When we think of children’s toys, mostly plastic toys come to mind. Over the years, toymakers made extensive use of plastic because it is such a versatile and cost-effective material. In the last couple of decades, plastic has come under the scanner for all the wrong reasons. It sometimes contains toxic chemicals, and some grades of plastic have been claimed to be carcinogenic.
An alternative to plastic is wood, and as a woodworker, this aspect of woodworking should pique your interest. Making wooden toys for children can fetch you a lot of fun and satisfaction. And, above all, making wooden toys will reduce the plastic footprint that is covering the globe.
This post looks at the best wood for children’s toys and the precautions to take while manufacturing them. We also consider making toys from softwood, hardwood, and engineered wood like medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and plywood.
Deciding which type of material we should use for children’s toys is an important step to take. Even if you use wood, you will be choosing a particular kind of wood that one kid will be passing around to all the other kids. So, your wood had better be safe!
Best Wood for Children’s Toys
If you are going to make toys for children, you have the choice of using softwoods, hardwoods, or engineered wood. Let’s consider each category:
Softwoods for Children’s Toys
Softwoods come from conifers like pine, spruce, fir, cedar, and redwood. The trees have needle-like leaves, and the wood is soft but cheap and sustainable. However, softwood is more likely to dent or splinter and can easily get damaged by water. This wood is eco-friendly, and although safe for children, it doesn’t have the durability and longevity of hardwoods.
The Engineered Wood Option for Children’s Toys
Engineered wood like MDF or plywood is versatile enough to make children’s toys but be warned that they can be loaded with chemicals used in the manufacturing process. MDF, for instance, contains formaldehyde, a substance known to be a carcinogen.
Although it has a level of toxins that would make it unsuitable to contact children, if sealed and finished properly, MDF can be rendered safe.
In the end, when it comes to manufactured wood like MDF or plywood, you would have to use your discretion. You can get the wood manufacturers’ relevant information, as the manufacturing process will vary from one producer to another.
With all of the above information in mind and the fact that MDF doesn’t resist water well, it would be prudent to stick to hardwoods for making children’s toys.
Hardwoods for Children’s Toys
The most robust option for making children’s toys is hardwood. Woods such as beech, birch, walnut, ash, maple, oak, and poplar all serve children’s toys well. Hardwoods are longer-lasting, denser, and are less likely to splinter, dent, or give in to wear and tear.
Hardwood toys can be handed down from generation to generation if looked after adequately. Let’s take a closer look at some of the hardwoods that we use to make children’s toys:
Maple is the first choice of wood for making children’s toys. Sugar maple, also known as hard maple, is the wood from which we extract maple syrup. Hence, it is a naturally-safe wood. Also, maple is a dense but durable wood that does not splinter easily and can be put in an infant’s mouth, which is what they tend to do. Maple is a hypoallergenic substance.
Another suitable wood to use for making children’s toys is birch. We use this wood to make musical instruments, so it would be good for making toy instruments like toy guitars, xylophones, and drums for children to play with. Birch is not very hard, and you will find it easy to work with. It also exhibits a reasonable resistance to water and moisture.
Fruit woods and those that come from nut-bearing trees like walnut all come under the food-grade category of woods. Whenever we make wooden toys for children, especially infants, we need to keep in mind that they tend to put everything in their mouths. Hence, toys for very small children and infants should be 100% non-toxic, such as walnut wood.
Ash plays a prominent role in furniture making, flooring, construction, and sports equipment like baseball bats, oars, and hockey sticks. Woodworkers prefer this wood as it is tough, and less likely to splinter, an important wood property for making children’s toys. Untreated, ash is also non-toxic and tasteless, which makes it a good candidate for kitchenware, and also making it suitable for children’s toys.
Poplar is a less prominent type of wood. It doesn’t possess any of the special properties of the woods that we mentioned above. But it is a tough and durable wood, popularly used for making furniture and packing boxes and crates. Poplar doesn’t splinter easily and is easy to turn and carve. These properties make poplar suitable for making children’s toys.
Although there are about 600 species of oak, the common factors for this wood are strength, heaviness, and durability. Oak has a smooth texture with a low risk of splintering or cracking. The fact that we use this wood to make whiskey barrels bears testimony to its non-toxicity. Consider all these factors, and you’ve got another suitable wood for making children’s toys.
Beech is a relatively soft hardwood but is easy enough to make the intricate shapes and sized that go into wooden toymaking. However, it is a durable type of wood and low on toxicity. Beech nuts are bitter but edible to humans but irresistible to squirrels!
Beech chips are among the ingredients that go into making beer. We can therefore conclude that there aren’t any toxins in beech wood contributing to another factor that makes it suitable for children’s toys.
Wooden toys will always be popular. Even adults sometimes indulge themselves in collecting particular varieties of wooden toys. Although you aren’t likely to see them advertised much, wooden toys beat plastic and flashy electronic toys any day. New plastic toys enter the market every day only to be discarded shortly as they soon wear out or go out of fashion.
There’s no knowing what chemicals plastic toys contain. But, wooden toys, especially those made of hardwood, are the least toxic and significantly durable.
And, finally, wooden toys are the most eco-friendly option. So, as a woodworker, dedicate some of your time and effort to making wooden toys for children. Satisfaction guaranteed!