We’ve been looking around at a bunch of toy stores for some good old fashioned wooden blocks for Ada, but we weren’t able to find any. So, we decided that we would just make our own. It was super easy and cheap! We had everything on hand except the oil which cost $6 but we only used about $1 worth of it.
2×4 (buy whichever length you want, it depends on how many blocks you want, we just used scrap 2x4s we had around)
Something to cut your blocks with, a table saw or hand saw for rectangles and triangles
A hole saw and drill press for the arches and wheels (if you want them)
Sandpaper (various grits)
Sanding block (isn’t necessary, but oh so nice)
Walnut Oil (found in the grocery store next to the olive oil)
Latex or rubber gloves
Step 1: Cut out a bunch of blocks in whatever various shapes you want. Brian did this part for me. He didn’t worry about everything being exactly the same size, he just sort of went for it. Some of the blocks have holes where there used to be screws from previous things we built, but Ada doesn’t seem to mind one bit.
Step 2: After all of your blocks are cut you’re going to want to sand them down. I used two levels of grit, first a 120 and then a 180. Brian used a power planer to give the 2×4 an initial surfacing, but if you don’t have one of those, you probably want to start with a coarser grit like 60. I also used a sanding block (a plastic thing that holds your sandpaper) which made things a lot easier. You’ll sand all of the obvious surfaces, but then make sure to sand the edges and the corners down so that they are no longer sharp or pointed.
Step 3: Now you’re going to finish your blocks. I used walnut oil because it’s a good wood finisher that’s also baby safe. You know your baby’s going to put these in his or her mouth, so you want to be sure that whatever finish you use isn’t going to hurt them. Since walnut oil is actually meant to be used for cooking, have no fear. To finish your blocks, lay out a couple sheets of paper towels and pour a little bit of oil in a cup. While wearing your gloves, dip your old rag in the oil and rub each piece of wood until it is completely covered. Lay them out like so to dry (which actually only takes a few minutes).
It’s not strictly necessary to finish the blocks, but wood has a tendency to “raise the grain” when it gets wet. So the first time your baby slobbers on them, they’ll feel super rough like you never sanded them at all. A coat or two of a drying, food safe oil like walnut oil or mineral oil will help protect them from your little one’s drool. Plus it’s pretty.
Oh, and don’t try using vegetable oil or olive oil or the like. They aren’t “drying oils”, and will get rancid over time. Which is unfortunate, because food safe wood finish is kind of expensive.
Safety Note! When you are disposing of a rag soaked in oil, beware of spontaneous combustion. As the oil dries, it heats up, and a rag which is bunched up in a bucket can and will catch fire. To dispose of it, lay your rag out flat somewhere far away from combustibles, and let it dry until it is hard and crunchy. Then it’s safe to throw it out. I don’t know how much this applies to walnut oil, but for many oils like boiled linseed oil, it is a very real (but easily avoided) danger.