Tuesday, August 2, 2011

dollhouse puzzle (a tutorial)

It has been so satisfying to make wooden toys that inspire imaginative play in my children. Some of you requested a tutorial for making this beautiful toy (not my own design - the company that came up with the brilliant design sells the finished product through companies such as The Wooden Wagon).
Except for the table and chairs, the pieces of this puzzle are open-ended. My girls play with them in a variety of ways, as well as in conjunction with other wooden toys. I especially love watching the girls play with this puzzle when they intersperse objects found on nature walks.
As with the rainbow arches tutorial, this tutorial doesn't have photos of the machines you'll be using as I'm nowhere near my dad's woodshop at present.

Materials for a dollhouse puzzle:
  •  A 9" x 6" piece of hardwood, about 2 1/2" thick. Oak, Elm or Sycamore are some suitable options.
  • A Bandsaw. My dad strongly recommends bandsaws as opposed to jigsaws. He says that a  jigsaw typically wouldn't be powerful enough to make smooth cuts through such a thick piece of wood - the blade would bend and result in a slanted cut.
  • Sanding equipment. I used an Oscillating Spindle Sander and a Belt Sander, but plain old sandpaper will accomplish the same thing, just a lot more slowly.
  • Beeswax Polish. I purchased mine here.
Prep: Make sure your wood is squared before beginning.
Safety: Wear safety goggles and proper ear protection when using the bandsaw and sanders. Make sure they are in proper working order to ensure safe use.
click here for pdf pattern
  •  Trace the pattern above onto your wood (the shaded portions are empty space in the finished puzzle).
  • Cut away the outside portion first, then work your way into the interior shapes.
  • Go slowly and steadily for smooth cuts.
  • The chairs can either be left as is for a bench-like look, or sliced in half (depth-wise) to create 4 individual chairs.
Step 3: Sand the puzzle pieces
  • If using power sanders, gently and evenly rotate the puzzle pieces along the sander.
    • Use a table belt sander to sand the outer edges of the pieces.
    • Use an oscillating spindle sander to sand the inner sides of the pieces.
  • If using sandpaper
    • Start with the coarsest grit (60) and sand all surfaces of the puzzle pieces until smooth.
    • Use progressively finer grit (higher number) sandpaper on all the pieces up to at least 220 grit.
  • Wipe the sawdust off the pieces.
Step 5:  Protect with beeswax.
  • Apply beeswax with a soft cloth, working it into the wood.
  • Let dry.
  • Apply additional coats as desired
  • To maintain your wooden dollhouse puzzle, periodically reapply beeswax.


  1. honestly. this is so fantastic.

    I need a bandsaw.

  2. I love it when you refer to Dad and I as resources for your wonderful creativity!

  3. Hello,
    This is so lovely! Since I don't work with wood or know anyone who does, could you tell me where you bought the one that came without any finishing?
    Thank you,

  4. Thank you for the lovely tutorial and pattern. Love this. Dad's bandsaw will be put to good use next visit :)

  5. What a wonderful pattern, thanks for sharing!

  6. I really prefer wooden toys compare to plastic toys. It is much healthier to kids.

  7. Just borrowed a bandsaw and woodworker for an evening and with no experience I cut out this beautiful toy.
    Now, weeks of winter darkness in the Yukon will allow me time to sand this by hand and provide much needed therapy. Thanks so much for sharing.
    steph. (too-busy-mom)

  8. This is so... Wise! No other word comes up.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Thanks, all - I'm glad you've enjoyed the idea and the tutorial!

  10. The "apartment therapy" blog sent me here..great idea! Though for me..? I'm not sure I could manage (apart from not having any of the tools needed!)

    1. Glad you stopped by! I know, the tools are bit prohibitive to making one. That's how I usually feel when inspiration strikes and I don't have my dad's workshop nearby to play in.

      Don't you think a community woodshop would be a great thing? No need for us all to have a bandsaw in our garage, right?

    2. That's actually not a bad idea! Something run by the local government, like a library for making things...

    3. that would be amazing - sign me up!

  11. Where do you get your pieces of wood? We're having trouble finding a piece so thick with those dimensions?

    1. The wood I used was a chunk of a tree that my dad had cut down and been drying for a year or so. There is always the possibility of thoroughly gluing two pieces together to create that thickness. Even if you can only find a piece of wood that is 2" thick, I think it would still be a great toy. Good luck!

  12. I made one if these for my niece for Christmas and it turned out wonderfully!

    Also, my father in-law keeps bees, so we used his beeswax to make the polish, it was great!

    I do have a question however, you mention in step 3 to "Wipe the sawdust off" and I was wondering how you do this? I have always used mineral spirits and a paper towel, but was wondering if that would be safe for a child to chew on? I found it difficult to remove all of the saw dust with a dry towel.

    Thanks for the wonderful idea.

    1. So glad to hear you made this! How cool that you were able to make your own beeswax polish - handmade from the ground up!

      I think that it's better to not wipe off the wood with mineral spirits, just to be safe. I think I ended up vacuuming the pieces off as well in addition to wiping them. I also, though, wasn't as worried about getting all the sawdust off as I would have been had I been planning to put polyurethane on it, thus sealing in any remaining sawdust.

      Congratulations on a successful project!

  13. I just found this. Amazing. I've been wanting to get one for my daughter and now we can make one! Just got a bandsaw too!

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  16. It's so neat! I really hope I can make one.

  17. Any tips on using a bandsaw safely to cut out the tiny little bits? I've never used one before and I'm really nervous to.

  18. Hi, I've been trying to get around to making this but everyone I know with a bandsaw tells me this pattern will be too fine for a bandsaw. How did you manage to get around the tiny bends and curves?