Wooden toys are my favourite. I love that they can look beautiful and teach my kids so much. I love how they encourage imaginative play and help with gross and fine motor skills.
I made this toy for my 8 month old daughter. She is at the grasping-and-banging-toys-together stage right now, but before I know it she will be using stackers. I’ve made several stackers for my other daughter, but I wanted to make this one personal for Everly.
I designed this stacker to look beautiful on one of our many toy shelves. I decided to put her name on it and conveniently discovered that both of my daughter’s names have the same number of letters as our last name – I promise I didn’t plan that.
I love seeing an idea come to life!
When she’s a bit older this stacker will be a great learning tool for teaching her how to spell and read her name. I love multi-purpose toys.
I sketched all the designs for this stacker, digitized them using this stylus, and then converted them into SVGs to make stencils. These files will be available for free below in my Google Drive.
Free Baby Animal SVGs
To access the SVGs from google drive:
- click the link above
- right click on the SVG you wish to use
- click download
- save SVG to your computer
- upload SVG into your cutting software
Materials & Supplies:
- 2×6 (or 2×4) – I used about 1 1/2’ of a pine 2×6
- 1×4 – I used 3 1/2”
- 1/2” dowel – I used 9 3/4”
- Sandpaper – I used 40 grit and a sanding block that has fine grit on one side and medium grit on the other
- Painters tape
- Stencil vinyl – I used Oracal Oramask
- Transfer tape – I used a small piece and just reused it
- Wood glue – I used Titebond II
- Acrylic paint – I used a variety of matte colours and mixed them with white to create pastels
- Spray Shellac – I use the Zinsser one (I tend to use Shellac for all my children’s toys that have been painted)
- Safety equipment (safety glasses, hearing protection, respiratory protection)
- Measuring tape
- Speed square
- Table saw (could just buy a 2×2 to avoid using one of you don’t have access to one)
- Miter saw (could also just use the table saw)
- Drill or drill press – I used the drill press
- 1/2” forstner bit (you could use a regular drill bit too, but it’ll have more tear out
- Random orbit sander or belt sander (you could also sand by hand)
- Router (optional)
- Chamfering bit (optional)
- Small sponge brush
- Small paint brush
- Paint tray
- Cutting mat
- Scraper or credit card
- Weeding tool
Step 1 Make a cut list or print out a copy of my sketchup file below.
Step 2 Rip the blocks to width. First I cut the rounded factory edge off of my 2X6 to give a square edge. Then I placed that edge along the fence and set my fence to 1 1/2″. I ripped the board to the correct width and took it over to the miter saw
Step 3 Cut the 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2 inch board you just ripped into cubes with the miter saw or the table saw. I did this with a stop block I set up on my miter saw.
I measured and cut the first cube, then I locked my saw in the down position, placed the cube between the saw and a scrap piece of wood and clamped the scrap piece of wood to the fence. This will ensure that all your pieces are the same length, but be careful when cutting like this. After you make the cut and before you lift the blade, make sure the saw stops completely. This will help to prevent kick back.
Step 4 Now you should have 6 – give or take depending on the name – cubes. I marked mine to make sure all the holes would be drilled with the wood facing the same direction. I did this because the cubes may not be exactly identical, and its easy for them to be slightly different, but that could affect your hole placement and how the blocks fit on the stacker.
I first lined them up neatly, then drew a small arrow on the top (end grain) of each block facing towards me. This is so I could drill them all with that arrow facing me for consistency.
Then I flipped them on their sides and drew some lines so I would know which order to stack them in. I’m not sure if this was totally necessary, but it helped line up the grain.
Using my speed square I marked 2 diagonal intersecting lines on the top of the blocks.
Step 5 Drill the 1/2″ holes with a forstner bit. I did this with the drill press. I lined up the first block that I drew the ‘X’ on and then screwed 2 pieces of scrap wood to my plywood fence as a guide so could line up the other blocks. I did this to keep hole placement consistent. My holes didn’t end up being perfect, but they lined up fairly well.
Step 6 Cut your base plate. Using my miter saw I cut a 1×4 to 3.5″ in length to make a square. I marked from corner to corner and used a forstner bit in the drill press to drill a hole in the center going about half the depth of the board.
Step 7 Cut your dowel. The length of the dowel will vary depending on the number of letters you’re doing. I cut mine to 9 3/4″. Be sure to account for the height of the blocks, and about half the base plate, with a little bit of extra length above the blocks.
Step 8 Start sanding. I had to sand the dowel down because the blocks were too snug to fit easily. I liked that it fit snugly into the base plate, so I used a bit of painters tape to cover the bottom where it would fit into the base. I then sanded it with 40 grit sandpaper until the blocks could easily slide on it.
I lined up all the blocks on the dowel as I had marked them. They didn’t line up perfectly so I took them to my bench top band sander and keeping them on the dowel I very carefully sanded them at the same time switching sides frequently to prevent over sanding. you could do this with a random orbit sander or by hand.
Once they were lined up well I broke all the edges using a medium grit sanding block. Then I sanded the tops and bottoms of each block by hand.
Finally, I sanded the base plate on the belt sander and wiped everything off with a tack cloth to get rid of the dust.
Step 9 I wanted to add a bit of dimension to the base plate, so I used a 45 degree chamfering bit in my router to chamfer the top edge, then I sanded it smooth with a sanding block.
Step 10 Create stencils using a cutting machine or hand draw out your designs.
For this step I went into Cricut design space and chose a font I thought would look nice and bold on the blocks. I used the ‘Poppins’ google font for this.
Next I added in my baby animal silhouettes I drew and put them all on square backgrounds the same size as my cube faces.
I colour coded all of them so I knew the general colour scheme I wanted to end up with.
I took a screen shot so I could refer to it later when I was painting and then made everything white and attached each letter and each animal to their squares. This would make it way easier to get them straight on the blocks.
I cut out my designs using a regular grip cutting mat and some Oracal Oramask stencil vinyl. It required a piece about 12” by 6” to cut them all.
For my blocks I wanted the animals to be painted, but the backgrounds to remain wood grain. To accomplish this, I weeded out all of the animals and put one on the left and right side of each block.
For the letters I wanted the background to be painted and the letters to be wood grain, so I kept the letters in their square backgrounds using transfer tape when needed (sometimes they just all came up as a whole). Then I lined up the squares, used my scraper to adhere the design to the cube and removed the backgrounds. I put the letters on the fronts and backs of the cubes.
Just make sure you put all the designs facing up and keep the letters lined up from top to bottom.
Step 11 using a small sponge brush and matte acrylic craft paints I sponged on the colours in a pastel ROYGBIV fashion, one colour per block. I also painted the tops and bottoms of the blocks.
I did three fairly light coats, waiting until the paint lost its shine between coats, and peeled off the stencil vinyl while the paint was still mostly wet. I touched up the edges with a small paintbrush as needed. This worked great and my designs turned out very crisp.
I penciled in a little rainbow on the base and painted that in by hand.
Step 12 Seal your blocks. I like to seal all the toys I paint for the sake of durability and I always use Shellac for this. Based on the research I’ve done, this is the safest finish besides natural oils (or no finish at all) for children’s toys. It’s what I use, but please do your own research as I am by no means an expert on this.
I did 3 coats of Zinsser spray shellac to seal the blocks, base, and dowel. I created a little drying rack out of a small dowel and two pieces of scrap wood so all sides of the blocks could be sprayed and drying at the same time. Each coat took about 30 minutes to be mostly dry before I recoated.
Definitely leave it to dry at least overnight before you stack them or they will stick together and you’ll wreck your hard work. I would also wait before giving them to a child as typically a finish should cure for 30 days before being handled by a little person.
Now you have a beautiful, personalized, multipurpose set of stacking blocks for the little one in your life. These blocks result in amazing shelfies too!
If you make them please tag me on Instagram @the_walnut_grove. I would love to see your creation! If you plan on making this later, pin one of my images to Pinterest to save it. If you enjoyed this tutorial subscribe to my email list so you can see when I post.