The Pikler Triangle may look like a simple climbing frame, but it is so much more. It allows for natural gross motor development, freedom of movement, and learning one’s own boundaries. Older babies can pull themselves up on it, toddlers can gradually find their way over the top and slide down, and children as old as 5 or 6 can use it to climb, build forts, and for other imaginative play. Though some toddlers as young as 12 months are climbing up this Pikler, D didn’t go over the top until 21 months. Even before that, she enjoyed climbing it up to her limit, climbing up and down the ramp, and using it as a tunnel. These days (at 32 months), she climbs and slides on repeat, and in new, creative and challenging ways. It is always a hit when friends come over to play, and she even has her dolls and animals sliding with her. We’ve also used Sarah’s Silks to make forts and included it in our indoor obstacle courses on rainy days. The possibilities are endless!
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Different ways to make a Pikler Triangle
A Foldable Pikler Triangle (climbing Frame)
Step 1: Materials & Equipment
- 12 feet of 2″ x3″ lumber – I used clear grain Douglas Fir. Buy a 12-footer, or get the lumber yard to cut a 12 footer in half so you can fit it in your car. Note that lumber is sold nominally, and 2″ x3″ lumber will actually measure a bit less than those dimensions.
- 13 1″ diameter dowels, each 3′ long. Check while you’re still at the lumber yard that the dowels are fairly straight – look down the ends and see if the dowel curves or just roll them on a flat surface. The Big Box stores particularly will try to sell you all kinds of scrap wood, so be sure to pick through it and get the best of what’s there. You might also take a calliper or tape measure to check the diameter. I ended up getting one dowel that was 7/8″ in diameter which rattled around in my 1″ hole, and I had to take time out in the middle of the project to replace it. Grrrrr.
- 2 feet of 1″ x10″ lumber (clear grain Douglas Fir again)
- 2 stainless steel adjusting screws, 1″ head size, ¼” -20 thread, 2 ½” screw length. (Production Tool Supply Part Number KHS-1SS– sadly McMaster Carr didn’t have anything that would work) I used the thumbscrews and tee nuts as a locking mechanism because I couldn’t find any quick-release pins long enough to do the job. It’s not the most elegant solution because it takes a lot of screwing to collapse the triangle for storage and then reassemble it, but it was the best option I could find. If you know of something better, be sure to let me know in the comments, and I’ll update this info. Production Tool Supply has a $25 minimum, so I ordered four thumb screws at $6.70 each – enough for two Triangles. You know someone is going to ask you to make one of these when they see it at your house so why not be prepared? Some of the other hardware also comes in packs that makes doubling up a sensible option; I’ll note that below.
- #8, 3″ screws (4 or 26, depending on whether you pick Option 7A or B) (McMaster Carr Part Number 90294A209, although you could likely get something similar more cheaply at your local hardware store)
- 2 5/16″ -18, 3″ long stainless steel flat-head socket cap screw (McMaster Carr Part Number 90585A596) Sold singly.
- two 5/16-18 Nylon Lock Nuts (McMaster Carr Part Number 97135A220) Comes in a bag of 20. I got mine at the hardware store, and they’re 3/8″ high; McMaster has 1/2″ which will work fine.
- 2 Steel ¼” -20 Internal Thread ½” barrel length Tee Nuts (McMaster Carr Part Number 90598A043) Comes in a bag of 50
- Wood glue
- A small amount of paint in one or more colours (if you want to paint it); I used some flat latex leftover from another project
- Polyurethane – one quart (you won’t use much); I used semi-gloss, but you could use gloss or flat if you prefer
- Print-out of the two pdf template sheets for the Pivot Piece. Sorry, I have neither the software or the skills to do this in some fancy drawing program, but I did trace around my wood piece for you.
- 1″ Forstner drill bit
- 3/16″ diameter Allen wrench (no, none of those wrenches in that metric set you have will work). I got mine at my local hardware store.
- 5/8″ countersink bit
- Long ruler or something straight you can use to draw a line
- Circular saw band saw, or jigsaw
- A drill press is very helpful although you could do it without if you are careful
- A belt sander is very helpful although you could do it without if you have a lot of time and patience
Step 2: Cutting
Cut your lumber, so you end up with two pieces each 36″ long, and two pieces each 32″ long. I got my three footers by cutting my six-footers in half (it’s not critical if it’s an eighth of an inch or so off the measurement as long as the pieces are the same length).
The store-bought Triangles use dowels that are about 30″ long, so that’s how long I cut mine. If you wanted your triangle to be wider for some reason, you could just leave them at 36″. Most dowels are pretty low-quality wood, and they may have knots or other blemishes (or those darned stickers with the bar code that are really hard to dislodge). Try to cut off the blemishes if possible.
Step 3: Round the Ends of the Lumber
Measure the width of one of the flat sides of your lumber; a nominally 3″ wide piece will actually be approximately 2 ½” wide. Put a small pencil mark at the end of your board at the halfway point. Set your compass to half of the length you measured and put it approximately centred between the sides and one end of your board. Check it all three ways and recenter the point of the compass if it’s off. Draw a semicircle connecting the two sides and the bottom of the board. Repeat on the other end of the same board and also on the other three boards.
Use the saw of your choice (a band saw, or jigsaw would be fine) to cut along the semicircles you drew on all four pieces of lumber. It’s not critical to be exact, although if you don’t have a belt sander then getting a nice line with the band saw will save you a lot of time.
Set up your belt sander – I like to tip it upside down and clamp it to my sawhorse. I then install an 80 grit belt and set the sander to run continuously on Speed 4 (of 5), which allows me a bit flexibility in shaping; the sander can really remove a lot of material quickly at full speed, and sometimes you lose more than you’d planned. Sand around the curve a bit, then check and see whether you’ve sanded up to the line you drew, that both sides look similar, and that the curve from front to back is roughly flat. Keep sanding and checking until you’re happy with the result.
Step 4: More Sanding
When all of your ends are nicely shaped, switch to a 120 or 150 grit belt and smooth out any nicks or marks on the flat surfaces of the lumber. Make sure to keep the entire width of the lumber on the belt at any time or the belt will dig a rut into the wood that is time-consuming to get out.
While you still have the sander out, unclamp it from your sawhorse and find the 1×10 board. Sand it lightly to remove any blemishes, being careful to move the sander in a kind of W shape, mostly moving up and down the length but also across as well, so the belt doesn’t dig a rut in the wood.
Use a piece of sandpaper cupped in your hand to smooth out the dowels, and also rub off any excessive roughness from the cut ends of the dowels.
Step 5: Cutting Holes in the Side Rails
Inspect each piece of lumber and decide which are the “nicer” sides and ends (better shaping; better grain pattern/colour, etc.). I usually put the nice sides out, and the nice ends up.
Measure halfway across the width of each of the INSIDES your long pieces of lumber and LIGHTLY (makes it easier to sand it off later) draw a long line at this point down the length.
Now take the long side rails and put an X every 5″ where your dowels will go (make the Xs big and heavy enough to see; you’ll cut them out in the next step). You likely lost a bit of length when you were sanding so put the first X 1″ below whichever end you decided was the top, and let the rest fall out every 5″ from there. It’s not a big deal if the bottom rung is a tiny bit less than 5″ from the floor. Repeat on the other long rail.
Measure the distance of the bottom rung on the long rails from the floor, and put your first X on the short rail that same distance from the floor with the rest every 5″ from there. Your top X should be about 2″ from the top of the board (you don’t want it to be much less than that because you need a room above it to install the bolt). Repeat with the second short side rail.
Set the depth stop on your drill press so the Forstner bit will penetrate approximately halfway through the thickness of the board. If you don’t have a drill press you could put a piece of tape on the bit at the right depth; you’ll have to keep stopping the drill to see if the tape is lined up with the top of the board.
Drill a hole into each X, being as careful as you can to get right on the X (I found that when my bit was spinning, I could actually look ‘through’ it to see the point touch the X) until you hit the depth stop. Repeat with all Xs on all four side rails. Check the depth of your first and last holes to be sure they are the same (she says from bitter experience).
Sand out the lines that you drew down the middle of the boards (aren’t you glad you did it lightly?).
Wipe your pieces down with a clean rag to remove sawdust and then vacuum so if you drop a piece while painting it won’t come up covered in sawdust.
Step 6: (Optional): Paint
Think of a thing about ‘pops’ of colour, and also about odd numbers. So I had to paint an odd number of rungs in bright colours – he would probably have preferred that I get three custom colours just for this, but instead, I used paints I had leftover from other projects.
Balance, however, many dowels you choose to paint across the sawhorses, leaving the ends floating. Put a THIN coat of paint on the ends – if too much paint builds up you won’t be able to get them in the holes. On my prototype, I skipped this step thinking I could just carefully edge around the side rails – BAD IDEA. When your ends are dry, switch to balancing the rungs on their ends and put two coats on the middles (up to about 1/2″ from the ends).
If you’re going to paint your whole ladder, then you can skip this step and instead paint it before polyurethane.
Step 7: Assembling the Ladders
Do a dry fitting to make sure your dowels all fit in the holes. Some of my dowels needed sanding to fit, and one was 1/8″ too narrow and had to be replaced so it wouldn’t rattle around in the hole. Ideally, the dowels will lift easily in and out, but a tight fit is OK as long as the dowel does go all the way to the bottom of the hole on the dry fitting as the glue will lube things up.
You have two options here.
For my prototype, I came up with what I thought was a pretty nifty method to screw the dowels into the side rails. I think that’s probably actually overkilling as most of the Triangles I’ve seen since are just glued, so my official method is glueing only. But if you want the extra security – maybe you have very heavy kids? – use my screw method. Take a 1/8″ drill bit and drill straight through the middle of the holes that you made for each dowel, using the divot that the Forstner bit made as your guide. Drill all the holes now (don’t try to fit dowels in some and then drill the rest later). Now put a dowel into each hole and tip the whole lot over so the unit is standing on the dowels on the floor and the side rail faces up. Here’s the nifty part: the hole you just drilled becomes a little doweling jig and allows you to drill a pilot hole straight down into the dowel with no further equipment or support needed. I drilled 26 of those things and didn’t pop out the side of the dowel once. Neat, huh? Pilot all of the holes, and then screw a screw into each pilot on both ladders hole EXCEPT the top TWO holes on each side rail of the long ladder.
Official Option B:
As described in Option A, drill a pilot hole through the divot left by the Forstner bit in the two holes at the top of each of your long side rails ONLY (so, four holes total). You’ll use these holes to attach the long ladders to the Pivot Pieces.
Put a small amount of wood glue into each of the holes on one long side rail. Use your finger to spread the glue up the sides of the hole, which will help provide lubrication in case any of your dowels are a tight fit. Place a dowel in each hole and hammer each one with a rubber mallet to seat them. Working quickly, glue each of the holes on the other side rail of the same length. Make sure the tops of your side rails are facing the same way. Place the second side rail over the dowels, coaxing them into the holes when they’re all positioned correctly, bang on the side rail with a rubber mallet to seat the dowels.
Whichever method you used, complete the short ladder in the same way, except that you screw into all holes if you used the screw method. Put a mark for the bolt about halfway between the top of the top dowel and the top of each of the short side rails (that’s a lot of tops).
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Step 8: Cutting the Pivot Pieces
Cut out and assemble the Pivot Piece template, ensuring that the check lines all measure 1″. (I didn’t want to assume that you had access to anything other than a cheap household printer; sorry that this requires the assembly of the template pieces.)
If the 1×10 board has nicer sides/edges, put the nice side up toward you and the nice edge down toward you. Align the bottom of the template with the bottom of the board and either draw around it or use a light tack spray to hold it on the board (just spray the template, not the wood, and allow it to dry before positioning so you don’t get paper welded to your board). Use the point of a screw or drill bit to poke through and mark the holes labelled A and B ONLY (do this first in case the template comes loose during cutting), and then use the band saw to cut out the shape.
Check for fit by aligning the Pivot Piece with one of the long side rails (the end with the holes in). Do the contours of the Pivot Piece follow the side rail? Does it look like the hole markers are centred over the dowels? Trim as needed (but make sure it is needed before you trim). When you think it’ll work, sand your cut and knock the corners off the edges with some sandpaper cupped in your hand. Put a 1/8″ pilot hole through the marked holes in the Pivot Piece and use your countersink bit to make a small divot for the screw heads to sit in.
Drill with the 1/8″ bit into each of the four holes in the long side rails to put a pilot hole as far into the dowels as you can.
Repeat with the second Pivot Piece, this time cutting holes B and C only.
Step 9: Polyurethane
Put at least three coats of polyurethane on the two ladders and on the Pivot Piece. This can be time-consuming because of all the nooks and crannies. After you finish a coat, go back over it again and brush away any drips. I suppose you could suspend each ladder from the ceiling and do a complete coat at once; if you lay it down, you generally have to flip it back and forth from one side to the other to complete half a coat at a time.
Step 10: Final Assembly
Screw the Pivot Piece to one of the long side rails through the two holes. I set the screws, so they’re just sticking out of the bottom of the pivot piece, which helps me to locate the holes in the side rail. When the screws are in, it should feel pretty solid. Do the same with the other Pivot Piece on the other side of the long ladder.
Set the long ladder down so one Pivot Piece is on the floor, and the other is parallel to the floor. Slide some spacers (left wood from cutting out the Pivot Pieces) – one under the Pivot Piece and two under the side rail of the ladder.
Now slide the short ladder between the two Pivot Pieces, adjusting, so the side rail is parallel to the side of the Pivot Piece, and the top rails on each ladder are 5″ apart on centre (i.e. from dowel centre to dowel centre, not dowel edge to dowel edge). Drill a hole with a 21/64 bit (11/32 will do if you have that instead) for the bolt through the ladder side rail and also through the pivot piece at the marked spot. Ease the drill bit in gently toward the end to avoid splintering on the Pivot Piece. (Stop when you feel air followed by concrete)
Flip the unit over and countersink the hole on the pivot piece side only (no need to countersink the side rail). Slip a bolt into the hole and install a locking nut. You want the locking nut to stop 1/16″ or so from the side rail, so it holds the pieces firmly but doesn’t restrict the swinging action. Now line up the second side of the short ladder in the same way that you did the first and make another bolt hole and install the second bolt.
Place the triangle back on the floor in its ‘braced’ position and pick a point below the second rail *where you’ll still hit the Pivot Piece when you drill through* and drill a hole with a 9/32 bit through the side rail and Pivot Piece. Exact placement is not critical as long as you go through the Pivot Piece at some point, but I put mine halfway between the top two rails. Again, ease the bit in gently to avoid splintering on the Pivot Piece. If you do get splinters (as I did), you’ll have to trim them with a chisel as you won’t countersink this hole. Now take an 11/32 bit and enlarge the hole in the side rail to a depth of ~3/4″ to accommodate the tee nut. Exact depth is not critical but makes it somewhere between the depth of the tee nut and the width of the side rail. Flip the unit over and do the same on the other side.
Insert a tee nut into each of the holes in the side rails and tap them down with a hammer if needed. Screw the thumbscrew in from the outside of the Pivot Piece. It does take a fair bit of screwing to seat it, but it does the job.
DIY FOLDABLE PIKLER TRIANGLE – WITH PRINTABLE PDF PLANS!
- (1) 2’x4′ 3/4″ plywood
- (11) 4′ long, 1″ thick dowels
- (1) 2’x4′ 1/2″ plywood
- (2) 6’x4″x3/4 ″ poplar boards
- Stain/sealant of choice – outdoor if you will keep it outside
You don’t need many tools to build this pikler triangle! You need:
- Palm router
- Miter saw
- 1″ Forstner bit
BUILDING THE TRIANGLE
In order to build the climbing triangle, you essentially build two ladders, one a little longer than the other. We made ours 36″ long with six rungs and 32″ long with five rungs. Each ladder was 31.5″ wide using two pieces of 3/4″ thick poplar and 30.5″ long 1″ dowels.
For each ladder, we evenly spaced the rungs at 2″, 9″, 16″, 23″, and 30″, with an additional rung at 34″ on the long ladder. We rounded the ends of each board and then used a 1″ Forstner bit to drill the holes at the marks we made.
We stained each rung specific colours so we could make a hombre look to the ladder. You could leave them natural, stain them all one colour or do any mix you’d like.
We created each ladder by using wood glue and tapping each rung into a hole on one board, then tapping the corresponding board to the other end of the rungs.
We used these 36″ long bar clamps to tighten it up for drying. (side note, those Bessey clamps are really good quality and an incredible deal on Amazon compared to options in home improvement stores)
We next cut out two pieces of 1/2″ plywood to hold the tops of the two ladders together. We drilled holes to hold the ladders to the plywood.
On the shorter ladder, we used a wing nut and knob screw on the two lower holes. This way, we can remove this and fold the ladder up for better storage.
Finally, we rounded off the corners of the plywood with a router to give it a smoother finish.
BUILDING THE CLIMBING WALL
The climbing wall is much more simple than the triangle. For this, we started by rounding the corners of a 24″x48″ piece of 3/4″ thick plywood with a router and then sanding ultra-smooth.
Next, we took a scrap cut off of one of the dowels and two scrap pieces of wood and attached the boards to the back of the wall about three inches down, using the dowel as a spacer between the boards. This will be where the climbing wall hooks into the rungs of the triangle.
Next, we took 1/2″ plywood and used a jigsaw to cut random shapes out to use as handholds. For each of these, we counter-sunk two holes for screws and then sanded them all down ultra fine.
We stained the handholds with the same colours we stained the triangle ladder, then attached them to the board to create the climbing wall.
Make Your Own Pikler Triangle -DIY Pikler Triangle
Tools you will need:
- Miter Saw
- Tape Measure
- Drill Press
- Center Punch
- 1 1/4″ Forstner Drill Bit
- 5/8″ Drill Bit
- 1/2″ Drill Bit
- Jig Saw
- Circle Template 5 1/2″ diameter (round tupperware)
- Random Orbital Sander with 120 grit and 220 grit sandpaper
- 1/2″ Roundover Bit
- Bar Clamps
- Hand Drill
- Angle Grinder with the cut-off wheel
- These patterns referenced in steps below: Pikler Triangle Bracket and Pikler Triangle Assembly
The material you will need:
- 5/4″ x 6′ x 10′ Select Pine Board – Qty 2
- 1 1/4″ Wood Dowels – Qty 11
- 3/4″ x 4′ x 4′ ACX Handi-Panel (Plywood) – Qty 1
- Blue Painter’s Tape
- Wood Glue
- Quart of Wood Stain (and staining supplies)
- Quart of Paint (and painting supplies)
- 2-part Epoxy
- Blue Lock-tite
- Quick-Release Pin, Ball-Grip, 1/2″ Diameter, 3 1/4″ Usable Length – Qty 2
- Multipurpose Sleeve Bearing, 1/2″ Shaft Diameter, 5/8″ OD, 1″ Length – Qty 14
- Multipurpose Sleeve Bearing, 1/2″ Shaft Diameter, 5/8″ OD, 1″ Length – Qty 6
- Open-End Cap Nyt, 3/8″ – 16 Thread Size – Qty 6
- Pack of 1/2″ Screw Size Washers
- Shoulder Screw, 1/2″ Diameter, 1 3/4″ Long Shoulder, 3/8″ Thread – Qty 6
Cut four legs out of the two 10′ boards. Two boards are 48″ in length. Two boards are 42 1/4″ in length.
Drill holes in the legs. Measure from the end of legs and mark hole locations with centre punch based on leg drawing dimensions in the assembly pdf. Apply Blue painters tape in hole locations to avoid splintering. Use Drill Press to drill various hole sizes (1 1/4″ Forstner Drill Bit – blue, 5/8″ Drill Bit – yellow, and 1/2″ Drill Bit – red) according to the leg drawing dimensions ensuring that holes are perpendicular to the boards.
Round the ends of the legs. Trace the circle pattern on both ends of legs. A cut round ends with the jigsaw. Smooth curves with orbital sander first using the 120 grit and then the 220 grit paper.
Router edges of legs. Set the depth of router bit to create a perfect radius on a scrap piece of wood. Router all edges of the legs in a counter-clockwise direction (not climbing).
Cut the eleven round dowels to length. Measure and mark the length to cut the round dowels to 40″ in length. Cut five of the round dowels for the swinging side a hair shorter (maybe 1/16″) to allow it to swing freely between the brackets. Apply painter’s tape to areas being cut to reduce splintering. Cut the round dowels to length on the mitre saw. Cut both sides of the dowels to make sure they a square and smooth cuts. Also, the slower you cut with the mitre saw, the better the finish of the cut surface will be.
Glue legs together. Check the dowel to hole clearance before proceeding with this step (my dowels required some hand sanding to fit). Apply glue to ends of the round dowels. Insert into the holes in the legs. Use clamps to keep the legs straight and parallel while drying. It would be a good idea to cut some scrap 2x4s to clamp between the legs once the dowels are inserted (approximately 37 5/8″ and 37 9/16″ for the swinging leg). Keeping the sides of the legs parallel is critical to having the top bracket in the right position when it will be bolted on.
Cut out the top brackets—trace bracket pattern for the top brackets onto the plywood (twice). Apply painter’s tape to areas that will be cut (both sides) to reduce splintering. Use the jigsaw to cut out the brackets.
Drill holes in brackets using the template and the centre punch to mark all hole locations. Apply Blue painters tape to hole locations to reduce splintering (especially the backside). Drill holes (5/8″ Drill Bit – yellow and 1/2″ Drill Bit – red) according to drawing dimensions.
Sand legs and stain. It is critical to excess sand glue before staining—paint brackets. We stained the legs and dowels a dark espresso and painted the brackets white. You could stain it all, but plywood is a block of lower quality wood, so paint hides the flaws better. Also, see the picture below of the unfinished look. I like that look as well! If you choose to go that route, you can skip this step.
Step Ten: Assemble the Pikler triangle.
Use the angle grinder with the cut-off wheel to cut brass bushings to the thickness of the boards. The leg bushings will be about one ¼” long, and the bracket bushings will be about ¾” long. I left them a hair long and finished the ends with the sander once they were glued in. Mix 2-part epoxy and coat the outside of the bushings before inserting into the legs and brackets. I also used a file to create some ridges around the outsides of the bushings to give to the epoxy a chance to hold them in place. Once the epoxy dries, use the hand drill with the 1/2″ drill bit to clean out the insides of the bushings. I had to do quite a bit of drilling to get my pins through and to get the leg holes to line up with the bracket holes.
Permanently bolt the brackets to the long leg through the ½” holes (red). I used lock-tight on the threads to keep them from coming loose. Loosely bolt the short leg to the bracket through the bushings in the corner. This will be the pivot point. I would also use lock-tite on these two bolts to keep the nuts from coming off.
Insert the Quick-Release Pins through the brackets and pivoting leg to select desired height or storage position.
And that’s it!
Recommendations: place the Pikler triangle on a mat or a rug. Walter will shake the triangle if it is not on a mat or a rug. Walter can also push it since it is fairly light. A mat or a rug can also help with tumbles.
Thanks for reading, I hope this provides some insight for you on building your next project.
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