Make: A Scrap Wood and Dowel DIY Play Board

We are putting our safety goggles on and pulling out the power tools today! Admittedly, this DIY is one of my more random ideas, but while trying to use up some spare wood, I kind of stumbled upon it, and – honestly – I have never had more fun. What is this? We’re calling it a Thingamaboard, and it’s pretty much anything you want it to be!

Our simple handmade scrap wood and dowel play board sitting on a white background

From a jungle in the Amazon, to ring toss, to a mountain campsite, this open-ended play board of moveable pegs can adapt to anything imaginable! Make a tiny puppet stage with some scrap fabric and a piece of twine. Add some screws, straws, small pulleys, twine, and other loose parts to create a small simple-machine playground for Legos. 

Our simple handmade scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a jungle small world sitting in front of a yellow background


One of my favorite toys growing up was a Montessori knobless cylinder ladder (do you know the kind? Brightly colored wooden cylinders with a board each peg sits in). It’s a fantastic open-ended learning tool for toddlers, but it was so simple and versatile, it became an accessory for imaginary play as we got older too. It was the cash register at our “store,” the student file holder when we played school, even a brutalist Lego playground. It was also the inspiration for this little project and is one of the few toddler toys I *still* have today.

Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board photographed from the top sitting on a white background

Much like that simple learning toy, this play board only requires a few basic materials and is so incredibly versatile. Whether your kids use theirs for small world setups, to build simple games and experiment with engineering, or create something completely unique, we’d love to see how yours is used!

Love reusing your scrap wood? We have simple recycled wood projects for everyone! Little (or big!) artists might enjoy our scrap wood process art sculptures. And tiny techies with crafty caretakers will LOVE these DIY wooden writeable tablets or laptops for pretend play.

To make your own scrap wood and dowel play board you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts, Etsy, Blick Art Materials, and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • A piece of scrap wood or
  • Dowel rods like these in optional varying sizes (you can use code BIRCH5 for 5% off at Woodpecker Crafts!)
  • Sandpaper
  • A Drill
  • Drill bits or spade bits (a spade bit is used if you’re making LARGE holes)

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

  • Wood glue for a permanent setup
  • Non-toxic eco-friendly craft paints or non-toxic wood stain or sealer

Scrap Wood and Dowel DIY Play Board Instructions:

  1. Gather or cut dowel rods into varied sizes

    I made this *especially* super-easy for myself and bought a bag of pre-cut dowels of different sizes (I’ve put the link to craft dowels similar to the ones I used if you’re curious).

  2. Randomly drill holes for your dowel rods

    I used a drill and a few sizes of drill bits (sized to match the diameters of our dowel rods) to drill a few holes into my square of scrap wood. Try to drill about 3/4 of the way through your piece of wood – not all the way through to the other side, but deep enough that the dowels can be pushed in securely and stand up straight.

    I also drilled a few small holes through the sides and into the tops of a few of our dowel rides. This way, if we want to thread ribbon through, screw small hooks in, or plant small flags on top, the holes will already be there.

  3. Sand!

    Before playing, be sure to sand around the sides of the drilled holes and any rough edges using fine-grit sandpaper.

  4. Optional: Finish the wood with paint, wax, or stain

    We left ours unfinished, but if you prefer a more polished look or smoother finish, you can paint, wax, or stain.

So, you’re probably going to make this, and sit down with your kids, and frankly, it’s going to look a little “meh” – but add just the teensiest bit of imagination and the possibilities for playing with this are ENDLESS! For instance, with just a few added elements from around the house, it can become…

Camping small world play…

Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a camp small world play set up sitting in front of a blue background

FOR THIS SETUP WE ADDED:

  • Twigs and leaves from the backyard
  • Felt and flannel sleeping bags
  • A felt, paper, and rock campfire
  • A paper and string garland
  • A paper, twig, and string tent
  • A tissue paper tree
Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a camp small world play set up sitting in front of a blue background

To make our mini campsite play setup, we took out quite a few of the dowels to make room for the details. We strung a string through a couple of through the tallest of them, folding small paper triangles around it to create a camp-inspired bunting.

Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a camp small world play set up sitting in front of a blue background

After gathering a few natural supplies from the backyard, we made a leafy open area and pushed a couple of tree clippings and twigs into dowel holes. These elements became our campsite foliage and a twig-and-string structure to hold up our folded paper tent.

Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a camp small world play set up sitting in front of a blue background

Small scrap pieces of felt and flannel were cut up, laid out, rolled, and tied to make tiny camping blankets and snug little sleeping bags.

This little stage sets the scene for an afternoon of fantastic small world play. Even just putting the pieces together to build our camp environment was an exercise in independent creative learning and imaginative storytelling.

A play jungle paradise for little monkeys…

Our simple handmade scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a jungle small world sitting in front of a yellow background

FOR THIS SETUP WE ADDED:

  • Tissue paper foliage
  • Construction paper ponds and rivers
  • Felt monkeys
  • Pom pom and transparency sheet palm trees
Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a jungle small world sitting in front of a yellow background

To make a few quick palm trees, we cut a wide strip of tissue paper, cut some vertical lines into the paper, then wrapped around the tops of our widest dowel rods and taped. In a bag of old cake decorating supplies, I found monkey cake toppers, that you could recreate with some felt, paper, and pom-poms.

Our simple handmade scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a jungle small world sitting in front of a yellow background

Construction paper scraps were cut up to create rivers and ponds that attract all kinds of jungle animals!

Our simple handmade scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a jungle small world sitting in front of a yellow background

A game of ring toss…

Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a DIY ring toss game sitting in front of a butcher paper background

FOR THIS SETUP WE ADDED:

  • Washi tape rolls
  • Jar lids wrapped with washi tape
Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a DIY ring toss game sitting in front of a butcher paper background
Our DIY scrap wood and dowel play board turned into a DIY ring toss game sitting in front of a butcher paper background

Honestly, the more we played with our Thingamaboard, the more ideas we had for future setups. A few of the things we haven’t yet put together, but are on our list are:

  • A finger puppet theater
  • A pipe cleaner sculpture
  • A construction site with ropes and pulleys for our legos

I absolutely love experimenting with scrap wood! If you do too, be sure to see how I turned a few old wood scraps into a simple but epic mini mid-century modern DIY dollhouse (no special woodworking tools required!).

For kids (and adults!) who prefer more physical play, visit our upcycled scrap wood balance board DIY. I still use this every day, and it’s of barley & birch’s most popular posts EVER!

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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