Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

From Childhood Toy to Fiber Art Ploy

Filed under: How To,Knitting — folkcat at 1:09 pm on Friday, January 26, 2007

As an avid knitter, and a new and aspiring spinner, I’ve been slowly acquiring the tools of my trade: yarn ball winder, niddy noddy, spinning wheel.

One essential item that had eluded my budget so far, however, was a swift. I have a friend with one that I can borrow whenever I need to, but that requires waiting until we can get together at a time and place that works for both of us. My eBay skills have proven lacking so far, too – I keep getting outbid at the last second.

Now, there are ways to work around this. There’s the classic, “Honey, would you hold this yarn for me so I can wind it?” move. That works until your husband starts remembering how sore his arms will get by the time you’re done. There’s holding the skein yourself over your knees, or your feet. Great until you need to answer the door or go to the bathroom! Then there’s the back of a chair – assuming you can find a chair that will somehow fit your skein.

I had an idea for a solution yesterday that seemed to come out of left field. Maybe I’ve been running a fever with the cold I’ve had all week. Maybe I was belatedly inspired by the Motorized Lego Yarn Winder I’d seen around blogland over a year ago. Whatever the reason, however, there was this notion, this answer bouncing around my head, to my swift-less existence. I even had the materials in the house to try it out Thursday.

The Tinkertoy Swift
The Tinkertoy Swift

Yup. Tinkertoys. Let’s not even get into why a childless couple has Tinkertoys in the house. (Okay, I’ll tell you – we may be childless, but Gryphon and I both personally appreciate toys, and have a specific fondness for building toys.)

Made from a Classic Jumbo Builder Set, the swift was quick and easy to put together. I don’t know how the size of the rods differs between the Jumbo Builder Set and the other Tinkertoy sets. I felt that the diameter of the rods in the Jumbo set worked well for the swift, though – they were sturdy enough to support the yarn without bending.

Here’s how I put mine together. I don’t know what all the parts are called, but it’s easy to look at my pictures and match them to what you have in your set.

Base Parts

I wanted a good, stable base, something that would prevent tipping, yet support a reasonable axle for the swift to turn on. I used four blue rods with end caps coming out of the edge of the connector, with a yellow rod sticking out of the center.

The three larger parts in that picture are pulleys and a spool, I think. Their point is to provide the spinning action, as well as to raise the height of the working arms up off the table. Tinkertoys don’t have ball bearings, and these parts were all designed to spin on a rod that’s inserted through their center hole.

Base Assembled

I stacked the three on the yellow rod, and finished the top with an end cap. I made sure that a piece with four holes around the edge was at the top – this is where the arms of my swift will attach.

Arm Assembly for Tinkertoy Swift

This is my arm assembly. The red rod is the upright peg that will hold the skein. The yellow rod with a connector on the end at the right will support the skein from beneath. The green rod on the left will fit into the top piece on the axle. If you look again at the picture of the fully assembled swift at the top of this post, you’ll see where that goes.

It’s really that simple, folks. And it gets even better – by varying the length of rods used on the arms, I can accommodate different sizes of skeins. I took measurements with the various colors in place – here were my findings, from shortest rod color to longest:

Yellow Rods: 26″ skein length
Blue Rods: 35″ skein length
Red Rods: 40″ skein length
Green Rods: 48″ skein length
Orange Rods: 68″ skein length

These are all based on placing the rod color specified where the green rod is shown in my photo of the arm assembly. Additional lengths can be made by combining two shorter rods together with yet another connector, and using them in place of a single color. For instance, by combining a blue and a yellow rod, I came up with a 57″ skein length. A little experimentation, and possibly even using two arms of one size, two of another, and the size possibilities are extensive.

Edited 3-7-07 to add: Telmah of Skyline Chilly reports that she wound a skein of Socks That Rock yarn with her Tinkertoy Swift. She combined three orange rods and one green one, and got a circumference of 63.5″, which was just perfect for the yarn. To keep the swift balance, she added an extra connector on the end of the green rod. If you want to see how it worked out, you can visit her post about it here. Thanks for the data, Telmah!

All well and good, you say. But does it work?

Tinkertoy Swift with Yarn

It held my 8 oz. skein of Cherry Tree Hill Merino Lace yarn (colorway “Martha’s Vineyard”, btw) quite well, with the green rods in place to hold a 48″ circumference.

The three spinning parts on the axle turned smoothly. If I use this regularly, I may consider lubricating them with a little graphite or something to reduce wear.

In very short order, that skein of yarn had been turned into this yummy yarn cake.

Lace Yarn Cake, Thanks to Tinkertoys!

Best of all, storing this swift – as well as carrying it to knitting groups if I want – is going to be ridiculously easy. The whole thing breaks down into small parts that I can fit in a gallon-size zipper bag! Show me an umbrella swift that can do that!

Another great thing about using Tinkertoys, too – these are wooden parts that are intended for children to play with. As such, they are extremely smooth and well finished. Not a chance in the world that your yarn will catch on a rough spot!

Obviously, this wouldn’t be the right answer for someone who’s doing any large amount of yarn handling. But for the fiber artist who only occasionally needs the use of a swift, or who is on a budget, this could be a great solution. Especially if you already have them in the house for the kids, or can find them at a yard sale!

If you decide to give the Tinkertoy swift a try yourself, please post about it to your blog (if you have one), and leave me a comment or drop me an e-mail. I’d love to see how this works for others!



Comment by Sara

January 26, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

Now that’s damn ingenious! How cool is that! I wish I would have thought of it – but I got a swift for Christmas…it’s the ball winder that is giving me a problem….


Comment by Elspeth

January 26, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

You are a genius! Great job!


Comment by sherry

January 26, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

Very clever!


Comment by jen.

January 26, 2007 @ 10:38 pm

I love it! My first thought was not to wonder why you have Tinker Toys, but to wonder where you got them. I tried to buy some recently (under the guise of using them at school- which I would, but I would totally get a kick out of them as well), and couldn’t find any non-imitation ones.

That’s a great idea, and I like your instructions/schematic. ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Valerie in San Diego

January 27, 2007 @ 12:18 am

You’re brilliant!

Another good thing about this is you can adapt it for very small or very large skeins. I’m always getting skeins that are too small for my swift.


Comment by Arondelle

January 27, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

It’s too cool, Jen.

I explored the link for the Leggo winder, too — but I wonder if purchasing the Leggo kit with the motors and all would be just as expensive as just buying a ball winder ready made. ๐Ÿ˜€


Comment by Karen in Wichita

January 30, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

You got mentioned in the Craft magazine blog: http://www.craftzine.com/blog/archive/2007/01/how_to_make_a_yarn_winder_from.html

(Last I heard, Craft doesn’t bother with trackbacks. Bah.)


Comment by Ansley

January 30, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

You rock!


Comment by Alison

January 30, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

This is BRILLIANT. I do plan to build one, but who knows when. Gotta get a ball winder too, unless you can tell me how to make one of those….


Comment by whitney

January 31, 2007 @ 10:05 am

I saw this on the Craft blog and just had to come here and comment on how awesome this is! I already have a swift (thanks to a birthday gift from my mom), but I’ve always loved Tinker Toys, and would totally put one of these together if I had any. I don’t know where you can even find non-imitation Tinker Toys anymore, though.


Pingback by Crafting Jen » Finding Tinkertoys

January 31, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

[…] Welcome to all my new visitors from Craft: Blog! And thank you to everyone for your great comments about my Tinkertoy yarn swift! […]


Comment by Lisa

February 6, 2007 @ 7:26 pm

I’ve been lusting after a yarn swift but they’re too darn expensive. I have a box full of tinker toys my boys have outgrown. I’ll put them to use and build one of these sweet swifts. Thanks.


Comment by Morana Revel

February 6, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

Gosh. Wish I would have thought of this.

Now I have to figure out….Does my mother in law have any in the old toy basket……


Comment by Tanya

February 6, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

Kudos to you! I’m going to have to buy some Tinker Toys now — way cheaper than a swift and much more versatile. ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Carol

February 7, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

Hi! I posted about my Tinkertoys swift last month on Sockknitters Yahoo group. I thought it was great way to save $ for more fiber. Nice tutorial!


Comment by Mandy

February 8, 2007 @ 11:33 am

This is the coolest thing on the planet. I love people who can actually build stuff with tinker toys and legos. I just don’t have the ability to conceptualize it. It rocks my husband even got a kick out of it. whonu?


Comment by Sharla Smith

February 10, 2007 @ 1:09 am

This is so awesome! I will search for tinkertoys tomorrow and make one!


Comment by Christine

February 11, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

The TinkerToy Classic jumbo builder’s construction kit with wood parts is available at ToysRUs – $31.99 for 102 parts, item 34792.

There’s also a plastic version – plastic knobs and sticks. Sigh.


Comment by knitma

February 15, 2007 @ 1:14 am

I gave the pic from Craft:Blog to my kids and they build this over and over. They are trying to build a winder too. Great idea.


Pingback by Skyline Chilly » swiftly tinkering

February 19, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

[…] I knew well from my days of babysitting that building toys are good fun for all ages. Imagine my pleasant surprise then when I saw Jen’s Tinker Toy Swift, an excellent and affordable solution of how to wind skeins of yarn into balls without tangling them or breaking the bank. I thought it was great fun (not to mention quick and easy) to build this perfectly functional and widely adjustable toy/tool. My cat thought the whole thing was pretty interesting, too! […]


Comment by Telmah

February 19, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

Great idea! I made your swift and used two different length “arms” to fit the skein length of Wool of the Andes from knitpicks. I didn’t measure what length the two reds/two yellows tinker toy arrangement came out to, because I was so excited to get to winding! Check it out


Comment by craftycarole

February 26, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

Brilliant! WIsh I had seen this post a year ago before I bought my swift! Now I’ll never get rid of those tinker toys… because it’s SO portable thanks for the great idea!


Comment by Kathy

March 6, 2007 @ 10:53 am

I thought this was such a Great idea that I had to have one. And then I had a brainstorm. I went out to EBAY and found out that you can get Tinker Toy Sets there. So I put in a bid on one and won the bid at $4.99 with shipping of $8.01. It should be in my hands shortly and I will also be able to make yummy yarn cakes.

Kathy in Indianapolis


Pingback by Skyline Chilly » socks that spin around neatly on toys

March 7, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

[…] I really enjoy ball winding by hand; for 90% of yarns I choose to do it that way over a ball winder because I love feeling the texture and watching the colors go by. My adjustable/collapsable Tinker Toy Swift sure makes it simpler and more fun though! […]


Comment by Telmah

March 7, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

To wind a skein of Socks that Rock on my Tinker Toy swift, I used 3 orange arms and 1 green arm, with an extra end piece on the green arm to balance out the weight. The circumference of the rig was 63.5 inches. Check it out


Comment by Michelle

March 25, 2007 @ 12:22 pm

What a great idea. I am going to have to go out and get some Tinker Toys.


Comment by Pam

April 3, 2007 @ 9:10 am

Come to think of it, I could wind a center-pull ball using one of the extra rods. . . The center hole always seems so HUGE with a ball winder or TP tube, and I have always preferred the smaller hole left by my thumb! With the rod, I would get a little hole, and my ball size would not be limited by the rest of my hand – in theory. Have not tried it yet. . .


Comment by Lynn in Tucson

April 9, 2007 @ 11:57 am

OMG! If I had a set like that around, I wouldn’t have to run to the hardware store to build a drop spindle! (I was gifted a gorgeous batt for my birthday and I DON’T SPIN. Yet.)


Comment by O.M.

April 16, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

This is a great idea! I totally love it. I had some hanks to unwind from some hand dyed, and I had some hanks to make from recycling sweaters. I built one, and it underwent several incarnations as my husband worked on it too. The results are posted at my blog. Thanks for the great idea!


Pingback by Knit The Hell Up » The Mother Of Invention

April 30, 2007 @ 12:49 am

[…] For the young and the swiftless: It is a working swift made from Tinkertoys, and it is totally awesome. […]


Comment by alotta.knittin

May 18, 2007 @ 11:13 am

This is way beyond genius!


Pingback by submarine behaviour » Blog Archive » KNITTING UPDATE

July 3, 2007 @ 3:51 pm

[…] Since then I began knitting a Barbara Walker’s Two-Color Dip stitch swatch of for a pillow project, but things are a little too wonky so far to officially start. So I jumped to a quickie project and began knitting the Horseshoe Pillow – I am enamored with cables! I’m using some acrylic/mohair yarn (i think) from JoAnn’s that I don’t have in front of me at the moment, but the color matches exactly to the hat/scarf set I knit as one of my earliest project. I’m waiting on a yarn ball winder I just bought to deal with the Wollmeise Superwash Sockenwolle (Frosch) hank before I can start another pair of socks. Although I may still be held up since I don’t also have a swift. I’ve been keeping a look out for a TinkerToys set so I can make one on the cheap(er). I also want to go pick up some Cotton-ease for Stitch โ€˜n Bitch Nationโ€™s Nubbly Pillow. And THEN I came across this knitting stuffie, Bob that is SO KAWAII and I have the perfect yarn for it! Can you tell I’m developing multi-project personality disorder? […]


Comment by Kat

July 31, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

Like others have said, that is an ingenious idea!!! I totally intend on going out and yoinking myself a set of Tinkertoys to try this out! I’ll post results, as you asked for! (:

Thanks for sharing your awesome idea and instructions!


Comment by Cathleen

July 31, 2007 @ 10:50 pm

I just remarked last week to my sweetie that if I had a box of Tinkertoys I could perhaps make her a swift. I was in the process of studying a swift while waiting patiently for her in a yarn shop.

So what do I find as I surf the web for potential plans to build a swift, but a Tinkertoy Swift made by a brilliant knitter.

Thank you for posting about your experience. It’ll help a knitting widow participate just a wee bit more in her sweetie’s activities. ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Kat

August 5, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

Here’s a brief review of my experiences with the Tinkertoy swift. I’ll post pictures of it later, when I can find my bluetooth dongle. (:



Comment by audrey

August 5, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

thank you so much for your tutorial! i bought a set of tinkertoys and put it to use last night as a yarn swift and it worked nearly flawlessly! an amazing frugal solution for the casual knitter.


Pingback by submarine behaviour » Blog Archive » CAKE AND ICING

August 10, 2007 @ 5:30 pm

[…] i’ve been using my flickr lately more as a type of blogging than i do this wordpress. but i think i will try harder to share their use. last weekend it tickled me to no end that i succeeded in making a frugal-yarn swift out of Tinkertoys. those babies tend to cost from $40 upwards to $70 and for a casual knitter, that was just over the top. so i got the idea and specs from Crafting Jen spotted on Craft:’s blog. and voilร ! […]


Comment by Marce

August 31, 2007 @ 7:21 pm

My friend just sent me a kit and your instructions to build this and it turned out great!! Brilliant idea…thank you so much!

You can see mine at http://thebrownberry.blogspot.com/2007/08/my-gift-swift.html#links

Thanks again!


Pingback by An ode to my engineer « Little Wit Knits

September 10, 2007 @ 10:30 am

[…] We try out the mixer winder, but our stand up mixer is busted and the handheld spins too fast to get good control on the yarn. So he starts to build me a ball winder out of a wire hanger and a tp roll using our drill as a motor to spin it. I continue to peruse the interweb for more yarn swift ideas when I happen upon Crafting Jen’s site. She has a design for a swift made from Tinker Toys. Too cool. A little internet searching and it turns out that Target sells Tinker Toys. We continue to fuss with our ball winder which works smashingly but still needs some tweaking to get it to form a good yarn cake. Then we rush off to Target before closing to buy the Tinker Toys for the swift. Once we returned I built the swift and he built a helicopter. (Apparently, that was more fun than troubleshooting the ball winder.) Sorry no pictures of the helicopter. It was dismantled before bed. Here is the ball winder and resulting cake: […]


Comment by Lise

October 4, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

Absolutely brilliant. I got a ballwinder and couldn’t afford a swift. Bummed some Tinkertoys from a friend – MAGIC! I shall never wind another skein of minorly felted laceweight by hand, cursing all the way.

My most heartfelt thanks!


Comment by Anniebananie

November 8, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

That is an amazingly brilliant idea! I have a ballwinder but no swift. I think I’m going to have to pull out the kids tinkertoys tonight… thank you so much – I was so tired of using the back of a chair.


Pingback by Persistent Illusion » New Toys… Er, Tools

November 21, 2007 @ 6:58 pm

[…] I found the link to this on Ravelry. But here is a direct link to Crafting Jen, who, I’m sure you will agree, is also very crafty. […]


Comment by annabel

December 4, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

I came across this when pricing swifts last week after spending about three hours untangling a skein I was trying to wind by spreading it out on the couch (which I should know by now does *not* work) and ordered some Tinkertoys from Amazon. They came yesterday and I put the swift together while waiting for the pasta water to boil and after dinner wound up one of the same skeins that gave me so much trouble in about fifteen minutes. Thank you!!!


Comment by Stephanie

January 1, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

Merci beaucoup for the simple, quick and graceful swift design. My 10 yr. old son built it for me with his old TT set and I just wound up a ball of lovely wool on my thumb. We adjusted two of the red rods to the outer spools to fit my 38″ skein. We were short two end caps, but subbed in two long connectors that did just fine. I didn’t have to wait until after New Year’s Day to swift away!


Comment by Lizzie

January 3, 2008 @ 2:12 pm



Comment by Wendy

January 11, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

Great job ,I just called toys r us leaving the house now.Thanks for sharing.


Comment by Laura

January 19, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

A great source for Tinkertoys is yard sales or thrift stores. I have a box full that I bought last summer at an estate sale, meaning to put them up on eBay and never did. Perhaps I should repackage them as yarn swift sets…


Pingback by Not Only a Mom » Blog Archive » Did I Ever Show You…..

January 25, 2008 @ 8:51 am

[…] So in the interest of blog content, did I ever show you my swift? After reading this post from Jen a while back I dug up the parts and built this Tinkertoy swift creation. […]


Comment by Martha Stafford

January 27, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

I have a thing, maybe a yarn winder?? place for 2 fingers looking like holes in a pair of scissors which are marked PAT APr. 14, 08 which work 4 metal long heavy wires with a crook in the end of them,. These long prongs measure about 7 1/2 inches. If I could send you a picture could you identify them to be a yarn winder?


Comment by Caren

February 13, 2008 @ 11:43 am

I came across this while searching for tinkertoy building ideas for my 4 yr old son. Such serendipity, as I’m also an avid knitter and read many knitting blogs, but I hadn’t happened across yours in the past. What a small world. This is a terrific idea! I have a swift already, but I love the portability of this for vacations, etc. Now I can wind my new yarn right away without having to wait to get home to my regular swift! ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Ana

February 15, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

You are a genius! I was just bemoaning the price of a yarn swift, but we already have the tinkertoys, and my 4yo will LOVE helping me put it together! Thanks!


Comment by Megan

February 20, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

I’m somewhat new to knitting and I didn’t even know what a swift was before discovering that I needed one (two very knotted skeins later). With 10 more skeins to go, my hopes of finishing this project in a timely manner were pretty dim until I came across your design. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this beautiful contraption with the world – it’s functional and fun, Bravo! Although my nephew will be tinkertoyless for the next few days, I wouldn’t dream of buying a commercial swift after this ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Judi

February 28, 2008 @ 3:28 am

I got my tinkertoys from ebay over a week ago, but just tonight put the swift together. Fabulous!

Thank you for sharing this ingenious idea!


Comment by LJ

February 28, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

Love it! There’s nothing like solving a problem using materials already on hand.

I made a swift from duct tape, coat hangers and a lazy susan:


Comment by Rabbi Jonathan Gerard

March 9, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

I loved this post and your brilliant solution. Swifts are so expensive. And you write so well.


Comment by Rachel

March 12, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

You’re a genius. And you’ve managed to help me find a way to play with my son AND play with my yarn at the same time!


Comment by Julie

March 20, 2008 @ 11:58 am

You’re a genius, you know that? I’ve had a ball winder that I got super cheap for some time, but have been wishing in vain for a swift. (In retail outlets near my home they’re expensive. Really expensive.) But tinkertoys? At Target? There’s a Target 5 min from here! Gonna hit it between the post office and grocery today, and see what I can do. Great idea!


Comment by hakucho

March 22, 2008 @ 8:30 pm

Thanks for the inspiration, very clever idea and instructions. My bored son was very willing to make me my swift from his old unused tinkertoys. It’s a very good feeling to make something useful from something that was just lying around taking up space:) Our set didn’t have all the parts you have, but my son was easily able to improvise. Check out my blog and you can see what he came up with.

Thanks again ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by hakucho

March 23, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

“I can’t quite make out what the green pieces on the ends of the feet are. Some sort of foam blocks? ”

Jen, the green pieces are hard plastic that came with our set …called “medium base” in the instruction manual. We don’t have the original box the set came in. It’s quite old as it was my oldest son’s set and he is 21. Hope this answers your question ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Lisa

March 29, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

I saw your post. I went out and bought a set of superstructs(a tinker toy knockof) to make my own swift. It took no time to build though I used some round bases at the ends of the bars of my base to make it more stable. I’ll test it tonight.

Thank you.. you saved me a fortune.


Comment by Megan

April 3, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

You have got me scheming. I was not as good at tinker toys, but I rocked the K’Nex constantly. I’m going to pull out my old set and see what I can come up with. Especially considering that I could possibly have a ball winder out of it too. *scheming scheming scheming*


Comment by Lynn

April 4, 2008 @ 6:38 am

My daughter sent me this link. I’ll post it on my own blog. I have a 20+ year old umbrella swift that still works well, but your solution is inspired!


Pingback by Watermelon Socks! « knitting elephant

April 17, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

[…] I haven’t figured out the best way to wind the massive hank of yarn into a manageable size skein yet. I don’t own a niddy noddy and the hubby isn’t crafty, so a PVC version isn’t likely. I tend to place the yarn back over the chair backs and wind from that back over my arm (like you would a long extension cord)… it works, but it leaves me with a really small circle of yarn that won’t fit over the umbrella swift. I did make myself one of these and it worked well enough, but I’d really like to make a true skein of the yarn so I can see all the colors and how they work together in the skein. Maybe if I drop enough hints to the hubby, he’ll order a niddy noddy for me?! Anyone know what size I should hint at?? Also, anyone know how to tie a figure eight into a skein?? […]


Comment by Gina

April 18, 2008 @ 4:00 am

I’ve been searching for the PERFECT swift, and I think this is it! It’s affordable and geeky. I love it! Thanks for posting this. ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Sue

April 20, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

I bought my set of Tinkertoys at Amazon for about $9, put the swift together tonight and plan to start winding balls on my nostepinne tomorrow morning. Thank you so much for such a simple, brilliant idea!


Pingback by I found the perfect swift! « Knitter on Skates

April 21, 2008 @ 1:59 am

[…] Monday, April 21, 2008 at 12:59 am (Knitting) Crafting Jen posted instructions for a Tinker Toy swift over on her blog.ย  It’s too bad the Classic Jumbo Builder Set is $31.99!!!!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎย  Once I score a good coupon, I could pay that same price for a “real” swift.ย  I also spotted a swift made from PVC pipe.ย  I think I’ll go with the PVC pipe for cost effectiveness. […]


Comment by mirc

April 25, 2008 @ 11:43 am

Iโ€™ve been searching for the PERFECT swift, and I think this is it! Itโ€™s affordable and geeky. ๐Ÿ˜‰


Comment by rachel

July 10, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

I just had to say that I made a swift out of some tinker toys I bought on ebay for the purpose and it worked really well! Two swifts for $8! Can’t beat that!

Thanks so much for coming up with this


Comment by Rachel HB

July 15, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

I know I’m getting to this a lot later than most (!) but I picked up a set of tinker toys (the same set you had in the photo!) for a whopping $1.38 at Goodwill last week. Some of the pieces were missing, but I had everything I needed to make a cool swift in about 10 minutes. Thanks for the instructions/photos!


Comment by Vortenjou

July 31, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

Thanks so much for posting this! This has cut my handwinding time in half.


Pingback by First purchase after the bills are paid. « Hbacmama’s Weblog

September 10, 2008 @ 12:03 am

[…] I can use them for this nifty AWESOME BRILLIANT purpose at night, and let the kids have at’em during the day. […]


Comment by Stephanie

October 18, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

I just made a Tinker Toy swift, and I love it! It works great, and I made my husband come down to the basement to watch me wind a ball. His response: “Are you ever going to leave the basement now or will you just be down here winding yarn?” Thanks so much for the idea and the directions!


Comment by Mary

November 9, 2008 @ 12:08 am

I decided to try this out, so I asked for Tinkertoys for my birthday. This thrilled my 5 year old, who thought all grown-up birthday presents would be boring to children. They ended up getting the “Junior Builder Set – The Classic Tinkertoy construction set”. I hear it was about $17 at Wal-mart. I didn’t have all of the exact pieces mentioned here (especially the end caps). But I managed to make the swift with very few pieces left over. I put the two entra spools and two couplings on the ends of the base in place of the end caps. I wrapped rubber bands around the couplings to increase the diameter and to give them a little traction. On the top I put the big red plastic piece – I think maybe that’s what they call a pod. Now I can’t wait to find a skein of yarn that needs winding… only two problems. My 5 year old and 2 year old love it… and there aren’t a lot of extra pieces in case we lose any. The only I options I have for making the swift larger is to use the longer orange rods as opposed to the green ones. On the other hand, we didn’t buy a big set that we didn’t really need.
Thanks SO much for the “pattern” for the swift!


Pingback by DIY Swift for $18.00 « All Purled Up

December 7, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

[…] Tinkertoy swift […]


Comment by cspice

December 26, 2008 @ 11:00 pm

Just made my tinkerswift, thank you! It’s brilliant and my 5-year old was honored to give up a few of his prized possessions to help me out. He’s not even making me take it apart, because it fits in with the “robots” he builds.


Comment by Maribeth

December 29, 2008 @ 8:23 pm

I am going to poll my sisters to see if any of my nephews have outgrown their TinkerToys, or make an investment in a new small set. I wonder if putting the end pieces (like little wheels) in a vertical vs. horizontal position might help stabilize a skein that is a little too big for one version and a little too small for the next size up? I will try it and let you know!


Comment by Kathy

January 1, 2009 @ 12:05 am

THIS IS SO GREAT!! I needed swift because I was in rush at the yarn store. Buy using my old tinkertoys (I kept them even after my kids outgrew them) I was able to save money AND wind my yarn in a timely fashion.

Thank you sooooo much. My DH got a good chuckle about me not only locating the tinker toys which are at least 25 years old, but making the swift and giggling the whole time I used it. He was very impressed.


Comment by Diana

February 9, 2009 @ 12:14 am

I just made one of these. Your pictures really helped me visualize, as i was a legos kid, not a tinkertoys kid. This is awesome… I have a winder, but didn’t have a swift, so this is speeding things up immensely. Thanks!


Comment by Gigi

March 18, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

Beautiful, you are a doll!
Can’t wait to find my own Tinkertoys and put it too work.
Bless you!


Comment by Becky

March 18, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

Wonderful! Grandson Sid (age 6) made it for me and then we tried it. It worked. He was thrilled and so was I. Thanks for the creativity.


Comment by Linda

April 2, 2009 @ 9:01 am

This is freaking BRILLIANT! Way to go and thank you SO much for sharing!
BTW; I found you through your comment on Rav:)


Comment by Maureen

April 18, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

I just stumbled upon this site. And I had thought I was the only one who thought of this. People laughed…but it works so well!!


Comment by Pat

June 17, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

I made one of these many years ago from directions that were in a McCall’s Needlework & Crafts magazine. I later tried to find the magazine again but it probably got discarded, or given away. I used the swift for a long time before I got a “regular” one for Christmas one year.


Comment by Pat

July 2, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

I found the magazine! It was McCalls Christmas Make-It Ideas, Vol VI, 1963!


Comment by es es dizisi

September 2, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

Iโ€™ve been searching for the PERFECT swift, and I think this is it! Itโ€™s affordable and geeky


Pingback by A truly portable swift

September 7, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

[…] crazy, so I thought I’d research some of the clever swift ideas out on the net, and found this one. I’d have to see if I can find TinkerToys or a TinkerToy-like toy set, but one thing that is […]


Comment by Jaime

September 16, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

I love love love this an it worked perfectly for me! I really was able to wind the yarn just as fast as I could turn the ball winder’s handle. Since I’ve been bitten by the lace bug I can’t imagine winding that fine yarn by hand. Thank you!!

Blogged here:


Comment by Bronwyn

October 26, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

Thanks for the awesome idea! I found some Tinker Toys on ebay. The canister I got didn’t have all the pieces that you used, so I had to make some mods. I think my mods might make it even better. In the center, I stood a spool on the end of the stick and another stick in the top of this spool. The stick catches any fugitive yarns if it starts to spin faster than you can wind. The spool itself serves as a nice handle to spin the swift when winding hand-dyed yarn back onto the swift.

Thanks again! You saved me some money for more yarn!


Comment by elle

November 11, 2009 @ 1:49 am

This is the most awesome thing ever! I never played with these as a deprived child, and now, not only do I have a kick@ss yarn swift, but I can build a Tinkercopter!


Comment by mirc

November 15, 2009 @ 6:54 am

Iโ€™ve been searching for the PERFECT swift, and I think this is it! Itโ€™s affordable and geeky


Comment by Terry

November 25, 2009 @ 10:48 pm

I know I’m late to this party but I just saw this brilliant idea a few days ago on Ravelry. I got a set of Tinker Toys today, and had great fun using it to roll up two skeins of Malabrigo – it works *wonderfully*!!! Thanks for sharing it with the world.

Now – how about a yarn ball roller…?



Comment by Janni

December 9, 2009 @ 8:46 am

Seriously brilliant idea, thank you so much for sharing it with all of us. I whipped one up out of Fiddlestix after being so inspired by your Tinkerswift. Here’s my blog entry about it, with photos and a video as well. Thanks again! ๐Ÿ˜€


Comment by Cecelia

January 9, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

I cannot believe this is so simple. I LOVE it! Now to see if my MIL still has enough TT’s left for me to make one …. AND if she’ll let me have them.


Comment by spletne strani

January 10, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

Very interesting post. My 2 year old watched these pics and begs me to build her such toys.


Pingback by A swift is a bird. « sosoclever knits!

February 2, 2010 @ 11:55 pm

[…] of the couch to hold the next skein while I wound it into a ball, so I looked for instructions for the Tinkertoy Swift and got Thing Two to build it for […]


Comment by Leighann

February 17, 2010 @ 3:37 am

Thank you for sharing!!! I have used this on some Cascade 220 and some Peace Fleece and it was fabulous!!! It made the process of winding it so much more pleasurable, and of course faster! My girls are 6 and 3 and were fascinated by it… LOL!


Comment by Bethany

March 19, 2010 @ 1:06 pm



Comment by Kurabiye

April 11, 2010 @ 6:43 am

It’s awesome !!! Iโ€™ve been searching for the PERFECT swift, and I think this is it! Itโ€™s affordable and geeky. I love it! Thanks for posting this.


Comment by Kathy Hammond

May 13, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

Great idea! Thanks for sharing! Wish I had some Tinkertoys!! ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Valerie

July 24, 2010 @ 11:34 am

I have used your swift design twice & it’s really good! Here’s a picture of it on my blog.

Life & Times of Lady Val


Comment by Liz

September 11, 2010 @ 11:35 am

I bought tinkertoys after seeing this link posted from Ravelry. Even if I had the money for a swift, I don’t have the space.

Well, I have to say. I just used my swift for the first time and it’s amazing! Thank you SO much! You saved me a lot of yarn untangling heartache. ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Azalea Primrose

October 2, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

This _is_ a stroke of genius (which seems to have hit several people, as all really great ideas do). I have a ‘real’ swift but it has to be clamped to a table and I don’t have the right sort of table (or desk or …) to clamp a swift _and_ ball winder to. This one sits _on_ the table or the floor.

But I have one problem – I’d like to work in reverse. I just sprung for my first ball of Noro (Kureyon Sock) and I suspect it will do a lot better if the _yarn_ is washed before knitting. So I need to wind _from_ the ball _to_ the swift. The yarn ‘legs’ bend when I try this – I’m going to experiment with winding around the groove in the wooden circles inside. Anyone have any better ideas? (My metal swift wobbles like mad when I try winding on to it.)


Comment by Alis in Wnderlnd

November 6, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

I have young children, and of course have tinker toys, so I decided to give this a whirl…it rocks! Ours is the plastic version, so the colors are a little different, but it worked great. We also have a HUGE set, so I just took the pieces I need for the swift and will store them separately with my knitting supplies. Thanks for posting!


Comment by A Gamer's Wife

January 3, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

This is the awesomest DIY yarn swift article ever! My yarn ball came out perfectly, just like they do it at the stores. Thank you so much!


Pingback by Spinstah · Secret Pal 10 Questionnaire

January 8, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

[…] Sadly, I do not. But I think I am going to start stalking Goodwill for tinkertoys. […]


Comment by Jane Black

January 17, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

I just bought appx 50$ worth of skined yarn offline, and then cringed when I realized the enormous task of balling with no swift… desperate for an alternative I did research and found your brilliant idea. I went on craigslist and found a set of tinker toys for 5$ and had it built within twenty minutes. I am anxiously awaiting my shipment of yarn now!!! Thank you so much for your brilliance ๐Ÿ™‚


Comment by Judith Bandsma

March 26, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

I’d been putting off winding hanks as this is such a chore without a swift…and I’m not in the position to afford what most places want for an umbrella swift. Finding this was wonderful and has me now ordering hanks of lovely stuff like silk and cashmere that you can rarely find pre-wound.

Oh, and I’ve also recommended it to a couple knitting groups I’m involved with.


Pingback by Swift Satisfaction - Knitting - - Pookaville

May 23, 2011 @ 3:25 am

[…] a little box, a lazy susan, and some clothespins How about an office chair and some magic markers? How about some Tinker Toys? An old wooden umbrella? If you want to go buy some cheap wood, drill some holes, you can get a bit […]


Comment by Amy von Gohren

October 29, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

I didn’t have tinker toys but remembered your idea and raided the attic for the old sets of K’Nex that my kids used to build with. Half hour later, a 360yd skein of sock yarn is a beautiful cake.



Comment by debrah

May 29, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

brilliant! love tinkertoys!

Comment by Heidi

January 11, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

BRILLIANT!!!! I am definitely going to do this!

Comment by Jen

March 14, 2013 @ 2:24 am

I was over the moon when I saw your blog yesterday! Someone in my area was selling a Tinkertoy set for $10 (way better than the eBay deals!) and tonight I have a swift!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Pingback by Tinkertoys! | jenbatt

March 24, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

[…] were no reviews to be found, but I found something much, much better. ย I happened upon a wonderful website that details how someone can make his/her own swift with Tinkertoys! ย (Be warned: ย The top of her […]

Comment by Jen Simmons

July 20, 2013 @ 3:16 am

THANK YOU!! I just made one, slightly different configuration to use what unbroken tinker toys we had left & it worked like a charm! Genius & frugal!

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