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A few friends and family members have been expecting and I decided I wanted to make a custom set of wooden letter blocks to give to them as a gift.  

As a bonus, these blocks are made from the cast-offs from a lumber mill.  They are made from Western Yellow Cedar so smell great and by wood-burning and avoiding paints they are non-toxic.

Step 1: Make Blocks

The yellow cedar I used were materials that were left over from a large order and had sat out in the weather for years.  To bring them back to a nice condition I used my hand planer, belt sander and chop saw to create blocks of wood that were almost two inches square.  I used the thickness of the board to determine the size of the block and honestly found that a little variation was nice to have.  They are not perfectly square but close enough.  

In about an hour I could cut 30 blocks (enough for a few errors) and sand the faces and edges to make them suitable for the next step.

Step 2: Sketch and Burn Designs Onto the Faces

We did Google searches to find images to use or fonts to pattern the blocks out of.  Then lightly sketch those onto the face of the wooden block.  Finally, we used an old tip on my soldering iron to burn the letters and designs into the wood.  This part took the longest by far.  

Step 3: Materials and Tools

For this project you need:
  • Wood.  Try for locally harvested rough-cut lumber that has dried for quite some time.
  • Saw.  A table saw might work but I used my chop saw.  BE CAREFUL!  Use a push stick or clamps to keep your hands away!
  • Sander. Sand faces that you can before cutting to a smaller size and also be careful.
  • A wood burner or soldering iron.
  • Ideas.  I had a hard time coming up with relevant and unique designs for some of the sides so get creative!  

Step 4: Improvements

I have had incredible enthusiasm for the blocks from people that have seen the photos.  It would be really neat and much less labor if I used a laser cutter to burn the images and letters in.  Ideally I could go a step further and allow people to choose fonts and pattern sets on a website and then order their own custom letter blocks as gifts.  The laser would be capable of much more detail so it would be possible to do things like the periodic table, states, countries, road signs, vitamins and minerals... As well as fonts, foreign alphabets, braille, sign language and other ways of teaching other alphabets and symbols.

The sketching and burning by hand usually took me up to an hour per block so this was a fine activity for while watching the Olympics or when a movie or TV show was on that I only wanted to listen to.
Those look fantastic! I especially like the polar bear and the cursive 'B'. Having done some wood burning I can appreciate the HUGE number of hours invested here. Wow. <br> <br>As for a safe finish, you can use mineral oil or butcher block oil both of which are completely non-toxic. Really and finish that is labeled &quot;food safe&quot; shouldn't be a problem.
I hadn't thought of oils like that. I think I have a few cans of linseed oil - I'll do some research and see if that would do the trick. Thanks!
That's a really cute idea! I love how you added in capital letters, lower case, and cursive to help kids recognize letters in all forms. Also, you didn't stain or paint the blocks - that's just how western yellow cedar looks?
Nope... no stain. It was a tossup - with some stain or polyurethane or something they would stay cleaner but with the way kids put everything in their mouth I wanted to stay as non-toxic as possible. If someone has a good suggestion for something that would work I will give it a try though.

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Bio: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!
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