Making for Kids,  What Hannah Makes

The Ultimate Guide to Wooden Peg Dolls

Let’s talk about making peg dolls!

You’ve seen them on Etsy. You follow them on Instagram. Your bestie has a collection for her child.

Now you’re wondering. Can I make wooden peg dolls for my kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or neighbor children? The answer is yes! And if you find you have a real talent and love for it, you might even be able to set up a little side hustle and sell them too!

So if you’re looking for the ultimate guide to wooden peg dolls, I’ve got you covered. Here I’ll give you the lo-down about the best materials, where to get them, and a breakdown of how to paint your peg dolls. Plus loads of pictures along the way! Let’s get to it because I’m so excited to share this with you.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. 

Why Make Peg Dolls?

Still not convinced? Here are some great reasons for trying your hand at making peg dolls.

1. You don’t have to be perfect at painting to make a peg doll.

You may think that you have to be an artist to make a peg doll, but that’s not true at all. Even if the fine details of peg dolls make you nervous, there are some monochromatic peg dolls that are so beautiful and so fun. Your kids’ imagination will amaze you if you give them the opportunity. They can use the peg dolls to learn about colors AND create magical worlds with a simple creation.

2. Kids can jump in too.

If your kids are old enough to hold a paintbrush they can also help make peg dolls. When you’re making a collection for your kids, set some aside and let the kids make their own. My kids have also made peg dolls making with markers and they love them too!

3. Let’s talk fair trade.

If you know me, I have a heart for fair trade things. If there’s a way to fit in sustainable ethical things in my life it makes me happy! In fact, I’ve even made an Ultimate Guide to Making and Buying Fair Trade toys if you’re interested in learning more.

One of my favorite things about making toys for my kids is that I know exactly where I’m sourcing everything. I’ll discuss further below where you can get fair trade items for (most) of your peg doll making.

4. You know what’s in it.

Along the same lines, when you make wooden toys for your kids you know what you’re working with. No surprise toxins or concerns because you’re making it yourself. Kinda like when you bake your own bread, you know all the ingredients.

5. No plastics!

Don’t get me wrong, we have plastic toys in our house too. But, it’s nice to know that you’re also adding some toys to the kid’s assortment that won’t end up polluting the Earth later on. In fact, there’s a good chance your kids will pass these little peg dolls on to their kids one day. But even if they don’t, wood will decompose naturally. Win!

6. It’s just fun.

One of the best things about making peg dolls it’s super fun to make something for your kids and watch them play with it. If you’re a creative person, this is SO SO satisfying. You made something that your kids enjoy. Believe it or not, my kids’ peg dolls get played with as much as store-bought toys. <3

Materials For Making Peg Dolls

The first part of making peg dolls is assembling all your materials! So here’s what you need to make peg dolls:

Where to Get Wooden Peg Dolls

The star of the show. The wooden peg doll. But where can you purchase them?

If you like shopping on Amazon, there are a number of choices.

For a specific recommendation, I like the company Woodpeckers because they’re a family-owned business and they do the majority of their production in the US. They also have a number of other unfinished wood products if you want to try your hand at some other crafts. About sustainability, they say,

We believe in treating nature with respect. The earth relies on responsible human consumption of her natural resources, and wood is one of its most important treasures. For this reason, we source our wood from sustainable and renewable forests in the USA and abroad.  In addition, our wood is processed safely and efficiently without damage to surrounding air quality or waterways at any stage of production.

If you prefer shopping on Etsy, Clickity Clack is a very popular wooden peg doll company. They not only have wooden peg dolls but also an assortment of peg doll accessories like horses, cars, and boats.

They’re one of the very best when it comes to your peg doll needs, and I know quite a few peg doll makers who love to use their products.

Best Paintbrushes For Peg Dolls

Paintbrushes do matter. That doesn’t mean you have to drop mad $$$, but you do want to use the proper tools for the job. I would choose a nice mix of acrylic paintbrush sizes for different techniques. You want a brush that’s a little bigger for painting in bigger areas and very fine brushes for those tiny details.

These mixed brushes would be a great start:

These angle brushes can be nice too when you’re painting different parts of the peg doll.

The tiny details are probably the hardest part about painting peg dolls, and that’s why I’d spend a little more money to get a set of detail brushes. Although it seems counterintuitive, the brushes with longer bristles are easier to control. Something like these:

Best Paints for Peg Dolls

There are no perfect answers when it comes to choosing the best acrylic paint for your peg dolls. For the best results, you may want to experiment and see what you think works best. Fortunately, acrylic paint isn’t super expensive so you can try things out without wasting a ton of cash.

I am certain that you could poll 10 different peg doll painters and they would give you different advice, but I’m going to tell you my favorite acrylic paint choices. Please try things out for yourself and see what you like best, but my ideas can be a springboard.

1. Fair Trade Paint (Apple Barrel Paint)

OK so if you want fair trade acrylic paint, I haven’t been able to find a ton of options. However, it’s my understanding that Apple Barrel Paint is made in the USA. It’s also inexpensive and comes in a ton of different colors.

2. Martha Stewart Paint

I really like the Martha Stewart acrylic paint. It goes on smooth and it’s thicker than some other choices which mean you don’t need to use as many coats.  Best of all, it doesn’t separate over time like some of the other options.

I wouldn’t buy this on Amazon because the prices on there seem overly inflated. It’s best to pick this up at your local Michaels or at Michaels online.

I will say there are two drawbacks to this style of acrylic paint.

  1. It seems to thicken over time. That makes it more difficult to use, but can be blended with water to smooth it out again.
  2. The thicker paint doesn’t make it ideal for tiny details. This paint is perfect for coverage, but a little thick for the tiny details you may want to add to your dolls.

3. DecoArt Americana Paint

This paint is a good all-around choice that does work well with the finer details. I do believe this paint will separate over time but it can be mixed back together again. You can buy it on Amazon, but you can usually buy it more inexpensively at Michaels.

All of my recommendations are for the inexpensive craft paints you can pick up at a craft store. In my opinion, you don’t need anything more costly than these to make a nice finished product.

*Please note: Whatever type of paint you choose to use, make sure it is non-toxic. Kids tend to put things in their mouths and nontoxic paint is a must. 

Different Types of Finishes

When you’re finished painting your peg doll, you’ll want to add a nice finish to help protect your work. There are several choices when it comes to finishing wooden toys for children. Here are some of the options available.

1. DuraClear Varnish

I haven’t personally used this one, but I’ve seen a couple of peg doll makers recommend this as a nice clear coat. You can get it in a number of finishes, but I think satin is a nice choice. If you want your dolls to be shiny and almost glass-looking when finished, you can try high gloss.

2. Delta Creative Satin Finish Exterior/Interior Varnish

I picked up this finish at Michaels because it’s what the person working at the store suggested. It’s worked well for what I’ve used it for. It makes a nice finish over the peg dolls and protects them from regular play. It says non-toxic on the bottle as well.

3. Mineral Oil (Food Grade)

Food-grade mineral oil is another finish that wooden toy makers use to finish a product. I have used this in the past, and it does add some protection to the peg doll, but it will also darken and change the color of your work. This is an option if you’re looking for a natural and simple product, but it won’t offer as much protection as some other choices. If you go with this route, definitely make sure you get the “food-grade” version because this will be safe if your kids put it in their mouth.

4. Beeswax/Mineral Oil Finish

Another option is a beeswax/mineral oil mix. You can buy this one or make your own.

This particular product says mineral oil and “other natural waxes” and doesn’t specify what the other waxes are. It does say food-grade and safe for using on things that you prepare food on.

In the past, we’ve used our homemade mineral oil and beeswax to coat our wooden cutting boards, but I haven’t tried for my peg dolls. Without trying it, I would imagine adding beeswax to the mix will be a better protective barrier than plain mineral oil. I do think there’s a good chance it will darken and/or change the color of your peg dolls, so keep that in mind when choosing your finish.

Finishes to Avoid

  • Vegetable oils – these have a tendency to go rancid over time.
  • Nut-based oils – there are some nut-based finishes that would be a potential hazard to people who are allergic to nuts. Walnut oil would be an example of this.
  • VOCs – VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are often used in stains and finishes for wood. Though the jury is out on whether or not a fully cured VOC finish will be harmful even for toys and food prep items, it seems safer to NOT use these types of finishes for toys. They’re also most toxic during the drying period which can take much longer than when they’re dry to the touch. Another good reason to avoid them is they’re more harmful to the environment than some other choices on this list.

Picking the Right Size and Shape for Peg Dolls

Pegdolls come in different shapes and sizes which can be really confusing when you want to pick which ones you want to paint. When I first started making pedolls the sizes and names were so confusing! I didn’t really know what I was ordering or why some of the pegdolls other people made were such different sizes.

I made this little chart to make it easier for you to pick what size you may be interested in making The 3+ inch dolls are pretty sizeable and work well for toddlers. They’re also a good choice because they’re a non-chokeable (as opposed to the toddler/baby sizes which are very small).

Personally, I usually use the large boy size for most of my pegdolls and I use them for both boys and girls. They’re also the size that will fit perfectly in the animals and cars that are sometimes sold unpainted (I’ll have a picture later in the tutorial if you don’t know what I mean).

Common Pegdoll Sizes and Names

Large Angel | Grandma | Bride : 3.5″

Grandpa | Tall Man | Groom: 3-9/16″

Dads | Large Boy: 2-5/16″ or 2-3/8″

Moms | Little Woman: 2-1/4″

Small Angel | Sister | Girl: 2″

Small Boy | Brother: 1-11/16″

Toddler | Baby | Tots: 1-1/8″

Infant | Baby: 1 1/4″

There are a few other choices of pegdolls, but these are the most common ones you will find when you begin searching.

How to Paint Peg Dolls

Now for the moment, you’ve all been waiting for! How to paint your peg dolls!

1. Start By Sanding the Peg dolls

When you order peg dolls they’re generally pretty smooth already, but it’s still a good extra step to sand them again before you begin painting. This can eliminate any surface imperfections and make it easier to paint (especially for those fine details!) It’s not necessary to take a long time doing this step. Just enough to make it nice and smooth.

2. Outline Your Peg doll With a Pencil

After you’re done sanding the pegdolls, the next thing I do is draw an outline of what I want the dolls to look like. In the process of painting, you will cover your pencil drawings, but it will give you a clear guide when you start.

You can add as little or as much detail as you want.

3. Paint From the Skin Out (Layer the Clothing)

When you have your pencil outlines finished, the next step is to begin painting. I like to paint my pegdolls like I’m layering them with clothes. Start with the bottom layer and continue adding more layers. For example, you don’t want to add a coat until you’ve painted the undershirt. Add final details like an object they’re holding last.

If you’ve painted over all your outlines with your base layer, you can add additional pencil outlines on top.

4. Keep it Simple

Some peg doll makers are extremely good at making tiny details. They’ll blow your mind. But even if that’s your endgame, you don’t have to start there. Believe me, kids will play with and enjoy peg dolls even if they’re very very simple.

5. Admire Your Work and Fix Any Issues

When you think you’re done painting, take a moment to look over your work. Are there any things you’re not happy with? If you’ve made a mistake while painting you can usually wipe it off with a damp cloth. If it’s already dried, a good trick is to bring your sandpaper out and sand off a mistake. I’ve used this technique when I painted their faces and just didn’t like how they looked. A face is a big deal and if you’re not happy with it, you can start over 🙂

6. Use a Top Coat On Your Peg Doll

The last step is to use a finish to protect your peg dolls. You can refer above to some safe finishes you can use for your peg dolls.

7 . Take Pictures of Your Art For All to Admire!

It’s time to set up a little photoshoot and put that art on Instagram!

Look. I don’t know what I was going for here. I was trying a thing. Robin hood in the jungle? Anyway, after I took this picture I didn’t like Robin Hood’s eyes so I sanded them off and started over. I also gave him a hat because he’s ROBIN HOOD.

Take your peg dolls outside. The natural light. The snow. It’s all so pretty.

Peg doll Accessories, Cars, and Horses

One of my favorite thing about peg dolls is the peg doll additions. And one of my favorite additions are horses.

My Dad cut these peg doll horses out for me. A blog called Catholic Icing has a free pattern that we used to cut out these wooden horses.

Respect Other Peg Doll Makers and Their Unique Styles

Now I must take a moment to be serious. This isn’t about me. This is about other makers. This is about…respect.

Sometimes when a person starts learning how to do something, they emulate others. This is a very natural part of the learning process. Many people start with other people’s ideas before they develop their own style.

Even accomplished artists are inspired by other people’s art.

But there is a fine line in the creative world of inspiration and… well… just taking someone else’s ideas. There are a lot of extremely talented peg doll makers out there that I am in awe of. That being said, I don’t want to take their ideas for my own. It’s especially a bad idea to sell peg dolls based on someone else’s designs. That’s a big no-no and it will hurt other people’s businesses and their feelings as well. I’ve seen it happen to other makers and it’s not a fun day for them.

So to reiterate, it’s totally fine to be inspired by other peg doll makers. It’s not OK to profit off their designs.

Tips for Caring for Your Paint Brushes

I will start this section by stating that I am the worst. I do not take good care of my brushes. I leave them in paint-y water for days. I forget about them. Don’t be like me. Be a person who takes care of their tools and doesn’t have to keep purchasing new ones because they didn’t. Don’t be me.

But anyway, if you do want to be a good paintbrush caretaker, here are some tips. (Do as I say, not as I do).

  • Tip #1: Don’t let the paint dry on your paintbrushes. Acrylic paint dries fast and will quickly ruin your brushes.
  • Tip #2: Don’t leave your brushes in a jar of water. You can’t to keep your paint brushes clean and damp while painting, but don’t leave them in a jar of water. It will fray the brushes and make it harder to paint with later (especially if they’re fine tip brushes). I don’t own one of these personally, but it looks like a fun idea for holding your paintbrushes while you’re making art.
  • Tip #3: Clean your brushes when you’re finished. When you’re finished painting, take the time to clean your brushes. First run them under lukewarm water to remove the paint then use hand soap or an artist soap to gently wash the brushes with your fingers.
  • Tip#4: Store your brushes safely. There are a lot of options for storing your brushes from paintbrush stands to empty coffee cans. The main thing is to make sure they’re clean before storing them, and store them in a way that protects the bristles.

How to Care For Your Peg Dolls

Those of you making peg dolls for your children will know that you won’t be able to keep your peg dolls in mint condition. If you want them to stay pristine, keep them on a shelf. If they’re going to be used, understand that they’re going to take on some battle scars from the hours of playtime with their little people. In a way, that’s kind of beautiful. And it doesn’t stop them from being passed down to future generations who will love playing with something their parents played with as children.

I like to imagine having my grandkids over one day and hearing them ask if they can please play with the peg dolls their mom or dad used to play with. Joy upon joy.

Even with that in mind, there are a few things you can do to help preserve your peg dolls. Here are my simple suggestions.

  1. Have a place to store them. Peg dolls are easy to lose so I like to have a basket or bin to put them in when the kids are done playing with them. I crocheted this basket using this pattern from All About Ami.  ‘

2. Add another coat of finish. As your kids play with the peg dolls, you may find that they start to look wore out or lackluster. You can always add another layer of finish to help protect them.

3. Teach your kids responsibility. There’s normal play, and then there’s unnecessarily rough play. If your kids are playing with the pegdolls in a way that will quickly ruin them, you can talk to them about how to take good care of their things so they can have them for a long time.

Have Fun Making Peg Dolls

Now that you’ve read through my lengthy ULTIMATE guide to peg dolls, I can’t WAIT to see what you make. Who knows? Maybe this could turn into a nice little side hustle for you and your family. There are a lot of great peg doll makers out there, but quality work takes time and you can’t make these in mass quantity overnight. There’s room for you in this niche — if that’s your dream 🙂

Have some tips to add? Love to hear from you in the comments.


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