If you want to make a simple wooden toy with a minimum of tools or are looking for the first woodworking experience for older kids, try this robot!
For an articulated wooden robot that you can build with older kids, check here!
One morning, while Budster was still sleeping, a surprise guest climbed onto his windowsill…
“Wake up, Buddy! Look who’s here!”
The previous day, Budster saw us working on the wooden robot and even participated in his making, but he hadn’t seen him completed, and of course, couldn’t imagine what he was doing on his windowsill. It was a pleasant surprise! Budster decided to start their acquaintance by comparing the robot with himself. “Robot’s got a smile. Budster’s got a smile.” Then he cuddled with the robot and made him do a crazy jiggly dance. In no time, they were best friends.
While the robot lacks realism or fantastic articulation, he definitely possesses all the charm of a toy made with love. Why else would he be wearing his heart where everyone can see it?
Making of the Wooden Robot
Some projects take a while to get around to. A sketch of a wooden robot can be found in the notebook I kept in the months leading up to Budster’s arrival. I thought it would be a good toy for him to gnaw on. The project was’t complicated, but there were plenty of other things vying for my time. The idea of that robot lived on somewhere in my memory, and was actually awoken by Budster’s specific request that we build him a robot.
I love using wooden blocks for making new toys. For one thing, you don’t need to have a lot of tools to work with wooden blocks: everything comes pre-cut! Then, I often see wooden blocks in thrift stores, so it’s easy to replenish our supply for new projects, and we have a pretty good collection of blocks of different sizes and grains.
For the robot, we took two cuboids and four cubes. If you don’t have wooden blocks, but want to cut them from boards, the dimensions of the cubes are 1.5×1.5×1.5″, and the cuboids are 2.5×2.5×1.5″. The combination of light and dark wood in one project always looks exciting, so I also used a 1/4″ thick cherry board for making a panel on the front of the robot. The string used to hold the blocks together was some heavy, low stretch cotton cord that we had lying around.
To make the panel, I cut a little 1.25×2″ rectangle. Using a ruler and a pencil, I marked six buttons on it. With the help of a miniature miter box, I made the straight cuts, then widened them with a needle file. For stamping “1, 2, 3” and “A, B, C” on the buttons, I got to finally use this stamp set I got last Christmas. I seemed to have so many ideas when I received it, but it’s the first project I used it for! I also considered writing or woodburning the numbers.
If you looked on my original sketch, you’d see that I marked the places where I was going to drill holes. I planned to drill holes right through the blocks, run strings through them,then tie knots at the ends, like in the sketch. When I showed my sketch to Jeffrey, he didn’t seem overly fond of knots and suggested using glue for holding the strings in place instead. In that case, the holes didn’t need to be drilled right through.
You can use either idea!
For assembling the robot, drill the holes, using the right size bit to make a snug fit for your string. One hole in each limb block, one hole in a head block, and two holes at each side of the body block to attach the limbs to. We squeezed polyurethane glue in each hole, then pushed the string in with a nail. Polyurethane glue is ideal for this job: not only because it is strong, but because it expands as it dries, securing the string in the hole.
At first, the eyes were supposed to be just holes, drilled inside of each other, like on the picture. Then we decided to plug the inner holes with dowel cutouts, giving our robot dark brown eyes. He was very pleased!
The smile and the heart were woodburned. If you don’t have a woodburner, you can always draw them with a marker. And the robot is ready!
The final result isn’t an elaborate toy, but it’s made of natural materials and safe for babies and toddlers to handle and teeth on (of course, under reasonable parental supervision). What I really like about this robot is that it can be a good first project to try with older kids, introducing the joy of woodworking to them.