Introduction: Wood Pin Puzzle

Picture of Wood Pin Puzzle

This is a fun puzzle that is pretty easy to build. The goal is to have all the pins line up in a horizontal manner. The pins are different lengths and the holes in the base are of varying depths. In addition, there is a slant to the base which adds another level of deception. This project took about 2 hours to make and cost less than $5. Note that I'm not the originator of the puzzle. Similar styles are shown on the Creative Craft House website.

Step 1: Tools/Materials


  • Miter or Table Saw
  • Drill Press
  • 13/16" Spade Drill Bit
  • Sander
  • Ruler
  • Pencil


  • 2x4 by 9" long
  • 3/4 Wood Dowel x 24" long
  • Stain/Paint (optional)

Step 2: Drawing

Picture of Drawing

You will be building to this drawing. The parts are color coded for easy reference.

Step 3: Cut 2x4

Picture of Cut 2x4

Start by cutting the 2x4 to 9" long.

Step 4: Drill Holes

Picture of Drill Holes

Measure and mark the center of the holes as shown in the drawing.

I used 3/4" dowels for the puzzle so the clearance hole is 13/16". This fit is a little loose but allows for paint or polyurethane if you go that route.

Using a drill press, drill the holes to the depth shown. I chose 1/4" increments for the varying depths. My spade bit has a tip that goes about 1/2" below the flat section of the hole. Since I didn't want breakout, this limited my max hole depth to 2.75".

The incremental pattern is arbitrary but must be matched to your pins. If you change the pattern, keep in mind that the chamfer (next step) reduces the final hole depth. Therefore, don't add your shortest holes to the low point of the base.

Step 5: Chamfer Base

Picture of Chamfer Base

Use Miter or Table saw to add a 5 degree chamfer as shown.

Step 6: Pins

Picture of Pins

Cut 3/4" dowels to the lengths shown. The colors are just for reference. If you decide to go with a single color/stain, think of way to document the solution. One option is to add numbers or letters (not actual order) to the top or bottom of each side and have a reference code sheet.

Step 7: Sand and Finish

Picture of Sand and Finish

Break all sharp edges by sanding. Finish as desired. I used oak stain for the base and painted the pins yellow.

Step 8: Solution

Picture of Solution

If you built everything to the drawing, the pins should line up horizontally as shown. My version is pretty easy for me to figure out since I know the shortest pin (red piece) goes on the right side of the base. With that, I know everything the other pieces must meet this height which is just trial and error.

Step 9: Finish Parts

Picture of Finish Parts

Step 10: Finished Project

Picture of Finished Project

Unlike my other dowel puzzles (here and here), it only took my family members about 5 minutes to figure it out. Enjoy your puzzle!


DaveW188 made it! (author)2017-01-21

i had some time today to putter around and decided to make this. I drilled the holes to depth (approximately), the cut the dowles a little longer then the diagram. I then inserted the dowles into the holes and cut them square on the table saw. I then cut the 85 degree angle on the base.

mtairymd (author)DaveW1882017-01-21

Nice job and good ideas on the build!

archpapa (author)2017-01-10

Lazy people like myself might initially drill through the stock then fill the holes with dowels and cut them all equal at one slice. Then and only then cut the dowels each in a different place and glue one end to the bottom of each of the initially drilled holes.

mtairymd (author)archpapa2017-01-11

I like lazy (smart) ideas :)

BTrey (author)2017-01-08

Nice. One thing I'd suggest - cut all of the pins a little longer
than you want them. Once the holes are drilled in the base, insert the
pins in the holes and lay a combination square along the tall side of
the base, with the ruler flat against the pins. Draw a line along the
top of the ruler and trim the pins to that line. That will ensure that
all of your pins line up precisely even if you're a little off on the
hole depth.

mtairymd (author)BTrey2017-01-08

It was a pain getting the holes to the correct depth. That's a good suggestion. Thanks!

johnfixesstuff (author)mtairymd2017-01-10

First of all--good instructable and I appreciate your willingness to receive feedback--I learn so much from others. One additional thing you could do is make the pins look nicer by sanding more off the ends (so the end grain isn't so course).

mtairymd (author)johnfixesstuff2017-01-10

Thanks. Yep, the end grain was bothering me. I gave it a light sanding and figured the paint would cover it. I applied about 10 coats of spray paint and I could still see it - ugh! Just look at the pretty CAD rendering instead :).

clayswenson (author)mtairymd2017-01-11

I suggest filling the end grain with a light water based wood filler like Timbermate before painting.

mtairymd (author)clayswenson2017-01-11

Good idea!

CarinH (author)2017-01-11

I wonder if painting the insides of the holes a flat black would make it harder to see how deep each hole is.

mtairymd (author)CarinH2017-01-11

It might help but it's pretty easy to see inside with a 13/16" diameter hole.

mtairymd (author)2017-01-10

Update - I took the puzzle to work and had about 10 people try it. The solution times ranged from 1 minute to about 10 minutes. Seeing how people approached solving it was interesting. If you make your own, you might want to use smaller diameter dowels and tighter increments (say 1/8" vs. 1/4"). This will make it harder for someone to look into the base holes and judge the depth. You could also add more pins in-line or make a grid of pins.

seamster (author)2017-01-09

Love it! Great, simple puzzle. Well done as usual :)

mtairymd (author)seamster2017-01-09

Thanks. Yep, this is definitely kid friendly since you will eventually solve it with trial and error. My previous dowel puzzle caused everyone fits.

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to design and build random things.
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