It's really hard to find good information about how to paint, stain, or dye wooden toys with safe, non-toxic paints, stains, or dyes. So I put this page together to be a collected resource for people who might like to make or paint toys. Since little kids like my sons chew and teethe on these toys, I want to be especially certain that any coatings or colorings will be safe if ingested.
Here is one other page - from a talented toymaker - that has some useful information about paints and dyes, including some of the kinds of colors described on this page.
Please if you have any further information you'd like to share.
Anything water-based will "raise the grain" of the wood, and it seems that softer woods such as pine are especially affected by this. Water-based colors may also make the end grain open up (it seemed to, in my experience) so it is rougher and harder to seal.
I read that a solution to this problem is to dampen the wood and sand the grain back down, and repeat that process once or twice.
Additionally, several of the brands of wooden toys I've seen seem to whitewash or pickle their toys before painting details on. It is a very light wash, but it is visible on the toys I own, such as Holztigers.
I put this page up in 2010, and it has quietly motored along, getting hundreds of page views a week. I often update this site with some of the new information that people have sent me - please do to add anything you might know.