DIY Building Blocks

I try to focus on giving my girls classic toys. At least things that I consider classic, which I guess means anything I loved as a kid. And one thing I loved- my family's building block set. My parents still have the remnants of it (everything that wasn't lost/buried/destroyed) and Mim always loves playing with it when we're there.

She turned 3 on April Fool's day (I still can't get over what an awesome birthday that is) and we gave her some galoshes and some books. Then I thought about how we hadn't given her any toys, which just seemed kind of sad. So I made some blocks and gave them to her at her birthday party, which was just last Saturday.

I looked at buying block sets first, but it seemed like all the ones I thought were really cool were all over $100. This one from Land of Nod was my favorite. I love the colors. Anyway, I got to thinking- I mean, blocks are just cut up wood. We have tons of that. All I would need to do is cut it, sand it, then paint it. I got hung up on the painting idea- it would take forever, plus baby Elle would just be chewing it off in a few months (if she would ever get teeth instead of just acting like she's teething for months on end). Then I had a brainwave-

I could dye the wood!!

I've used dye on fabric plenty of times before. Like on these onsies. And I'd seen a pin where Rit Dye was used to dye buttons.

Here are the blocks:
{The alphabet blocks are not ones I made, if you were wondering.}
 She's played with them every day since she got them.

And if you care, here's the how:
1. Collect wood. I used some 2"x4" and 2"x2" scraps, some dowels (2 round in different sizes, 1 square one), and a 1"x12"x5' board.   I only had to buy the dowels.

2. Cut it. I went to my in-laws house to use the miter saw and my father-in-law ended up just cutting everything for me. I would measure, then hand it to him to cut. We had a good little system going on and it only took us about an hour and a half to cut 114 blocks. I'm really glad he helped- it would have taken more than twice as long by myself.

3. Sand. I used my little hand sander and got it done during my baby's morning nap, so about another 1.5 hours.
{Sanded, sorted, waiting to be dyed.}

{Before I dyed them, I decided what each color each block would be. Most sizes had 2 colors. Setting them out like this really helped me decide what colors I needed more or less of.}
4. Dye them. I used Rit brand. It's what I already had on hand and they seem to have the largest color collection. Plus, if you're brave (I didn't do it this time) they have this chart on their website to mix all the in-between colors.
The colors I used were scarlet, tangerine, golden yellow, kelly green, royal blue, teal, and purple.

{I used the stove top method, same as I do for fabric.}
{Rinse, rinse, rinse. I didn't want any excess dye coming off these babies when I handed them over to my daughter.}
 5. Dry.

 6. Play!

So here's what this 114 piece block set cost me:

$6 worth of dowels
$12 of dye, and there's leftovers. I already had about half the colors I needed- I'm not counting those in the cost.

About 5-6 hours of doing stuff. The dyeing took about 2 hours (still so much faster than painting would have been). If I did it again, it would be even faster. I wasn't expecting the colors to take to the wood so strongly and I was expecting more to rinse out, so I left the blocks in the dye baths for much longer than I needed to (I didn't want the colors to be quite so intense).

Not bad. 

I totally think it was worth it.

{This was at her little party- she opened them and then dove right in. I couldn't get her to look at me for a picture.}

Some miscellaneous things:

*All the stuff I used was pine/douglas fir, except for the dowels. I don't remember what they were made of.

*If you do this, use non-treated wood. Most dimensional lumber is, so it's not a problem, but it can never hurt to double check!

*Try to keep your sizes as fractions of each other- like this size of block is twice as long as the next size down, this size block is twice as thick as these others that are the same shape. I put some thought into it before we started cutting, but I wish I'd written down exactly what I wanted.

*Each of my dye baths was a couple quarts (I didn't really measure) and I used about half a package of powdered dye for each (like I said, I wasn't really expecting the colors to take very strongly, so I made a VERY concentrated dye bath). If I ever make a supplemental block set, I'll cut the amount in half, at least.

*To make arches, use a hole cutting drill bit. This is a note for me, for the supplemental set I bet I make in a year or two.

*Be prepared to make a big mess when dyeing. The picture doesn't do the disaster justice, but here's my kitchen after:
The sink was terrible, too.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Melanie said...

Totally making my 2 year old a set of these. We have tons of scrap wood! Found you over at Fingerprints on the Fridge! I'd love for you to come link this up at my Tuesday Time Out Party - open all week!

Tuesday Time Out Linky Party


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