Hand-Carved Toy Blocks

Soon after discovering my wife was pregnant, I developed plans for carving animal figurines out of wood and assembling them into a mobile for above baby girl’s crib. It was a beautiful picture in my head, but that’s as far as that project went. Life happened and it’s one of those plans I just never got around to.

But I still had the desire to make something with my hands for my daughter. And what better time to do so than Christmas? Moving on from the mobile concept I decided to make toy blocks instead. Using my newly-acquired table saw, I took a salvaged block of cedar wood and cut it into six two-inch cubes.

I then decided upon the six categories that I would carve into the six blocks. Here’s what I settled upon:

  • Numbers 1 through 6
  • Letters of the alphabets spelling “SHILOH”
  • Basic shapes (square, circle, star, etc.)
  • Dots numbering 1 through 6 (similar to dice)
  • Patterns (zigzags, waves, etc.)
  • Animals

Each block would contain one item from each category listed above, and all categories would be oriented the same way across all blocks.

Then came the nitty gritty process of carving the images. I used a set of short-handled carving tools usually used when creating wood blocks or linocuts. Safety tip: carving is dangerous! Use a carving table that latches down over the front end of the table you’re working on and that provides a back stop that your carved piece can push against and which will catch your knife in case it slips. Your knife will slip from time to time. Be prepared for this. Do not gouge your own hand!

Carved blocks
With the carving process complete, the blocks are now ready to be painted.

I included a solid border around the edge of each block face—a classic style. I chose fun fonts for the letters and a separate font face for the numbers. The animals took the most time and care due to the fact they were custom designed, and because they were more intricate.

Hand-carved blocks for children
Colorful hand-carved wooden blocks

I carved away the backgrounds on each panel—36 in all—and managed not to cut myself. I then sanded all edges and corners to make the blocks more comfortable for little hands to handle. Then came the painting. My original plan was to paint the raised portions of each block white, and paint the carved areas a solid color, using the six main colors of the rainbow. But after painting the first one, I decided it would be better to mix things up. I still followed the rainbow color progression for the carved areas, but the border and image areas vary from block to block, two of them remaining natural.

Cute animals carved into wooden blocks
Stylized animals featured on each of the blocks: owl, (sock) monkey, elephant, bear, deer, hippo

Finally, I admit I forgot to confirm the paint I used is safe for use on toys, so I’m researching that now. I’m also willing to coat the blocks with some kind of sealant, assuming there’s a safe sealant on the market. As a worst case scenario, these will be for display purposes only. Do a better job than I did—research the safety of your materials beforehand! Regardless, I hope these blocks will be a cherished item for her as she grows up.

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  1. I found your block article while surfing the internet for a carving I could do that would be appropriate for my first great grand child’s first birthday. What a great idea…. thank you for being so thoughtful as to make your idea and your work available to the public… Did you find a safe paint to use? I love the idea of using letters to spell her first name….and simple number progression… multiple colors, etc. etc. You have a gift… again, thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Harold. I appreciate the comment. I hope you enjoy creating something for your great grandchild! The question about paint is an important one. I don’t consider myself an expert on that, and honestly I forget what I learned about paint when I researched that as a few years have passed. So I’d rather not give you potentially faulty advice, but would encourage you to do some research. Best wishes!

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