over, it still runs, and younger kids enjoy it more.
The Beauty of Curly Maple showcases a figured Maple that can be used for kids toys. Clear Maple is rather boring, but there are other types that are better looking. Curly Maple has a rolling grain that changes the look, and is excellent for kids toys.
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Once you give your child wooden tools, you may need to start teaching their names. My book, 100 Words For Kids: Tools, teaches kids 100 different tool names, and is a cute little kids book. I wrote this for my son then decided to release it on Amazon. I love teaching my son new words and now I can teach him about woodworking at the same time.
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