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Fatherhood changes your life in unexpected ways. Bill Cosby said “…parents aren’t interested in justice; they want quiet.” This is very true; however, I would also add to that the need for your home to not resemble a plush toy shore-leave resort.

This is my reality. A living room filled with brightly-colored stuffed things that seem to multiply when I’m not looking. I may, in fact, lose the daily battle for this ground, but I am determined that the war shall be mine. The situation called for action. I responded with my first volley — the toy box. I wanted this box to be many things: sturdy, attractive, and cheap. I also wanted it to be immediately accessible for my daughter so she could use it from day one. It was a tall order, but I was up to the task.

I began with a trip to Target, where these cardboard-lined fabric bins were on sale for $3 a pop. They would be perfect since you could wipe them down quickly with a sponge and they won’t hurt her when she chews them. These bins would be the base the box would be built around.

First I constructed a base to serve as the floor, using 1/4” ply and a few pieces of 3/4” ply cut to 1” strips around the outside and through the middle.

The structure would be different compared to my usual designs that weigh upwards of seven thousand tons, mostly because I was opting for a paneled feel to keep it lightweight and stylish to boot. To that end, I cut 1 1/ 4” strips from a few pieces of 3/4” x 3” x 8’ trim. Okay, it was a lot of pieces.

They would form the panel frames like so, with a 1/4” groove dug in about 3/8” into the frame on all sides where the panel would be fitted.

Next, I designed what would be the front by laying up the frames on the base to measure length.

It’s a bit tricky to do, but I wanted to color the panels differently from the frame pieces, so I shellacked them three times with clearcoat before fitting them to the frames.

Sidepieces would be built from two panels with a 1/4” groove in each meeting edge, breaking up the massive resulting middle frame piece. It also looks like I know what I’m doing instead of winging it with nothing but a thought of what I want it to look like running around in my head.

After affixing the bottom side pieces to the base and putting the bins on, you begin to see how it’s going to come together.

Then the spacers that will hold the center weight are put in with careful measuring, some glue, and a few brads.

The upper deck was then added with the topside pieces, box floor, and the front assembly. You might notice the back only comes up about halfway to the top on the upper box. This is not by design; I just ran out of 1/4” sheet ply and had to cut another piece and work with what I had. We were snowed in that week and I felt like improvising instead of going to the big box, which most likely wasn’t open anyway.

Finishing the back and adding a top was about all I needed for the completion. To do that I just added a crossbar to cover the section where the ply met at the back and a divider to brace the box across the middle span where it needed support. It was looking good thus far, but I still had a ways to go.

Hardware and pillar supports for the hinges plus a set of locking supports to keep the lid open if needed were latecomers to the design, but it turned out to be both an attractive and quick addition.

After the complete assembly was in place, I removed the hardware and stained what was left a natural color, a warm walnut hue. For good measure I dumped more shellac over the whole thing to add a little extra staying power when sticky hands decide to attack it. The inside was a hodgepodge of stains and varnish, as something had to suffer for the outside’s clean lines and contrasting color. So back outside it went for a little cleanup and some sanding in key areas to fix the mess.

After all the sanding, drying, and finishing was complete I set it in the house and was reminded why I built it in the first place when, for the first time in a full year, I sat down in a living room not full of toys. My young one knew right away what to do with the bins at the bottom and delighted in scattering them about the room almost as much as I enjoyed putting them back away at night. So that was a win.

For around $50 in oak trim, sheet goods, and hardware (plus a few seconds I had left in the ever-shrinking pile-o-scrap) I was awarded one unit of toy box. It’s not an eyesore in the room, and when she’s a little older I humbly hope the design will lend itself to more grown-up items she might care to put in it. Until then, we’ll just chalk a point up to good ol’ dad and his war on clutter.


13 Responses to Project: A Toybox For My Sanity

  1. Steve says:

    Very nice!

  2. Nice solution! I’d recommend making some wood boxes to match when you get a chance, those fabric bins don’t last, especially after your daughter figures out she can flip them over to climb and reach things.

    Unfortunately the war on toys is never won, the best you can hope for is partial containment.

  3. craig says:

    like your box.

    i second benjaman on the tubs. there is virtually no chance of their long-term survival.

    for our boys’ first xmas we built toy boxes, big toy boxes.

    smartest thing we ever did… except for the gifting rule, nothing that made noise! the very few transgressors received drum kits or f-p mowers next go-around.

  4. turtleman1 says:

    You might want to consider a no slam type cover support such as this:


    Much safer for little fingers.

  5. uqbar says:

    I strongly support the recommendation for a “slow close” device for the lid; otherwise you are very likely to have the lid slam closed on a little head or fingers.

    Also, drill ventilation holes in the back of the top box. Kids like to dump out all the toys and hide in the “cave” – suffocation becomes a real possibility.

  6. Sean OHara says:

    Actually, the friction locks also have screw locks on them that lock the lid open which is how it spends most of it’s time during the day so it can’t be closed even with me leaning on it with my full body weight. Also it has holes in the back drilled into the cross bar @ 45 degrees so you can’t see them.

    As for the bins, yeah I figure those have less than a year in them. I plan to make some nicer wood ones but after she’s through teething I think.

  7. jason says:

    Awesome project. My little man got a toybox for his 1st birthday for the exact same reason.

    a few additional features we did for ours was inside the toy box there’s a small box about 6″ tall by 14″ wide and 20″ deep that slides from end to end. Small trinket type stuff in in there and can move back and forth and be removed while larger things go under it. Similar to your basket underneath idea.

    we used Lid Stay Hinges to protect fingers and heads: http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=22046

  8. Gary says:

    Very nice. It only gets worse as they get older. I’ve built 3 storage solutions for my son’s room. Time for a fourth.

  9. Topgun says:

    I love the pull out bins underneath. Where the heck did that idea come from? Brilliant.

    Rest assured, though. Sooner or later you’ll have to devote an entire room as a “playroom”. There’s just no getting around it. You’ve seen it: you visit a friend’s house for a party, and somewhere off a first floor hallway there’s a room that says “Toy Explosion”. And that’s where you throw your coat. 😀

  10. Fritz says:

    I think the real hero of the toy box is the mother of your child who took on 100% of active parenting duties while you were happy in the shop.

  11. Sean O'Hara says:

    @Topgun, the bin idea came from wanting her to be able to use it now. She can’t work the lid yet and I wanted her to have access to toys right away. Bins was my best guess on how to get that done.

    @Fritz, well I wish that were true, but actually I did the whole thing after she was a asleep or while she was taking her afternoon nap with a baby monitor hooked to the side pocket of my carpenters pants.

    Which is really why it took about two months to build. It’s hard to get things done 30-45 mins at a time. 😉

  12. Matt Case says:

    I built a toy box with Norm’s blanket chest plans from season 1 of the New Yankee Workshop when my oldest was about 1. It has done VERY little to contain toys, but it at least looks nice in the living room.

    The real problem isn’t sticky hands it’s all the things my kids drop on it or bang on it with. I made mine with some scrap pine that obviously was not the best choice to withstand abuse from children but I’m guessing even oak will show it’s wear in some years. I was prepared for it but it’s still sad sometimes to think about how nice it was new and how beat up it looks now.

  13. miss frannie says:

    What a great idea. Also helps the little ones learn to put there toys away.

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