We have a lot McDonald's Happy Meal Toys that end up in the toy cabinet or in miscellaneous drawers around the house. We usually collect them and then donate them. But instead of donating them I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could upcycle them in to new and useful objects. So I headed to my shop and started building. I ended up making three different things: phone stands; a lamp and video game book ends. All of the projects were fairly easy and could be completely entirely or partially by a young child with adult supervision. I like to call these simple builds "gateway" builds because they open the path for kids to get in to the shop and make stuff. Stuff that they will actually like and use. I've noticed with my kids if they build something like a bird house their interest drops quickly and I usually end up finishing it. But whenever they make something they will use they stick with the project until the end.
I don't have a material list because I just used whatever I had on hand. The chances that you will have the same exact toys and scrap materials on hand are probably fairly slim. With that said I hope this Instructable will inspire you to come up with different ways to upcycle your own Happy Meal toys.
The first items I made were simple phone stands. I had a scrap piece of 1 inch thick white oak that was 4 inches wide. I measured and cut a piece that was about 16-1/2 inches long. I figured I wanted each stand to be about 4 inches by 4 inches so I gave my self a little extra length. This board was already pretty smooth so I didn't have to do much prep or sanding to it.
I needed to make a groove for the phone to rest in so I ran the pieces through my table saw with the blade set at about a 1/4 inch height. Then I titled the blade to 45 degrees and ran the piece through again making the slanted groove. I suggest running a test piece through for these cuts just to make sure you have everything lined up before cutting the final piece. The last picture shows the groove I was trying to make.
I did a little sanding to smooth out the groove. Then I measured 4 inches and marked a line. I grabbed one of the minion toys and placed him in the center. I didn't measure this I just eyeballed it. Then I took a sharp pencil and traced the perimeter of his feet. (side note: I used this same method for all the other phone stands I made.)
Then using my rotary tool I carved out the area I previously had traced. Once I was happy with the depth I checked it for fit and made any adjustments that were needed. Once the carving was complete I sanded the area to clean it up.
Next I used my table saw sled to make the cut. I sanded and rounded off all the edges up to 220 grit by hand. I wanted to add a finish to the piece, but I needed to keep the carved area clean for the adhesive, so I masked off the carved area with some painters tape. I used a razor blade to remove any excess tape then applied the finish. When the finish was dry I removed the blue painters tape.
To adhere the toy to the wood I mixed up some 5 minute epoxy. When applying the epoxy I tried not to over fill the cavity as to minimize the clean up required. Since I didn't have a way to clamp this I used a piece of painters tape to make sure the figure stayed in place until the epoxy cured.
The next piece I made was a lamp using several plush animals. I cut off all the tags and stacked them up to get a reference for how long or rather how tall the lamp was going to be once assembled.
Next I cut a slit in the top and bottom of each of the figures that was large enough to accept a brass tube. This brass tube was from a set of fireplace tools it has a 3/8 inch inside diameter. I stacked all the toys on to the brass tube to get an idea of what it was going to look like.
This is a lamp kit that I had on another project that I didn't like so I took it off and used it for this project instead. If you get a lamp kit from the hardware store it will come with instructions on how to properly wire it. I also realized that the tube was slightly oversized to receive the threaded rod from the lamp kit. So I crimped the ends of the brass tube so that the threaded rods would fit snugly inside. Next I mixed up some more 5 minute epoxy and glued the threaded rods in place. (TOP TIP: Before glueing the second threaded rod in place run your lamp cord through the tube then glue the second threaded rod on to the brass tube otherwise fishing the lamp cord through the tube will be a pain in the neck)
For the base I used a piece of leftover Oak table top from my scrap bin, it kind of looks like a butcher block. I drew out a pill shape that I thought would work with the look of the lamp. I cut out the rough shape with my jigsaw and sanded it up to 220 grit.
To secure the lamp to the base I used a drill bit that was a slightly smaller diameter than the threaded rod to drill a hole in the center of the base. I used a spare threaded rod to make the threads in the lamp base. I just screwed it on and unscrewed by hand. This wood is oak and pretty hard so it took to threading well. Then I sprayed a few coats of shellac on the piece to protect it.
Before assembling the lamp I stuck on some small plastic feet (bump stops for cabinets) to the bottom of the base to give it some height. I needed the height so that the cord would not make the lamp lopsided, this way the cord had room to sit under the base. Next I began the assembly by screwing on the brass rod to the base by hand.
Then I start stacking the stuffed animals on to the tube. I ended up making the lamp shorter than I had originally planned because it looked better with the lamp shade I used. The lamp shade came from an old lamp my daughter no longer used. (I do not list the instructions on how to wire the lamp kit I highly suggest you read and follow the instructions on the lamp kit you purchase as wiring can vary from country to country.)
The next piece I made was a set of video game bookends. This is probably the easiest of the projects. I had a piece of scrap mystery wood that I had purchased from a hardwood dealer some time ago. I measured and cut a 6 inch piece. Then I measured and cut a 7-1/2 inch piece. Once cut I placed the 7-1/2 piece on top of the 6 inch piece to see if I had a nice 90 degree angle.
I thought the piece looked too wide so I cut them in half. Ideally I would have done this first but I was designing as I went along. So now I had a total of 4 pieces. Two at 6 inches and two at 7-1/2 inches long. Next I glued them the 7-1/2 inch piece to the 6 inch piece and used my nail gun and a couple of brad nails to secure the pieces. Then I repeated the process for the other bookend and set them aside for the glue to dry.
This was a Happy Meal toy that was part of a Super Mario promotion. It had a little tab on the back that I cut off with my trim saw. I had to remove the tab so that the pieces would sit flush on the bookends.
Next I did a quick mock up and again mixed up some 5 minute epoxy and glued the pieces in place. I didn't have a good way to clamp these so I used some masking tape to secure the pieces in place. I set them aside and let the epoxy cure.
My kids didn't help me with these projects but when I showed them the finished pieces I got the seal of approval for all of them. They were all a hit.
I hope this Instructable gets your imagination going and inspires you to upcycle some of your own McDonald's Happy Meal toys or just any toys that have gone ignored.
I will be entering this Instructable in the Epilog Contest if you feel I deserve a vote please do me the favor and vote. Thank you!