Make your kiddos a set of outdoor building blocks, using nothing more than the ubiquitous wooden pallet.
You don’t always want your kids to play with their nice building blocks outside. Sure, outdoor play is great for minds and bodies, but their building blocks will get dirty, rained on, lost, and run over by the car, and then what will they play with inside?
Instead of subjecting heirlooms to the elements, then, make your kiddos a set of outdoor building blocks using nothing more than the ubiquitous wooden pallet. These blocks require a bit of time sanding them down, BUT they’re totally free to make, your kids can play with them however they’d like without worry, and the set is infinitely expanding.
Here’s what you’ll need:
wooden pallets. You can make a set big enough to get your kid started from a single pallet, but I tend to add to their set using the remnants of whatever pallet I’ve just pulled apart for other projects–it’s fun to get new toys! Look for pallets with the HT stamp that shows that they’ve been heat-treated, and look for the ones that have wooden cubes to connect the base to the top–those wooden cubes are absolutely essential building blocks!
demolition saw. Here’s how to break down a wooden pallet for reuse.
hammer, pliers, and/or Dremel with a cut-off blade. You won’t want any nail bits sticking out of your blocks.
sandpaper. LOTS of sandpaper! I use my palm sander for this.
1. Take apart your pallet. Any method will work for this, as long as you remember that we can’t have any sticky-outy nail bits in children’s building blocks!
I use a demolition blade to deconstruct my pallets, and that DOES result in a lot of sticky-outy nail bits, which I deal with by either pounding them flush with the wood using a hammer, or grabbing them with pliers and pulling them out.
2. Cut off any bad parts. Pallets aren’t made from the best pieces of wood, so you’ll find that some planks are split, or that nail bits just can’t be worked around. Simply cut those pieces out–you want your building blocks set to have planks of different sizes, anyway, and this is a great way to make it happen.
3. Sand, sand, sand! The key to upcycling pallet wood, especially if it’s going to be used by children, is to sand the wood down to a new, clean surface. That way, you don’t have to worry about where this particular pallet has been.
I’m sorry to tell you that this process is time-consuming, and also that you can’t indulge in my own personal favorite accompaniment to tedious work–Gilmore Girls on Netflix–unless you’re sanding manually, and that’s going to take so long that the entire run of Gilmore Girls may not cover your labors, anyway.
I use my palm sander, which speeds the project up a LOT, and take a lot of breaks to go do something else more interesting.
The result, however, is totally worth it–a fine, sturdy set of building blocks that your kid can play with outdoors in all weather!