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natural wood blocks

August 3, 2010

A few months ago, our nephew turned 3.

We wanted to get him something super-cool, something he could build with.  And that’s when his mom suggested we make natural wood blocks from tree branches instead.

I have to admit: having never looked into things like Waldorf teaching methods, I was a little like, umm, you want me to get your kid sticks for his birthday?  Is this a punishment?  Like coal for Christmas? But I went with it – because my SIL does considerable amount of research into these things and has good ideas about what her children will like/use.  Also?  We are surrounded by trees – so this would undoubtedly be a pretty great project for us to tackle.  Especially since we had three large trees removed from around our home, and the tree removal left us with tons of branches that would be the perfect size.  I came up with the following technique, based loosely on the strategies outlined here and here.

Step 1 — Cut. Find your branches and cut to desired size using a semi-circular saw and safety goggles.  I think an assortment of sizes/shapes is most exciting, so I vary the length of the cuts and the diameter of the branch.  I also avoid branches that would be small enough for a child to break with their hands.  I think the smallest branch I cut was about 3/4″ diameter.

Step 2 — Dry. Lay your cut branches out on tinfoil and bake in a 200-degree oven for 2-5 hours to dry out the wood.  I tend to bake them 5+ hours.  This step will color the wood a little bit, but you’ll definitely get the moisture and other nonsense out of them.

Step 3 — Sand. Lightly sand.  Or heavily sand.  Whatever you’re going for.  I have done both, but I think the blocks are most interesting when they are only lightly-sanded and still have a little texture.  You could even sand off the bark, if you are so inclined.  I was not so inclined — because I dig the texture of the bark.  This is a good time to test each of the blocks to make sure that they will stand – if not, sand each end until they will.

Step 4 — Seal. Seal the blocks using olive oil and beeswax.  Set up a double boiler to melt wax, then add olive oil so that your final mixture is 4:1 olive oil: beeswax.  Note that if your blocks ever dry out, you can reseal them with this mixture.  Massage the mixture into the branches (after letting the mixture cool a bit, of course).  Let sit until wax hardens.  And, hey! Since this part of the project it good for your skin, you might as well massage some of the mixture into your hands.  You should probably not, however, decide to rub the mixture on your arms and legs also, or you may hop into bed that night only to find out that it’s turned into a slip-n-slide.  I learned the hard way.  Resist the urge to grease yourself.  No matter how good that sweet, sweet mixture smells, and how good you think it will be for the very dry skin on your legs.

Step 5 — Wipe. Wipe excess wax off of the blocks using a cloth or paper towel.  Fend off your small dog, who would like nothing more than to lick each and every block clean.

Step 6 — Enjoy!

Our sweet nephew nailed the last step… after opening the package with the blocks, he immediately started stacking them.  The look of concentration on his face while stacking was pretty much the best “thank you” we could have gotten!  Which officially sold me on the sticks-for-your-birthday thing.  Especially when our nephew and niece got out their animal figurines and stacked them along with the blocks (totally wish I had snapped a few photos of them in action).

And, for those of you that lack the time/tools/trees to undertake such a project: I’ve been considering selling these (for cheap!) on etsy, because the packages I’ve seen widely available seem prohibitively expensive.  So, if you’re interested in purchasing, I’d be happy to make a set for especially for you and your little one – email me at jen.in.the.country{at}gmail.com to let me know how many pieces you’d like.  {I’m thinking 20 pcs for $15 or 30 pcs for $22, but can do other custom orders, too.}

Oh!  And for those of you with the time/tools/trees to undertake this project: Send pictures!  I’d love to know how yours turn out!

I’m linking this to the CSI Project’s Kid’s Crafts Party and Skip to my Lou’s Made by You Monday.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Debbie permalink
    August 3, 2010 9:56 am

    They are probably prohibitively expensive because they require so many steps to make. It’s a great idea to sell them; they are great looking!
    I would like to know what kind of vitamins you take! Or am I so far removed from my youth that I can’t remember that energy? No, I can’t ever remember being as industrious as you are.
    The blocks are great! Good luck!

  2. August 3, 2010 10:05 am

    Can you make blocks of trees (carved of course) that could be assembled like a totem pole (could use wood pegs and holes to make them attach to each other)? the carving would be a bit more (ok a ton more) work but this could be a variation and imagination toy to add to the “Jen’s natural wood toys” line.

    • August 3, 2010 10:19 am

      I’m currently looking into creating blocks that kids can turn into tree houses…

      Because I want a real tree house, and making small fake tree houses might be as close as I get for now…

  3. August 3, 2010 10:40 am

    This is adorable! What a creative idea! It could even been cute if you stain them! But I like the natural look.

  4. August 3, 2010 9:26 pm

    Tree houses? I totally want a tree house.

    These are really cool. I’ve never seen anything like them.But, I don’t have any kiddos in the family either.

  5. August 4, 2010 8:44 pm

    What a cool and natural toy! I would have never thought about the beeswax/olive oil combo!

  6. August 6, 2010 6:50 pm

    This is a brilliant and wonderful idea. I love natural toys. And I’ll soon have a grandchild to spoil – this would be perfect! Thanks for sharing.

  7. August 10, 2010 3:50 pm

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this idea! We have a very wooded lot with lots of branches and trees. I can’t wait to try this project for my sons’ to play with.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Brittany
    http://www.prettyhandygirl.com

  8. August 11, 2010 9:29 pm

    This is so fun looking. I think my son would love these!

  9. August 12, 2010 1:17 am

    Love this idea! The blocks are gorgeous – what a great gift! Thanks for sharing – fantastic job! ~ Stephanie Lynn

  10. August 13, 2010 2:27 am

    I must have a set!!! I’ll try to do it myself, but I will probably be ordering a set from you anyways!! thanks for posting!

  11. August 21, 2010 11:14 pm

    Very cool, very fun idea! I linked on my weekly roundup, post is under my name. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Jamie permalink
    January 30, 2014 11:16 pm

    This is unbelievably cool, and I can’t wait to try it. So glad I found your blog. :) Thanks!

  13. Sarah permalink
    May 19, 2014 8:20 pm

    HELP! I have just made these, but my blocks turned our very very very oily! I have wiped them down twice and its day two- any suggestions?

    • June 4, 2014 9:55 pm

      Mine were only a bit oily initially but I think they dry out in time. Maybe continue to wipe? Did you have the right oil:beeswax ratio? Sorry I can’t be of more help!! Good luck!

Trackbacks

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