The wife wants to create custom painted toy blocks as a gift for a friend. The block will be approximately 3 inches per side, or whatever dimension is convenient based on the wood I purchase. I plan on cutting them using table saw.

What type of wood is appropriate for this project? Ideally it would be available at a big home improvement center, but I'm open to other options if they have significant advantages.


5 Answers 5


The big box home improvement centers in my area don't stock nice lumber thicker than 3/4". 2x pine lumber, sure, but nothing you'd want to use to make a kids toy that might go in a mouth.

I would recommend hard maple for its properties:

  • Dimensionally stable
  • Clear grain (not likely to produce splinters)
  • Takes paint well
  • Check resistant (holds up to being slobbered on)
  • Will last for more than one generation of kids.
  • OK, I'm sold on maple. I'll adjust the project requirements to meet whatever maple I can get my hands on.
    – longneck
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 18:16
  • 3
    I find maple laminates well too, so it's easy to glue up some maple boards to make larger blocks. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 18:24

Actually 2x4's could be perfectly fine for this, depending on what you are actually looking for as an end product. They come in thicker dimensions and are a softer wood.

If you are looking to make something more like this

enter image description here

Then I'd go with a hard wood. Oak, Maple are both good woods to use. I would look for a species that they have in both regular lumber and matching dowels.

  • 1
    If buying 2x4s, be sure not to purchase pressure-treated lumber. This wood may be treated with toxic chemicals that should not be placed in a child's mouth.
    – Ray
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 19:07
  • @Ray Excellent point! The green color while 'cool' should be avoided for toys...
    – bowlturner
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 19:49

I have made many blocks using birch. It's a durable hardwood, not as heavy as maple and generally more affordable.

As reasonable as 3" cubes might sound, you might be very happy with 1 1/2" cubes which would be a size for which you could easily acquire wood. You would buy 2" boards and by the time you get them planed smooth you will be looking at something close to 1 1/2". Also, small hands will have trouble grasping 3" blocks, and when those wee hands grow a little, the 3 inchers can become heavy, dangerous missiles.

It is interesting to note that the traditional Tinkertoys were made from birch.

  • 1
    I live in Europe and I only see blocks made out of birch. Maple is not as usual here as in North america.
    – LosManos
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 10:35
  • "...heavy, dangerous missiles...." -- Good point.
    – gnicko
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 19:39

You should consider allergies and toxicity. Maple gives you all the properties you want and is hypoallergenic. It's why most wooden toys are made of maple.

  • Why does maple win over oak, pine, and poplar?
    – user203
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 14:07
  • Beech is also a common choice as it is cheap, durable and easy to machine.
    – Ian Lewis
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 12:05
  • @IanLewis Beech is often more expensive and harder to find than oak, maple, poplar and pine in the US. As a side note, I am surprised by how Southern Yellow Pine is admired in Europe. In the US, it is used for primarily for construction.
    – user148298
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 15:29
  • @MichaelT Maple is durable, hypoallergenic and easy to work with given the cost.
    – user148298
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 15:32
  • @user148298 Beech is very common in Europe. Great for many projects but inclined to rot very quickly when wet. I've always been a fan of Western Red Cedar and Pitch Pine since my furniture restoration days.
    – Ian Lewis
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 15:31

Here in Canada Habitat for Humanity runs Re-Use-It stores. You can get all sorts of interesting stuff, usually close outs, or salvage.

One of the things I've seen frequently are small lots of hardwood flooring.

This might be more trouble than it's worth if pre-finished. The bottom face usually has several wide shallow grooves, so it would require planing, or gluing back to back to another piece. The pre-finished ones are very hard, with a thin layer of aluminum oxide. Might be tough on blades.

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