Building a DIY wool picker

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DIY wool picker

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:

Building an electric spinning wheel – Part 1

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)
  • sandpaper
  • handle
  • 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.

DIY wool picker tines

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.

DIY wool picker

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.

DIY Wool Picker

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:


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Comments 25

  1. Pingback: Building a DIY blending board (spielen mit Kardenbelag) | TheLooseEnd

  2. Thank you for the plans, especiallly the nail pattern and the idea to sharpen the nails. those additions where great hope to buy parts tomorrow, cuz i have to make a tensioning lazy kate too.

    • thelooseend 27 July 2015

      Hi Jo Ann, thank you for your comment. I really hope the design works for you – I’m still very happy with mine. Intrigued about your tensioned lazy kate – I’ve been after one of those! I’ll keep an eye on your blog to see how it goes! All the best, Christine

  3. Thank you for posting this! It’s the most detailed free tutorial I could find, which is very much appreciated! I’m going to get some supplies on my way home from work tonight and put my construction skills to the test. Thanks again!

    • thelooseend 11 August 2015

      Thanks for your comment Caitlin! Good luck with the ‘build’ – I really hope it works for you. It would be great to see how it goes. Christine

  4. Thank you for these plans. I just have to convert the cm to inches and I will be all set. This looks great.

  5. Where did you get the clever clamps to hold the box in place? I can’t recall having seen them anywhere.

    Brilliant article – thanks very much.

    • Hey John, I’m not sure where you are, but I got clamps like that at a rockler hardware store here in southern Maine where I am. They are “fence clamps” for holding a guide fence in place. An internet search or a well stocked tool store should help you get your hands on some. On a stationary tool the fence guides the work as it moves over the blade, or it can be clamped to a work piece to guide a tool. Good luck!

    • thelooseend 27 March 2016

      Hi John – thanks for your comment! I really hope the article helped. I found the clamps at a hardware store also – here in Germany they were listed as a Tischklemme or ‘table clamp’. I just found a similar thing online at Home Depot. If you had trouble, you could always try making you own using an l-shaped bolt, wing nut and a block of wood with a hole drilled through it – just like the clamps that come with Ashford carders. Good luck!

    • Dianne L. Springer 4 June 2018

      I have similar “table clamps” for my knitting machine. You can pick them up at most any hardware store, the bigger chain stores (like Lowe’s, Menards) or craft store fairly priced.

  6. I love this so much!

    I am a newly addicted fiber junkie and I love your blog. I also lived as an expat in Frankfurt for 18 years, so seeing a picture of a Weihnachtsmarkt made me quite nostalgic! I remember well all the lengths I went to in order to have a little DIY and crafting in my life while living in a tiny urban apartment, but you take it to the next level – I’m so impressed!

    • thelooseend 27 March 2016

      Hi Anne – thank you so much for you comment – right now I’m waiting impatiently for the summer Biergarten season to reopen, but the Christmas markets really are the best time of year. I really must get active again on the blog – we’ve just moved house and I now how a madly luxurious ‘fluff room’ under construction for all things fibre-y. Welcome to the world of wool – it’s a dangerously addictive hobby 🙂

  7. Peter Attwood 31 May 2016

    I’ve just spent several weeks constructing a wool picker for my wife, whichI designed myself using the guidance given on your and other websites.
    However, the results achieved have been very disappointing (according to her-who-knows) and I am looking for the possible causes.
    My design provides adjustment of the amount of nail overlap, and I have tried all settings from 0 to 30mm without success, and I have also experimented with the nail patterns themselves.
    Could I send you photos and screenshots of my computer models for you to look at, in the hope that you can suggest a possible way forward?
    Peter Attwood
    Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England

    • thelooseend 31 May 2016

      Hi Peter, I’m sorry your picker hasn’t come out as hoped. Frankly, I was surprised that mine seemed to work first time – I was expecting to do an awful lot of tweaking. I’m not an expert on the construction of these things by any means – like you, I spent a while scouring the Internet for different plans and looking at the nail configurations on various commercial options before coming up with this design – but I could certainly have a look for you if you like. I can’t promise I’ll be able to help, but feel free to send anything through to All the best, Christine

  8. Thanks for posting the plan and providing the nail patterns, especially the bending pattern. As concerns this pattern, can you estimate the angle that you used for the bends? Also can you please comment about any remedy and the root cause for Peter’s problem with the design?
    Thanks ever so much!

    • thelooseend 11 July 2017

      Hi Larry, I’m sorry – this blog has been quiet in a long time as I’ve started a family. I’m afraid I can’t work out what the issue was with the design – all I know is that I was happy with mine and it worked for me. I’ll update the post with the approximate angle for the nails as soon as I can find my protractor. Best wishes, Christine

  9. tommy burns 3 June 2017

    Thank you for the plans. One question. Did mean for the nail spacing to 2.7 cm instead of 2.7mm.


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  12. Dianne L. Springer 27 March 2018

    I came across your design today. Thank you so very much for this! I traded for three large bags of fresh shorn wool and am anxious to get busy with them. As a handy person, I will be buying the needed lumber and nails tomorrow and can’t wait to get started. I will update my post when I’m finished.

    Thank you!

  13. Ich habe heute mit nach deiner Anleitung den picker gebaut freu mich jetzt schon den morgen aus zu testen habe so viel wolle zu verarbeiten und neue Schur ist schon in gange vielen Dank für die Klasse Anleitung alles passt genau zusammen

  14. Martha Black 5 August 2018

    If all you have is Alpaca you don’t need a wool picker. It is loose enough. Pickers are for sheeps wool that is very dense in nature.

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