DIY Wooden Rainbow Sorting Toy With Peg Dolls

This Montessori style toy is the perfect combination of open ended and learning toy. The rainbow can be painted in one colour per ring or in multiple shades per ring to alter the difficulty. The peg dolls are perfect for open ended and small parts play. Build this beautiful handmade toy and watch your child learn and play!

My daughters are 10 months and 2 1/2 years old. My 2 1/2 year old is obsessed with everything rainbow. When asked what her favourite colour is, she always responds “rainbow”. So I knew she would love this toy, but I wanted to make a toy that both my daughters could play with.

The peg dolls are large enough that there’s no risk of my little one choking on them, and as she gets older she will be able to practice sorting the colours.

My older daughter is confident with her colours, so I wanted to make this toy with a more advanced element of different shades to challenge and teach her.

I also know they will both do open ended, imaginative play with the peg dolls. I love to watch them play and see what catches their eyes and what they do with their toys.

I made this video as a quick run through showing how I made this sorting board. Give it a watch and if you want more details they will be in the tutorial below!

Video Run Through

Let’s Jump Into the Tutorial!

  • 2′ – 1×12 board – The board needs to measure 10″ by 20″. I jointed together a 9″ wide pine board cut into 3 – 4″ wide 20″ long pieces.
  • 57 wooden peg dolls – I bought these from amazon, but these are also available in hobby stores, home improvement stores, and craft stores
  • Acrylic paints – I used a variety of colours and brands
  • Wood finish (optional) – I sealed using spray shellac
  • Sand paper – I used 80, 150 and 320 grit sanding disks as well as 60 and 100 grit sand paper sheets, my belt sander and my oscillating sander.
  • Wood glue (optional) – I used Titebond II
  • Shop rag – for wiping up excess glue
  • Vinyl – I used Oracal Oramask Stencil Vinyl
  • Transfer tape – to transfer vinyl
  • Spray adhesive (optional) – If printing out a pdf template and cutting it out
  • Paper or cardstock – if you’re printing the pdf template
  • Safety equipment – eye protection, hearing protection, respiratory protection
  • Pencil
  • Table saw (optional) – if you’re gluing up the wood to form the 10″ wide plank
  • Circular saw/miter saw/or table saw – to cut the 10″ wide plank to length
  • Scroll saw/band saw/jig saw – to cut the rainbow shape
  • Clamps (optional) – for gluing together the jointed wood
  • 1″ Forstner bit
  • Drill or drill press
  • Sander/sanding block/sand paper – I used a random orbital sander, a benchtop belt sander, and oscillating sander, a sanding block and sandpaper, but you really don’t need all of those tools!
  • Cutting machine or printer – I used my Cricut Maker
  • Scissors – if using the pdf template
  • Weeding tool (optional) – for weeding out the vinyl design
  • Cutting mat (optional)
  • Shop vac (optional)
  • Router (optional)
  • 1/4″ Roundover bit (optional)

Let’s Start the Build!

Step 1 Plan your design

Choose one of the templates below, or create your own drilling template. Below is a link to my Cricut Design Space file that is a template that can be cut out onto vinyl. This is how I made my rainbow.

Below is a link to a pdf version of my template that can be printed onto 8.5″ by 11″ paper, cut out, and then holes can be poked through to mark the drill points.

Step 2 Joint your wood

If you don’t have (or want to buy) a 1×12 board, you can joint narrower boards together using a jointer (if you happen to have one), a router, or a table saw.

I used a jointing jig on the table saw to joint 3 pieces measuring 4″ wide, 20″ long, and 3/4″ thick. The jig I used was built based on this video by Steve from Woodworking For Mere Mortals. This jig was really easy to make and works really well.

To joint my piece together, first I cut a pine board that measured 9″ wide by 3/4″ thick to 2 – 20″ long pieces on the radial arm saw (my miter saw only cuts about 6 1/2″).

Next I put one of the 20″ long pieces onto the jointer jig and took off a strip about 1/8″ wide on the table saw. The square side of the jointer jig runs along the fence of the table saw, which makes the side I just cut square.

Then I put the side I just cut against the fence and cut it to width – 4″. I then flipped the remainder of the 9″ wide board so the side I had cut from was against the fence again and cut another 4″ wide piece.

I took the second 9″ wide piece and repeated the jointing process to cut one more 4″ wide piece.

Step 3 Glue up the jointed boards

You won’t need to worry about this step if you’re using a 1×12.

Line up your jointed pieces so that there is little to no gap between them. Sometimes you’ll need to flip them around and rearrange them to get the best fit possible. There is a specific way of labeling the boards after you cut them so they line up best, sometimes I do this, but as this was a simple glue up I just moved them around until I got the best fit possible.

I like to put down scrap pieces under the boards I’m gluing up so there’s room for the clamps underneath. I also use scrap pieces with packing tape on them to keep the piece lined up. The packing tape prevents the glue from gluing the pieces to your work piece. If you’re interested in seeing my clamping technique, the quick video above shows how I clamped this piece.

Apply wood glue liberally to the sides being jointed together and then clamp the piece.

I like to clamp from side to side and also from top to bottom to prevent the wood from bowing. I probably use an excessive number of clamps, but it works well. I also always wipe the glue after all my clamps are on. Some people prefer to chisel it off after.

Step 4 Sand

Once the glue dries fully, remove the clamps and sand the piece to remove any excess glue and any raised sections that don’t match up perfectly.

I used a random orbit sander with 80 grit sandpaper for this step. This is just a rough sanding to level out the piece, so don’t worry too much about making it perfectly soft.

My piece ended up jointing together seamlessly. You can tell it’s multiple pieces because of the wood grain, but there are no visible gaps.

Step 5 Apply the template

Either cut the Cricut template out with a cutting machine, or print the PDF template out and cut it out manually.

I used the Cricut template and cut it out onto Oracal Oramask Stencil Vinyl. Make sure you dust off or vacuum off the piece before sticking a template on.

If you use the PDF template you can cut it out with scissors, match up the pieces and then use spray adhesive to attach it to the board. You could also trace out the shape and poke through the paper to make marks for where to drill. If you’re tracing it, I recommend using cardstock as it’ll be easier to trace.

For the vinyl stencil, first weed out the middle dots and the background.

Next use transfer tape to transfer the design to the plank.

Then use a pencil to mark in all of the middle dots.

Weed out the larger circle. This marks where the holes will be and the marks you put in the center of each hole will be where you place the tip of the forstner bit. I designed this template to double as a drilling template and a guide to cut out the rainbow.

Step 6 Cut out the rainbow

Using either the vinyl stencil or the paper/traced shape, cut out the rainbow. I used my scroll saw for this, but its a basic cut that could easily be done with a jigsaw or a bandsaw.

Step 7 Drill out the holes

Drill all of the holes. I used a drill press for this and drilled to a depth of 5/16″ with a 1″ forstner bit. You could also use a drill for this. Just make sure you measure your peg doll bases first to ensure this is the right size hole. I prefer forstner bits for this type of thing. You could also drill the holes with a spade bit, but you might have more tear out and need to sand more after.

I did a test drill first to determine my preferred depth and bit size.

The drill bit will create a small indent in the middle of the hole. You could try to sand it out or fill it in. I just left them because I don’t think they affect the toy at all.

Step 8 Router the edge (optional)

Next router the edge of the board on both the top and bottom with a 1/4″ router bit. This step is optional, but it gets rid of all the sharp edges and looks nice and finished. If you don’t have a router you could just break the edges with a sanding block or sand paper and it will still look really nice!

Step 9 More Sanding

Sand the piece again, top, bottom, and edges from medium/coarse to fine grit. Don’t forget to sand inside the holes. This is a bit tricky, but you can do it with sheets of sandpaper or a sanding block. The holes probably won’t be perfect, mine weren’t, but they still look and work great.

I used my bench top sander that has a belt sander and disk sander to do the edges.

I used my oscillating/pole sander to do inside the bottom arch.

I used a random orbital sander for the faces.

You don’t need to use all of those sanders for this project. Just a sanding block and some elbow grease would do a great job.

Step 10 Painting

This is ALWAYS my favourite part of a project, especially when I’m making a wooden toy.

Determine what colours you want to use. You don’t have to do a standard rainbow. You could do primary colours, bright colours, or pastels. You could choose to do one shade per ring, or do more of a gradient like I did. It just depends who you’re making the toy for and what you have on hand.

This part can get a bit tedious. I love to listen to audiobooks while I paint because I love to read, but can never find time for it with my kiddos. Audiobooks are great because you can multi task while reading. This is by no means an ad, but I love Audible. You could also listen to music or binge watch some Netflix!

I had two different types of peg dolls, one with a straight up and down shape and one with a shape that kind of resembled a dress. I used both types and just alternated them. I painted the base of each peg and left the heads natural, then I painted the holes to match, so each doll has its own spot. You could also paint hats on them, or faces, animal faces would be adorable too. Get creative and have fun!

If you happen to get paint on the board where you don’t want it, sanding works really well to take it off. Just remember to clean off the dust before you seal the project.

Step 11 Apply a finish

After the peg dolls and the rainbow board dried overnight before sealing it all with spray shellac. I like to use shellac for wooden toys as it’s low odor and relatively safe. No finish is 100% safe, so do some research and decide what you want to use, if anything. I know that shellac is made from secretions of the lac bug and is used to coat some pills, candy, and other things that are ingested, so I feel safe using it. My toddler also doesn’t put anything in her mouth anymore. Just make sure the finish cures completely before giving it to your little.

I did 2 coats of spray shellac, making sure to get all the sides of the peg dolls and both sides of the rainbow board.

I had a lot of fun making this toy and I hope you do too!

Amazing Work! Enjoy Your Project

I hope the little one you made this for loves it and plays with it often. I know my girls will be clocking some serious time with this toy. If you’re interested in more projects like this one, subscribe to my email list to be notified every time I post. For more ideas, follow me on Instagram @the_walnut_grove and pin this image to Pinterest to refer back to. Thanks for the support!

Let’s Chat!

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please leave them down below. I’d be happy to hear from you! Let me know if you made this rainbow sorting board, and how the process was for you. I’d love to see if you did something different too! For more ideas, check out similar projects below.

Happy Crafting!