Following are excellent real-world guidelines and tips for making toys.
Another superb article focusing on homemade toy safety (and in fact, the entire site has many articles on wooden toymaking) can be found at:
General Construction Guidelines
- Toys should have no sharp edges, corners or projections (which could injure a child). On many toys a pass with a router roundover bit (3/16″ or 1/4″ radius) and/or sanding sharp areas will eliminate this concern.
- We have been told that children like toys with holes which make them easier to grip if they happen to be confined to a bed. The inside walls of the holes (such as windows in toy cars) should be sanded and finished.
- Toys should have no loose parts that a child could remove and place in their mouth.
- Avoid use of metal fasteners and washers due to possible hazards of their coating (cadmium for example) and the possible sharp points/edges if a fastener comes loose.
- Where possible, use 1-1/4″ or greater for main bodies where wheels attach (2 inch stock – 1-1/2″ actual – works well) to assure enough thickness for proper axle insertion depth (for good strength and retention of standard axles).
- If you will be making multiple versions of the same toy pattern, making a template of the part from 3/8 inch or thicker stock and securing it to a rough sawn oversize blank (double sticky tape or small nails in axle locations) will allow a pattern bit (on a router table) to quickly trim the blank to the final part outline. Use knobs/guards as appropriate to ensure safety.
- Given a choice, children prefer toys in bright colors. Clear finishes showing natural wood colors are also very acceptable. Avoiding all-black toys is recommended.
- Toys should be coated with a finish to allow cleaning with a damp rag/disinfectant and to prevent splinters.
Finishes chosen should be child safe (normally stated on the container). Most common wood finishes are safe for children when dry. If in doubt, a call to the manufacturer (often toll free) is a convenient way to be sure.
After trying various methods of finishing toys, one system that works well is as follows:
- Sand toy parts smooth (before assembly) with progressively finer grit sending with 180-220 grit. Vacuum (or wipe) dust off then tack cloth the part.
- Spray or brush on a light sealing coat of lacquer or shellac (dilute mix) and allow to dry (usually takes less than an hour).
- Sand very lightly with 400 grit paper to remove whiskers raised by the seal coat. Then wipe with a tack cloth.
- Spray or brush on final coats according to manufactures directions. Usually two additional coats will be needed for a good finish.
If you wish to add decals or dry transfers to your project for added appeal, spraying a light topcoat of gloss lacquer will protect hem and help them last longer. Hint: A heavy coat of lacquer should be avoided on recently painted surfaces as it can cause the paint to crackle.
Axle shaft heads can be finished early by drilling 1/4″ holes in a block of scrap wood (a 2 x 4 works well), inserting the shaft full length in the hole, leaving the heads exposed to spray or brush (this keeps the finish off the axle shafts so wheels will roll better.
To assist in painting toy parts that need to be finished on all sides, a simple painting stand can be made by driving brads through scraps of thin plywood so the points protrude uniformly 1/2″-1″ above the surface (spaced for the part sizes you anticipate). Spray the least visible final side first (usually the bottom), then flip the painted surface onto the brads and paint the rest of the part. This allows single-step painting, uniform drying, and the brad pricks on the bottom are not objectionable in the final toy.
To ensure easy wheel rolling, wipe paste wax on the wheel. If available, you may wish to add a nylon washer (available at Lowes) between the finished wheel and the finished toy body. Place glue in the axle hole in the body with a toothpick and press the wheel-axle-washer assembly into the hole leaving 1/32″ end play. A spacer of plastic or light sheet metal temporarily placed between the washer and the wheel during axle insertion is an easy way to ensure appropriate end play.
Your interest in the toy project is appreciated. Your contributions, working on your own or with other members, will help meet the needs of less fortunate children. All help is beneficial, whether you provide a single toy or several dozen. Your patience and care will assure toys that you and members of St James Woodworkers will be proud to share with the children.
Thank you for your support,
Community Service Project Coordinator