30 December 2011

Handmade Holiday: Woodworking

The holidays are over! I have a little time to sit down and relax now. Over the last month and a half or so, every moment I could eek out has been spent on gift making. I swear again, as I do every year, next year I am going to start so much earlier! Time enough to complete projects at an easy pace, possibly even with time enough to find a few moments at the computer here and there. Now I can share the things I have been labouring over.

I had completely different plans for every child on my list up until I suddenly acquired a scroll saw. I am so excited about it! I haven't used one since... well, 6th grade shop? So it was a bit of an adventure, and very much a learning experience.

As a trial, I first cut this little tree you see above. It was 100% an experiment, just to get the hang of the saw and to try out watercolour paint on the poplar wood I was using. It is unsanded, and the entire thing, birds and apples included, I cut free-form with the saw without so much as sketching anything out on the wood. They could definitely be nicer. I used our Dremel to round out the edges, and did quite a hack job, especially around the pop-out objects. Despite all this, the toy was snatched away the moment I finally agreed it was dry, and has been played with since. This gave me hope for the toys I was actually going to try on!

For my next project, which was for my 3 year old niece, I ran with the same tree / puzzle idea and made this owl set. This time, I took the wood burner to it and added more details. I have only a wide, flat edged tip for my wood burning tool and found trying to make small marks, or most especially the circles for the eyes, very difficult. I am definitely going to find myself some different tips, but the stores I tried at didn't carry them, and I didn't have time to order anything online. So I could be happier with this set, but I still felt like it came out okay.

I followed that with a teether for her baby sister, which I made from scrap cherry. My photos do not do the wood justice, it is so, so very smooth and soft, and after I oiled it the wood positively shone.

I sewed a little leash for the teether as well, with velcro closures so that it can be used on other toys.

For one of my four year old nephews I made a space set. By this time I was better understanding how to shape the wood, and starting to have fun going to town with the wood burner. I looked at a handful of astronaut pictures, and tried to make his suit more simplified, but still reflective of the real deal. The alien has got a butt, because... come on, what little kid doesn't love a butt? My apologies for the backdrop in the following pictures, I was in quite a hurry and just grabbed a piece of fabric out of my cloth bin, I did not take the time for lint removal. ;)

My 7 year old niece was a little tricky. I'm not sure how much toy play she does anymore, so I decided to go with something that could be for either play or simply decoration. I made her a set of rainbow gnomes a couple years ago, so a stacking rainbow (I hope) can either be displayed with them, or be played with together.

It was about at this point that I realized I should be using a wood cutting tool on the Dremel to shape my figures, rather than the sanding attachments I had been using to slowly grind things down. How did I not realize this? I have no idea, but I feel rather daft. Things got easier after that, as you can imagine, and I made this unicorn for my other four year old nephew. The cutting tools I picked up made it possible to separate the ears, make a horn, narrow the nose, and give the body itself more shape, things I couldn't really do with the sanding tools.

For the unicorn's mane, I drilled a series of small holes down the back of its neck and used non-toxic wood glue and a toothpick to insert short lengths of yarn nice and deep, two of each colour. Once the glue had set, I combed through the yarn to separate out the individual strands and make it look more like hair.

For my horse loving 13 year old niece, I made a horse as closely resembling hers as I could manage. It is intended to hang on the wall. I burned her horse's name into the side, and made her mane little nubs like my niece likes to do her horse's hair up for shows. To the back, I attached hanging hardware, and two brass chains. I finished a dowel rod and screwed two hooks into it to attach to the chains, so that she would be able to use it to hang things from.

I had fun attempting to add details like hints at muscle structures, and recessing the back legs.

I finished all of the toys in non-toxic paints. For the most part I used watercolours, I love the way the grain of the wood comes through it. There are a few exceptions, such as the astronaut and some small details here and there, which I watered down acrylics for. (I had no safe "white" watercolour paint.) I sealed them all with olive oil, aside from the horse at the end here, which is not a toy and I felt safe using wood stain and sealer on.

It makes me so happy to be able to give all the children toys that I made especially for them, and I hope they are enjoyed. I enjoyed making them... At least, aside from the insane amounts of sanding, anyway! I really did warm up to working with wood though, I am so excited to have the scroll saw to use. I feel like I learned so very much in just this batch of toys, and I am really looking forward to making more... At a more leisurely pace!

Next wood project is a doll house for Miss Kaia's birthday... that will be a new experience entirely, as well, so I am keeping my fingers crossed and cutting and taping myself together a big cardboard model. More on that later, though, I still have the rest of my handmade holiday gifts to share, and plenty of time to get a doll house done. Okay, actually I have just over a month, but after everything I have crammed into the last handful of weeks, that seems like a dream! 

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.


  1. wooooowwww! i'm amazed--those are awesome1!

  2. Incredible!! And I wish for even half of your talent and bravery in working with the scroll saw. I would be quaking, trying to make such tiny cuts!

    Wow - beautifully done!

  3. Amazing toys!!! I can't say enough how wonderfully these turned out! What lucky children, that unicorn is stunning, and the Space set looks like something my nephew would absolutely love. Great Work!!

  4. I adore your woodworking! How clever are you!

  5. Your creations are absolutely amazing! You have some lucky kiddo's!!

  6. Thank you so much, everyone!

  7. OK, i just found your blog thru the artful parent. I thought I would just bum around for a bit. However, my mouth is still open in amazement at your woodworking skills! Very impressive- I will be here for awhile it looks like :)

  8. Ohhh, you guys are melting my heart. <3 You should give it a try, it is not as hard as I feared it would be.

    I will reiterate, my only previous experience is on a jigsaw in middle school, some 16 years ago or so. I had never before used a scroll saw, and the only thing I had ever woodburned before was my daughter's name on a plaque that hangs over her bed.

    These were my very first projects, I am sure you can all do it if you have the tools available to you!* Once you sketch out your design on the wood, it is really only following the lines, and you could always use a template for that if you're not confidant drawing.

    *Speaking of which, I found my wood burning tool in a kids woodworking kit at the thrift store for $2, you never know what you might find! New, they are still only around $13 at the hardware store, and you get an assortment of tips to boot.

  9. Oh Juise! stunning! I got a scroll saw for Christmas and I am itching to get making stuff...I am Sooo inspired by your talent, thank you for taking the time to share their beauty and your skill!


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