The plans for these wooden toy blocks are based on a set of blocks that my grandfather made for me when I was only five or six years old. My brothers and sister and I played with them until we were almost teenagers. Okay, so we may have even played with them as early teens too. They were just too much fun to leave alone!
My mother finally got rid of them after almost two decades of hard use. They were virtually indestructible. Their durability and appeal come from the sheer simplicity of the design.
Originally, they were simply cut from lengths of 2x4 Douglas fir. However, when I tried to duplicate them I discovered that 2x4's simply would not work. So what could be so complicated about a bunch of toy blocks cut from 2x4's?
The secret to the fantastic utility of these blocks was the specific proportions. They were cut in even increments of exactly twice the thickness. Stacking them into buildings with roofs, parking garages for toy cars, and fortresses for little green army men always worked out perfectly.
Soon I discovered that simply cutting 2x4's into even blocks didn't produce the same results as my grandfather. This led me to research a bit of the history of North American 2x4's. It turns out that the 2x4 hasn't always been the same size!
Many of you will have discovered this when trying to modify or repair framing in an older house. Today's 2x4's don't match up. My discovery was a little less dramatic than trying to frame an addition, but it did force me into a little better understanding of nominal lumber sizes.
This isn't intended to be a lesson on nominal lumber, but lumber size can have a profound affect on our woodworking projects. Currently, North American 2x4's are 1 1/2" x 3 1/2". I honestly don't know what size they were when my grandpa built my blocks. They may not have even been a standard size, as he often had a friend of his mill trees from his own property into lumber.
So what's the solution for toy blocks that "work"? We can still make them out of 2x4's (the gables are actually made from 2x6's), but need to cut them down to the correct proportions. A couple of rips on the table saw or a couple of passes through a planer will suffice. This has the added benefit of squaring up the 2x4's rounded corners.
I don't think my blocks were ever sanded, but you should at least make sure there aren't any splinters. Easing the edges will also make them safer for kids and more comfortable to hold. If you really want to go all out, you could run an 1/8" or 1/4" round-over bit along all the edges with your router.
My wooden blocks were Douglas fir, but any species of wood should be fine. There is also no need to finish them. I prefer the natural wood anyway. I'm also not totally convinced that non-toxic finishes are truly safe for my kids to eat. So, if they manage to chew on the raw toy blocks a bit as toddlers I'm not concerned.
To view the block plans just click here. If you'd like to download a copy to your computer, right click then "save-as". Either way, you'll need the Adobe reader to view the file.