I just finished up my first real foray into a new project... wooden toy making! My love for wooden figures, animals, trees, etc. is unbounded. They are so beautiful... to hold... to play with... to inspire the imagination. So, naturally, I gave making them a whirl. Below is a brief guide, along with plenty of commentary, for how I went about it. Not an official tutorial, but certainly enough to get you started should you find yourself with a similar I-need-to-make-wooden-toys bee in your bonnet.
I began by free hand drawing some tree and squirrel silhouettes. I found that a quick Google image search for "tree shapes" yielded some nice generic drawings which helped me picture some basic tree shapes, or tree architecture (a term I picked up while browsing these sites and now love), from which to begin drawing. I traced the shapes onto a piece of inch thick poplar (found in the scrap bin at the lumber store, hooray!) and cut them on my scroll saw (a gift I received last Christmas in anticipation of actually doing a project like this). (Rumor has it you can use a hand coping saw as well if you don't have access to a scroll saw.) After the figures were cut, I used a combination of Dremmel sander and sand paper to soften the edges of the shapes.
Next step was painting. There are several choices for painting wood toys... watercolors, acrylics, milk paint, food colorings... the key is to look for AP non-toxic certification. I used watercolors.
I have painted wood pieces with watercolors in the past and found that even with a sealing coat of polish, they seem to sometimes bleed a bit. So, this time around, I tried a new approach. I painted the trees with a fairly thick coat of watercolor and then let them dry completely. Once dry, I used a clean rag damped with water to lift off a layer of the paint, leaving a nice wash without extra paint residue. The photo below on the left shows a tree after its initial painting, and on the right, after I'd wiped it down with the damp cloth. This also took care of any drip spots and evened things out overall.
Again, I waited for the pieces to be completely dry. Sometimes the watercolors raise the grain of the wood enough that a light sanding with very fine sandpaper is called for here, but I found my trees remained smooth enough for my liking so we went ahead without further sanding.
A small helper (with paint on her nose from her own projects of today) helped me polish the pieces. We used beeswax polish, or "bee polish" as Ada calls it, and buffed them up with flannel rags.
Can we talk about how beautiful this is with its polished glow?
And here they are.
And together, set up on the nature table...