I have a recent addiction: the compound miter saw. Seriously. It was love at first use and ever since, I found all sorts of excuses to use it more. Excuse no 1: DIY wooden toy blocks for our daughter. Cubes, rectangles, pyramids and cylinders. (No bridges; this is an one-tool-DIY and bridges require two tools.)
I made a battlement, though.
Check out how to make your own wooden building blocks for crafts and toys. Plus,
three four tips for making your cubes and pyramids perfectly smooth without crazy amounts of sanding.
Yes, that’s right: minimal sanding! And smooth, factory worthy blocks. 😉
Since I realized that in spite of its title, the compound miter saw is a super-friendly tool to use – not snobby at all, – guess where I spend all my free time ever since. Yep, at the basement (which admittedly sounds a little creepy to say the least). Making wooden building blocks for our daughter to play with (less creepy now?).
Why not buy them instead?
Wooden building blocks are a staple in a household with children. Or in a household with decorators, crafters and DIY bloggers. From Christmas decorations to candle holders, the little cubes are exceptionally versatile.
Personally, I love the basic, natural wood blocks and truth is we can find those online and just buy a bunch. They are pretty cheap, too.
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For example(s), you can get a 100-piece set from Melissa & Doug for less than $16 (!) – all painted and ready to use.
You might not like the vivid colors though, so instead, you can grab 100 pieces of natural wood, multi-shaped blocks for only $19.
Or, you might prefer a few simple and natural wooden cubes and get this 36-piece hardwood set for $23.
They are nice, they are cheap, they are no hassle. But, we don’t get to use our compound_miter_saw.
(By the way, that’s not a simple tool name; it’s a royal title: Com-Pound-My-Ter-Show. The fourth.)
Where’s the fun in that?!
I chose having fun and I DIYed all sorts of shapes of wooden blocks for our little one and this is how you can make them too.
Tip no 1: Start with smooth wood. Buying cheap pine will certainly make this an ultra frugal craft and you can make many cubes for less than if you bought them.
BUT. You will sand and sand, and sand, till an inch of your life. Forget cheap-o pine unless you really like sanding. Find a square dowel that is already very smooth (poplar is pretty nice). And because, a photo = 1000 words, QED, etc:
Poplar 1.5 x 1.5 (or other smooth but inexpensive wood)
Round dowel (pine will do fine as round dowels are smooth by default)
Saw (say it with me: commmpoundd miterrr sawww). A plain miter saw will work just fine, too.
LETS MAKE THEM BLOCKS ALREADY!
Squares & Rectangles
Put your 1.5 x 1.5 in place, the compound miter saw at the middle slot (where it cuts simple perpendicular cuts) and measure 1.5. Mark with pencil. Cut.
Rinse and repeat. Tedious but, it is really hard to mark beforehand: The blade has some width; it does not cut a non-dimensional cut so – unless you really know how many 16nths of an inch/mm to account for the blade, it’s easier to just measure every time.
Cut your rectangles to be twice or thrice the length of a given cube.
Tip no 2: I found that how fast you move the blade, matters. Wood tends to chip and it chips very badly if you lower the blade too fast. Go slow down, slow up. Slooow.
Look at the difference:
Put your 1.5 dowel in place, turn the saw to the desired angle (45 degrees make nicely wide and quite stable pyramids), LOCK the saw and cut. Turn the dowel 180 degrees on the spot, cut. Rinse and repeat for all the
triangles pyramids you want.
Tip no 3: A thing I noticed was that, the pyramids were often getting caught on the blade (unlike the cubic blocks) if I moved the saw down and then up (like in normal cuts). I worked around that by getting the blade down and pausing until the blade stopped spinning, before raising it back up again.
No more splintered pyramids after that.
Caution: Do not – I repeat: NOT – cut a cube and try to make triangles out of that. Unless you don’t want your fingers any longer, that is.
Also, if you try to cut too small pieces, the blade might send them flying and you make hurt someone or break something (including parts of your saw!).
(Before I figured that part, I had made a couple chunks of wood fly away in warp speed. Good thing I had already told hubby to go away and good-er thing I was wearing protective gear.)
/end of caution
Captain obvious to the rescue: Place a round dowel in place, hold steady and cut. Done. Measure and cut several different lengths for added fun.
=> Pro tip: use a sacrificial piece of wood behind your dowels. It will keep them from splintering. *wink, wink*
Because we chose pretty smooth wood, you will barely need to smooth anything but chips at the cut edges – if any. Using a sanding block, lightly sand smooth any splinter and – if you wish – the edges of your blocks. I kept ours at a Lego level of sharpness (you know: the “do not step on” level) for ultimate balance.
Now you can stain (and seal), paint (and seal) or leave your wooden toy blocks natural. 🙂
Would You Guess?
Now that we have a – truly – nice building set, what did The Cute do with it the most?
Well, she spent a long, long time, trying to reposition the pieces so they fit perfectly in the tray. And she got upset when they did not fit perfectly.
That is mommy’s OCD gene, right there. (I am so proud!)
ps. As these wooden building blocks are primarily for use as toys, by children, never use pressure treated wood. And if you paint them, get a paint that is safe if the little ones chew on the blocks. Because they will!