Pikler Triangle Climbing frames have been recommended by health professionals around the world to promote and encourage the development of strength and coordination in children as young as 6 months, at a self-guided pace. Little Big Learning’s Australian designed climbing frames are available in a range of materials for you to choose because there’s no reason why the perfect play equipment can’t be aesthetically perfect as well.
The origins of the Pikler triangle climbing frame come from Emmi Pikler, a Hungarian Paediatrician who pioneered theories on child development between the 1930 and 40s. She believed it was important to offer children the opportunities to move naturally according to their inherent ability.
“It is essential that the child is allowed to make as many discoveries as they can on their own. If we try to help them with the fulfillment of all daily tasks, we rob the child of all that is vital for his independent psychological development. A child, who successfully achieves something through their own independent desire of experiment, acquires a completely different quality of knowledge than one who is simply handed a finished product.” Emmi Pikler
It is a sturdy indoor climbing structure that encourages little ones (ages 6 months to 6 years) to practice gross motor development skills and physical challenges at their own pace. Babies begin by pulling up on the rungs as they learn to stand, and can slowly teach themselves to climb up and over.
The idea behind the Pikler is empowering children to safely explore what their body is capable of independently of their parents; encouraging curiosity and self-confidence in their own physical abilities!
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Steps in Making a Foldable Pikler Triangle Climbing Frame
1. Tools and Materials
This project is built using easy-to-find materials that are available at the big box stores, as well as tools that most hobbyist woodworkers likely have already. The links below are affiliate links, and they help to support our channel.
- Hand Drill – https://amzn.to/2Hgz4cG
- Impact Driver – https://amzn.to/2Fxtr7w
- Clamps – https://amzn.to/2Hq1GjS
- Chisels (Optional) – https://amzn.to/2En3WoS
- Jigsaw – https://amzn.to/2CHEFWd
- Tablesaw (Optional) – https://amzn.to/2TaegKQ
- Desktop Belt Sander (Optional) – https://amzn.to/2CEji8g
- Sandpaper – https://amzn.to/2CIFLkF
- Tape Measure – https://amzn.to/2C00Jv7
- Block Plane – https://amzn.to/2FwR5Rl
- Poplar (3/4″)
- Birch Plywood (1/2″)
- Birch Plywood (3/4″)
- Climbing Holds – https://amzn.to/2HLiF0G
- Wood Glue – https://amzn.to/2Ts82pT
- Superglue – https://amzn.to/2Tt0NOJ
- Blue Painters Tape – https://amzn.to/2tVFsOA
- Washers (8)
- Threaded Inserts (4)
- Machine Screws (2)
- Plastic Adjustable Knobs (2) – https://amzn.to/2U9IApB
2. The Plans
- 3″ Wide Legs
- 3/4″ Thick Legs
- 1″ Diameter Rungs
- 32″ Wide
- 36″ Long (Long Side)
- 32″ Long (Short Side)
- 31.5″ Tall in the Middle
- 30 Degree Incline
- 24″ Wide
- 48″ Long
- 6″ Grid Pattern for T-Nuts
3. The Rungs of the Ladder!
The first step of this build was to cut the individual rungs of the ladder. These are made from 1″ Poplar dowels that we picked up at the store. The ladder has two sides, one short and one long, so we needed 13 dowels in total.
We picked up 48″ dowels that we cut down to a length of 30.5″. This left an awkwardly sized cut-off that we’ll keep for later to use on another project.
Once they were cut, we measured 6 inches from each end and wrapped them with blue painter’s tape to mask off the area where we wanted to paint in the next step.
TIP: Any saw will work fine to cut these, but whatever you use, try setting up a stop-block so you can cut all of them to exactly the same length. This will help later when we assemble it. We used the table saw here to cut these but a jigsaw, hand saw, or circular saw would work fine as well!
4. The Colors…Milk Paint! (OPTIONAL)
We used Milk Paint to color the ends of the dowels because it’s excellent for this type of project. It’s non-toxic so it’s great for kids projects and it works tremendously well on raw wood. No brush strokes, no streaks, fantastic coverage, and super bright colors!
We had five colors on hand, so we organized the dowels into a pattern we liked and painted the ends with a foam brush. This is completely optional but adding a little color made it look AWESOME!
TIP: Milk paint leaves a very flat, gloss-free finish. You can cover it later with something like shellac to bring the gloss back if that’s the type of finish you like.
5. The Legs of the Ladder!
The legs of the ladder were made from 3/4″ thick Poplar boards. These are also easy to find at most of the big box stores and you can buy them at almost the exact size you need for this project.
Ours were ripped to a width of 3″ on the table saw. Don’t have a table saw? Another option is to rip them with a circular saw or to adjust the size overall so you can just use the boards “as is” right from the store.
We squared off the end of each leg and then used a mason jar lid to give it a round profile. (Perfect size!) Next, the jigsaw was used to cut out the round shape on both ends of all four legs.
We have a small desktop disc sander we found at a garage sale which helped to smooth out the ends, but you could also use sandpaper to do this.
TIP: If you purchase lumber at the store, try to give yourself a little extra time to look through what they have and find the straightest boards you can. If the boards are curved or damaged, it makes every step of the project a little more difficult.
6. Drilling for the Ladder Rungs!
We started 1 inch from the end to mark the first hole and then measured every 5 inches all the way across. This gave us the correct amount of holes that were spaced the way we wanted them on the ladder. The bottom-most rung is above the ground a bit since there’s no reason to have it right up against the floor.
After marking the position of all of the holes, we used a 1″ Forstner drill bit to drill a clean hole to a depth of 1/2″.
TIP: Forstner bits are your best friend if you’re trying to drill nice clean holes. If you don’t have a set, we highly recommend picking some up for your woodworking!
7. Gluing Up the Ladders!
To glue the ladders together, we used some basic wood glue and carefully applied it to each of the holes on one side. We then used a mallet to gently tap the ladders all the way into the holes.
Once all of them were in, we applied glue to the opposite side, flipped around the ladder and tapped it in from the top.
With everything in place, we clamped it tightly and let it dry overnight. Because the dowels fit tightly into the holes, the clamps aren’t strictly necessary but they do help to ensure the sides are pulled all the way together.
TIP: It’s very easy to get out of square at this point since the ladder rungs will want to twist a bit. Take your time and ensure things go together nice and square. If you see it start to twist, adjust it as quickly as possible so by the time the glue starts to get tacky it’s straight. A twisty ladder will make for a tricky assembly later on.
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8. The Triangles!
The two ladders (the long and the short) are held together at the top by a triangular piece on each side. We made these from 1/2″ birch plywood.
The angle of our Pikler Triangle is 30 degrees when it’s unfolded, so we made a template from some cardboard and drew the position of the legs so we could align everything.
The long side of the ladder is attached permanently to the triangle, so we marked and pre-drilled pilot holes for two screws on the long side.
The short side also has two screws, but one of them acts as a pivot point and the second is for an adjustable plastic knob that we can use to quickly fold and unfold the ladder.
The two holes for the Long side are simple pilot holes for the permanent screws, and the two holes for the Small side are drilled with Forstner bits.
TIP: Remember that the two triangles are opposites of each other, so when you mark the position of the holes with your template, flip it upside down to mirror it.
9 Ladder Assembly…Part One!
With the triangles made, we could now start putting the whole thing together. The hardware we’re using is just some basic washers, screws, and two 1/2″ plastic spacers.
We positioned the longer side of the ladder onto one of the triangles so that the top and side of it lined up nicely. We clamped it on temporarily, moved it down off the bench, and drilled some pilot holes using the existing holes as a reference. Next, we applied some wood glue and screwed it into place using two wood screws.
TIP: Since Poplar is a hardwood, we made sure to drill pilot holes whenever using screws so that we didn’t risk splitting the wood. Additionally, it really helps to make sure your workpieces stay aligned during assembly since the holes are pre-drilled.
10. Ladder Assembly…Part Two!
The shorter side of the Ladder then got clamped on, and we used a pen to mark the position of the other two holes. This allowed us to take it back off and drill two holes for the threaded inserts in exactly the right spots.
To assemble the rest, first two washers went in between the triangle and the leg, which gives it a tiny bit of space in between the plywood so there’s no friction when it rotates.
Next, a washer and a screw get installed in the top hole through the plastic spacer. This acts as our pivot point, and it freely rotates as the ladder folds and unfolds.
Lastly, a washer and the adjustable knob go into the lower hole. This is used to tighten the ladder in place when folding and unfolding it.
TIP: Installing threaded inserts into a hardwood like Poplar can be troublesome. Try putting some paste wax on the threads of the insert to help it go in smoothly. If you don’t, they might break and then get stuck in there…. (Ask us how we know this!)
11. Ladder Assembly…Part Three!
Once everything was installed and tightened in its final position, a trim router with a flush trim bit helped us make sure the triangle was perfectly flush with the legs. Since the top of the triangle is square, we also used it to round it off to follow the same profile as the rounded top of the ladder legs.
That wrapped up the assembly of the ladder! Next, it was onto the ramp…
TIP: Flush trim router bits are inexpensive and make things like this really easy! If you haven’t tried one before, we highly recommend it as a great part of any hobbyist woodworker’s toolset.
12. The Climbing Ramp!
To build the ramp, we used 3/4″ birch plywood. After ripping it down to the width we wanted (24″), we drew three lines down the length of the board that were 6″ apart.
We then measured 6″ all the way down from the end and squared the lines across, giving us a grid pattern for our t-nuts. The climbing holds screw into these T-Nuts, so having a large grid pattern gives us lots of options for installing the climbing holds in different variations.
The T-Nuts got installed from the back side after drilling a 3/8″ pilot hole. From there, all it takes is a single hard hit with a hammer and they go in easily.
TIP: When installing T-Nuts, take your time to ensure they go in straight. It’s relatively easy to hammer them in slightly crooked which will make it hard to use from the other side.
13. The Edge Banding!
Since the edges of plywood are a bit too rough for our liking, we’re using some edge-banding to pretty it up. This 3/4″ birch edge-banding has glue on the bottom and once it’s cut to size, you can hold it in place with some clamps and then use a regular household iron to heat it up and stick it down.
The edges stick out a bit, so we used a block plane to trim off the excess. You could also use some sandpaper to do this.
Once the edge-banding was installed all the way around, we used some 220 sandpaper to smooth out the edges and the corners of the ramp, which worked really well.
TIP: Edge-banding is a cheap and simple way to make plywood furniture look a LOT better. And…it’s SUPER EASY to use.
14. The Ramp/Ladder…Holder…Thing.
The climbing ramp is meant to rest on the rungs of the ladder, but we also wanted it to be adjustable, so Jaimie used some left-over pieces of Poplar and attached them to the bottom of the ramp. The space in between the two pieces fits perfectly for the 1″ Poplar dowels, so it fits snugly but can still be moved around.
To do this, we cut two pieces of Poplar to the same width as the ramp, and then used a square to position them where we wanted with a scrap piece of 1″ dowel in between. We then drew a line with a pencil to mark the positions.
Next, we drilled some pilot holes and then glued and screwed them into place.
TIP: When we attached them, we moved them to the _outside_ of the pencil line, which created the smallest little extra space to account for the diagonal placement of the ramp. This makes it nice and snug when in place but still easy to move around.
15. The Climbing Holds!
We used to have a rock climbing wall at our house (that we also built together!) so we had a box of climbing holds we weren’t using. (Obviously, not everyone will have these so in the next step we show you how you can make your own!)
Climbing holds come in a TON of different shapes and sizes and have a lot of different types. Slopers, jugs, crimps, ledges, pinches, etc. Each challenges the climber in a different way. Variety is key!
We spent some time having fun coming up with different arrangements for the holds. We can experiment with different styles and challenge our son more and more as he grows up and gets more comfortable on the ramp.
The climbing holds attach with a 3/8″ hex bolt so they’re easy to take on and off.
TIP: You can buy these online or make your own in a lot of different ways!
16. Making Your Own Climbing Hold From Scrap Wood!
To start, find a scrap of wood around 3-8″ in length. Sand it really, really well so the edges aren’t sharp and so there’s no chance for splinters.
The holds we’re using have a hole in the middle with a washer, so find the center of your piece of wood, drill a wider hole for the washer that’s deep enough for the head of your screw, and then drill your second smaller hole.
You can then use some super glue to hold the washer in place. It’s that easy! Instant home-made climbing hold.
TIP: A fun way to add some variety is to cut the wood into different shapes and sizes. This challenges the climber by needing to grip the holds in a lot of different ways.
And now your child has an awesome rock wall to climb on. I am so happy with how it turned out! They can use the Pikler triangle as is or hook on the rock wall to one side. And because my brother made the triangle adjustable to different heights, it can grow in difficulty with their abilities. Maybe one day soon, they’ll join me on some real rock.
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