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Natural Wood Finish Ideas for Wooden Toys

Using a natural wood finish is ideal for making baby toys, but what are the options? Here are several options for natural finishes that aren't full of chemicals and synthetics that might be what you are looking for as a finish for your handmade toys.

If you would like ideas and instructions for painting baby toys, please see the Non-toxic Paints for Wooden Toys article.

Natural Wood Finishes for Plain Wood or For Sealing Painted Toys

All Natural - If your wooden toys are well sanded and smooth you absolutely can leave them as is and not put anything on them. Pros: Free! No chemicals, no thing but plain and pure wood for baby to touch and it leaves the beautiful wood grain completely visible. This is the most natural method. Cons: The wood will get dirty easier. If baby gnaws on the wooden toy after eating blueberries there is a great chance that the wood will get stained by blueberries. Also, there is no protection against moisture, so if the wood were to get wet it may swell and "raise the grain" and feel rough to the touch.

natural wood finish
Beeswax - Beeswax is a natural wax produced by bees and needs to be mixed with another liquid oil to soften it so you can rub it on. Pros: Completely natural and biodegradable. As a wax, it protects against stains and moisture and has a lovely light scent. The finish can be reapplied easily. Cons: It won't seal forever and eventually wears off. It is a light sealer only and not appropriate for toys that will get wet. It is also not vegan (as it is a bee product) so vegans will not use it. It also casts a subtle yellowish tinge to the wood because it is yellow.

Tung Oil - Tung oil is made from seeds of the tung tree which grows in China, Burma and Vietnam. Pros: A natural oil that seals very well and is quite beautiful. You can create a glossy "varnish like" finish with natural ingredients. Cons: It is rather expensive. It also needs to be mixed with either turpentine or preferably a citrus thinner. Beware of "tung oil finishes" found in hardware stores have no actual tung oil in them but are entirely synthetic varnishes. I recommend buying 100% pure tung oil and Citrus Solvent rather than pre-mixed finishes or using turpentine.

Almond & Walnut Oil Natural oils from almond and walnut can also be used as a natural wood finish, but be aware of potential allergy issues with children's toys and nut oils. Pros: Natural, easy to apply and protects and conditions the wood. Often has a light pleasant scent. Cons: Can be expensive and greater allergy risk.

natural mineral oil wood finish
Mineral Oil - Mineral oil is a clear and odorless oil made from petroleum. Pros: It is cheap and easy to find in drugstores and pretty safe for using on toys and seals fairly well. Many, many natural toy makers use mineral oil as a cheap finish and if you worry about things like allergies, it just might be the safest bet. Cons: It is a by-product of gasoline distillation so many would argue that it is not eco-friendly.

Linseed Oil - Made from flax seeds, linseed oil is another excellent penetrating natural oil for wood. Like many of the other natural oils it has a slight yellowish tint and will yellow the wood slightly but still shows the grain beautifully. You'll want to avoid boiled linseed oil for children's toys as it includes petroleum solvents and metallic drying agents that make it dry faster. Pick the pure stuff and deal with the slower drying time.

Shellac - Not many people use shellac any more but it is a natural option. Made from the secretion of a lac insect in Thailand. Pros: Natural varnish and dries fast. Cons: Possible allergy risk for children's toys and has a short shelf life. Also not vegan.

Yes, there are other options out there for sealing wood toys, tons of commercial varnishes, polyurethanes and even ones that sound natural by stating they are "water based". However, the natural wood finish examples above are the most common and easy to use for your wooden toys. Do you use one that you love that I've missed? Please contact me and let me know about it!


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