Make: Process Art Sculptures from Scrap Wood

Combine simple construction concepts with art play for this incredible invitation to build scrap wood sculptures! Each one-of-a-kind sculpture is a tiny feat of art + engineering, and these kid-painted building blocks can be reused over and over again.

Our kid-made painted wood process art sculptures sitting in front of a white background.

Having studied a bit of architecture in school, I’m a total sucker for small-scale constructions and hands-on opportunities to build with geometric forms. These little wooden sculptures give kids a chance to investigate foundational design principles in a manner that feels like play. And each finished product is a unique, imaginative work of art that can be kept as is, or taken apart and built into something totally different.

Kids can explore art play and simple construction with this fun process art wood sculpture project. | from barley & birch


Don’t feel like getting out all the paints? Minimalists, rejoice! Building these sculptures and constructions is just as fun with unfinished wood scraps.

For more construction fun, make a set of cardboard blocks for castle-building, build Memphis-inspired paper sculptures or make your own versatile Thingamaboard from scrap wood and craft dowels.

To make your own scrap wood sculptures you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Woodpeckers Crafts and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • Wood scraps, paint sticks, and/or building blocks (I used a few of these)
  • A Drill and bits (I used a twist bit to make clean cuts through the wood)
  • Sandpaper
  • Acrylic paints and foam brushes
  • Nuts & bolts (I used assorted screws – 1/4-inch in diameter and 1 or 2-inches in length works well for smaller hands)

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

  • A hot glue gun or craft glue (I use this low-temp glue gun with kids)
  • Rubberbands or craft/floral wire
  • Clothespins or other items to add to your sculptures
  • Non-toxic wood stain or wax
  • A screwdriver (not necessary, but some kids may find it fun to incorporate tools!)

DIY Scrap Wood Sculpture Instructions:

  1. Gather wood scraps, building blocks, etc.

    I happen to have quite a few pieces of scrap wood from small building projects, but if you don’t have scrap wood around the house, you can easily use building blocks instead (this is a great way to breathe new life into a set!). I actually used both, along with some paint stirrers I had cut in half and a few clothespins. Gather wood scraps and building blocks to use as the base for your process art wood sculptures. | from barley & birch

  2. Drill holes randomly, then sand until smooth

    This next step is probably best for an adult to complete as prep (especially if you’re using scraps, which can unexpectedly splinter or break when drilling). I used a drill and twist bit to drill holes into half of my scrap wood pieces. I wanted to make sure we had a nice variety of wood scraps for building, so so I left half of the blocks as they were, then drilled 1 hole in a few, made some with 2 or 3 holes, and staggered the placement of the holes.

    I used a piece of scrap lumber as my drilling surface, simply because I could drill all the way through my woodblocks without having to worry about what I’d hit on the other side. As a safety precaution, you may want to use utility clamps to hold everything in place while you drill.
    Drill holes randomly, then sand until smooth. | from barley & birch
    Note: I find that BIGGER is better for small hands. Using wider bolts and making holes that are just a *bit* larger than your bolts ensures kids will easily be able to handle the supplies and join pieces together without the need for tools.

    Before painting or playing, be sure to sand around the sides of the drilled holes and any rough edges using medium-fine grit sandpaper.

  3. Paint the scrap wood sculpture-building pieces then let dry

    Using acrylic paint and a foam brush, paint your blocks in a variety of fun colors. Let kids pick their palettes then go to town painting blocks in solid colors or any way they prefer!Paint the scrap wood sculpture-building pieces
    Note: you can easily skip this step if you’d prefer, and either use wood stain or leave your wood blocks unfinished.

  4. Combine with nuts and bolts to build into beautiful sculptures

    Once dry, lay out all your blocks with a small bowl or tray of nuts & bolts, assorted rubber bands, clothespins, floral wire, or other supplies you can use for building. Let the construction commence!

    The kid-painted building blocks for our wood scrap process art sculptures. | from barley & birch

  5. Take apart and REBUILD!

    And this is my favorite part…once you’ve built your sculptures, you can take EVERYTHING apart, rearrange, and rebuild over and over again.
    Three of our kid-made painted wood process art sculptures sitting in front of a white background.

One of the extra-thrilling aspects of our little DIY tabletop sculptures is that even after constructions were put together, we could create remixes just by moving a few pieces around. Joined wood scraps can be tilted to different angles, small blocks can be stacked in a new order. Using nuts and bolts + simple stacking rather than glue gives SO much freedom to play.

Three of our kid-made painted wood process art sculptures sitting in front of a white background.

More sculpture ideas to explore with your scrap wood building blocks…

  • ADD PATTERN. We kept our sculpture building blocks fairly simple by sticking to solid colors, but it’s always exciting to throw some patterns into the mix and see what happens. Splatter your blocks with splotches of a second color, use a stamp to create polka dot blocks, or make some bold two-tone-striped blocks. It’s all up to you!
  • MAKE IT MOVE. As we discovered with our kinetic paper shape art project, there’s a lot of magic to be found in movement. How can you add moving elements to your sculptures? Can you add things that spin in the breeze? Maybe you can incorporate marbles that drop through a hole, or experiment with making a simple pendulum?
  • COLLABORATE! As we were playing with these small-scale sculptures, I couldn’t help imagine what a BIG collaborative sculpture might look like, or a table full of individual sculptures pushed together. It would be so much fun to see what a classroom could build with a set of scrap wood building blocks! Give this it’s own space, leave out a basket of painted scrap wood building blocks, and invite different ages or groups to continue adding pieces for an ongoing collaborative art project.
  • GO NATURAL. Our sculptures use geometric pieces, but you can invoke a sense of nature and incorporate organic shapes by adding found nature supplies. Rocks, pinecones, leaves, sticks – they’re all great elements to experiement with!
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Investivate sculpture construction with these artists…

Over the years I have collected a long list of artists whose styles have influenced the projects I share here. From the materials they use and celebration of geometric forms, to the constructivist characteristics found in their artwork, the artists below all stand out as inventive sculptors to check out alongside this project…

Our kid-made painted wood process art sculptures sitting in front of a white background.

For open-ended process art projects similar to these scrap wood sculptures, sit down with us for some relaxing scribble art, go abstract with rainbow road art, or make a set of AMAZINGLY versatile process art play tiles (my new favorite thing!)


*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon or Woodpecker Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

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Amanda E.
With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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