Which Finish Should I Use On My Toys?

It's not a simple choice when you intend to sell them or even give them away. You have to consider the age of the person the toy is designed for. There are several finishes to choose from when finishing wooden toys.

  • Drying Oils
  • Non-Drying Oils
  • Polyurethane
  • Shellac
  • Paint
There may be others, but these are the ones I have used.

If I am making a toy intended for a child under three years old that puts everything in their mouth and likes to chew on things No finish at all is probably the best choice. These toys should be very simple and made from woods like hard maple. Although ti its used by many toymakers, I would not put any sort of oil on these toys.

In my totally unscientific testing, I find that kids will almost always go for the painted toys. I have seen a few exceptions to this, but not many. Where the kids get to look at the toys, the painted toys may rule the day. If selling online adults are usually the shoppers. They seem to like to see the wood grain, but not always. I have had customers tell me that they prefer the rustic look. Then there is what colors to use. If you want to sell your toys, you have to pick colors that someone you do not know will like.

For kids three years old and up, my target market. My rule is anything but non-drying oil finishes is good. All of the finishes are nontoxic when cured.

In my online store and in social media that gets the most views is a pine bodied hot rod finished with shellac. It is rapidly overtaken by a pinewood car finished with polyurethane. Being sure what drives these things is very difficult. In this case, I think that the photography may have something to do with it. The difference is quite significant. Within the first week, it passed the longstanding top listing that had been there for more than a year.

Wooden Toy Car - Hot Rod Freaky Ford - 1932 Sedan - Amber Shellac - Grey - Black - NIKON E5700
32 Ford Sedan Hot Rod finished with amber shellac, and a bit of acrylic paint is the current leader for the last 12 months in my Etsy shop.

Wooden Toy Car - Hot Rod Freaky Ford - 1927 Ford Coupe - Model-T - Satin Polyurethane - Amber Shellac - Purple - Black - Pine - NIKON E5700
A Hot Rod 27 T-Coupe is the up and coming challenger poised to overtake the leader after only a short time.

My top five listings are a mix of polyurethane, shellac, paint and unfinished toys. I know this is not really a scientific method, but I work with the data that I have. Recently I posted a link to a painted car I was making on my Pinterest board. After the posting, my Pinterest views went up by more than 300k. I have a suspicion that this one will upset the apple cart. How did I pick the colors? I didn't, my grandson picked colors that I never would have chosen.

Wooden Toy Car - Bad Bob Motors - Amber Shellac - Green - Yellow
Wooden Toy Car - Bad Bob Motors Coupe - Amber Shellac - Green - Yellow

Confused yet. I am.

My current take on all of this is that it depends. I work a lot with pine. If the grain looks nice, I will use polyurethane. Otherwise, it will get paint or shellac. When I make custom orders, I make extras. Just in case one is damaged or broken I have more than one and I don't need to start over. Sometimes one of these will have some beautiful grain. I will save that one to finish with polyurethane. Playsets pretty much demand paint. Toys made from MDF always get painted. I never apply any of the wood blocks I make and would not use any kind of finish on blocks.

Finishing toys are difficult. You may find that finishing is the most time consuming and difficult part of making toys.  It's a complicated issue. I have only touched the surface of.  I have more posts planned to discuss it.


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