Bibliophile's Baby Gift: Wooden Story Book Blocks




About: Once a mechanical and materials engineer that worked on rockets, I am now a stay-at-home mom to three incredible children. I also teach chess to elementary students after school once a week. I first got ho...

In two weeks, my sister-in-law is having a baby shower for her first baby, a little boy. My sister-in-law loves books, loves reading them, loves holding them, loves smelling them, etc. Anything book related is a great gift for her. I wanted to make something special for her son that would encourage a love of books, but on a different level--a baby's level!

Don't get me wrong, reading books to a child is definitely number one for instilling a love of reading. But sometimes books get thrown or sucked on, or even colored on by toddlers. Instead of having these less-than-perfect books get relegated to the trash bin or thrift store, I found a second life for them as wooden story book blocks--perfect for the bibliophile in your life (who may or may not be having a baby in the near future).

As the baby plays with the wooden blocks, you can talk about each character, or read along with the book, or make up a new story adventure on the spot with the characters. If you chose a nursery rhyme book to make into story blocks, you can recite the nursery rhyme on each side. (I think they sell those commercially, but this version is more economical and reuses books that were going to the trash bin.)

Step 1: Cut and Sand Wooden Blocks

For this project, you will need blank wood blocks. You can make them or buy them pre-made. I found mine at a craft store, 2-inch square blocks sold in groups of four. Sand the faces of the block and round the corners of the block so they aren't so sharp. I used 150-100 sandpaper, and wiped down the blocks to remove the dust afterwards.

Step 2: Procure Used and Damaged Children's Books

Gather up children's books found in the "Free" bin or thrift stores, or books you own that your youngest colored on while the older two distracted you with their fighting--oh sorry, is that just me and my family?

We live near a second-hand book store that has bins of free books that are on their last stop before they are put in the garbage. Thrift stores are also a good place to purchase less-than-perfect books that may get thrown in the dumpster to make room for more inventory.

Step 3: Select and Cut Images From Book Pages

Babies like faces (or so they say), so I first cut out as many character faces as I could find that were the right size to fit in my wood blocks. Then I moved on to cutting out pictures of interesting objects, like pirate flags, etc. I cut each picture 1 3/4 inch on each side, to give a 1/8th inch border around each picture on the face of the block. I thought this would work better for sealing and durability purposes if the picture was not right at the edges of the wood block. I then used a punch tool to round the edges of the picture, usually found at major craft stores in the scrapbooking section.

Step 4: Glue Images to Sides of Wooden Blocks

Using a Modpodge-type glue, either store-bought or your own recipe, paint a thin layer of glue onto the face of the wood block. Position your chosen picture in the center of the block face and put another thin layer of glue over the entire picture and wood side. It will go on cloudy, but it dries clear. I glued the pictures on three neighboring faces of the wood block and let them dry to the touch before moving on to the other faces of the block. I actually alternated between the two blocks--when I was done with three sides on one block, I did three sides on the other block, and then came back to the first block to finish the last three sides, and lastly, finished up the pictures on the second block.

Step 5: Varnish Wooden Blocks

Here's what my research turned up on whether or not to varnish the wooden baby blocks.

"You can use virtually any finish you want, as all fill-forming finishes are non-toxic when fully cured or fully dried, depending on the finish type. What does fully cured vs fully dried mean?

Varnishes, polyurethanes (which is really a varnish), etc. are reactive finishes, which means that there is a true chemical reaction as and after the film is "dry". That's why most application instructions say something like "recoat within 2-4 hours or wait at least 24 hours." After a couple of hours the film is dry enough to handle, but it is not cured. This allows the next coat actually to bond with the previous coat. After a few hours that chemical bonding will not occur or will be very weak, so then you have to wait long enough for the film to dry/cure sufficiently to be scuff sanded without "balling up" and causing a whole range of problems. To be "fully cured" these finishes require up to a few weeks for the chemical reaction of curing to take place. Once fully cured, varnishes are "food safe," hence "baby safe."

Shellac and Lacquer are evaporative finishes, i.e. they dry with no chemical reaction. When an evaporative finish is completely dry it is also completely non-toxic. In fact, shellac is often used as the hard outside coating on candies and pills. The solvent is what causes problems."

I researched that the polyurethane varnish I used needs a good 30 days to cure. The baby is not due for another 3-4 months, and then will not be handling these blocks probably for another 6 months to a year after that. There is plenty of time for these blocks to be cured, and therefore be considered "baby safe" for my new nephew.

I painted two thin coats of varnish on the blocks. Again, I used the "paint three neighboring sides, switch blocks, paint three neighboring sides, switch blocks, paint three neighboring sides, etc." pattern, only this time it required more than just a few minutes between switching blocks before you can handle the varnished sides.

Step 6: Package for Bibliophile's Baby Shower

It feels good to give these damaged books new life as wooden story blocks. I hope the spirit behind this project shows that ruined books can take on a new form and purpose, even if they are not "read" in the traditional way again. After all, a bibliophile loves books--both for reading and the tactile and visual appeal of it. It would make sense that they would also love to see a book transformed and reused, instead discarding to the landfill.

P.S. These are only the first two out of twelve plus blocks that I want to give to my sister-in-law. I will post pictures of the packaged completed set when I get done with the other blocks. I have a nursery rhyme book, some Cat-in-the-Hat books, and an awesome foreign language children's book that are waiting for their turn as story blocks. I wanted to get this instructable published before winter break was up and the craziness of school started again. Thanks for reading!



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    6 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I'm having a tough time finding a seal that is non toxic. Any advice?


    3 years ago

    love this! I can't wait to make these soon! also, love the idea about what to have for dinner :)


    4 years ago

    Really great instructable! I can't help wondering about using this technique for grown ups. " don't know where to go out to eat?" Roll this die! (Magazine photos of Mexican, Thai, etc). Great instructable!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Haha! Thanks! Yeah, I would definitely find a use for that food die, I can never figure out what I am hungry for--having it decide for me would save so much time.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Just a couple of suggestions:

    I found that using a shop vac (or a home one for that matter) after sanding gets all the fine dust left in the grain of the wood out. If your rag is even a little bit damp it can raise the grain and then you will have to sand them again. But the vacuum cleans out everything without any problems.

    And , I am not sure how you are doing your sanding but with small square blocks like this a way to make the job easier is to take a full sheet of sand paper and tape it to a flat work surface and then rub the blocks over it rather than try to rub the paper against the blocks. I have even used my belt sander with it turned off for this. Just rub the wood against it so you get fine results without removing to much of the surface.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for your suggestions--this is great information for people to know. I didn't use a sheet of sandpaper for sanding. I held a random orbit sander in one hand, while I moved the block around with the other. It had a vacuum on it and you are right, there wasn't much dust to remove afterwards. Unfortunately, I didn't have a sticky towel on hand, so I just used a normal dry one. Your information about not using a wet towel is spot on--thank you!