DIY Modern Wooden Toy Box with Lid: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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As summertime approaches, my spring fever Simplify Life instincts kick into full gear. This includes de-junking and de-cluttering my entire house, even (to my children’s dismay) the toys. In order to make the transition feel smoother and less painful in moving from more to less, I thought a beautiful toy box might do the trick. And, wouldn’t you know it? It did. And we haven’t even officially filled it yet. #momwin

This DIY wooden toy box feels both classic and modern at the same time. It also might seem intimidating as a project to start, but you and a building partner really can knock out the construction of it in half a day if you’ve got all your wood cut to begin with. You’re going to love it. Trust me.

DIY Level: Intermediate

Note: It is imperative with any wood building project that you take all necessary safety precautions; work on a level and clean surface; measure and cut precisely, and check for square frequently in order to ensure the best end product.

Materials Needed:

  • Out of 1/2″ plywood: two (2) 12”x12” squares AND two (2) 12”x32” rectangles AND one (1) 13”x33” rectangle
  • Out of 1×3 lumber: two (2) 12” cuts AND two (2) 32” cuts AND three (3) 13” cuts
  • Out of 1×2 lumber: two (2) 12” cuts AND two (2) 32” cuts
  • Out of 2×2 lumber: four (4) 18-1/2” cuts
  • One (1) 3/4″ thick project panel (also sometimes called “craft pine”) in 16”x36” rectangle
  • Two (2) torsion hinges (example uses 40# load) or hinge of your choice
  • 1” and 1-1/4” pocket hole screws
  • Wood glue
  • Kreg jig, jigsaw, 120- and/or 220-grit sandpaper + sander, drill, clamps
  • Felt/rubber pads for lid (optional)
  • Finish (e.g., stain, paint, sealant) of your choice

Begin by sanding everything. This might feel tedious when you’re excited to get building, but trust me. It’s much faster, easier, and better for the end product to sand now than after the toy box is assembled.

You’ll start by building your side panels. Take a 12”x12” plywood square and determine which side will face the interior of your toy box. Place the grain running sideways, then measure 3” in from the corners on the two sides (at the entry/exit points of the grain). You’re marking the pocket hole placement for the side panel to attach to the legs here.

Following instructions, set up your beloved Kreg jig at the 3/4” depth mark.

Drill your four pocket holes (two per side).

Your 12”x12” square now looks like this.

Next, measure for two or three pocket holes on the top and bottom ends of your square (use the photo for measurement reference). These holes will attach the top and bottom inset strips onto your side panel. Repeat these steps for the other side panel.

On your 12”x32” rectangle, determine which side you want facing inward on your toy box. Measure and mark 3” in from the top and bottom corners on both ends. Drill these four holes (two per end). Then measure and mark five pocket holes on the top and bottom ends. (I didn’t do the math perfectly, so I’ll let you do your own math – the holes should ideally be spaced 6”-8” apart.)

Your piece should now look like this. Repeat for the other rectangle.

It’s now time to grab your 1×3 and 1×2 strips, including not just the 12” but also the 13” lengths. The 12” 1×3 strips will go on the top (as in, close to the lid) of your plywood panels, the 1×2 strips will go on the bottom (as in, close to the floor) of your plywood panels. The 13” strips will go onto the bottom of your toy box to support the box floor. (More on those later.)

Drill two holes into each end of your 1×3 pieces and one hole into each end of your 1×2 pieces.

Repeat for the longer (32”) strips as well.

We now need to prepare the Front top strip (one of your 32” 1x3s) for cutting out the finger hold. From each (side) end, measure and mark the 4” and 5” spots along the top (close to the lid) end.

Use a square at your 5” marking to place a new 5” point that is 1-3/4” up from what will be the bottom (away from the lid) end. Now draw a line from the 4” point at the top to the new 5” point. Do this from both sides of your wood strip.

Use a straight edge to draw all the lines you need to guide your jigsaw.

Use a jigsaw to make your cut-out.

When you have a relatively wide corner like this, simply curve your jigsaw around the corner on your first pass. You should still be able to see the pencil marks at the corner point.

When the main piece is cut out, come back with your jigsaw and, coming in from both sides of the corner, sharpen up that corner angle. Repeat on both sides.

Your finger hold should look something like this.

Go ahead and sand your fresh cuts.

With everything ready with pocket holes, it’s time to assemble your box! I recommend having two people and a flat and level work surface to make this job easier. Run a bead of wood glue along the bottom of a 1×3 12” strip.

Join the glue side with the top end of your Side A plywood. The pocket hole sides should be flush. (Tip: Use other wood pieces underneath to make it flush; as in, stick a piece of 1/2″ plywood under the 1×3 strip that you’ve glued and a 1×3 strip under the plywood you’re gluing to. This creates a flat surface for you where the pocket holes connect.) Make sure the sides are flush and all pocket holes are visible.

Clamp in place, then use 1” pocket screws to attach.

Wipe away any excess glue. (Be sure to wipe on the front and back sides, and remember that if you’re staining your toy box, stain won’t take to glue so make sure that it’s all the way wiped off.)

Repeat this process for a 12” strip of 1×2 on the other (bottom) end of your Side A. Then repeat for Side B.

I think the most beautiful aspect of this simple, modern toy box is the insets everywhere. When the pocket hole sides are flush, the other side of your panels will have that gorgeous 3D wood detailing. It looks very high-end.

Repeat this exact process for the rectangular panels to create your Front and Back panels.

Be sure you’re checking for glue squeezing out on both the interior and exterior sides of your panels. It’s easy to finish the pocket screwing and move on without checking the other side, but this would be a mistake, because glue will likely be squeezing out on that side as well.

It’s now time to assemble the box by attaching all the panels to your box legs, which are the 18-1/2” long 2×2 boards. Grab Side A and run a bead of glue along the side. Set the Side A panel, glue side down, onto a 2×2 leg with the top ends flush.

The inside (pocket hole side) of your side panel should be positioned 1/2″ away from the corner edge of your 2×2 post. When the panel is positioned precisely, attach with 1-1/4” pocket screws.

Wipe away excess glue. Repeat for the other leg on this panel.

With both 2×2 legs attached, the inside of your Side A panel will look like this.

By positioning your side panel 1/2” away from the corner edge of your 2×2 leg, it gives the exterior of your side panel strips a beautiful 1/4″ inset. Repeat this process for Side B.

Now it’s time to attach the Back and Front rectangular panels to the leg posts. Glue along one side of your panel.

Align the panel onto the leg (keeping it 1/2″ in from the edge of the leg post, top flush), and attach with 1-1/4” pocket screws.

It’s beginning to take shape!

Repeat the attachment steps with the Front panel.

Lay your Side B panel, pocket holes facing upward, on your flat, clean work surface. Run two beads of glue along the open ends of your Front and Back panels, then have a helper flip the U-shaped Front/Side A/Back piece over and place the glued ends onto the Side B legs. Have them hold the box in place while you align precisely and attach both ends with pocket screws.

Ta-da! A box.

That finger hold gives it such a nice touch. As do the insets; they’re subtle but so chic.

Time to build the box floor. Flip your box upside down and place on a clean, level surface.

Place a 13” 1×3 strip in the center of the box, with the pocket holes facing you.

Use a square to make sure it’s, well, square. Then use 1” pocket screws to attach the 13” strip to the box Front and Back strips.

Repeat for the other two 13” 1×3 strips. Your base support is now ready for the box floor.

Measure 5/8” from the corners of your 13”x33” plywood rectangle.

Remember how you left 1/2″ from the corner edge of each leg when you attached your side panels? We’ll need to cut out that part from the four corners of your toy box floor so it fits.

Use a jigsaw to cut them out.

They’ll look like this.

Sand anything that may need it before you lay the floor in the box.

With the smoothest side facing upward, slide your floor rectangle into your box. It should be snug but not crazy tight.

To ensure level, consider placing a small piece of scrap wood at each corner and hammering downward. This helps the floor to settle completely. You can use 1” screws through the bottom of your base support boards if you feel it’s necessary to keep your floor in place; this one, however, was snug enough that we didn’t need to secure it.

Congratulations! The building of your box is now complete, unless you want a lid. Even then, it’s time to pause and finish the box how you want it. Unwrap your project panel; this will be the top (lid) of your box.

It’s a beautiful thing that the project panel is sold in the perfect size for your needs, isn’t it?

Give the lid a light sanding.

Finish your box how you want it. I chose to use paints we already had, with a little peek-a-boo contrast on the inside (of both the box and the lid). My daughter, whom this box is for, glimpsed the box and lid drying in the garage and exclaimed, “Ah! I love it! It looks like an elephant!” So. If you’re after the look of an elephant, I recommend pale pink inside some sort of soft grey.

Once your box is finished (e.g., stained or painted and thoroughly dry), all you need to do is attach the lid. This is so simple with these torsion hinges (purchased for this project from this vendor). You can place the hinges wherever you want, but I’ll show you how I did it. Feel free to modify as you need. On the inside/under side of your lid, along the back end, measure 5” in from the sides and 1-7/8” in from the back end. This will not make the back of the lid flush with the back of the toy box; instead, it will be inset a little bit, which evens out the overlap of the front end of the lid on the toy box and, in my opinion, looks better and more balanced. Mark this point, and draw some light pencil lines.

Align the outside edge of your hinge with your lines. Double check to make sure it is perfectly parallel with your lid and is aligned.

Your hinge comes with two 1” screws and other 3/4” screws. Choose the 3/4″ screws for this job.

Secure the hinge to the underside of your lid. Repeat for the other hinge.

Now slide the hinges onto the back panel of your toy box. Center the lid.

For this next job, you’ll want to choose the two 1” screws.

Double-checking that the lid is, indeed, centered on your box, attach the hinge to the back panel.

Then, using 3/4″ screws, attach the front side of your hinge base to the back panel as well. Repeat for the other hinge.

Open your box lid. It works!

Now let go of your box lid. It stays in place! That’s the beauty of torsion hinges, especially for a toy box where young kids will be using it. These hinges are more expensive, but they are worth it to keep little fingers from getting smashed and the box lid from slamming over and over and over and over… you get the idea.

Optionally, you can place rubber or felt pads on the lid or on the top of your front leg posts to protect the front end of your lid when it’s down.

The end. Your own beautiful DIY modern wooden toy box, which may or may not look like an elephant.

The three levels of inset on all panels of this toy box really set it apart as something special.

As does that long, simple, and contemporary finger slot.

Open it up, and…PINK! Very exciting around here.

You may have noticed that I didn’t do anything to cover up the pocket holes. For me, it wasn’t worth it. If you feel differently, however, feel free to do so. Fill them with putty, sand them down, and they’ll virtually disappear when you paint.

I love when functionality truly blends with form, and these hinges in a nickel finish definitely do that for this toy box.

The lid’s staying power is a lifesaver.

You could also choose to attach a sort of guard (with 1×3 strips) along the top sides and back of your lid for a more craftsman look.

Because, in my house at least, this box will be used as a play bench as much as a box, I chose to keep the top of the lid perfectly flat.

I love a contrast color on the inside. Even if you wanted white on the outside of your toy box to match your light-and-airy style, jazz it up with a vivid cobalt or fuchsia or something inside. So fun!


Here’s the lid on its way down, although it really could hang out in this awkwardly not-up-not-down position for hours. Days, probably.

And, closed. I hope you find this tutorial useful, and that if you use it to build your own DIY modern toy box you’re completely pleased with the result.

Happy DIYing!

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