Weekend Project: DIY Building Blocks

This weekend at River Ridge Co…

This project was inspired by family of ours that live overseas who are expecting a baby.  Since we won’t be able to see them as often as we’d like, we wanted to give them something that would remind them that we were thinking of them and let baby-to-be know that they’re loved, even from afar!

We thought a set of building blocks would make a great gift (practical & fun) – and if we personalized them, would make it a special keepsake too.  Making them safe for little hands to explore was priority one – so we made them from natural (untreated) wood and safe, non-toxic finishes.

Here’s our easy, step-by-step tutorial on how you can make a set of your very own!  (Or, if you’d rather skip the mess – check out our shop – we’d be happy to create a custom set of blocks for you!).

Step 1.  Select your wood and cut it into 1.5″ x 1.5″ blocks.

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First, a PSA:  It’s important to NOT use reclaimed wood.  While reclaimed wood is great for some applications, you don’t know whether or not it has been exposed to harmful substances, making it unsafe for children to play with.  Talk to your local wood supplier to make sure the wood you are using has not been treated in any way.

–Choosing your wood:  We chose to use ash – it has a pretty grain pattern and is considered a very hard wood.  We suggest using a hardwood, so that when towers and castles come toppling down, your blocks will not dent or scratch easily.  Other good choices would be maple, oak or birch but avoid the softer species like pine and cedar.

–Preparing your wood: You can obviously choose to cut your wood into any size and shape you’d like – but 1.5″ cubes seem to be a good size for little hands to pick up.  You’ll want to sand all 6 sides until they are smooth and splinter-free!  We sand our blocks with a number of different grit sandpapers, working up to 400 grit making them ultra-smooth and ready for paint.

If this is a step you’d rather skip – we’d be happy to send you a set of pre-cut and sanded blocks – ready for you to apply your own personalized design!

Step 2.  Apply painters tape to create geometric patterns.

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We wanted this set of blocks to have a Scandinavian vibe to them and opted for a geometric pattern.  Apply painters tape on three sides of the block, creating three triangles that connect, leaving the corner closest to you exposed.

Step 3.  Paint your design!

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Another PSA:  you MUST use a non-toxic, child-safe paint – these blocks will be put into little mouths.  If in doubt, consult with your local paint supplier to make sure what you are using is safe for infants and children.

–Our colour scheme:  We chose to use three colours – Heather Blue, Seafoam Green and Barely Blue.  Try not to paint towards the tape as that may cause the paint to bleed under the tape, creating messy lines.  Instead, use a dabbing paint brush and/or strokes that go away from the taped line.  Think about alternating the colours you use so that you have roughly even numbers of each coloured block at the end.

Step 4.  Before the paint dries, remove the tape.

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If you remove the tape by pulling it at a 45 degree angle, you achieve the cleanest lines.  If you would like to customize your blocks even further, consider adding another design on one of the blank sides, or use a stencil to apply letters or numbers.  Spell out the name of baby-to-be, a favourite lyric or saying, date of birth, well-wishes… the sky’s the limit!  We opted to include the last name of the baby as well as a few extra shape designs on ours.

Step 5.  Apply a protective sealer over the paint.

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We use an all-natural (and non-toxic) beeswax on our blocks.  Read the label and consult with your local craft supplier to ensure the product you’re using is safe for infants and children.  Applying this coating will protect the design you’ve created as well as prevent any spills or stains from penetrating into the wood.  Follow the directions on the product you’re using, but generally once you apply a thin layer of beeswax to your blocks, you should let it sit to fully set into the groves of your wood grain.

Step 6.  Buff each block until they shine!

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Once the beeswax has had time to set in, buff each side of the block with a clean piece of cotton or lint-free fabric to remove any excess residue.  You can reapply as many coatings of beeswax as you’d like, letting each one fully dry (usually overnight) before applying another.  Usually one or two coats will do the trick.  It can take up to 7 days for the wax to fully cure, so don’t be alarmed if you find your pieces feel overly “waxy” – they will harden over time.

Step 7.  Voilla!

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You’ve just made a beautiful and personal gift that both parents (and baby-to-be) will be sure to treasure and enjoy for years (and generations!) to come.

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