These Montessori inspired wooden gemstones are perfect for open ended play. You can stack them, balance, them, and use them for imaginative play. Not only are they fun to play with, but they help with fine motor skills. They also make incredible shelf décor and if the wood is left raw they add a natural, Scandinavian touch to your home. The best part is that they are seriously easy, cheap, and take very little time to make. Anyone with a sander and a saw can make these – I promise.
I’ve made a set of these for my daughter in the past and I painted them solid colours, so this time I knew I wanted to leave some unpainted, and let the paint soak in to maintain the grain in the ones I did paint. Isn’t the grain in these blocks beautiful? It allows for a visual and tactile experience.
I made 15 of these blocks in about 2 hours. I painted some of them using acrylic paint mixed with water so that it acted as a stain and soaked into the grain. I know that acrylic paint is non toxic, but it’s not exactly food grade, so be aware of that if your little puts everything in their mouth. You could also use food colouring to dye them instead.
I finished the blocks with spray shellac because my research has shown me that its one of the safest finishes for little hands. It is made from the secretions of the lac bug and is often considered food grade from what I’ve read, but please do your own research. If you’re unsure about whether you want a finish to be near your child you could always opt out and leave them raw. The natural wood is beautiful and using multiple species will only add to the aesthetic of your collection.
Let’s Jump Into the Tutorial
- Wood – I used scrap wood I already had. I recommend using multiple species. I used a 2″ cube of orange padauk, a 1′ pine 2×4, and a 2 1/2′ fir 2×2. Not including the padauk that’s about $1.80 worth of lumber
- Sand paper/sanding block
- Acrylic paint or food colouring
- Sealer/Finish if desired – I used spray shellac, but you could use mod podge, or just leave the wood natural.
- Safety equipment – eye protection, hearing protection, respiratory protection
- Table saw – (optional) If you need to rip the wood down
- Miter saw
- Sander – I used a benchtop belt sander, but you could also use a random orbit sander.
- Shop vacuum
- Paint brush
- Paint tray – or cups to mix the paint with water
Step 1 – Rip the wood to length
If you don’t have a table saw, I recommend just buying 2x2s so you don’t have to worry about this step.
I ripped the 2×4 into two pieces 1 3/4″ wide.
Step 2 – Cut the blocks to length
Using the miter saw, I cut the wood into blocks 2″, 2 1\2″, 3″, and 3 1/2″ long. I just did a variety of sizes. Really you can just eyeball this part. I left the padauk as a 2×2.
Step 3 – Sand the blocks into gemstone shapes
I brought the blocks over to my bench top sander and first sanded all the faces and sides to make sure they were all smooth.
Next I sanded off all the edges and corners at an angle to make facets. Some I sanded so they would rest on an edge and balance.
It takes a bit of trial and error and some testing to make sure they balance on each other. the idea is to keep the sides across from each other parallel so they will balance.
This step took be about and hour and a half and I made 15 blocks. This will take more or less time depending on how many blocks you make. I just turned on an audiobook and got to sanding. This is a lot of sanding, so you might want to hook a shop vacuum up to your sander and you’ll definitely want to wear respiratory protection.
Step 4 – Decorate the blocks
I left 5 of the blocks in their natural state to add variety to the set. I decided to paint the other 10, but I wanted the grain to still be visible, so I mixed my acrylic paint with some water.
I mixed about a 1/2 tsp of paint with about 1 tbsp of water. You can experiment with the ratio based on what kind of colour payoff you want.
Then I just brushed the paint off and let it soak in. After it soaked in, some of the blocks needed a bit of a touch up, so I did a second coat on some of them.
This process was so quick and easy.
I let them dry completely.
Step 5 – Seal the blocks if desired
I sealed the blocks with 2 coats of spray shellac. I think the finish makes the wood more like a gemstone by adding a nice shine to the blocks. Spray shellac is really easy to use, the fumes aren’t strong, and it dries very quickly. I do recommend spraying the blocks in a well ventilated area like a shop or carport. I wait a few days before I let my little ones handle them, just to make sure the finish is cured.
I know that no finish is 100% natural and food safe, so if you would rather skip this step that is totally fine. I do know that they use shellac to coat some pills and food, but please do your own research to be sure you’re doing what makes you feel comfortable. Shellac is also not the most durable finish, so over time with lots of play, it may need to be reapplied.
There you have it! Those were so easy to make and they are so beautiful. I know my girls will have hours of play with them. I foresee them not only be balanced and stacked, but also acting as animal food, road blocks, and whatever else my kids come up with. Get creative with how you decorate your set. I love a good rainbow and so do my kids, so that’s what I went with, but you could do ombre, pastels, or natural wood. It’s all beautiful.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please leave them down below. I’d be happy to hear from you! Let me know if you made these blocks and how the process was for you. I’d love to see if you did something different too.
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Subscribe to my email list to be notified every time I post. For more ideas, follow me on Instagram @the_walnut_grove and pin this image to Pinterest to refer back to. Thanks for the support! Check out my wooden stacking name blocks if you’re interested in making something else for the little one in your life!