Introduction: Poke Board

Many classrooms are doing projects with cardboard these days, which is a great thing. I once referred to cardboard and tape as the "bricks and mortar of a child's imagination."

This year while exploring my students' imaginations, we ran into a problem that the mortar (aka tape) was causing in their construction projects - they could not produce movement.

Our solution was a simple one: start using brass fasteners to attach pieces of cardboard to each other. It worked great! We could spin cardboard like a wheel, use two fasteners to prevent movement, or even use a combination of techniques to produce slider cranks.

Many more possibilities awaited us, but we ran into a new problem... getting the brass fasteners through the cardboard was hard for my grade 2 students (and me too!). So again, we looked for a solution and the Poke Board was born!

The board is essentially a piece of foam board glued to a pine board. Nails are glued into wooden spools to provide a better grip on the nails. Place a piece of cardboard (or paper or card stock) on the foam board. Then push through the cardboard with the nail to pierce a hole in it. The foam supports the material so the force of the nail doesn't crease it, and the wood board stops the nail from damaging the table top that you might be working on. Plus, the pine board is soft enough to "give a little" and keep the nail's point from dulling too much.

This build is very easy, and provided a lot of opportunities to introduce my students to the tools and materials being worked with. But if you didn't have a captivated student audience, you could easily crank one of these out in less than 20 minutes... and the majority of that time would be waiting for glue to dry! :-)

Step 1: The Poke Board Premise

Here are my sketchnotes for how the Poke Board is constructed and the way that it is designed to work.

These are shared so that if you'd like to recreate the board in a different size, or with different materials, you can more easily identify what stuff that you'll need to round up.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

This page has the materials needed, and the tools I had available when I made the Poke Boards. Obviously you could substitute any tool that you have that can "get the job done." :-)


  • Glue gun
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bits - various sizes
  • Tape measure
  • Miter saw
  • Dremel Tool with cutoff wheel (not pictured)
  • Needle-nosed pliers with cutting edge (not pictured here)


  • 1 - 11 1/4" x 14" x 3/4" pine board
  • 1 - 11 1/4" x 2" x 3/4" pine board
  • 1 - 11 1/4" x 12" foam board
  • 5 - spools or corks
    • if using spools, wooden dowels will be needed to fill in the center hole of the spool
  • 5 - nails, different sized base on the size of the holes you want
  • glue

Step 3: Glue Up the Boards

Use wood glue to attach the smaller piece of pine to the top of the larger piece. This will be the storage spot for the pokers.

I used hot glue to attach the foam board to the pine. Expecting to have to periodically replace the foam, my thought is that the hot glue will make it easier to remove the old foam. Stay tuned and I'll let you know if I was right... :-)

Step 4: Making the Pokers - Glue in the Dowels

Since I was using wooden spools, I needed to fill in the center so that the nails could eventually be inserted. The spools were picked up at Michael's, as were the dowels. (Honestly, I got lucky that one fit perfectly into the other.)

Put some glue into the hole of the spool, making sure that it contacts the sides of the opening. Alternatively, you could put glue on the end of the dowel instead.

Push the dowel into the opening of the spool until it is flush with the other end of the spool.

Use a cutting tool to snip the dowel off flush with the side of the spool.

Step 5: Making the Pokers - Cut the Nails to Length

The smaller nails can be cut using the needle-nose pliers. The larger nails that I used (12d and 16d) had to be cut with my Dremel tool.

If you don't have a vise, drive the nails through a scrap piece of 2x4 to that the pointed ends are exposed. Carefully use the cutting wheel on a Dremel tool to cut the nails long enough so that about 1/2" to 3/4" of an inch of the nail can stick out of the spool.

Step 6: Making the Pokers - Glue in the Nails

After the glue holding the dowels in the spools has dried, drill a hole into the center of them. This will be the hole that each nail is put into, so use a drill bit of the right size. Keep track of the sizes that you used because you'll need them in Step 3.

To help hold the nail in place, be sure to use more glue. I used wood glue when I first made these, as you can see in the third picture. Wood glue and metal nails don't produce the best bond, but hey... it's what I had at the time. :-) Some of the nails fell out while being used, and I repaired them with a super glue gel. If I had had the gel when I first made these, I would have used that instead. #lessonlearned

Step 7: Drill Out the Storage Holes

With the drill bits that you used to make the holes in the spools, drill holes into the surface of the smaller piece of pine at the top of the Poke Board. Since I made five different pokers, I spaced my holes at 1 5/8", 3 5/8", 5 5/8", 7 5/8", and 9 5/8". These measurements might change depending on how big a spool you got, and how many different sizes that you have.

Step 8: Make Some Holes!

Now take your board out for few perforating performances! :-)

  1. Place a piece of cardboard or paper down on the foam.
  2. Select the poker with the nail that'll create a hole of your desired size.
  3. Press the poker into the cardboard. It should pierce the cardboard and the foam, but stop when it hits the wooden base beneath the foam. The foam should support the cardboard so that it doesn't crease when you poke the hole in it.
  4. Remove poker and admire the hole you just made!

Then get to work using those holes for whatever installation you are working on!

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