Giant "Wooden Letter Block" - Toy Box




My 16 month old god daughter lives in a cute Victorian house in the city. While the space has all the modern conveniences it lacks one thing the parents of a little girl needs – Storage!

So when they asked me to make them a toy box to hold her ever growing hoard of toys I searches the internet for inspiration. There were treasure trunks and foot lockers and combination toybox / seating benches… but none inspired me... I then saw some old wooden letter blocks and I thought that would be a great theme... make a giant letter block toy box with her initials on the sides!

Mitre Saw
Cordless Drill
Rotary Sander

3 x 18" X 36" X 3/4" Pine Panels
3 x 3" X 8' X 3/4" Select Pine Board
3 x 2" X 8' X 3/4" Select Pine Board
1 x 12' Quarter Round Molding

1 x Piano Hinge
2 x Fixed Castors
2 x Swivel Castors
1 x "Flap Stay" (from Lee Valley Tools)

Wood Glue
Repositionable Transparent Adhesive Plastic letter sized sheets

Step 1: The Design

Before I made my plans I visited the lumber store to see what kind & size of wood panels were available. They had some great pine panels that were 18" X 36". This was perfect I could have them cut in half in the store are they would be the perfect size for a cube!  Now for planning…

I wanted to make all of the screw holes hidden either on the inside or behind the "Framing". Since I do not have access to a table saw I would have to use butt joints for all of the joints.  On the Blocks I remember as a child - one side would have a thick color border and the next would have a thin line of color. I figured I could use this to my advantage. If my front panel had a 3" trim around it then use 2" trim on the adjoining panel. The side panel would then have a 3/4" "border" along the sides where the front panel butted against it. On the top the lid would create another 3/4" border. By painting the 2" frame and leaving the 3/4" edge unpainted would create the thick color band around the panel.  The attached diagrams should make this more understandable...

Step 2: The Build

Head to the Lumber store and buy the 3 pine panels and have the lumber guy cut 2 of them in half. The other panel will need to be cut to 2 panels of 17" square so that it will fit inside the box as it is the top & bottom panels.

Once home I attached the 4 sides together with staggered but joints, drilling pilot holes & countersinking then gluing and screwing them together 3 screws per edge (Figure 6).

Step 3: Trimming the Panels

To start I cut all the trim pieces from the 2" and 3" pine (based on the sizes in figures 4 & 5). Start with Panel A (figure 4) - place the boards on the box to make sure the fit. Start with the top and make the 2" board flush with the top with 3/4" overhang on both sides. Glue the back of the board and clamp to the box. Screw from the inside of the box with pre-drilled holes and countersink the 3 screws. This will attach the board permanently to the box face and you can now remove the clamps. Repeat for the two side boards and then the bottom board. Remember to put some glue on the ends of the trim board where they but against the previous board. You should have overhangs on each side except the top.

Rotate the box 180 degrees and attach the trim on the other "A" panel repeating the same steps from side 1.  Flip the box 90 degrees and attach the panel "B" trim using the same glue and screw method as above (figure 5). Flip one more time 180 degrees and attach the last panel trim for the main box.

Step 4: Top and Bottom

For the lid, since it fits inside the top of the box you have just created the 3" trim will extend 1  1/2" past the edge of the lid panel (figure 2). As in the previous step start with the top strip, glue and screw it then attach the two side strips and then the bottom piece.  Put the lid aside for the glue to set and turn over the cube to access the bottom. Cut some 2" pine and glue and screw it around the bottom of the pine panels to support the bottom panel. The bottom will be inset so that a small child can access it easier and so that the wheels will be hidden behind the trim (figure 9).  Drop in the bottom panel from the top and glue and screw from the bottom. Once the bottom is securely attached cut 4 - 3" square blocks and attach to each corner as in pictures. These blocks will allow the wheels to be screwed securely to the toy box.

Cut the quarter round molding to line the edges around the bottom of the box and glue it in place. Also cut the molding and run it down the 4 inside corners up to 3/4" from the top. This will help support the weight of the bottom of the lid panel, hide the internal screw holes and also "round" the corners so little toys and crumbs do not get stuck and the toy box is easier to clean. Any screw holes not covered should be filled at this point with wood filler. At this time take your sander and give the complete box a good sanding, especially remember to smooth out the sharp corners. Make sure that the top will fit once the hinge is attached. I had to sand the front and back edge quite a bit so that it did not catch on the lip of the box.

Step 5: The Paint

Since my painting ability is pretty much nil I employ many tricks to make sure I do not screw it up. The first step is to decide on the pattern for the 5 sides (bottom is not painted). I wanted to keep to the theme of the Letter Blocks and personalize it for the little girl so I know 3 sides had to be her initials. The letter blocks usually had letters and pictures on them so on the top I decided on a simple flower and on the back as a play on the parents computer of choice I placed an apple.

I printed off the letters and symbols on letter size paper and placed them in a "Repositionable Transparent Adhesive Plastic" sleeve that I got at an office supply store. With a razor blade I cut out the outline of the letter and then placed it in the center of the first panel. I then taped off everywhere that I did not want painted. On Panel "A" only the inside lip of the trim would be painted. On panel "B" a 2" border and the inside lip is also painted. With the wood taped off paint a coat clear varnish over everything. This is an important trick as it will seal any gaps under the tape and stecil so that the paint will not bleed under, and if some paint does get under it is easily scraped off with a razor blade since it is on top of the varnish.

Once the varnish is dry paint the stencil and trim with a heavy bright paint. I actually used oil based rust paint as the colors were very rich and it was a very thick paint. On my box I used 4 colors Red, Blue, Green & Orange. I was going to use Yellow but could nonot find one that would stand out as much as I wanted on the natural pine box. Once the paint is dry remove the tape and the stencil and move on to the next panel.

Once every side is painted and dry paint the inside white with several thick coats, when the inside is dry varnish the whole box in 3-4 coats of clear varnish.

Step 6: The Hardware

Cut the piano hinge to the size of the box leaving an inch on each side. Screw the hinge to lid and then to the box. Check the fit (I had to sand the back edge a bit more and repaint it as it was catching when it was closed).

Once the hinge is in place attach the "Flap Stay" to the side and the lid. The flap stay is an amazing device it allows the box to be easily opened BUT you can adjust it so that when you let go of the lid it comes down very slowly. I set it at maximum and it takes almost 10 minutes to fully close from full open. There is no way little fingers are going to be slammed in my box! If you want to manually push it closed it also closes very easily.

Screw the two fixed castor wheels on the back two blocks and the swivel castor wheels on the front.

Step 7: In Use...

There is not one thing I would change on this project, it is the first time everything went perfectly and in fact I think it turned out better then even I had imagined. The Toy Box fits perfectly in the window and is even used as a seat for the little lady to watch the street cars go by the window (see my Wooden Street Car Toy instructable)... The box is big enough to hold most of her toys and is guarded by a Empire Penguin so they stay safe! yet it is also small enough that she can reach inside and pull out most of the toys she wants (with only the small ones right at the bottom giving her trouble).



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    10 Discussions

    I love this! I'm at the painting step and I have a couple questions about that. Did you use oil or water based varnish? Did you stick the repositionable plastic right onto the wood? And did you roll, paint, or spray the stencils? Thanks so much - Jill

    1 reply

    I used water based (latex) paint & varnish and I brished on everything. I varnished the whole piece first. Then stuck the plastic to the varnished wood.. then taped it all around with painters tape. I pressed the stencil down as hard as I could to make sure it was stuck... then I varnished over top of it to seal the edges. This helps stop paint from going under the stencil. Then I brushed the color on.

    I did this in my condo.. if I had a workshop I may have sprayed it but it ended up looking really good with the thick coat of brushed on paint.

    I would love to see your when it is finsihed please post a picture!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Avoiding lid crushing is one of two key safety concerns with any toybox. Congrats on taking care of that one (though technically, I believe the spec requires that the lid not move at all when stopped at any position).

    The other concern is suffocation if a child is playing inside with the lid closed. Common examples are hiding there during hide-n-seek or playing there when the lid drifts closed (due to the lid slowly closing since the flap-stay can't completely keep the lid up).

    Air holes can often be designed into the top edges as a bit of styling (i.e.: it's not obvious they're air holes) or as through-handles (again, not obvious they're air holes but they solve the suffocation problem).

    I tried finding the full Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) spec online but it appears to be copyrighted now by ASTM and they charge for it. Years ago, I had a printed copy free from the CPSC that covered all toy safety…very educational for anybody making things kids play with.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    There is no latch on the lid that would lock the lid down. There is also a 3/16 inch gap along three edges of the lid (except the back where the piano hinge is located) the linear distance of the gap is 54" for a total air gap equivalent to a 2" high by 5" long hole. As you can see in the pictures there are pads in the front corners on both the lid and and on the main body of the box to keep the gap even if there is would be some weight on the top. With the size of box and amount of gap I cannot see how suffocation could happen. Also one of the reasons for using pine is the fact that it is a very light wood and just by standing the child would be able to push the lid up.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool! I didn't catch the thickness of the pads earlier. Perfect solution.

    I wasn't worried about the lid latching, just closing without an air gap. You have it well handled. I hope it brings her years of happy play time! :-)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    If you wanted to keep your child inside of the box you would just have to place something heavy on top of it.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    wow those are so cute i think i might make one for a puppet


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    They are under $20 -,41427 best thing for a toy box, especially the size that I built...