Whether you are on a budget or you want to create something special, making your own building block toys can be a very fun and engaging project to do. In this post, we are going to talk about the different ways to make your own building block toys.
Basically, there are two main routes you can take when making your own building block toys. The first route is making wooden building block toys. The second route is making plastic building block toys. Because of the material and machinery available for each of these materials, the process for each will be very different.
Since we dedicated a full post to 3-D printing with our post “How To Print LEGO Bricks Using Your 3-D Printer”, this one will focus mostly on the wooden building block toys. However, there will be a small section for 3-D printing plastic ones at the end.
How to make your own wooden building block toys
Making your own wooden building block toys is a lengthy process but it can be loads of fun, save you a lot of money and help you create something special for your children.
We will describe here only the general principles. This is because the exact sizes, numbers, and colors will depend on your own situation. However, for inspiration, we will add some resources where more concrete information is shared.
Tools and equipment you will need
- Miter saw (a compound miter saw or a table saw will make it easier if you have access to them)
- Sander / Sandpaper
- Non-toxic paint such as gel food coloring
- Non-toxic wax or sealant
- Measuring rule
- Paintbrushes (cotton swabs will also do the job if you don’t have paintbrushes)
Decide the size of your blocks and buy the wood accordingly
In order to simplify the process, we recommend that you buy wood that you will only need to crosscut. Rip cutting will be much more difficult and you will most likely make mistakes if you don’t have good tools.
So, make sure you get a size that you will only crosscut, and that will save you a lot of time and effort.
The exact size is not that important and it depends more on what you can get in your local store than anything else. Some common sizes that work quite well for this type of toy are 2×2 and 1.5×1.5. But, as I just said, if you find something slightly different that is much cheaper, don’t be afraid to go down that route.
If you have a table saw or you are an experienced woodworker, you can instead buy wooden boards of a different size than the one I just mentioned and do the rip cutting as a first step. This will most likely save you some money and it also gives you a bit of flexibility if you want to create blocks with different sizes. It all depends on the tools you have available and on your own imagination.
Cut the blocks
After you have purchased the wood, it is time to cut it into the sizes you want. The sizes are completely up to you but, if you need a bit of inspiration, after explaining the whole process we have added some ideas to get your creative juices going.
In order to cut the blocks properly, measure them one by one, so measuring one and cutting it. Instead of measuring them all at once and then cutting. This way you will avoid potential differences in the sizes of the blocks.
Always be sure to follow the safety measures specified by the manufacture of the tool you are using to cut the blocks. This is the most dangerous part of the process, so be sure to follow the recommendations from the tool manufacturer when going through the process.
Sand the blocks
After all the blocks are cut to the correct sizes, it is time to sand the blocks. We are doing this because these blocks will be used as toys so we don’t want any rough surfaces or splinters that could be a safety hazard for your children.
In order to sand the blocks, we recommend starting with medium sandpaper, with a 60- to 100-grit. After you have finished with that, you can finish it off with fine sandpaper, with a 120- to 220-grit.
The exact grit depends a bit on what you have available at home and how smooth you want the wood to feel and look. We personally like them a bit rough, so we wouldn’t use anything over 120-grit.
It is important that you sand the edges of the blocks in order to make them a bit rounded and soft. This will make them more friendly to the touch and become safer to use for your children. Be sure you have removed all splinters before proceeding to the next step.
If you want your wooden building block toys to keep their natural wood color, you can basically stop here. However, your children might enjoy a bit of color in their toys, so let’s see how we could do that.
Paint the blocks
Once the blocks are cut and sanded, it is time to paint them. For this step, it is very important to pick a non-toxic paint. Why? Because your children will be playing with the blocks and they might lick them or some paint might get on their hands while playing and they could then lick their hands.
By using non-toxic paint, you make sure that they will not consume any toxic substances that could hurt them. There are a lot of options available online, so feel free to browse around, looking for non-toxic and children-safe paint.
One that we like is gel food coloring. This resource explains very well how you can use it.
Basically, you dilute the food coloring into some alcohol. This will make it evaporate faster so there is less chance of the wood getting too wet and damaged.
In order to get different tones for each block, you can start by having different buckets with different primary colors from the set you ordered. Once you have painted one block with each of the primary colors, you can start mixing the colors a bit so you can get slightly different shades for each block.
After the blocks have dried, place them under running water, and scrub them to get out any paint that has not properly fixed on the wood. Doing this now will avoid the paint potentially transferring to your children’s mouth or fingers when they are playing with the toys.
Seal the blocks
After you have painted and scrub the blocks and they have had time to dry again, it is time for the final step, sealing them. This will ensure that the colors become fully fixed and that the wood is protected from external agents such as water or dust.
As with the paint, make sure whichever sealant you use is non-toxic and safe to use on toys. Apply it following the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure it dries out. Once you have finished with this step, you are finished! You can then give these to your children and see how they enjoy playing with their new toy.
Ideas for wooden building block toys
Now that we have seen the whole process for creating your own wooden building block toys, let’s see a few different designs that you can find online.
You can skip this part if you already know what you want to create and just get down to business. If, on the other hand, you are not sure what type of wooden building block toys you should create, here are some ideas.
Katie Cooks and Crafts – DIY Wooden Blocks
Youtuber Katie Cooks and Crafts has this excellent video where she explains her process for creating wooden blocks for her daughter. In this case, she used 1.5×1.5 wood that she found on offer.
Out of two pieces of wood she had, she made twelve cubes that measured 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″. Six rectangles that measured 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 3″. And four rectangles that measured 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 4.5″. This way, her daughter can combine them in any possible way she wants.
The end result is a beautiful set of twenty-two wooden blocks of different colors that we are sure brought a lot of hours of fun to her daughter.
Lee_schnitz – Build Blocks
The next idea is a bit more complex and would require a few more tools than the ones we have mentioned here. This excellent tutorial from lee_schnitz goes through the whole process in a lot of detail and very clearly.
In this case, the creator used a 2 x 4 board instead of 2 x 2. That meant that some rip cutting was needed, but lee_schnitz had the machinery for it. Since the 2 x 2 was really 1.5″ x 3.5″, most of the pieces used the 3.5″ width and the 1.5″ thickness.
These are the dimensions and shapes lee_schnitz used:
- Square – 3.5″ x 3.5″ x 1.5″
- Brick – 7″ x 3.5″ x 1.5″
- Triangle 3.5 “x 3.5″ x 5”
- Square Column 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 3.5″
- Round Column 1.5″D x 3.5″
- Long Bridge 5″ x 1.75″ x 1.5″
- Short Bridge 2.5″ x 3.5″ x 1.5″
If you want to learn how he cut the triangles and the other special pieces, be sure to check his tutorial.
A 58-piece block set from HowStuffWorks
The next idea is this very complete set from HowStuffWorks. This one, as the previous one, includes some special shapes that might be difficult to do if you do not have the right set of tools. However, for those who do, the variety you will achieve with this set is much higher than anything else proposed here.
HowStuffWorks uses for this set a 1 x 2 clear pine stock and a 1-inch wood dowel. Other sizes are also possible. With these sizes, the following are the dimensions and shapes proposed:
- Full-width rectangle: 1.5” x 3.5” (14 pieces)
- Full-width square: 1.5” x 1.5” (14 pieces)
- Half-width rectangle: 0.75” x 3.5” (8 pieces)
- Half-width square: 0.75” x 1.5” (8 pieces)
- Triangle: 1.5” x 3.5” cut diagonally in half (4 pieces)
- Arch: 1.5” x 3.5” with 1-inch-radius at the center of the long edge (2 pieces)
- Round long columns: 1” D x 3.5” (4 pieces)
- Round short columns: 1” D x 1.5” (4 pieces)
If you want to learn a bit more about this idea, check the link to this tutorial above.
Inspire My Play – Pyramid Building Blocks
This awesome tutorial from Inspire My Play is based on the Grimm’s stepped pyramid toy. That toy tends to be very expensive, so Laura from Inspire My Play decided to create something similar on her own.
In this case, she used 5 pieces of 2 x 2 wood, each measuring over 8 feet (2.5 meters). From that, she created the following pieces with different heights, all with the 2 x 2 base and only crosscutting:
- 45mm or 1.75” (36 blocks)
- 90mm or 3.5” (28 blocks)
- 135mm or 5.25” (20 blocks)
- 180mm or 7” (12 blocks)
- 225mm or 8.75” (4 blocks)
This is all surrounded by a box made from 2 x 1 wood and has a sheet of plywood on the bottom. Be sure to check the tutorial above if you are interested in this idea.
Frugal Fun 4 Boys – Super EASY (and Cheap!) DIY Castle Building Blocks
This last idea is a bit different from all the other ones we just talked about, but we found it also interesting so we have added it here. In this case, Sarah from Frugal Fun 4 Boys supplemented the pieces that they cut with some others she found online.
The pieces they cut were out of a 2 x 2 wood and they were only crosscut as follows:
- 4″ long (6 blocks)
- 3″ long (10 blocks)
- 2″ long (3 blocks)
- 1″ long (6 blocks)
She then used a wood-burning tool to “draw” some details on some of the blocks, such as windows, bricks, or tiles. If you want to learn a bit more about her project, be sure to check the link above.
How to make your own plastic building block toys
If instead of using wood, you want to make your own plastic building block toys, then the best process is to do that with a 3-D printer. If you want the full detailed guide for LEGO bricks specifically, be sure to check our post, “How To Print LEGO Bricks Using Your 3-D Printer”. Below you can find a more general guide for all building block toys.
Designing your own building block toys or downloading them
The first step in order to make your own plastic block toys is to design them. Whereas with the wood you simply had to cut the wood board into the size and shape you wanted, with 3-D printing and plastic you need to draw it.
Alternatively, you can just look online for building block toys already designed and use those. Let’s look into each option.
Designing your own plastic building block toys
If you are feeling very creative, you can draw your own building block toys. This will take much longer than simply downloading a file, but it will give you much more flexibility to create whatever you want. For this, you will have a steep learning curve if you have never done something similar.
You will need software that lets you design and create the building block toys. For this, you need to pick a CAD-based program that fits your needs and that can export the file to STL. Examples of this are Fusion 360, OpenSCAD, Tinkercad, or SketchUp (for this last one you will need a plugin to export the file).
Finding your own plastic building block toys
If you don’t have time to create your own blocks, you can look online and find ones already available. You will save a lot of time but will have to work with whatever is available.
This one from lokilaufeysen could be a good starting point.
Printing your own building block toys
Once you have your file in STL, either by downloading a file or creating your own design, it is time to print your building block toys.
If you are printing simple shapes that do not require tight interlocking, there is only one important thing you should be focusing on, the material. However, it is also worth noting several settings that might be important for a successful printing job. Let’s look at each of them.
Materials to print your own building block toys
If you are printing building block toys, your best bet is to use one of the two most common materials for 3-D printing, ABS or PLA.
Print your own building block toys with ABS
The first option is printing your own building block toys with ABS. This is our personal recommendation because ABS has better mechanical properties than PLA and, therefore, the chances of your children breaking the blocks is much lower.
The downside of using ABS is environmental. ABS is a plastic that cannot be recycled easily. As we explain in our post “Recycling LEGO: Possible Or Not?”, ABS (short for Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a plastic that falls onto the category #7 plastics. This category contains the “others” type of plastic and, because of that, they are not easy to recycle and hardly ever accepted in recycling centers.
The other downside is that ABS is very sensitive to temperature changes. So, if you print with ABS in a non-enclosed 3-D printer, you might have some problems with temperature fluctuation or draughts. That could, in turn, affect the quality of your building block toys.
Print your own building block toys with PLA
PLA is the most commonly used material for 3-D printing. So, even though some printers could not support ABS, it would be very hard to find any 3-D printer (FFF, that is) that does not work with PLA. PLA is easier to work with, it has a lower melting point and it is less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than ABS is.
In addition to that, it is made from renewable and natural resources. These are resources such as corn starch, tapioca roots, or sugar cane. This makes PLA a more sustainable option than ABS.
The main downside, as mentioned before, is its mechanical properties. PLA is less resistant and more brittle than ABS is. So, if your children start playing with the building blocks, and they like to throw them around and things like that, they could break the blocks very fast.
If you would like to know a bit more about both of these materials or other options you might want to consider, All3dp has a great resource where it highlights the 25 most popular filaments for 3-D printers. In there, PLA and ABS are highlighted as the first and the second most popular filament.
Settings to print your own building block toys
Once you have decided which material you will be using to print your own building block toys, it is time to move onto the settings.
If you are printing very simple blocks or something with a much higher tolerance than LEGO bricks, this step is not as critical as it is with LEGO bricks. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The layer height is one of the most common settings for your 3-D printer. If you are building LEGO bricks, they have a low tolerance so the accuracy of the bricks you are printing needs to be very high. So, the layer height should be either 0.1mm or 0.2mm.
If you are not printing LEGO bricks and you are printing some simple blocks, the standard layer height will do the trick.
Nozzle & wall thickness
When printing any type of shape, and in order to achieve the best results, it is recommended that the wall thickness of whatever you are printing is the exact multiple of the nozzle diameter of the printer. So, if your nozzle is 0.4mm one of the most common ones) a good size for the walls of your blocks would be 1.6mm, 2mm, or 2.4mm. However, if you have a nozzle of 0.5mm that cannot be adjusted, you might want to have a wall thickness of either 1.5mm, 2mm, or 2.5mm.
Calibrating before printing is always a critical step. The more accuracy you need, the more important this becomes. With LEGO bricks, if you don’t get the first layer right, no matter what the other settings are, your custom bricks will most likely not fit. For other types of building block toys, calibrating is still important for the best results and to avoid having to throw pieces, but it is not that critical.
In both cases, before you start printing, make sure your 3-D printer is calibrated. This resource from All3DP is a great starting point to ensure your 3-D printer is properly calibrated before you start printing your building blocks.
Post-processing your own building block toys
After you have printed your building block toys, it is time to do some post-processing before they can be handed to your kids. Some of the steps may not be necessary depending on the type of block you printed, so just skip as needed.
Removing the supports of your own building block toys
Depending on which type of block you have printed or which type of 3-D printer you have used, you might need to print some supports in order to get the right shape for your blocks. That would be also the case if you have printed the blocks with a brim.
This is the standard procedure for anything you print in your 3-D printer, so we will not expand on that too much here. The only tip worth highlighting is that, if you are printing with ABS, it could be a good idea to give your blocks an acetone bath to smooth them with the acetone vapors. Just remember not to leave it too long, otherwise, you will damage them.
Sanding your plastic building block toys
Once you have taken out the support, it might be a good idea to sand your plastic blocks. This, as it did with the wooden ones, will smooth it out even further, removing any small pieces that have stayed, and that should not be there.
During this time, you should also sand the exterior faces to clean off any burrs. The more accurate and methodical you are during this process, the better your pieces will look.
Painting your plastic building block toys
The last step, if you want to give the blocks a unique color that was not available with the filament or resin, is to paint them.
If you are painting something other than LEGO bricks, you shouldn’t worry too much about the amount of paint you are adding. Just make sure it is uniform for a good appearance.
If you are printing LEGO bricks, though, you do need to be careful. Because of the very tight tolerances, if you put too much paint, the brick might no longer fit with the original ones. As we mentioned in our post “How To Print LEGO Bricks Using Your 3-D Printer”, the best recommendation we have found is to use spray paint and to spray it as lightly as possible. It is better to have to spray each brick twice than spraying too much paint and having to throw a brick.
Once your blocks are painted, it is a matter of leaving them dry and then your children will be able to start enjoying them.
And with this, we have arrived at the end of this post. If you enjoyed this post and would like to know a bit more about building block toys, you can check our post “A Quick History Of Toy Building Blocks”, where we explained all the history of toy building blocks.
You can also check “How many kinds of toy building blocks are there?” where we explain all the different kinds of toy building blocks available. That might give you some more ideas for things you can build on your own.