DIY Pikler Triangle (Free Plans!)
Build your own DIY Pikler Triangle with these easy to follow printable PDF plans, accompanied by a full video and photo tutorial!
A few weeks back, I came across a Montessori post about Pikler triangles. Now, I don't have any kids, nor am I really an early childhood development expert (adolescent development is more my speed,) but the post sold the Pikler triangle concept pretty strongly.
My friend Lillie's daughter just celebrated her second birthday, I thought it'd be the perfect gift for her (and her newborn baby sister!) I asked Lillie her thoughts, and she was thrilled!
In fact, she indicated that she had wanted to make one herself, but determined it was above her skill level. I actually set out to come up with a Pikler triangle that was Lillie-buildable, aka novice-friendly. I failed, and I'll explain why below.
What IS a Pikler Triangle?
As I was making this, numerous neighbors stopped by to comment. Their number one question: What IS that?
A Pikler Triangle is a Montossori-inspired toy intended to help young kids build motor skills and become comfortable in their bodies. The idea is that the triangle helps kids learn to climb and move through play.
I don't have any kids of my own, so I can't rave about how wonderful it is and how much they love it. But I think it looks fun, for whatever that's worth.
Planning and Rationale
Triangle Structure and Build Difficulty
There are a couple of things that make building a Pikler Triangle difficult:
- The folding mechanism requires skill to assemble and possibly troubleshoot.
- The dowel holes need to be a precise depth, which is easy if you have a drill press, but difficult if you only have a drill.
- The ends of the structure are traditionally curved, which is easy to do if you have a belt sander and/or jigsaw, but a giant hassle if you have neither of these things.
I came up with ways to deal with each of these things. But each idea made the triangle less stable.
- Removing the plywood triangles at the top and using a different folding mechanism destabilizes the top of the triangle, giving it a tendency to lean from side to side when a kid stands on it.
- Using screws to secure the dowels puts more weight and stress on the dowels, making them more likely to break when weight is applied.
- Replacing the curved feet with angled feet could be done, but that requires skill with angled cuts, which doesn't necessarily make it an easier project.
So ultimately, I went back to the traditional Pikler triangle design. If you really want to make your own, but don't have the skills or tools to make this version, consider making a triangle that doesn't fold. Those tend to be much easier to build.
Other Planning Decisions
Since Lillie's older daughter is 2, I aimed to make a triangle that would still be fun for her, as well as useful for her younger sister. This led me to a triangle that measures around 34" tall when in the triangle position. When folded up, it's around 38" long.
You could certainly make a larger or smaller triangle depending on the age of the kids it's intended for. That said, if you use these plans, you'll need to alter them to do that!
Finally, I spaced the center of the dowels 5" apart, so that there's around 4" of space between the actual dowels once installed. Rumor has it that if there's less than 3" between the dowels it becomes a safety hazard. I'm not entirely sure if this is true, but better safe than sorry.
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Materials and Tools
- (2) 2" x 3"x 8' Boards
- (8) 1" Poplar Dowels (48" length) - Heads up, if you live in the Midwest, Menard's dowels are about half the price of those at Home Depot and Lowes.
- 3/4" Plywood - I used scrap I had around, because you don't need very much. This is only for the triangles on the top of the triangle.
- (2) Star Knobs
- (2) 3" Carriage Bolts - For the pivot point on the small leg. Mine had a 3/8" shank diameter, with a thread size 16 threads per inch. You can probably get away with a different size, but the thread size needs to match the thread size of your star knobs.
- (2) 2 1/2" Carriage Bolts - Same deal, mine were 3/8" shank with a thread size of 16 threads per inch. The important thing is that the thread size matches the thread size of the star knobs.
- Miscellaneous shop supplies - I used (4) 1 1/2" screws, (4) finish nails, (2) washers, (2) nuts, wood glue, wood filler, paint and sandpaper of varying grits
- Miter Saw
- Drill Press
- 1" Forstner Bit
- Belt Sander
- Orbital Sander
- Ratchet and Deep Socket
DIY Pikler Triangle
Step 1: Cut and Prep Pieces
Cut and sand all pieces except the plywood triangles. See the FREE printable plans for complete cutlist!
If you plan to paint the dowels, do that now. I used two coats of regular latex paint for this, sanding with 320 grit sandpaper between coats.
While I'm sure there's some fancy way to paint dowels without having the painted area rest on the sawhorse, I didn't use it. They turned out fine anyway.
Step 2: Curve Leg Ends
You could get fancy and use a real compass to trace a curve onto your legs, but I just used the lid of a peanut butter jar. It worked.
Then I used a belt sander to sand the curve. I did both matching legs at a time, thinking this would help them come out evenly. I'm not actually sure about that, but it certainly made things faster.
Finally, I evened it out with my orbital sander.
I repeated this for the ends of each leg (so, twice per leg, or 4 times total since I was doing two legs at a time.)
Step 3: Drill Dowel Holes
I marked x's on the legs where the center of each dowel rod should land. See the free printable plans for the exact placement.
Note that if you have a preference about which side of the wood is the "good side," now is the time to be thinking about that. Make sure whatever side you like ends up on the outside, aka, is not the side you're drilling into.
Then I used a drill press and a 1" Forstner bit to drill my holes. I had the depth set to make a 3/4" hole in the wood.
The Forstner bit has a clear point in the center of it, so it's really easy to make sure the holes are drilled precisely where you've placed the x's.
Step 4: Dry Fit Ladders
Dry fit the dowels into the legs, one leg at a time. I had to do significant sanding of some of the dowels to get them to fit. This was annoying, but it's actually a good thing since it ensure a snug fit in the holes.
If you're arranging the dowels in any specific pattern, now is the time to think about that. I dry fit the dowels in the holes they would ultimately rest in, to make sure I had a perfect fit.
A few times I sanded off paint that was visible, but after the ladders were built I went back in touched up the paint with a small craft paintbrush.
Step 5: Assemble Ladders
I put wood glue into each hole of one of the legs, then inserted the dowel rod into the hole, hitting the top with a mallet until I was sure the dowels were fully inserted.
When the dowel hits wood, it makes a much different sound. I used this to judge when they were fully in.
Once the dowels were in the first leg, I turned the ladder on its side and lined up the dowels with the second leg. Once again, I hammered the dowels into place with the mallet.
I don't have any progress pictures of this, since I needed both hands, but you can check out the Youtube video if you want to see how I did it.
Step 6: Add Nail Supports
As you've probably noticed, the dowels are primarily held in place by wood glue and a snug fit in the holes. While some plans include screws that come from the outside of the leg and secure into the dowels, I opted not to do this.
While I understand the rationale behind those other plans, I actually think those screws weaken the structure more than it helps. Putting screws through the end of a dowel rod has a tendency to weaken and/or crack the wood.
Those screws do ensure the ladders stay together. But they increase the probability that the dowel will break when a kid stands on it.
So instead, I inserted a small finish nail from the inside of the leg into the bottom dowel rod. See hole in photo below.
This is less stressful on the wood, and serves the same purpose as the outside-in screws: preventing the dowels from separating from the legs.
I only added the nails on the bottom dowel of each leg, but you could add them to every dowel if you were really concerned.
To insert the nail, I drilled a pilot hole with the smallest drill bit I had, then hammered the nail into place. I made sure to countersink the nail, then covered it with wood filler to make it even more invisible.
Step 7: Cut Out Triangles
The plywood triangles that go on the top of the Pikler triangle are isosceles triangles that are really easy to draw. Grab the free printable plans to grab the full triangle dimensions.
I drew the triangle on the plywood, then cut it out with the miter saw.
I can math, and had a general idea of what the angles should be, but really I just used my lines as a guide. When the saw angle lined up with the line I'd drawn, I cut.
Then I cut the pointy tips of the triangle off with the miter saw, and rounded what was left with my orbital sander.
Step 8: Assemble
I choose to assemble the triangle by attaching one plywood triangle to both legs, then flipping the triangle over and attaching the second plywood triangle.
I started by arranging the legs and clamping the plywood triangle to the legs once everything was in the right spot.
Then I took two 1 1/2" wood screws and attached the long leg to the plywood triangle. For exact screw placement, see printable plans.
Next I worked on the "pivot" bolt - the one that always stays in place. I started by drilling a pilot hole in the proper location to be 100% sure I wasn't near any dowels.
Then I drilled a hole with a 3/8" drill bit, and slipped the 3" bolt into place.
You'll notice it's sticking up a little bit. That's okay! When you tighten the bolt, that pulls it into the wood so that it lies flat.
I slipped a nut and washer onto the other end, and tightened with a ratchet and deep socket. Then it laid flat.
Finally, I worked on the star knob. Just like before, I drilled a pilot hole to double check the placement, then drilled a 3/8" hole where the knob should go.
Fun Fact: The 2 1/2" bolt is the perfect length to accompany the star knob, once it's fully embedded in the wood. But when it's just lightly slipped into place, it only barely reaches the other side of the wood.
To deal with this, I tightened a 3" bolt into place, which dented the wood perfectly for the 2 1/2" bolt. Then I took the 3" bolt out, and replaced it with the 2 1/2" bolt. It worked perfectly, even if it's a little tricky to understand.
I tightened the above bolt/nut to dent the wood, then I took it out and replaced it with the 2 1/2" bolt and star knob.
FYI - If you're wondering why the 3" bolt won't work, it's because it's too long. If I were to use that, the star knob wouldn't reach the wood, which would result in a loose connection.
If you're still confused, be sure to check out the Youtube video to see this in action!
I repeated this on the other side of the triangle, and then my Pikler Triangle was done!
What age range is the Pikler Triangle for?
Not an early childhood expert here, nor do I know a ton about Montessori theory. However, based on what I've read, I'd say 1-4 years old.
How long did this take you to make?
It took about two and a half days of leisurely work. If you were a bit more efficient than me, I'd say it was a weekend project.
Is the Pikler triangle safe?
Generally, yes. I can definitely think of ways a kid could get a minor injury from it (bruise, splinter, cut,) but I could say that about any piece of furniture in the house.
Given that you're using the Pikler triangle responsibly (with adult supervision on carpet or grass,) I can't imagine how a serious injury could occur.
(Note that this is a "use at your own risk" website, and if an injury does occur, I cannot be held liable.)
What paint colors did you use on the dowel rods?
All three colors were from Benjamin Moore. The light orange was called "Intense Peach," the light pink was called "Venetian Rose," and the darker pink was called "Mardi Gras."
Do you have any other projects for kids?
Why, yes, I do! I absolutely love this DIY Kids Workbench, especially if you're thinking of making it for a little girl! Lets crush those gender stereotypes, shall we?
Here's approximately what it cost me to build the Pikler triangle:
(2) 2"x3"x8' Boards
(8) 1" Dowel Rods
3" Carriage Bolts
2 1/2" Carriage Bolts
It only cost me $33 to build the DIY Pikler triangle, which is a steal compared to what they go for online!
Note, however, that I mentioned earlier that dowel rods at Home Depot are almost double the price of what I paid at Menards. I don't know why this is, but either way, if you don't have access to Menards you're probably looking at closer to $50 for this project than $30.
And, of course, the price goes up if you need to buy tools and/or general shop supplies. But hopefully this gives you a general idea of what it might cost.
I absolutely love how this turned out!
Plus I love building practical things - not only is this fun for kids, it builds motor skills at the same time!
If you think you might build your own Pikler triangle, be sure to grab the free printable plans so you know exactly what to do!
And if you found this helpful, be sure to save it to Pinterest so you can find it again later!