A (simple, I promise!) DIY Wooden Spool Sorting Toy

I wanted to give a few more details on the toy I put together for Luke for Christmas.  I would say 'made' but really, there isn't much making involved…just some painting and putting it all together.  I really love how it turned out!  

I actually had this idea last year for his birthday.  I remember seeing a stand at Hobby Lobby and being inspired.  So I bought it.  But then their wooden spools wouldn't fit!  I then tried buying spools at a local hobby store and while the size said they should fit (1/4" holes on 1/4" peg), they didn't either.  So I gave up the idea because there was no way I was going to attempt drilling larger holes in thirty some tiny wooden spools.  I returned the stand I bought and didn't really think about it again until this year when I needed a Christmas gift for him. 

This time I attempted Joann's after seeing online that they had several different spool racks in stock at the store.  They had three variations and I opted for this one with the 30 pegs.  When you factor in using a coupon, the price was about $6!  I tried out the spools in stock at their store and they fit easily!   When I got home I found that the spools I had bought last year that I had neglected to return also fit, so the Joann's ones will be going back.  Eventually.  Not sure what's up with them Hobby Lobby racks, though, and why they wouldn't fit the spools.

Anyway.  That's the thrilling backstory.  All I did was paint the spools using normal acrylic craft paints.  I did only one coat because I like the wood showing a bit and looking a little…rustic?  I actually borrowed the paint from Theresa who was hosting a little wine and craft night at her house.  (So fun!)  In hindsight, while it kept me from having to lug my paints to her place, it now means that if one is lost I'll have a hard time matching.  The next morning I gave them each one coat of homemade beeswax olive oil rub to soften and preserve them a bit.  A matte varnish would also work fine.  I waxed the stand, too.  Once the wax was rubbed in I simply used a sharpie to put on the letters and numbers.  SO glad I didn't try painting them on!  This was way simpler and I can write a letter much more neatly than paint!

The dilemma of the year was how to paint them.  I opted for rainbow and did all six colors using a normal brush.  Good choice.  With 30 pegs, now he can sort them by alphabet horizontally or by color horizontally (which also happens to make the alphabet then go vertically!).  Right now he likes to sort them by color and when he opened it (after learning that no, honey, they are not meant to be projectiles) he got to work sorting them that way without any prompting by us.  I think (hope) this will be a  fun tool for teaching him letters, too.  He knows the alphabet song and that's about as far as we are right now.

When he's older and can read, they can also be used for simple words and maybe even supplement some reading and phonics lessons.  Each spool has the upper case on front and lower case on the back. The extra four I just put numbers 1-4 on.  I tried not to be bothered that there were no racks with just 26  or 36 pegs :)

I'm glad I went with the smaller size rack, too.  I think it's just enough.  I had a little jersey bag I had saved from…something…pillowcases, I think?  It's the perfect size to store the spools when they need to be cleaned up without taking the time to sort them on the pegs.

The things is a little bit addicting.  I have found every single member of the family playing with it at some point, sorting and making different patterns.  Ahem.  Adults included.

Anonymous seven year old

I'm not kidding, it sucks you in.

Christmas morning 
It made me so happy that he actually liked it and was sorting them so meticulously!

So that's it.  A simple and sweet semi-homemade little toy for the toddler or preschooler in your life. 
 Hope it can help someone out!


  1. This is fantastic! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. wow! love it - and maaaaaybe doable for this uncrafty mom!!

  3. Such a good idea! I have been looking for more letter activities for my little guy. This may be a perfect St. Valentine's Day gift for him! Thanks.

  4. Do they make them for senior citizens too? Might help keep the mind a little sharper. No? Nevermind...


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