Making Sand Toys

Now that your backyard is equipped with a sandbox or sand pit, make it complete with these rugged wooden sand toys.

| August/September 1994

Sand, like water, is a fluid material that kids will configure as their imaginations dictate. But if castle walls, riverside piers, or Matchbox-car garages are to be much more than shapeless humps, young builders need something rigid to form or reinforce walls, platforms, and roofs. Plus, the children need mobile sand toys to carry their imaginations through the formed media.

Long, narrow wooden blocks are better for reinforcing sand castles than conventional squares and rectangles. Wooden wheeled excavators and trucks are good to move the sand around. Plus, they will float to serve as boats, barges, bridges, and rafts on the water table.

I made sand blocks and toy sand movers from wood scraps: hardwood left over from furniture projects and softwood from building-materials cutoffs. If you make a water table (See "Build a Water Table for Kids") you'll have a few feet of 2" x 3" and plywood left over you can use. If you don't have a shop of your own, see if you can salvage leftovers from a local lumber finisher, a commercial furniture maker, or a neighborhood woodworker. Check building sites for ends of 2-by framing lumber and other scrap. You might see if local hardware stores, supermarkets, outdoor sports, or camping goods outlets, or roadside stands sell wood stove or vacation camp fire kindling. Stores near me sell plastic-wrapped packages of assorted factory scrap hardwood for $3.00—expensive to start a fire, but far less than you'd pay for the equivalent board-footage of raw building stock.

Or, buy a few lengths of good clear 2" x 3" or 2" x 2" lumber, some 4/5" x 4" decking-board stock, and several feet of square, round, slat, and L-shaped hard pine or poplar trim stock, and saw it to length. I have an electric cutoff/miter saw that produces square ends automatically and quickly. You can get the same result at less cost with an inexpensive plastic miter box and muscle-powered backsaw.

Sand Building Blocks  

To prevent splinters, choose close-grained, well-dried wood that is hard enough your thumbnail can't make much of a dent in it. For sand pit or sandbox play, cut any size board from a 2" x 4" stud to 1/2" x 2" wood lath or 1 1/2"- or 2"-diameter dowel into 4", 6", and 8" lengths. Much smaller blocks disappear in sand. Larger blocks are out of sand-castle scale and too easily become kid weapons when the inevitable squabbles erupt. Sand all blocks well, especially ends rough-cut across the grain. At minimum, seal with a coat or two of deck sealer. For more elaborate finish options, see below.

Strips of plywood will be used to make roads, roofs of buildings, and walls. Make up a bunch—4" wide and 6", 8", and 10" long. Raw plywood will warp and delaminate in the weather, so soak it well in a hard finish.

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