wooden toy blocks


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Established Member
24 Aug 2020
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So, one reason I want to play with wood is to make things for our assorted nieces / nephews / god-children / etc. - we live just by one of the bigger out-door spaces in Bristol and so people walk their children there and pop in (covid regulations allowing of course!)

so, my first task has been to make some wooden blocks - we played with similar as children, and they are great generic fun... however, in my stage of being a total newbie in wood and fairly incompetent, I am increasingly learning how much more there is to learn!

I have the following tools:
- lots of hand tools inc. a wide range of saws etc.
- a small bench-top band saw
- a scroll saw
- a pillar drill (currently in bits!)
- a bench top sander (disc and belt)
- a battery jigsaw - and a jig to cut straight lines...

however, cutting a straight line is really not easy!
I am using PAR hardwood from the local timber merchants, so it is starting life all at right angles... my theory was that by having a fence set up on the bandsaw, I would be able to cut regular identical lengths of wood - however, I omitted to realise that I would introduce a slight angle, and then putting that up against the fence would simply transfer or magnify the angle etc. so the first few I did were reasonably accurate, but subsequent ones were a bit more like this...

2020-11-08 18.11.33.jpg

so popped them on the sander against its fence, and it rapidly brought them back to square, a quick taking off of each sharp edge and I have some blocks... but... they are of course not all the same length!

2020-11-08 18.22.47.jpg

I love working with wood, but my character is definitely very suited to repeatable / measured / logic based work (I run a web company, coding for a living) so there is a frustration inherent in this - and esp. where I want identical sizes, I would love a method which was exactly repeatable etc. Am I simply pushing this because I am cutting with one of three devices each of which has a flexible and therefore inaccurate blade? (would a chop saw be better?) or do I need to over-size the pieces and then use the sander to bring them level and down to size? each block is very pleasant even un-finished, but I would like length to be identical to within quite a small distance - not what shows above!

not bothered about the wood / wasting (these can always be cut down to squares!) - but want to learn more about how to be precise and accurate!
Yes this job is much better suited to a SCMS or chop saw. A few minutes work to get all those blocks to a uniform size.
I use a 305 sliding Dewalt chopsaw.....this would be a good job for it.....
with a new dedicated blade it will leave a perfect finish on end grain....
I keep 1 decent new blade for this kinda job esp in hardwood....another blade for laminate etc...plus another for rougher jobs like frameing....
You cannot trust PAR to actually still be square.

A chop saw is the right tool for this, or a sled on a table saw. Bandsaw is not the best especially smaller ones, a big one with a wide highly tensioned blade maybe
but its not a bandsaws strong point.

I would agree with novocaine. Build a benchhook they are very handy, then practice cutting by hand you will quickly get accurate. By the time you have done 10 cuts you will be much better than the bandsaw.

Now for really good accurate blocks you are going to need to build a shooting board. Cut your blocks on the outside of the line and then trim them perfect with a very sharp plane on the shooting board.
If you get good with hand tools you are not relying on the machinery to be square if you see what I mean.

For basics look at Paul Sellers youtube. he expains stuff well with no nonsense.

You could make a simple jig to sand your blocks to a uniform length on the disc sander, as below. Make a board to run along the fence. On top place a stop (X) roughly where your shortest block is (A). Underneath you want another stop to hit the front of the table - ideally this should be adjustable - can simply be a screw in a block of wood. Place your wood against (B) and slide against fence until the bottom block hits the table - adjust bottom block until desired length is achieved - repeat sanding lengths. (Ignore the state of the sanding disc - rarely used but useful for a picture!!)

sanding jig.jpg
Thank you for the great responses - and esp. Brian for the photo! :)
several options there - upside of a chop saw is the excuse to buy another tool - downside is that it has a spinning blade and my wife spends her days fixing fingers ;) a shooting board and the manual option is definitely a skill I should learn - though I think I was hoping for some speed to be able to replicate lots of blocks! lots to think about!
I would invest in a mitre saw, I've got the basic (non sliding) model from evolution (as sold by screwfix) for £60, which is fine, especially for the money, but if I was buying now I'd spend more and get a sliding model, significantly more money, but in hindsight a lot more useful as it can cut larger bits of wood, in particular planks.
With the tools you have I would mark out (slightly oversize) lines with a square along a length of wood, cut them to the line on the bandsaw (by sight - not using the fence - OR use a bench-hook and a handsaw), sand one face square, use jig to sand to final length.
downside is that it has a spinning blade and my wife spends her days fixing fingers
fingers are useful

I think good safety etiquette, use of clamps not fingers, taking your time and treating the tool as something that deserves caution, makes it a tool that is safe enough to use. I also make sure that I set up my shop vac on the same extension cord, I know then that if the vac is on the saw is live and I then resist the urge to stick my fingers in it.
Be careful what wood you use for young children, Iroko for instance can cause sever allergic reactions.

Its as well to look up woods in general for your own comfort so that you can spot any reactions whilst working it.
Some links here

And an informative discourse on the subject by a forum member.

(links are available in the Turning Section Help Sticky.)
I think the saw needs to be on the shopping list, but I will also play with Brian's suggestions of manual options...
ref. not sticking fingers in - I should be okay as I am fairly cautious - but it would still be a fairly serious step into tools that can hurt!

Thank you CHJ - I was aware, and in fact the timber yard also chatted to me about it - from that first link it looks as though all woods can cause issues but some more than others - so I will stick with the more inert ones where possible! These blocks come from the timber yard's generic 'brown hardwood' stack (as opposed to their 'white hardwood' stack - it will apparently have all sorts put in there over time - including walnut etc. but I suspect that this is some generic hardwood which is cheap and cheerful - therefore no idea how to identify it!
If I were you I'd leave that problem until you have the tools to solve it (or learn how to use a hand saw v.accurately).
I doubt the children will be critical of those few millimetres? Treat the blocks (if going outside) and find out.
You may be worrying about nothing. The inventiveness of children will work round it if there is a problem.
For repetitive and accurate cutting nothing beats a mitersaw unless you can afford a tablesaw. You can make it safer by inserting your own fence and base plate with zero clearance. Get some dust extraction as they throw dust everywhere.
Use a quality 60 tooth blade for a better finish as the end grain will be exposed.
The main toy makers are in Sweden and Germany and they all use European beech. Its close grained, non toxic and does not splinter. They you are into non toxic paint etc .........lots to consider. 😄
A shooting board and a sharp plane will give you accurate and precise pieces with a smooth finish

Rustins varnish is toy safe and easy to apply. You can get small pots of coloured toy paints from B&Q (oddly they are cheap for this, but rarely for anything else)

Hello, For what its worth I have a table saw that was a bit pricey but once set up I can produce oodles of identical blocks, but thats about it. The need to have uniformity reminds me of setting out to made a first chess set. The idea was met with groans from wood club members 'You'll never get them the same shape' they said. It was only after finishing the set and having a game I realised it didn't matter one jot if they were identical. So long as the sides were a different colour and you could tell the difference between a pawn and a king etc. Differences in shape had zero effect on the fun of playing. I think your bricks are fantastic and the kids will love them. I would say when they're playing with them they'll have to think harder and carefully select certain bricks for certain structures. No more picking up any old brick and popping it on top! Cheers IA.