I remember loving wooden blocks as a kid. We received some rubbery blocks for Christmas, but they’re just not the same. There’s something satisfying about the clack of wood against wood as you stack blocks.
There are some really great laser engraved wooden blocks on etsy, like these, and even lovely keepsake blocks that you can have made with your baby’s birth stats. I figured I could maybe try my hand at woodburning some custom ones with my favorite images. My dad introduced me to woodburning when I was about 11 years old. I think I had this exact “Design-a-matic” woodburning set because I remember that creepy sun and the red ink that I would fill in with the heat tool. I think woodburning is a forgotten arts-and-crafts relic from the 1970’s – apparently my set first came out in 1968, which explains why my dad had even grown up doing wood burning. I’m actually a super crafty person but really haven’t done anything particular crafty for my daughter yet, so I was excited for this project.
I bought some blank organic wooden blocks off etsy. I got 2 inch blocks, but I think the 1.5 inch blocks would have been better – they’re pretty large for my baby’s tiny hands. I chose maple wood — I was worried that woodburning on anything other than pine would be a lost cause, but it worked perfectly. I bought this wood burning kit from Michael’s with a 40% off coupon.
I remember as a kid the barrel of the tool getting quite hot, and I could only do it for so long before it was too hot to touch. The newer tool that I bought recently has a temperature adjustment dial, which is nice, but after half an hour it still gets pretty hot, so I work on it a bit at a time. I drew the designs on with pencil first, and then went to town. For images that were too hard for me to freehand, like the eames chair, I printed it out to size from the computer, rubbed the backside horizontally, vertically, and on the two diagonals with a pencil, then taped the paper to the block and pressed firmly with a pen, tracing the image, and transferring the image to the block. I remember using the makeshift carbon paper technique when I was a kid! The woodburning kit actually has an attachment that allows you to transfer images printed with laser printers onto wood by the power of heat, but I didn’t want any toner left over on the block so I opted to erase my pencil mark lines instead.
Most people who handcraft wooden infant toys like teethers and rattles finish the wood with beeswax, but I hesitate to do it for a baby under one because if babies can’t have honey because of botulism spores, then perhaps beeswax may carry these spores as well. Alas, yet another ungoogleable answer. Perhaps it’s fine. If you are interested in applying a beeswax finish, there’s a great tutorial I found here.
Without thinking much about it at the time, I realized that I had bought the perfect number of blocks for Winter’s name. I searched high and wide for a font I liked, and while I originally wanted a mish mash of fonts, I liked Villa Didot the best. Some of the more intricate images I tried to use the tip that was pointed like a ballpoint pen, but it warped under the heat, and because it wasn’t as sharp and knife-like as the standard tip, it made the lines a little jaggedy as it got caught up in the woodgrain. It doesn’t require a lot of pressure, and I found it best to rest my hand on a large book and move the block around as I drew more than moving the tool around, kind of like how it’s better to cut shapes out of paper by maneuvering the paper and not the scissors. I have yet to tackle really tiny curves, like Mr. Happy’s fingers, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s taken quite some time to brainstorm and look for my favorite images, and with 6 blocks, it’s 36 different sides to work on. I think I’m finally almost done.
If you’ve never seen it before, it may seem a little daunting, but really, the premade kits are geared at kids 12 and up. The hardest part I think will be transferring your images, after which everything should be almost as easy as tracing.
A lot of Montessori toys involve blank wood, but I’m excited at the thought of personalizing them. I think my next project will be to woodburn a Russian matryoshka stacking doll set to act like baby stacking cups.
Have you ever done any woodburning?