Tag Archives: toys

Cotton-reel tanks

In the dim-and-distant days before computer games, children made their own entertainment – and sometimes their own toys too. An old favourite was the cotton-reel tank, made from cheap materials that were then readily available – a wooden cotton reel, an elastic [or rubber] band, a piece of wax candle and a couple of matchsticks. Reels for cotton thread were once made of wood, not plastic, and because most families did a great deal of sewing at home (mending and making clothes), empty cotton reels were abundant. With little money to spend on commercially produced toys, children would use their craft skills to turn them into military tanks.

Cotton Reel Tank ComponentsMaterials for a tank


A disc of wax was sliced off the candle and a hole carefully made in the centre, where the wick was. Through this hole was threaded an elastic band, one end of which was held in place by a wooden matchstick. The protruding loop of elastic was threaded through the hole down the centre of the cotton reel and secured in place at the other end by half a matchstick. When the longer matchstick was ‘wound up’, the so-called tank would crawl along until the elastic band unwound.


All kinds of refinements were added. The ‘wheels’ (the rims of the cotton reel) were frequently notched to give Continue reading