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Muddy Faces

Nail art with wool

A fun activity using a hammer and nails - great for practising fine motor and tool-use skills in the woodworking area.

Art & Creating


Measuring and marking out your shapes gives this activity an additional maths curriculum angle.

*Muddy Faces actively promotes child-led outdoor play & learning. We recognise and believe in the curiosity that children have and their drive to explore and discover. We hope that you will bear this in mind when considering more prescribed activities like this one - often much more creative ideas will occur if resources are simply provided and children are given the time and space to explore independently.

What you'll need

  • wool/flexible string
  • pot of nails (approx. 25mm)
  • hammer with a claw
  • marker pen/pencil
  • wooden board (soft wood is easier to hammer into).

This activity has been provided by

Environmental Considerations

Consider the environmental impact of preparing, carrying out & completing this activity. Could this impact be reduced? Specific considerations for this activity could include:

  • leave no trace
  • source of wood

Health & Safety Considerations

Follow your usual operating procedures and carry out appropriate risk benefit assessments.
Some considerations particular to this activity include:

  • tool use
Art & Creating

Step #1

Hammer in the nails, spacing them out equally in a circle.
The ones in this picture are around 2-3cm apart. We didn’t measure them – we just made them approximately equal.

For accuracy and/or to add numeracy skills into the activity, measure and mark out equally-spaced dots to create the circle, marking the exact point to hammer the nails into.

Art & Creating

Step #2

Attach a length of wool or string to one of the nails (we’ll call this the Start Nail).

To create your pattern decide how many nails to jump each time – ideally you don’t want to end up back on the Start Nail.

If you do end up on the Start Nail within one or two circuits, either undo and start again or re-start using a different number.

If you are mathematically-minded you could count the number of nails and work out the number to skip before you start. We just started and adapted as we went along.

Don’t include the Start Nail in your count and skip the same number of nails each time.


If you decide to tie every 4th nail, count this way:

Start nail
… one, two, three… tie off on four
… one, two, three… tie off on four


You can speed up the process by not tying off on each nail but just wrapping around it once. The downside of this is that you need to keep a constant tension on the string otherwise it can all unravel.

We ended up alternating – doing a few turns then a tie off, a few turns then a tie off, so if it did go slack we only unravelled back to the last tied nail, not the whole thing.

Art & Creating

Step #3

Continue the pattern. Hopefully you’ll miss the Start Nail and continue round the circle until you have used every nail.

Tie off and snip off any excess wool/string.

Art & Creating

Step #4

Choose a different colour wool or string. Choose a new Start Nail, attach to it and start a new pattern with a new count.

You can repeat with a couple of colours.

Working with younger children:

Setting this activity up for younger children is a case of Let Them Play. Just hammering the nails in where they like, and randomly connecting them with string is great fun. Little ones may need some help to secure the string.

Alternatively use elastic bands.

Take it further:

  • experiment with different patterns and shapes
  • create a base with the nails in place to make a square, traingle, rectangle, pentagon etc. so children can explore the characteristics of the different shapes
  • create letters or numbers
  • add a central nail and radiate back and forth, or even add a central circle of nails
  • this photo shows a round pattern done by an adult and a more random pattern made by a 7-year-old. He wanted to connect the patterns together; the result was this cool shape. He said: “it looks like one of those rocket toys that make a whizz sound as they fly” (I was thinking a shooting star…)

Disclaimer: Muddy Faces cannot take any responsibility for accidents or damage that occurs as a result of following this activity.You are responsible for making sure the activity is conducted safely.

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