When creating EJ’s Montessori style toddler room, I scoured antique stores to find a piece that could work as a toy box and storage unit combination. I enjoy filling our home with unique, found pieces. There’s something about curating a space through repurposing pieces that feels so much more authentic than just picking up something at the local box store. After an afternoon of searching, I found this piece that seemed to fit the bill. It had a large section at the bottom for toys and the two shelves could be used for books or collections. There were a few negatives, though. Being an antique, it had peeling paint. I couldn’t guarantee that the paint didn’t have lead in it, so it would have required stripping all the paint and repainting the piece. At seven month pregnant, I wasn’t going to be doing that. The piece also felt a bit rickety. While this is expected for an antique wood furniture piece, I couldn’t help but wonder if EJ would break it in 5 minutes by climbing on it. He is all boy. My hubby wasn’t a fan of the $120 price tag, either. He felt he could make it cheaper, or create a similar piece that was even nicer for the price. So, we created some toy box plans from scratch and embarked on a DIY project!
Toy Box Plans:
2 sheets finish grade plywood
1-gallon white paint
Paint roller & brush
Electric sander or sanding paper (220, 320 grit)
Kreg pocket hole jig*
Time to Complete:
Construction & assembly: approximately 8 hours
Painting & sanding: approximately 3 hours
Important note before beginning: When drawing and cutting out the pieces, it’s important to draw and cut one piece at a time versus drawing it all out at once on your plywood. This will allow you to account for the width of the saw blade.
Toy Box Plans: Step-by-Step Guide
- Draw out A & B (the sides of the unit) on the first piece of plywood and cut it along measured lines with a jigsaw. You can create any size curve you prefer. For the curve of the sides on our cabinet, we used a glass tabletop with a radius of 9 3/4 inches. Anything round can be used to create the radius- the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket, flower pot, or cooking saucer. You could sketch several lines onto the piece and see which diameter is the most visually appealing to you.
- Draw out panel C (top of the cabinet) onto the plywood and cut it along the line with a circular saw.
- Draw out panel D (inside shelf) onto the plywood and cut it along the line with a circular saw.
- Draw out panel E (inside shelf) onto the plywood and cut it along the line with a circular saw.
- Draw out panel F (floor of the cabinet) onto the plywood and cut it along the line with a circular saw. Panel F has a bevel on the edge that meets Panel G, so cut panel F at 20 5/16 inches to the shoulder at an angle of 12.5o. (See drawing for clarification)
- Discard the remains of the first sheet of plywood and begin using the second sheet.
- Begin on the second sheet by cutting the edge (the short side) of the board off at a 12.5o angle. After that cut, measure from the shoulder of that cut 12.25 inches and draw your line for panel G. Remember to reset your saw back to a 90o cut before cutting the other side of panel G.
- Draw out panel H (the back of the cabinet) onto the plywood and cut it along the line with a circular saw.
- Now that all pieces are cut, sand both sides of the pieces for a smooth finish (we’ll sand edges later).
- After each panel is sanded, drill all the pocket holes (see drawing for pocket hole placement).
- *Note: It’s best to have two people when you begin assembly. Panels A & B need to be marked for shelf location. The easiest way to do this is to lay the panels flat with their outside surfaces face down. Place the panels back-to-back and draw a line with a straight edge across both panels at once. This will ensure the shelves will be level and measured to the same location. Do this to mark the location for shelves D and E.
- With panel A still laying outside surface down, apply glue to the end of panel C and stand panel C on edge at the top of panel A. Using the pre-drilled pocket holes, screw the two panels together, ensuring that all edges and surfaces remain flush. *Note: keep a wet rag handy to wipe off any excess glue.
- Place panel H on panel A (short side down, pocket holes to the back), all the way against panel C. Screw panel H to panels A and C. Remember to glue all edges before screwing in place.
- Repeat step thirteen with panel F and panel G. See drawing for placement.
- At this point, panel A is outside surface down with panels C, H, F, and G are secured to it and to each other. Place panel B on top of the assembly. Glue & screw pieces together using the pre-drilled pocket holes. This completes the shell of the cabinet.
- With cabinet still on its side, Pre-glue the ends and back of panel D and place in position, aligning the top of the shelf with the lines drawn on panels A & B (see step #11). Secure with Kreg screws.
- Repeat step #16 for panel E, the second shelf.
- At this point, all panels are assembled. Give cabinets a once-over with a wet rag to ensure all glue is cleaned up.
- Apply wood putty/filler to all exposed edges, as needed, to ensure a smooth finish. Allow time to dry.
- Lightly sand the entire cabinet, including the edges.
- Blow or brush off remaining sanding dust from the cabinet. You can use a vacuum, shop vac, or brush. For best results, use a tack rag after brushing off the dust to ensure a smooth, dust-free surface for painting.
- Paint the cabinet. We edged with a brush and then used a fine knapp roller for smooth surfaces on the cabinet flat surfaces. Allow to dry completely.
- You can sand in between coats with the 320 sandpaper if you want to achieve a more furniture grade finish. We applied three coats of paint and sanded between each coat.
Toy Box Plans: Summary
The final cost of the toy box ended up being higher than the cost of the antique due to a few changes in our plan. After drawing out the design, Ryan wanted to add the second shelf so that the piece was larger and could grow with EJ as he ages. This change resulted in needing two pieces of plywood instead of just one, doubling the cost of the wood. Additionally, when we purchased the paint, we opted for an acrylic latex paint so that we could ensure the case would have a furniture grade finish. While we bought it during Sherwin William’s 40% off sale, it was still a hefty cost at $44 for the gallon.
Toy Box Update
EJ has been using his toy box storage case for six months now and absolutely loves it! He can easily access his toys for self-directed play, which is fostering creativity and independence. While I was a little concerned that the final product was larger than my original antique store find, it has proved to be no challenge for our little climber. He loves to stand on the bottom lip of the cabinet and explore the shelf contents. Since he doesn’t currently have a lot of large toys in the room, he has taken to emptying out the bottom and using it as a play area with blankets and pillows. This piece is also incredibly solid, which makes his daddy happy. It will definitely be a furniture piece that will last generations.
Note: Even though it’s very sturdy, we did secure it to the wall with furniture anchor straps. We recommend you do the same.