Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Home Made Christmas: Letter Blocks

Every year about this time I begin the process of truly driving myself crazy. I start choosing my Christmas projects, one for each child. In case I haven't mentioned it, I have five kids. That's at least five projects. Most years I end up doing two, pajama pants plus another home crafted gift. They can be anything as long as the materials are inexpensive and I think I'll like the end result. I sew, I paint, I build. Some things come out perfect, like my middle daughter's bed quilt, somethings not so much, like my son's Game Boy case.

This is one of those projects that came out perfectly:

They look a little rough because they've been loved for a few years now. My youngest son decided he loved spelling when he was five. He would spell words just for fun and appropriated his sister's alphabet Peek-a-blocks, which only had one block of each letter, most inadequate for a spelling fiend like my son. So for Christmas, I made him his own set of letter blocks. I made three or four of each letter with a lower case on one side and an upper case on the facing side.

The best part about these blocks is that they are so easy to make and I had quite a bit of the stuff to make them already in my house.

Materials Needed:
1 8' length of 2x2 pine lumber
sand paper and an electric hand sander
assorted letter stickers or rub-on transfers
assorted paint colors, spray, house, acrylic, whatever you've got is fine
sealant of some sort like spray fixative or polyurethane. This is optional.

1. Cut the 2x2 into cubes 1.5" x 1.5" x 1.5". You may not know this but lumber isn't exactly the size it's name would suggest. Because of the method of production a 2x2 stick will actually measure half an inch smaller on each side. To cut the cubes you can use a hand saw, but if you have a miter saw or a table saw with a fence the job will be a lot easier. I used a miter saw with the blade set at 90 degrees. Of course, you can always ask a man to do it for you, but where's the fun in that?

2. You need to sand the blocks thoroughly. These will be played with by children so you don't want any chance of them getting a splinter. Make sure you sand down each edge so it feels smooth and slightly rounded. Sand the faces of the block as well so the paint will go on smoothly. You can do this by hand, but I never do something by hand if a power tool will do it better. (I have a thing for power tools. Not Tim Allen level. Really.)

3. Wipe off the blocks with a slightly damp cloth or a tack cloth. You just need to get the saw dust off or the paint wont stick.

4. Paint. or don't. Your choice. If you are using these as decorative blocks, you can distress the edges or whatever. Make the blocks pretty. I also like the look of the bare wood. Doing a mix of colors and natural blocks makes a fun set to play with. Kids can play with creating patterns as well as spelling words.

5. When the paint has dried, apply the stickers or rub-ons to the center of two faces of each block. Make sure you have at least two if not three of each letter. You want enough that the child can make longer words and words with double letters with ease. Yet again, a mix can be fun. I just went through my scrapbook stash to find letters, full sets of the same typeface really aren't necessary.

6. Apply fixative or sealant of some kind if you are worried about how well the stickers or rub-ons will stay on the blocks. Mine have stood up well, but a few stickers have peeled off and the rub-ons flaked a bit (they are Heidi Swapp rub-ons though so that may have something to do with it.) If this or the rough look of the rub-ons would bother you, go ahead and do a fixative over the letters. It won't add that much time.

See? Easy. I spent more time waiting for paint to dry and digging through my scrapbook stash for stickers than I did actually putting the letters on the blocks. The only teadious part is sanding, but if the gift is for nieces or nephews you can enlist your own kids as helpers in the process. It's also easy to do while watching tv.

Kids love these blocks and they are super cheap. The lumber costs very little, and you probably already have paint, sand paper, and stickers somewhere in the house. Why not make a set?