These little wooden needles are great for things like darning, knitting, nålbinding, tapestry or anything you would use a blunt needle for. I use them for weaving projects in my forest school classes, and as they are so easy to make, I often get the kids to make their own.
All you need is a twig and some basic tools to whittle your wood needle with. Not even very scary tools either. Just some very common things you are likely to already have, and might not even realise you can use for woodwork! And as making your own wooden needle is whittling at its simplest, this makes it a great woodwork project for beginners of all ages.
Not got much time or just want the bullet points on how to make these? Click here for the Quick Read Instructions.
How to make wooden needles
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It’s so simple to make these little wooden needles out of sticks, that I often use it as a first whittling activity for children at my forest school sessions. And yet even though they are quick and easy to make, the end result is tactile, beautiful, and ever so useful. Mr Morris would be proud!
Want to make some yourself? Then here is everything you need to know.
To make a wooden needle from a stick, you need:
- A stick
- Knife or peeler
- Manual drill or sharp, pointy tool for making holes (eg a gimlet, palm drill, crank drill, or bradawl)
- Large sharpener (optional)
- Cut resistant gloves (optional)
Tools for whittling sticks
If you are nervous about whittling or carving wood using a knife, then start with a simple vegetable peeler. I’ve tried several sorts over the years and the ones I think are best for woodwork are the peelers that are shaped like a knife, rather than those with a U or Y shaped handle, as they tend to be stronger.
You can make the whole wooden needle (except for the hole) with just a knife or peeler, but you can make things even easier by using an oversized pencil sharpener to make the pointed tip. The ones I use are sold as either billiard/snooker cue sharpeners, or you can get even bigger sharpeners for carrots if you are making a really big wooden needle.
To make the needle hole, I use a hand drill rather than a power tool. As the wood is likely to be green, it will be fairly soft, so a tool like a gimlet, bradawl or palm drill should get the job done. However the children in my forest school sessions LOVE using a crank drill, so I often use these as well.
Whittling safety tips.
When just starting whittling, or when teaching children to whittle, you can give hands extra protection by using cut-resistant gloves. But a glove should only be worn on the ‘helping hand’ (the hand NOT holding the knife) when carving, as you will have better control and grip on the knife with your bare hand. Many people prefer to carve without gloves altogether for this reason.
Sit down when whittling, so that you are comfortable and steady. Make sure you have a space at least an arm’s length all around you, to avoid anyone jostling you.
Hold the knife either in front of your knees or to the side of your legs when using it. Never carve in the space between your legs. This is because the inside of your thighs has major arteries, so a slip and cut there would be much more of a problem than on knees or the outside of your thighs.
And although it might seem counterintuitive, sharp tools are much safer than blunt ones, because they require less physical force to make a cut and so are easier to control.
Finally, before you do this activity with children, make sure that you have introduced the tools you are going to use to them first. Demonstrate how to use the tools, make children aware of hazards like sharp edges and points, and be sure they understand your rules for safe behaviour.
DIY wooden needle instructions
1. Find a nice long stick that’s the right thickness. Ideally at least a hands-width longer than you want your finished wooden needle to be. The extra length will enable you to hold the stick firmly while you whittle.
The twig needles shown here were made from sticks of elder wood, as I was cutting back a load of elder trees at the time. As you can see, elder wood makes perfectly usable needles. But I do prefer something like hazel or willow because elder has a soft core that makes for a soft needle tip.
Peeling and whittling your wooden needle
2. Start by using your knife or peeler to strip the bark from your stick so that it is nice and smooth. This is to prevent the finished wooden needle having rough areas that could snag textiles as you use it. You don’t need to peel the whole length of the stick; just the section that will be your needle.
3. Once your stick is bark-free and smooth, use your knife or peeler to flatten one side, at the end that will have the hole. Again, you don’t need to do all of the stick, just a short section that is a little bit longer than you want the eye of your needle to be. Repeat this on the other side so that the end of the stick is almost square. Doing this will make it easier to drill holes to make the eye.
Making the eye of your needle
4. To create the eye of your wooden needle, mark a dot at the beginning and end point of where you want this hole to be. Do this on the flat area you have just made. You can then use the drill to make holes on and in between these points. Make each hole right next to/touching the hole before.
Depending on the size you want, three or four drilled holes should be enough to make the needle eye.
If there are any rough bits inside the eye, use your knife or a sharp tool to clean it up. A sharp flathead screwdriver works well.
Sharpening the point of your wooden needle
5. To finish the wooden needle, cut off the excess length of stick. Use either your knife or peeler, or the sharpener, to make this end pointy. You can leave the tip slightly blunt, or sharpen it right up, depending on what you are going to use your wooden needle for.
What to do with wooden needle made from a stick
So what can you use your wooden needle for, now that you’ve finished it? Well, they are very pretty, so they make great decorations, especially if you make extra large ones! But there are also lots of crafts that use blunt or oversized needles.
I use mine in forest school activity sessions. First, we make a twig needle. Then, we make a weaving loom – maybe a straightforward square, maybe a circle loom or Y stick loom. And then once our prep work is done, we can thread our handmade stick needles and get weaving. I find that weaving outside in the woods a very peaceful and meditative craft, and when the tools you use are so tactile and come from the materials found all around you, it makes for an even more satisfying experience.
I’d love to know how you use your twig needles, so if you make some wooden needles of your own, let me know what you get up to with them.
More from Rhubarb and Wren
Looking for more fun things to make and do with the kids? Check out these great activities from Rhubarb and Wren!
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How to make a wooden needle from a stick – quick-read instructions
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Knife or peeler
Manual drill or sharp, pointy tool for making holes (eg a gimlet, palm drill, crank drill, or bradawl)
Large sharpener (optional)
Cut resistant gloves (optional)
1. Cut a stick to at least a hands-width longer than you want your finished wooden needle, so that you have an extra bit to hold while whittling.
2. Use a knife or peeler to remove the bark and whittle the section of the stick that will be your needle to make it smooth.
3. Flatten an area on opposite sides at the end of your stick, using the knife or peeler. This area should be slightly larger than you want the eye of your needle to be.
4. Mark where you want the eye to start and finish on the flat bit of your stick.
5. Drill holes on and between these marks, to make the eye of the needle. Use a knife or sharp flathead screwdriver to remove any rough or loose bits of wood.
6. Cut off the extra section of the stick, and then sharpen the end into a point.
7. If you want your wooden needle to be completely smooth, use fine grade sandpaper to remove any lumps, bumps, or rough areas.