Looking for Vintage Wooden Blocks

There are built-in shelves along one side of the nursery, and I’ve been thinking about what to use them for. They’re shallow and spaced fairly close together so I need something small.

The Guest Room

I was thinking about using lots and lots of vintage wooden blocks. I figured they’re easy to come by and several sets jumbled together would look really sweet in a kid’s room. I’d like to just buy a bunch from garage sales, Craigslist, and eBay, but should I be worried about lead paint or other problems?

Classic Embossed Alphabet Blocks

Generations of kids have stuck wooden blocks in their mouths and we all seemed to turn out OK, right? Or should I just stick with brand new blocks to be safe?

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  • Zoe
    November 7, 2008 at 11:21 am

    This may be controversial but have you thought about removing some of the shelves to make them taller? You could remove every other shelf and then put a cross bar to make book display space for kids’ books. Similar to the shelves you see on the top here:

  • Making it Lovely
    November 7, 2008 at 11:23 am

    I’m doing that on the other side of the room!

  • Erin
    November 7, 2008 at 11:32 am

    There are all sorts of really adorable new blocks out there, so that isn’t a bad option. But if you have your heart set on older blocks you could run at-home lead tests ( on them.
    I have also heard that if you paint over the blocks with clear polyurethane that will do the trick, though I haven’t done any serious researching to verify.
    Plus, while the baby is immobile it won’t matter, and as he/she gets older you could move the blocks higher and start putting other toys there instead. I actually have old blocks spelling my sons name that I’ve placed on top of an armoire where he can’t get them.
    (An aside: Another cool idea would be a train or cars on those shelves.)

  • Christy
    November 7, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I am sure I will be in the minority here, but I had some of the vintage wooden blocks, from garage sale & thrift stores & I let my son play with them & no harm has come to him or the blocks. :) He is now 5, so a lot less chewing on random things. But back in his day this kid ate everything, dirt, vasoline, you name it!

  • Zoe
    November 7, 2008 at 11:42 am

    That’s so funny! I’m still not sure I love the blocks idea, or at least ALL blocks. I think maybe a few blocks here and there and then I like the idea about trains or cars, and other vintage-type toys mixed in.

  • Maureen
    November 7, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Just to help you think long-term, you might ponder how often you would want to pick up said blocks off the floor over and over again when your child gets to be a little bigger! :)

  • Benita
    November 7, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Y0u could get a perspex sheet to put infront of the whole unit. That would prevent possible toxic sucking, dusting and taking the blocks down. Or would that be cruel? :)

  • Making it Lovely
    November 7, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Ha! “Look, but don’t touch.” ;)

    I know I’ll have to pick up lots of blocks lots of times. I don’t think it would be too bad though because I’d just shove ’em all back on the shelf randomly. I’m not worried about keeping precise stacks arranged in any certain way.

    I do like the idea of mixing in toys, but I also like the idea of making an almost solid wall of blocks.

  • Kate
    November 7, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Where is that tray table from? I love it!

  • Making it Lovely
    November 7, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    It’s a ten year old table from IKEA.

  • Fernanda
    November 7, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I’m probably minority here as well, but my kids have lots of my old toys and others found in garage sales. I believe we, humans, are much ‘tougher’ than we think. Kids have been playing with all kinds of toys for ages.
    And I love both ideas, blocks-only & cars/trains/blocks.

  • Bryn
    November 7, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I’m so sorry – I have no idea about the blocks. But can I please ask what paint color that is in that room? It’s perfection.


  • Making it Lovely
    November 7, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    It’s ‘Wheat Bread’ by Behr.

  • chelsea
    November 7, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    I’m with you and Fernanda. I think toys have been around for ages and honestly, we’ve all turned out okay. I have the same attitude with plastic wrap in the microwave and plastic/reusable water bottles, though. It’s just hype. Research takes money and they have to have some scary, headlining news to make their funders happy, right? :)

    Love the idea of old blocks. There’s an antique mall in my town that has a bag of blocks for $5 each. After looking at prices on Etsy and eBay, I realized it’s a steal (the bags are huge gallon ziploc bags) and will be getting mine from there when the time comes.

  • erin
    November 7, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    i actually just picked up a couple pkgs of wooden blocks from targets dollar section a couple days ago to decorate some shelves in my sons room…

    there were also some cute wooden toys (cars, planes, animals) in the dollar section… our target just finished re-doing the dollar section for christmas and stocking stuffers.

  • jbhat
    November 7, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Cute idea. Just do it.

  • wendy
    November 7, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    There are many amazing blocks out there – but I LOVE (and so do my two little ones) the DADO cubes. My blocks have been shunned and building has taken off!

    btw – I also deeply love that red lamp in your nursery. The form, the color – amazing. Where did you find such a wonder?

  • jenMN
    November 7, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    I just bookmarked this post on one of my favorite blogs:

    loved the blocks there.

  • Erin
    November 7, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    I’m also with those who believe in toughness. I grew up in the 70s with lead paint and asbestos and whatever all else and I turned out fine (twitch, twitch). What about putting in some baskets for storage, if it’s not too inconvenient a spot? You could use them to store extra little diapers or wipes or socks while he/she is teeny, and when the baby gets a little bigger they could be for toy storage and organization.

  • Emily
    November 7, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I think it’s great to use older toys but lead testing is SO IMPORTANT. Lead is not like plastic wrap or other studies that don’t have super-conclusive studies. Lead poisoning can cause severe brain damage. I work in Public health and while I realize the scare tactics the media use can be overwhelming, lead poisoning is one area where you should not take chances. Espcially with children.

  • Jules
    November 7, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I have the Uncle Goose blocks. Nico is stacking them right now as we speak. :) If you want them to look vintage and aren’t comfortable using ones that may have lead paint, you can also tea stain them and scuzz them up on your own with a little sandpaper.

  • Erin
    November 7, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    No idea about lead paint, other than the consensus that we all played with lead ridden things growing and turned out fine, but I saw these the other day and fell in love.

    Though free of lead paint, they may create a little Dr. Horrible through suggestion.

  • Emily
    November 7, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I say GO WITH THE VINTAGE ONES! BUT go to Home Depot or similar and get a lead paint test kit. They are cheap. I have an 18 month old so I keep a bunch in the drawer after all the lead paint scares, I just test anything that comes through the house that is wooden. Good luck!

  • brieanne
    November 7, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    my parents i’m sure gnawed on lead paint, i am sure i sucked on all sorts of plastic (and slept on my stomach in a crib with blankets and i never suffocated, etc.). not saying that i won’t heed the warnings, etc., but i think some vintage blocks would be lovely. you can always stash some newer blocks that are more of the “play blocks.”

  • Making it Lovely
    November 7, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Erin, I LOVE the mad scientist blocks! We may just have to pick up a set.

    And Wendy, the lamp was from Pier 1.

    I think I might mix old and new, and just test the paint on the old ones.

  • Jan
    November 7, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I would use the vintage blocks for display only (on a shelf out of reach) and then get new blocks for the baby to play with

  • Lisa
    November 7, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    My sister knit blocks for her daughter. Very cute, baby loves them, can be washed, AND are quiet when thrown on wooden floors. It’s a win-win in my book.

  • Jasi
    November 7, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Go with new ones. They -really- do put everything in their mouths. Lead paint is serious stuff, hype or no. Why risk it?

  • Amy
    November 7, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    All blocks would be super cute – but maybe not just alphabet blocks? They are sweet – but are not as interesting when you really start building (until they can make words, then things start going again). They aren’t as much fun to build castles and whatnot without long ones to build things Stonehenge-style, and triangles to make roofs on houses, etc. Mixing a few vintage style building blocks in with alphabet blocks would keep the building exciting and less repetitious. My son was crazy about blocks, and we got him all kinds and just mixed them all up – he would play for hours. And clean up isn’t that bad – you do just stuff them randomly back on shelves till next time.

  • Ophelia
    November 7, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    While my first impulse is to think that there must have been so many people who came into contact with lead toys growing up who’re now no worse for it, I think it’s important to keep in mind that for the people who WERE negatively impacted by lead, no amount of thinking that way helps. Issues like this don’t really seem to matter until you’re the one whose child gets sick.

    I’m eighteen, so I played with Lego type blocks rather then wooden blocks, but I do prefer the way wooden blocks look. Personally, I’d use them for decoration and get Legos for the kid to actually play with.

  • Pamela
    November 8, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Like others, I have let my 5 and 2 year-old play with old blocks from my childhood along with Thomas the Train engines and nothing bad has happened (yet).

    We did buy the Mother Goose blocks you picture here and they are fantastic — the boys LOVE them.

  • Fiona
    November 8, 2008 at 10:13 am

    I wouldn’t use the old toys myself (as the mother of a 16-month-old). Lead is a serious enough issue that in New York City we have to have our kids tested for lead at age 1 and age 2, to see if their blood levels rise. In my opinion, the charm of vintage blocks is not enough to risk potential brain damage!

  • Monica A
    November 8, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    I think as parents, we need to be informed off all the issues that might affect our kids, but I also think that there is some kind of too much stuff out there -maybe for manufacturers to avoid legals problems- that it is easy to become obsess with safety issues. I would say a good mix of vintage and new is good, if you’re concern, let the vintage ones high in the shelf and the new ones for playing, or get the lead paint test kit. I think common sense is the best tool to have with kids.

  • Lea
    November 9, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Like Ophelia said, “I think it’s important to keep in mind that for the people who WERE negatively impacted by lead, no amount of thinking that way helps. Issues like this don’t really seem to matter until you’re the one whose child gets sick.”

    “Children from middle-class families are as likely as poor children to suffer losses in intelligence after exposure to low levels of lead early in life, according to a new study.”

    Not to mention Alzheimer’s is on the rise and it’s looking like lead exposure (among other things I’m sure) are risk factors. I really think it’s best not to risk lead painted blocks, especially since you have the means to avoid it. There are poor parents out there that have to live in lead painted houses, unknowingly exposing their kids to the toxic stuff.

  • nikki perez
    November 9, 2008 at 3:03 am

    i would knock out every other shelf and make some storage for children’s book. I have a 2 yr old and you would not believe the amount of kiddie books we’ve collected in 2 years. blocks are cute but in such a small space I would use the shelves for something more functional than vintage blocks….but that’s me.

  • Christina
    November 9, 2008 at 6:49 am

    have a look at these.

    BUT I had the idea, you’d be so good at making your own! YOu’re so artistic

    :) Christina

  • Lou
    November 9, 2008 at 7:12 am

    Hmmms, maybe you should get them tested or get wooden cubes and stencil them on yourself? However here in the chain stores you can buy those really cute building blocks in red, green, yellow and blue — the wooden kind. An old style wooden train set and carriages would also be cute. You could store its train track too if you wanted to.

  • amy
    November 9, 2008 at 8:10 am

    you know what I think! Get some new custom blocks from us! No- we have a mix. We have show vintage toys that the boys do not play with and then safe wood that they mouth and play with daily. Yr a designer- you should have what yo love to look at and also safe stuff too! I can’t wait to see it all!!!

  • jja
    November 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Abiout cubes – just take care they are made from eco colour and ahve a certain safety certificate, we in europe have TüV or something similar, cubes and the room are very nice :-)

  • tonia conger
    November 9, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Those blocks are beautiful! The perfect thing to put in those shelves whether it’s a girl or a boy! I’ve always been a fan of the older wooden toys. They look like they belong in a toy box much more than the thousand pieces of plastic that kids play with now.

  • leslie
    November 9, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    I’ve been reading a book, “Healthy Child, Healthy World,” and it’s really opened my eyes about being more aware of the pollutants we’re bringing into our homes (via toys, furniture, food, bath and body products, candles etc). I wish this book were around when I was pregnant with my first child (8 years ago). I’m going to make some immediate changes (one of the first being removing items with lead) in my home. I *highly* recommend reading it! It’s surprising to learn how lead can creep into our bodies. . .so many different ways, not just via lead based paint.

    And unrelated to the book, we’re also looking into detoxing via chelation to remove heavy metals (including lead) from my son’s body. . . he’s on the Autism Spectrum. And some studies have shown there’s a link between lead and autism.

    Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

  • Kelli
    November 10, 2008 at 10:06 am

    If you like the old blocks, go with it. It will be a while before he will be able to reach those shelves, or those blocks and by then you could be totally over the blocks; or you could just move them to a higher location.

  • Terri
    November 10, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Hi – I usually lurk (love your design ideas!), but this post on lead brings me out of hiding. If you must have vintage blocks, please do as Emily suggested and get them tested for lead.

    I was one of those moms who thought the lead/plastic worries were all hype….but my son tested on the high end of normal for lead at his 1 year baby visit.

    We used an at-home lead test kit and found that there was some lead paint residue on the exterior of our vintage building’s shutters/windows. Lead dust from exterior sources can get on your interior window sills and blinds….and little hands and mouths love those window sills! We are on pins and needles until we have him re-tested at 18 months and just hope the levels have gone down instead of up. You can get the kits at online and at most hardware stores.

    On a lighter note, here are some vintage-like blocks made in the US for those bilingual babes out there!

    Congrats on your pregnancy…kiddos are so much fun!

  • Anna
    November 11, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Hi! I love the blocks idea! You will have a while until he can actually play with them. I think they are a great design idea !

  • Lynne
    November 12, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I totally don’t have the know-how, but I think it would be great if they could be made into the base of a lamp! I think they would look great in a kid’s room.

  • Making it Lovely | Transforming the so-so. » Blog Archive » Eleanor’s Nursery
    June 9, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    […] and its little built-in shelves. Quite a while back, I had decided to fill those shelves with wooden blocks and spools. I’ve also added a vintage pull-toy that I picked up at a garage sale and a name train that […]

  • Uni
    May 16, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    I feel like everyone here is more interested in how ‘cute’ it is and how ‘they turned out ok’ after eating paint chips to care about the real dangers of lead. The entire world was poisoned with leaded gasoline as well as lead paints and other home items, and ever since we have been attempting to clean this up this mess. The fact is lead isn’t safe for your body at any level, no matter how cute it looks.