Delicious Homecooked Toys
November 3, 2010 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Can I craft homemade toys out of casein? If not, what should I use? If so, how can I finish them so that they'll last?

I would like to make my precocious three-year-old nephew some fantastical figurines for Christmas. I'm looking for a substance that will be (ideally) easy to work with, non-toxic, and durable when set. Casein seems like a good solution, but I'm concerned it might be too brittle, or somehow go "off" after a while and start smelling nasty. Is there something that could be added to avoid either of these? I'm assuming these things may be dropped, kicked, left in a hot car, and possibly chewed by two or three species of mammals, so I'd just like them to last as long as reasonably possible under those circumstances. Can you reassure me or point me in a better direction?

Also: I plan to color the substance before forming the figurines, but is there a non-toxic variety of paint I could use after sculpting to add details? And is there any non-toxic sealant that could be slathered on top of that to keep things looking nice for a week or so at least? Thanks in advance!
posted by grar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
casein is used as a binder in natural plasters for the home. these plaster formulas are pretty simple and mixed with water. i think if rotting or stink was a huge issue, it would probably not be used so widely as a binder for the green home plasters...

that said, the general rep of casein is that it is brittle. three year olds can be harsh on their toys. you'll see some breakage.

you've probably seen this?

and this....

if the kid is not still putting everything in its mouth and sucking madly, then you might want to also look at some self-hardening clays...

this stuff takes tempera paint very well and contains a wood resin as a binder...

this stuff comes in nicer colors and does not smell as bad when you are working with it
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:28 PM on November 3, 2010

We made stuff out of casein in science at high school, and I still have it, 16 years later. Hasn't become brittle or discoloured or smelly. That said, there might be better stuff for three-year-olds.
posted by lollusc at 7:49 PM on November 3, 2010

I've put a casein knitting needle into my mouth.

The taste was horrible. Beyond gross.

Three year plea put everything (everything!) into their mouths. I would not buy a casein toy for my (hypothetical, unconceived) child.
posted by bilabial at 9:32 PM on November 3, 2010

I know a number of three-year-olds -- none are still putting non-food things in their mouths. That stage usually ends quite a bit earlier; I don't think your toys will be gnawed.

I'd try polymer clay -- lots of lovely colours nowadays. It's not perfectly durable, but even small children can have "special" toys that are kept on a high shelf and brought down intermittently for relatively supervised play; if we received handmade figurines, there's no way they'd end up on a car floor. Unless the parents are the overwhelmed sorts, you might ratchet down your level of worry a bit. A 3yo may still sometimes be inadvertently rough on things, but can grok "nice toy, must be gentle with, goes back in the box when we're done." Including a storage box to help with that might be nice -- big-box craft stores will have a variety of cheap unfinished wooden boxes you could paint in a co-ordinating colour.

Wax might be a good non-toxic, albeit not amazingly durable, finishing medium; this page suggests a rub-down with wax paper when your warm polymer clay comes out of the oven.
posted by kmennie at 4:52 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

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