Best Wood Finishes for Children’s Toys

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With small children at home, you need to be on your guard about their safety round the clock. Accidents will happen even at the best of times. Small children tend to put everything into their mouths. Like in our post that features the best wood for children’s toys, we also need to consider the type of finish we use.

In this post, we discuss the requirements for suitable finishes for wooden children’s toys. Children of all ages will put their toys in their mouths at some time or the other. So, we start by discussing which wood finishes we should NOT use and then highlight those safe for children.

Best Wood Finishes for Children’s Toys

We prefer to finish wood with varnish, oil, paint, or some protective coating that will also enhance the appearance of the wood. But with children’s toys, you need to be careful to avoid toxic substances in the wood and the finish.

Parents worry about their children’s safety and the toys that they use. Some cases of children getting contaminated by lead paint on their toys occurred in the fifties and sixties. During that period, there was ignorance about the dangers of lead.

Today, there is a lot of awareness. However, as a woodworker, you need to know what not to use and what you can to prevent problems later on. Let’s first start with what you should NOT use on children’s toys.

Finishes That You Should NOT Use for Children’s Toys

One of the considerations for using materials and finishes for children’s toys is the probability of them putting everything in their mouths. Therefore, you need to take extra precautions while applying a finish to toys meant for very small children. However, when children are out of the stage of taste testing everything they touch, you can be a bit more lenient.

Vegetable Oils

Image Credit: Rasbak via Creative Commons

You may be surprised that a seemingly edible finish can be potentially hazardous. The reason here is that vegetable oils can become rancid and toxic. It is why you cannot use vegetable oils in a finish for children’s toys.

Lead Paint

Nowadays, lead paint has been banned in most countries. But certain rogue companies are ready to disregard laws and endanger human lives for a few extra bucks. If you are in doubt about the paint you have, you can avail of lead paint test kits which are readily available commercially to ensure the safety of your paint.

Uncured Finishes

If a finish has not cured completely, it can be hazardous. The coating will still be soft and tacky, which enables a child to chew it off easily. So, even though a finish might be dry to the touch, it may not be completely cured.

For a finish to be completely cured, the entire coating needs to become hard. Therefore, pay careful attention to the curing times and only hand over your finished product once you are sure that the finish has completely cured.

Treated Wood

There is a huge variety of treated wood flooding the market today. Therefore, you will most likely get some in your woodworking workshop. However, you should avoid using this material for making children’s toys as it can contain hazardous substances used in the manufacturing process.

Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO)

On its own, linseed oil may not be toxic as it is a vegetable extract from flaxseeds. But linseed oil doesn’t cure unless we mix some additives to the oil, which can be toxic. So, we avoid using boiled linseed oil for finishing children’s toys.

Best Wood Finishes for Children’s Toys

Children playing with blocks on the floor

Let’s get into the heart of the matter. There are quite a few wood finishes that are safe for use on children’s toys. Here are the main ones that come to mind:

Clear Finish

Despite various finishes that you can use on children’s toys, the first option you should consider is a clear finish. By using a clear finish, you can show the natural beauty of the wood.

First, sand it down to a fine smoothness, preferably showing the grain pattern. Now, if you apply a clear finish over the surface of the wood, you can retain the original color, prevent staining and avoid the possibility of wood allergies.

Clear finishes are further subdivided into penetrating oil finishes, wax finishes, and resin finishes. Here are the details of each one:

Penetrating Oil finishes

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil, unlike vegetable oil, does not contain organic substances that can cause the oil to go rancid. It is one of the ingredients that make up baby oil. In addition, mineral oil is easily available and inexpensive.

We consider mineral oil as food-safe and use it to season cutting boards to prevent them from cracking. The disadvantage of using mineral oil is that it will not form a hard film on drying, so you may have to add a wax topcoat.

Raw Linseed Oil

This oil, also known as cold-pressed flaxseed oil, is extracted from flax seeds. The oil will set with a warm, amber hue, but it dries very slowly and will not harden on drying. Therefore, you need to apply raw linseed oil extremely thinly and allow a lot of time to dry between successive coats.

We call the process of heating linseed oil and vacuum treating it as polymerization. Linseed oil that undergoes this process is considered to be “polymerized.” It has a higher level of viscosity, and the drying time gets greatly reduced.

Although you can use polymerized linseed oil on children’s toys, read the label carefully to confirm that it is non-toxic.

The difference between polymerized linseed oil and boiled linseed oil (BLO) is that boiled linseed oil contains “drier” chemicals to reduce the drying time further. But drier chemicals are typically toxic, so you need to avoid BLO, as we mentioned above.

Hard Surface Forming Oil Finishes

You can thin down tung oil with an organic solvent like a citrus solvent. However, read the label carefully before buying tung oil that you intend to use on children’s toys. Some of them may contain harmful additives.

Wax Finishes

We use beeswax or carnauba wax to apply polish to children’s toys. These waxes may contain other oils. All the ingredients are normally organic and food-safe, but it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients.

Resin Finishes

Resins come as synthetic and natural substances. Examples of resins are polyurethane, lacquer, shellac, and epoxy. These are compounds that may not set on their own without the help of additives. Here again, you need to check the labels.


If you make wooden children’s toys as an amateur or a professional, you need to consider applying a finish on them. Be mindful that even if you produce toys to donate to a charitable organization, they may hesitate to accept the toys unless you can prove that the finish is non-toxic.

We have learned here that even if you use suitable wood, you also have to use suitable finishes for children’s toys. So choose your finish carefully and share your beautiful creations with children.