Some information about Painting Wooden Toys

Information About Painting, Staining, and Dyeing Wooden Toys

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I have made a few small silly wooden toys for my son and other children. I would like to paint these toys. It is incredibly, unbelievably difficult to find good information about how to paint, stain, or dye these kinds of toys with safe, non-toxic paints, stains, or dyes. I am operating under the assumption that any of these toys might be chewed on or scraped up, so I want to be especially certain that any coatings or colorings will be safe if ingested.

Here is one other page - from a talented toymaker - that has some useful information about paints and dyes, including some of the kinds of colors described on this page.

Many of the search results that come up from searches related to this topic are forum posts by amateur woodworkers saying that acrylic or watercolor paints should be just fine. That may be (is probably?) true, but I have also found information that watercolors give off trace amounts of formaldehyde and of course acrylics are plastic, non-toxic or no. I doubt that there is enough formaldehyde even in a tub of watercolor to do any serious harm to a child, and my own son has probably eaten his fair share of plastic along the way. That said, I would still prefer it if the toys I make are more natural and, for lack of a better word, edible than that.

And that said, if I can turn up definitive information that watercolor and acrylic paints are really safe and non-toxic if ingested, then I shall include that information here as well. So far I have not been able to find anything particularly definitive on that front.

What I would love to know is what toy companies such as Holztiger, Ostheimer, Hape, Haba, and Buntspechte are using. They get great detail with their paints and colors (something that seems impossible with some of the candidates I've listed below) but claim to be very safe and non-toxic. Perhaps they are just using acrylics or watercolors, but that seems unlikely. Perhaps more likely is that they are making or sourcing their own specialty paints and dyes; in that case I would still love to know. They all merely say they use "water-based paints" - paints can be water-based and toxic as heck. I do not remotely think these companies are using toxic paints under any circumstances, but I sure would love to know what it is they are using. I have written to these companies; if they write back to me I shall share that information.

Please do if you have any further information you'd like to share.

Here is the information I have collected so far.

General Information

Anything water-based will "raise the grain" of the wood, and it seems that softer woods such as pine are especially affected by this. Water-based colors may also make the end grain open up (it seemed to, in my experience) so it is rougher and harder to seal.

I read that a solution to this problem is to dampen the wood and sand the grain back down, and repeat that process once or twice.

Additionally, several of the brands of wooden toys I've listed above seem to whitewash or pickle their toys before painting details on. It is a very light wash, but it is visible on the toys I own, which are Holztigers for the most part. This might facilitate better detail painting; all of these water-based paints, dyes, and stains probably bleed significantly.

Art Paints

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Wood & Home Paints

I've also looked at zero-VOC interior paints and the like, but without a great deal of success. There seems to be a lot of focus on environmentally-friendly paints in the EU, but that hasn't translated to a lot of available products in the U.S., and even those in the EU don't appear to be rated for use on toys (or often even wood.)

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There are a LOT of wood stains, including many that are self-described as healthy, environmentally healthy, non-toxic, and otherwise safe. I have not listed many here, however, because those I have found are fairly universally designed for large surfaces and home interior purposes, not woodworking or children's toys. If I find a stain that seems especially relevant or self-described as for toys I will update this section.

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Sealers and Polishes

I haven't looked too deeply into stains or polishes since I have found a couple of things that I think will do the trick for me:

Once again, please do if you have any further information you'd like to share or tips to make this page more useful, or :

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