Last Minute Homemade Present: A DIY Latch Board For Kids

Happy New Year y’all! Who’s making resolutions? We’re mulling ours over today (you know Sherry loves a list…). But let’s get to the subject at hand. Being last minute “elves” for Santa. See, Clara’s play fridge wasn’t the only homemade gift that she opened this year. Because the weekend before Christmas we decided to make her a little latch board of her very own. And now we’ve finally gotten our act together to share the tutorial with you. So oh snap (pun intended), here it is.

We first learned about latch boards when Clara’s cousin Elsa got one a year ago – she’s a year older – and we heard how much she loved it (they basically tap into kids’ innate need to turn, twist and flip just about anything that’s shiny). So it’s pretty much been a waiting game until we jumped aboard the S. S. Latch and hooked Clara up (we wanted to wait until we thought she could master it without getting frustrated and wanting to throw it through a window).

Now that she’s adept at other stacking/twisting games, we decided the time was right to DIY one so we hit up our favorite local place when it comes to handware and hinges. They’re basically a warehouse full of hundreds of old skeleton keys, latches, knobs, and other random things. In other words: the adult version of a candy store for people like us.

We came home with quite an assortment of things and eagerly spread them out to see how everything might fit together. Well, eagerly as soon as Clara was napping.

Eventually we landed on this arrangement. We didn’t use everything we bought (we returned some of it) since some of it started to feel redundant. Plus, we wanted to keep it at a manageable size. Basically you’re seeing some hinges, a bunch of window latches, some door bolts, and a couple of decorative carabiners attached to simple drawer pulls.

The wood piece shown above was just a scrap piece of plywood that we were using to temporarily figure out our desired board size. The actual board itself needed to be thicker (to screw the latches into, so the screws wouldn’t come out the bottom and scratch the floor), so I found some spare 1×4″ and 1×3″ boards in the basement that I could jig together with my Kreg. Nothing like using whatcha got. We also liked that it would look sort of weathered and authentic that way, like the top of our console table, thanks to using the same method. But of course you could get a single board cut down to your desired size at Home Depot to avoid needing a jig at all for this project. I was just using what I had.

I waited to cut them to the same length until everything was all jigged together so I’d be sure to get an even edge. Then I just flicked on my table saw and made one quick cut down a line I made once we determined the desired size.

Here’s the final 12″ x 12″ square piece of board that I whipped together. Oh yeah, and I sanded down the edges and corners to make them a bit rounder / safer for small hands.

To spice it up a bit, we decided to give it a little stain and paint treatment. Definitely not necessary, but kid-projects like these are our favorites, so we like to have fun with them. I taped off the edges with painter’s tape and then used some leftover Dark Mahogany stain to give some color to the top (I also beat up the top a bit beforehand to make it look a little weathered).

Once my stain dried, I peeled off the tape and primed the edges very carefully. Once the primer was dry, I repeated that step with a coat of paint just to give the edge a little slice of color. We used Benjamin Moore’s Citron, which is one of the colors leftover from book projects last January (it’s also the same color we used on the back of our giant chalkboard). I think Sherry and I both liked the combo of nearly-neon grellow + stained wood on that project so much that we subconsciously wanted to repeat it – this time so the grellow was actually visible instead of hidden on the back.

You can see from this pic that after I edged with a brush I rolled over with a small foam roller just to make sure my paint was evenly spread. It’s pretty easy with a roller to not mess up your edge on a piece like this.

Once the paint was dry Sherry slapped on a quick coat of Acrylacq polyurethane to give it some added durability (it’s low-VOC and non-toxic so we love using it on the kid stuff that we make). After the topcoat of sealer had set overnight, it was finally time to attach the latches. Mind you, it was 40 hours before Christmas morning at this point. Oh, and don’t mind the missing hinges. We decided to ditch two small ones and get one bigger one, which we hadn’t picked up yet (time crunch = my middle name).

Thank goodness Lowe’s was open the next day (Christmas Eve), which meant we were able to attach the last piece just in time to get it wrapped for “Santa to deliver it” the next morning.

All-in-all, it cost us about $35. So, unfortunately, it was more than some of the store bought versions. Most of the expense came from the two decorative carabiners (the red star and the pink amoeba looking thing were $9 total) and the locking window latch in the top left (it was $4). Had we ditched those or found less expensive versions we could’ve come closer to this version‘s price tag. But the carabiners actually seem to be Clara’s favorite part, so I’m glad we “splurged” on them.

Update: As for if it’s too heavy for Clara, if there have been any pinched fingers, or if we’re teaching her how to bust locks, thankfully she has dragged it around for a week and doesn’t seem to have any issues (it’s about the same weight as her wooden Melissa & Doug puzzles) and there haven’t been any pinched fingers (we tried to picked things with smooth edges). The board is also full of external latches/hinges (nothing like the internal medicine cabinet locks or door locks that we use to keep Clara safe). We’ve actually heard from a few teachers who have these in their classrooms and say kids love them and they help with fine motor skills :)

And if you want to see for yourself, here’s a short clip of Clara opening her latch board on Christmas morning.

I think we got the reaction we wanted. What parent wouldn’t like an “Oh wow, man”?

Is anyone else out there making latch boards? Or just tooling around in an old hardware store like a kid in a candy store?


  1. says

    Oh my gosh, that is so freakin cute. I love all the wooden and non-traditional toys coming back. We’ll definitely be trying this one out for our girls. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Michelle says

    It is cute…however, with 3 kiddos in our house, my first thought was “oh no! now they will never be able to keep her contained–they just taught her how to be an escape artist!”

    • says

      Hahahahhhhahahha! She’ll be the next Houdini! Actually, the girl still doesn’t climb out of her crib (although she climbs IN, go figure!) so maybe we just got lucky ;)


    • says

      All joking aside, you can see from the board it’s full of hinges and things like chain latches, so she can’t break into a locked medicine cabinet or a door that’s locked from the inside. The items on the board are all external latches and hinges, which isn’t the best way to keep kids out of things anyway (at least we prefer internal ones they can’t access) – so we don’t use anything like the latches on this board to keep Clara safe that she could then bust through like a criminal. Ha!

      We’ve actually heard from a few teachers who have these in their classrooms and say kids love them and they’re great for fine motor skills :)


    • Jessica says

      I had the same thought! We keep a pretty close eye on our daughter (now 3.5yo) but I definitely felt better before she figured out how to unlock the front door, undo the safety chain and bypass the child safety latches on the cabinets. Thankfully she seems to be developing an awareness of danger and a sense self preservation along with her coordination. Clara seems to be pretty smart and well supervised so I’m guessing (hoping?) she’ll be just fine too. :) (Not to mention our kidlet figured all that out without the help of a latch board so it seems inevitable even without the toy.)

    • says

      Oh yes, Clara’s about three feet too small to reach the safety latch on our front door and our alarm system is pretty crazy (screams: “front door open” if it ever got opened) so we have her locked down :)


  3. says

    Holy cow that is cool! My kids would have loved that when they were little and actually I would’ve too. Okay… here’s an idea. I wonder if “toys” like that would be good in nursing homes/ alzheimers units to keep minds working with familiar things???
    Clara is the diggity bomb! Someday I hope to have grandkids as cool as your little lass :) Happy New Year Petersiks!!!

    • Jessica says

      I used to volunteer at a nursing home in Louisiana, and the elderly folks used boards very similar to this one (that also had things like a zipper, a button, and a faucet) to practice things that they use every day. That’s exactly what I thought about when I saw this post!

    • Renee says

      I actually work in a nursing home on an alzheimers unit, and we have 2 of those boards. One very similar to this with hinges and latches, and the other has light switches, door handles, a telephone and even an old crank from a washing machine of long ago :) Then residents love it!

    • Stephanie B. says

      I bet they would be great in nursing homes and other long term care facilities! I’m a counselor and my husband is a social worker and currently works in a long term care facility. Anything that involves building continued dexterity, especially in the fingers and the mind is great! … especially the chain latch and things that are a bit more complicated. How cool would that be?!

  4. Sian says

    So cute I love that she was instantly into it looks like she’ll have lots of fun with it. Have a great new year all off you x

  5. Mary says

    I had one of these years ago in my early childhood classroom of 3s and 4s; one of the parents was not happy that her son now knew “how to get into and out of everything!” But the kids loved it.

  6. Kate says

    On the note of Pleasants…do they carry wallpaper? I’ve been on the hunt to cover my dresser with the tutorial from your book (yay!), but can’t find wallpaper in any stores here around Richmond! Home Depot looked at me like I was an 80 year old woman when I asked where it was.

    • says

      Oh no, I think Home Depot and Lowe’s actually have it! They used to have grasscloth and some samples/books but you have to order it I think! I don’t think Pleasants has it though.


  7. says

    Merry New Year’s guys! This is such a great idea, looks pretty easy too.

    P.S. the “this version‘s price tag” link isn’t working. Could be just my computer, not sure.

  8. Penny Smith says

    Ok-the comments about her dropping it or pinched fingers make me frown… I mean really. Is she suppose to be the girl in the bubble? Natural consequence rocks! It is adorable… Apparently mom was excited about her getting that out of the wrapping paper and couldn’t wait for Clara to finish unwrapping! Lol!!

  9. Christa says

    So I teach Pre-K, and I love how you guys are setting up Clara for success! This is an amazing activity for fine-motor skills and problem-solving. She is going to love it and learn great skills at the same time! I think I might make one for my classroom as well! I cannot say enough how much I love the example that you’re setting on the Internet of reading and playing/interacting with your child! Thank you!

  10. says

    Glad she likes it. We have the Melissa and Doug one and it is still loved after nearly 2 years. I do think it’s more fun to have the latches on actual opening doors, so maybe that would be a suggestion for an upgrade in time. Happy New Year!

  11. Emma says

    You guys need to make a DIY toy book! That’s lovely. And who cares if it cost a bit more than a store bought latch toy? You MADE it for her with love :) And it’s way more stylish – so win win. Happy New Year! All the best in 2013 :)

  12. Amanda says

    I love it! Filing it away for when our munchkin’s a bit older (although at 4 months old, she’s grabbing EVERYTHING)!

    You’re making a little escape artist! :P :P

    • says

      Hahaha! She’s more of a scientist than an escape artist I think. She just loves sitting there and watching things move over and under and up and down. She has yet to climb out of her crib (although she climbs INTO it! Haha!) so maybe we just got lucky? :)


  13. Lara says

    That is such a great gift! My little one is 14 months old and she plays with a latch board at daycare and loves it. She doesn’t quite know what to do with it yet, but I love this homemade version. I’ll probably steal this idea for her 2nd birthday gift.
    Love it!

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