EDIT: There seem to be an awful lot of people in the world trying to build wool pickers! If you enjoy this post or build something, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. You might also like a new project I’m working on:
Thanks for reading!
With the imminent arrival of half a flock of alpaca on my doorstop, a wool picker was called for. Not having actually seen or used one before, the design was a challenge, but with a little help from the Internet, I cobbled something together.
I thought I’d write down what I did, as the question everyone seems to be asking online is ‘what should the nail pattern look like?’. I can’t offer any guarantees, but this worked for me, so I’ve uploaded my templates for you to use. If you use them, make sure you print off at 100% – the distance between the nails should be 2.7 cm.
N.b. the template and measurements were designed for the nails I chose (i.e. 55 mm) so that the points of the nails would overlap slightly. I worked out that I would have a 6 cm space between the base and the lid (plus 4 cm for the thickness of the wood) so I used 55 mm nails (11 cm), which I hoped would give me a little crossover after I’d bent them at an angle. It worked. Luckily. With different wood thicknesses and lengths, different nails may be needed, and vice versa.
How to build a DIY wool picker
As I don’t have a handy supply of scrap hardwood in my one-bedroom flat, I made this picker using standard lengths of materials from the hardware store as well as a drill (with a bit that’s slightly smaller than the diameter of your nails), a metal file and a hammer. If you don’t have a friendly cutting service in your hardware store, like the lovely guys at Bauhaus, you’ll also need a saw. The materials were:
- 1 x hardwood board 20 cm x 80 cm x 2 cm (cut this piece into two, one measuring 20 cm x 20 cm and the other, 20 cm x 60 cm)
- 2 x hardwood strips 10 cm x 60 cm x 2 cm
- 2 x hardwood strips 6 cm x 60 cm x 1 cm
- many, many smooth nails (I used 259 nails that measured 2.5 mm x 55 mm)
- wood screws
- wood glue
- feet (to elevate nail heads away from worktops – I used 3 mm wood strips, but there are plenty of other things you could use)
This set me back around €35.
As the hardwood strips were originally 100 cm long, I ended up with some leftovers, which I plan to turn into clamps, hand combs, etc.
I began by sharpening all of my nails to a point using a Dremel tool. I don’t know how important this step actually is, but as my nails weren’t sharp and everything on the web about wool pickers talks about sharp tines, I felt it couldn’t hurt. If it failed, I could always take off the sharp points later using the Dremel. Much easier to sharpen the nails before they’re installed than after.
I designed a template by looking at various commercial box pickers online and chose a diamond pattern with 6-7 nails per row (approx. 2.7 cm apart) and the rows spaced at around half that measurement (approx. 1.4 cm apart).
Otherwise, this tool was handy for making a template. You can fiddle with the angles until you get what you’re looking for. I used Line weight 0.5, base angles 27 deg. and triangle base length 2.7 cm.
Start with the lid template. Find the centre of your lid piece (20 cm x 20 cm) and mark it with a straight line. Then, line this up with the centre line on the lid template. Tape it down and use a nail and hammer to lightly mark each point on the wood.
Next, find the centre line on your base board (20 cm x 60 cm). Draw a line and align this with the centre line on the base template. Ensure the template is in the centre of the board (i.e. between 20 cm and 40 cm). Mark the nail holes in the same way as for the lid. It is very important that this is done accurately, as you need the nails on the lid to pass exactly between the nails on the base board. On the templates I have already offset the nail pattern by half the distance between the gap in the nails.
Drill a test hole in a piece of scrap wood and practice hammering through a nail. It should be fairly hard work to hammer the nail through but not too hard, or the wood may split. If you can push the nail through easily, you’ll need a smaller drill bit. Once you’ve got the right drill bit, drill all of your holes as straight as you can.
Sand everything smooth – you won’t really want to sand when this thing’s full of nails.
You’re now at the stage where you can really start to annoy your neighbours – hammering. You’ll need to do this carefully and in fixed steps, as you’ll be hammering and bending one row of nails at a time. Begin with Row 1 on the base template. Hammer in the nails, clamping the board or elevating it above two pieces of scrap wood – you’ll need some clearance for the nails to come through the back.
Turn the base over and bend the nails in the direction shown on the template. I did this by holding a metal file against the nails and gently hammering the nail tips. This ensures that all nails bend to the same angle and that the nails bend half way up rather than from the base near the wood, where this could destabilise the nails. I guess any hard straight object thin enough to slot between the rows would do, but the file was perfect. Hammer in Row 2 and repeat the bending process. Do this for each row in sequence until the base is complete. Then, look though the nails from one end or use your file or a metal ruler to knock any out-of-line nails into place.
Next, you want to construct the sides of the base. Drill evenly spaced holes in the side strips (10 cm x 60 cm). I did this every 10 cm. Line up the side strip with the base and use a nail to mark the drill holes. Drill into the base a short way – enough for your screws. Then, put wood glue on both surfaces and screw together. Repeat on both sides.
Put wood glue on the inner rails (6 cm x 60 cm) and inside of the box sides. Place, and clamp until dry.
Move on to the lid. Drill the holes for your handle before you begin hammering in the nails. Here, I found it best to hammer in one row and then slide the lid across your base to make sure no nails hit each other … Much better to do this one row at a time rather than when you’ve done all several hundred, or it’ll be about as fun as identifying the dud fairy light bulb. If the nails are touching, gently hammer the offending nail on the lid rather than on the base.
When you’re done making a din, attach your handle (choose one with a small footprint so you don’t have to remove too many nails from your template, and make sure it’s comfy and there’s enough space to get your hand through without scraping your knuckles against the nail heads). Add some feet to stop the nails scratching your worktop – I used thin strips of hardwood, wood glue and clamps. Let it all dry, sand down any rough ends, drill a couple of holes for clamps, and you’re good to go.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with this – some fiddly work, but nothing too challenging, and a flat-sized, budget-friendly picker perfect for attacking this mountain of alpaca: