How to build a stuffed animal zoo

DIY Toy Zoo

I’ve spent a lot of time coveting Toy Zoos over on Pinterest.  Since I’m really not a diy’er, I was pretty intimidated by the pins with step-by-step instructions on building them with 2x4s (or the various other sizes that wood comes in).  So I took a look around on Amazon, Etsy, Ebay and my local buy and sell Facebook groups to buy a couple.  However, the ones online were super expensive and those along with the local ones had huge wait lists.  I was pretty disappointed until I came across some pins about making toy zoos out of old furniture.


Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. negative about the weather in front of them, but man, it's hard.  I also try to avoid going outside whenever the weather goes below 10 degrees.  I can layer up us much as my body will allow and yet I'm still cold and miserable.

​Now, I don’t have any old furniture, so I looked around on Kijiji and Buy and Sell groups for something that people were looking to get rid of.  I didn’t have much luck finding items that didn’t need a great deal of repair, so I took a look at Walmart and discovered these adorable bookshelves for just $29.97!

​Here’s How I Turned Bookshelves Into Toy Zoos:

This surprisingly didn’t take me that long to do and I’m not handy at all!  I also have very little common sense when it comes to building things and tools, so if you are beyond absolute beginner level, it likely won’t take you long at all!

What You Need:
Book shelf with a sturdy bottom and deep removable shelves (I got this one)
Small Screw Eyes (number depends on the distance you want between cords, I used 12x 1-1/8″)
Paracord (this is what I used which was enough to make two zoos and then some!)
Measuring Tape or a good eye
Marker or a good eye
Baby wipes or a cloth to clean excess
Pliers (optional, but makes it easier)
Screwdriver and screw (optional, but makes it easier)
Paint in your choice of colour (optional for decoration, I picked up a wall paint sample for $5 at Home Depot)
​Paint Brush (optional for decoration)
Cricut (optional for decoration)
Oracle 651 Vinyl (optional for decoration)

                                   paintingboard                                        purpleboard

I wanted to add a bit of colour to my toy zoos, so I painted the bottom of each board purple.  Since I won’t be using the shelf inserts, I kept them to hang on walls as wall shelves.  This is of course, totally optional, but I like a little colour!

                                    buildingbookshelf                              cleaningboard

As I waited for the particle board to dry, I went to work building the frame of the bookcase.  It was pretty easy to do, as the directions were clearly laid out and the pieces were nicely labelled. Once I added the painted boards, I noticed that I was a little sloppy with my technique and had some paint spill over.  It was super easy to wipe off with a baby wipe though.

​Of course, if you’re refurbishing a piece, you can skip this step.


Once everything was dry and the frame assembled, I had one of my helpers mark off spots for the cords.  If you have a sharper eye, or don’t care too much about symmetry, then skip this step!  Personally, I found it pretty helpful to have a guideline.  I used a magic marker, so any spots could easily be wiped away.

             screwingeyelet              screwinganeyelet

Once I had all my markings in place, I tried screwing an eye into one of the spots. I found this incredibly difficult, and that it took a lot of upper body strength.  So I thought for a moment and then decided to grab a screwdriver and a small screw to get the holes started for me.  GAME CHANGER!  It was so much easier to get the eye going once the hole was started.


The next issue that I ran into was getting the eye to fully secure and go into the shelf base.  Again, I had to take a moment to think of a plan.  After a bit of thought, I went and grabbed a pair of pliers out of the garage and viola, the eyes attached easily from then on out!  Definitely a handy tool to have nearby to make the process a little easier!

                eyeletsinbookshelf                vinylletteringonbookshelf

Once I had all the eyes in place, I felt like it needed a little something more.  So I pulled out my Cricut Maker and personalized the back panel.  Sure, most of it gets covered by the toys, but the kids loved having their name on them regardless!

              bungeecordthreading               toyzoowithbungeecords

When I first attached the Paracord, I decided to follow the same sequence that I had seen on many of the zoos.  However, I really didn’t love it.  It was kind of neat and definitely would hold the animals in the middle in place well, but I just wasn’t digging it, so I switched it up…

                                       paracordontoyzoo                             paracordknot

and went with a simple straight up and down pattern, tying the ends of the paracord on each individual eye and then trimming the excess.  It took a little longer, but I think it looked quite nice in the end!

boystuffzoo              toyzoodiy         girltoyzoo

1. Unpack the bookshelf 
2. Put the top, base and shelves to the side.
3. Paint the particle board on the top and base to add colour
4. Discard shelves
5. Build the frame of the bookshelf by following instructions included
6. Mark the distance you want between each cord
7. Screw eyes in each marking
8. Add decorative touches
9. Attached cord to each eye with knots, trimming the excess
10. Place in desired location and fill with toys!Seriously, if I can build this, anyone can!

Please share your finished zoos in the comments!