I just want to start by assuring Jessi (who worries about my wife) that I spent most of the weekend doing useful things around the house, but one of those things was pruning branches from an overgrown cedar and I had to cut them into pieces that would fit into our yard waste container anyway, so the tools were already out, and from there it was really only a very small step to making this simple construction set from tree parts.
I didn't even take the time to sand this piece of scrap lumber (mostly because my sander seems to have taken up permanent residence at the school), and drilling those fifteen 5/8" holes took almost no time at all. I chose 5/8" holes because I already had a couple length of 5/8" doweling in the garage, although I didn't have enough for the whole project. I debated with myself about whether or not it was worth a trip to the hardware store for a few more sticks, but then I remembered Mark Frauenfelder's DIY warning (from his terrific book Made By Hand) that once you cross your property line, you might as well give up on getting anything more done that day. Instead, I scavenged around the garage and came up with enough 1/4" square doweling to complete the project. So indeed, the children of Woodland Park will be putting square pegs into 3/8" round holes . . . Or, rather they'll be putting round holes onto square pegs.
I'm going to start by introducing this to the kids with removable dowels because I think it will make the toy more flexible as they rearrange them to suit their construction needs . . .
. . . but I can imagine wanting to glue at least a few of them permanently into the base.
I can also imagine that we'll want to ultimately make a much larger one (or several of them) because this will likely only accommodate 2-3 builders, at most, at a time. I'm thinking of this as a prototype that we can use to iron out the bugs before making the classroom-sized version. For instance, all I've provided here are 3 different sizes of "cookies" along with a handful of 2-hole horizontal pieces. I did drill some of the cookie holes off-center to allow for a little more variety, but I'm expecting that as they play we'll think of other types of pieces that will work. For instance, filleting a few of those sticks into 2-hole half-rounds is probably in the offing. I'm taking the drill and jigsaw to school today in case we come up with ideas.
This construction set doesn't have the artistic merits of the Cookie Tree or the Bottle Bush, nor the "wow" factor of the Tree Part Balancers, but I think it's rustic simplicity has its own charm nevertheless . . . And it has the added bonus of not eating up my entire weekend.