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Homemade Vintage Toy Plans: An Old-Timey DIY Nightmare?

Are you interested in building your toys from scratch?

Not just purchasing a toy with some assembly required. Or even tackling a model construction project with a multi-volume set of instructions.

No, we’re talking about gathering some materials from around your house or the local hardware store and building your child a toy masterpiece. There will be nothing better than seeing that smile on your child’s face when you give them that toy that you made yourself.

I imagine how kids used to sit on the floor of their living room making their own little toys and comparing them with their friends to see which toy was cuter or functioned better. Let us go back in time and see when DIY toy-making became a thing.

Back in the late 19th century, there was a DIY toy movement taking place. And the leaders of this movement were taking their toys pretty seriously.

They wanted to put the new toy companies out of business. In their minds, all a family needed were some spare parts and materials from around the house or local hardware store, along with some good old-fashioned doggedness and ingenuity.

And they drew up plans for these DIY toys. Check them out if you’re up for the challenge.

Here are a few of our favorites.

(Full text and pictures available at Project Gutenberg)

The Doll Apartment Building

In the old days, they went big. It was a matter of you either go big or you go home.

Why build a dollhouse when you can build an entire doll apartment building?

And this was a swanky residence. If you were investing the time in building a doll apartment building in the early 1900s, it better be the nicest one on the city block.

Note the following floor plan:

Of course, this was a three-story unit. So the individual floors would come together like this:

To create an end result that looked like this:

This apartment building was to be constructed entirely out of grocery boxes with the following dimensions: 28 inches long, 13 inches wide, and 8 inches deep.

And it even included a fireplace with a mantel and light fixtures:

This was to be constructed from woodblocks, pencil tips, screw hooks, and brass beads.

The bricks are drawn in with a pencil. Easy enough!

The Eight Blade Windmill (with Toy Jumping Jack)

This homemade windmill, a very popular toy at the time, uses blades made from cigar-box wood, shingles, tin, or cardboard.

The hub of the windmill is made from a ribbon spool. Eight wooden spokes are whittled down so each can fit into holes previously drilled into the hub. The windmill pivots on a 30 inch pointed wooden rod with a slit at the tail.

To add the jumping jack, you’ll need to construct a bracket and connect it to the hub of the windmill.

But first, you need to make . . . the jumping jack:

And of course, I’m going to tell you how to do it. So let’s get to it:

You need to cut the arms, legs, front, and back of the body from the wood of the humidor. Now for the neck part, cut the stick long enough for it to go through the head and hat part. Make sure to leave a square piece at the end so that it can fit the body. Ensure that both blocks have the same thickness.

Drill pivot holes through the arms and the legs of the jumpings jack at the position that is shown in the image below. You can use either red hot nails or small hand drills to drill the holes. Next, tie a thick linen cloth through each of the holes.

When you have put the body together, put the ends of the thread together and then tie it to a small loop. Another option is to tie the thread close to the jumping jack’s body to keep them together.

Do you need ideas to draw Jack and style him? Let me give you some tips. Give Jack a red coat with blue pants. Add a blue hat and don’t forget the white stockings and black shoes.

The Electro-Magnetic Derrick

The purpose of this toy is to hoist nails and other materials up to great heights and then swing it from side to side or raise or lower the arm. This will operate just like a large derrick and make the process of loading your homemade toy wagons, carts, and trains that much easier.

First, you’ll need to build the electromagnet. This uses a soft iron core wrapped several times with an insulated wire to form a coil.

Then you’ll need to build the switch, windlass, the derrick with its base and operating boom, and hoisting mechanism.

When that’s all done, you have to figure out how to operate it. This sounds like serious fun! And definitely a homemade toy option I would like to try out when I have kids one day.

Homemade Toy Mailbox

Your kid has now got their own homemade dollhouse, but won’t it be fun to make a mailbox too? What is a house without a mailbox? You know for when Barbie and Ken, or Mr teddy get some mail.

The fun part is that your kids can actually use this as their mailbox in the house or on the porch. Remember the days where we played postman and delivered mail to our neighbors and friends? Those were the days! And now you can recreate this for your children and keep them busy for hours!.

I know what you are thinking, “how am I going to find the time to build it?”. And this is the best part, it is fun and quick to make and it all can be completed in an evening.

You will need the following materials:

  • Two sheets of cardboard
  • Silver paper or paint
  • A piece of muslin
  • 2 yards of tape
  • Needle
  • Thread

Now you need to make sure that the cardboard you are using is stiff enough in order for it to hold its shape. It shouldn’t be heavy. This way, it is easier to cut and fold the cardboard.

You can get these sheets at a printing shop, or if you have cardboard boxes, you can use them instead.

Making the ends, sides, and the bottom of the mailbox

You can use a ruler to help you to draw straight lines. You will also need a compass for creating the arcs for the round top of the end pieces. If you don’t have a compass, don’t worry; you can use the rim of a 9-inch plate.

The Two-wheel Cart

You will need the following to create the two-wheel cart:

  • Small box cover
  • One spool on which the crochet cotton comes on.

Let us have a look at the different steps to make this homemade two-wheel cart:

  1. First, you will need to prepare a bent piece of cardboard to make sure the ends are turned down at the proper points in order for the spool to be able to turn freely.
  2. Remember to make a hole at each of the turn-down point ends in order for the axle to go through.
  3. Now make sure that you cut the two slots through the box cover the same as the distance of the ends.
  4. Ensure that the slots are centered crosswise and lengthwise of the cover.
  5. Now stick the ends through the slot and glue the other portion to the cover.
  6. Cut the wheel axle small enough so that it is smaller than the spool hole. This will help the spool turn easily.
  7. Now push it through the hole in the spool and the hole in the ends.
  8. Lastly, glue the end of the cardboard strip to the bottom of the cover to form a shaft.

A Merry-go-round Top

To make a merry go round top, you will need the following:

  • A cardboard disk ( 12 inches in diameter)
  • Lightweight cardboard
  • A pencil
  • Three spools

You will also need a compass, but if you don’t have one, don’t stress; you can also use a large dinner plate to help you draw the circumference of the disk.

Okay, let us have a closer look at the rest of the steps:

  • Cut a conical-shaped piece of a spool.
  • Now stick the lead pencil through the conical shape piece of the spool so that it can have a spinning point.
  • Next, make a hole through the disk so that it can fit over the pencil and then tack the disk to one part.
  • You will need to cut off a third of the length of the ribbon spool of one part and fasten the other spool of another part to the top of your pencil.
  • So the end result should be the following: one of the spools should be glued to the pencil, and the end of the spool should turn loosely on it.
  • Now coat the lower part of the pencil with glue so that it will stick faster.

My favorite homemade vintage toy

Personally, my favorite homemade vintage toy is the doll apartment building. As a little girl, you experience life through the eyes of your Barbie and Ken doll. You dream of their happy ever after and yours. And it makes it so much more realistic if you have a dollhouse and, even better, a dollhouse apartment to live out the dream in.

Make your little girl or boy the dollhouse of their dreams, or even better, let them help you make it!


Question: What toys can you make at home?

Answer: You can almost make any toys at home if you have the right material and equipment. For example, a dollhouse, a mailbox, wooden dolls, clay tic tac toe, a cardboard marble maze, and much more!

Question: What can you do to reuse broken toys and parts?

Answer: Take the parts of the toys that can still be used and make other toys from them. The rest that can’t be reused, you can recycle.

Question: Are Wooden toys biodegradable?

Answer: Yes, they are! There are many reasons why wooden toys are the better option, not only because it is biodegradable, but because it  lasts longer and is more durable.


There is nothing better than seeing a smile on your little one’s face. It is a smile that can light up the darkest room and warm your heart. Why not try something fun with your kids and try this homemade DIY toy project? Who said a DIY project has to be a nightmare? Get creative and have some fun! Try out these homemade vintage toy plans; your children are going to love it!

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