Introduction: DIY Whale Wooden Baby Rattle

About: Hi, I'm Brian. My goal is to make fine woodworking — and especially Japanese kumiko woodworking — accessible and fun.

There's nothing better to give as a gift to new parents than something that is handmade. And a wooden rattle like this amps the impressiveness to 11 — even though it's super-easy to make one! In this Instructable I'll show you how easy it is to make one.

First things first: I'm going to outline the steps here, but I have detailed plans with measurements available here: You'll see that this is another take on a whale form — the plans I have available are for a killer whale, but you can absolutely modify the pattern to suit your own needs.

You'll also see in my video that the first steps for me are milling the lumber I'm using. However, you absolutely can skip this step with pre-milled lumber from Home Depot, Lowes, or another lumber supplier — so don't feel like that's a mandatory step. My scraps just happen to be rough and needed milling.



Bike City Woodworks Killer Whale Plans:

12" x 7" x 1" hardwood (I used maple, but you can use anything)

Walrus Oil cutting board oil

Walrus Oil cutting board wax

Sandpaper (80, 120, 220 grit)


Drill bit set

2" Hole saw

Four-in-hand rasp

Japanese pull saw

Step 1: Attach the Pattern to the Workpiece

After printing the full-size pattern from the plans, separate Template A and Template B with a utility knife or scissors. Then, using a common glue stick, attach the pattern to the workpiece. Make sure to get good coverage where the pattern's edges are — you don't want them lifting up and away from the workpiece during the process of making it.

Step 2: Drill the Holes

Dowel Through-Hole
Use a 1/4" bit to drill a through-hole in the edge of Template A for the dowel. You'll see I actually did this after I cut out the shape, which was a mistake.

Note: Your drill bit may not be able to go all the way through the shape, so you can drill it from both sides toward the center.

Center Hole

Use the 2" hole saw to cut the center hole. You will get more consistent results with a drill press, but it's not strictly necessary.

Bead Through-Hole

Drill a through hole in the edge of the bead while it's still square using a 5/16" drill bit.

Note: Don't skip drilling now, as it will be much easier to drill while all the pieces are still rectangular.

Step 3: Cut Out the Shapes Along the Pattern Lines

Use whatever you've got to cut the shapes out along the pattern lines. I used a band saw as you can see, but you can use a jigsaw, a coping saw, or even a hand saw (with a lot of relief cuts). In any case, make sure you stay to the outside of the line about 1/8" so you can do final shaping to the line with sanding and a rasp.

Step 4: Sand Back to the Lines

Clean up the edges with sandpaper and a rasp, bringing the final shape to the pattern lines. Don't worry about getting it smooth yet — this is just the shaping step.

And please don't worry if you go over the line in some areas. The outside lines are just for aesthetics.

Step 5: Round Over the Edges

Babies and their parents don't like sharp corners on baby toys, so round them over. I've used a router bit for this part of the process, but it's easy enough to do with a rasp or sandpaper. Make sure you get the inside edges as well as the outside edges.

Step 6: Sand to a Smooth Finish

Now's the time to sand up to 220-grit to remove the template, get a smooth finish. Bonus points if you raise the grain at this point too.

To raise the grain, wet the rattle lightly all over and let it dry. This will raise the fibers of the grain, giving it a slightly rough texture again. Sand it down with 220-grit. This process will prevent the grain from becoming raised again after the new parents wash the rattle.

Step 7: Install the Dowel

Cut ta length of dowel about 1" longer than it needs to be to go through the body of the rattle. Then, cut a 3/4" long notch in both ends (see photo), which will each accept a wedge.

To make the wedge, cut a thin piece of hardwood and sand/plane/cut them into a wedge shape. The wedge should be no more than 1/8" thick at its thickest.

Put some waterproof wood glue into the holes for the dowel and push the dowel through. Make sure you put the bead on after you've threaded the dowel through one side.

Add some glue to the wedges and tap them into the notches you've made in the end of the dowel to secure the dowel. Once the glue dries, you can flush-cut the wedge and dowel to the body of the rattle with a hand saw, then sand it smooth.

Step 8: Finish the Rattle

Remember how new parents and newborns don't like sharp-cornered rattles? Well, they also don't like toxic finishes either, because there's about a 110% chance your rattle's going in baby's mouth.

For this reason, you need to finish with a food-safe finish. The least expensive option would be a food-grade mineral oil, and there are a number of other options as well. I use Walrus Oil, which is my go-to for cutting boards and wooden toys. And because oil isn't a protective coating (it's just there to moisturize the wood), I top it with Walrus Oil's wood wax, which hardens to a mildly protective shell.

Here are the steps I'd recommend for finishing:

  1. Wipe off any sanding dust from the rattle and bead.
  2. Prop up the rattle on some wood or other items to keep it off of the surface, and put paper or cloth down under it to protect from messes.
  3. Pour about a teaspoon of oil onto the rattle, and wipe it in with either a paper towel or a clean cloth. Continue to wipe the oil (adding more if necessary) to cover the entire rattle. Don't forget to coat the bead as well.
  4. Let the first coat soak in and dry for 15-30 minutes.
  5. Add another coat of oil, repeating steps 3 and 4.
  6. Add a third coat of oil, repeating steps 3 and 4. If, after the third coat, you see pooling oil, your rattle is saturated. Wipe off the pooling oil with a rag, let dry for a bit longer, and move on to step 8.
  7. If you don't see pooling oil, repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have pools of oil remaining (they can be minor)
  8. Coat the rattle with a liberal coat of wood wax (buffing off according to the instructions).

Then, the rattle is done and ready for a newborn's hands!