How to build a do-it-yourself play structure
DIY Outdoor Play Structures
TDS Reader Solutions
DIY Outdoor Play Structures
My husband and I are in the market for a wooden play structure but do not want to pay thousands of dollars for one! My husband is quite handy and I have heard that there are kits and/or plans for outdoor play structures that you can buy to do it yourself. Please help!
Cheaper to Buy Used Play Structures
We were in the market for a play structure last year. My husband is an excellent woodworker and I am an architect. We thought that we could easily design and build a play structure for less money than the ready made ones. In researching the cost of materials and the time involved (we have two small children), it became apparent that even when building one yourself, we were not going to save that much money. Quality materials (redwood, cedar, etc) are surprisingly expensive. Then I started checking the local paper (the "Bargain News"). Many people sell their structures after a few years because their kids outgrow them or they are moving and it is too much trouble to move. We ended up getting a play structure that was only two years old for about 1/4 of the cost of a new one. And the best part was that the only labor involved was disassembling and reassembling it at our house. One note is that if you see an ad, call immediately. There is a lot of competition for a good quality play structure at a great price!
Free Play Structure
Another idea (how we got ours) is to contact landscaping firms in your area. They are asked to remove many swingsets and play structures when the owner's kids have outgrown them. We passed up ten or fifteen "regular" swingsets (weight limit is usually only 60 pounds) and finally got a heavy-duty park structure that had to be replaced. We took pictures of how it looked before taking it apart, and then assembled it in our yard. We have had it up for over ten years and with six children, it has been wonderful!
Home Center Play Structure Kit
I just recently did this for my child. The best thing that I found was at the local Home Depot store. They sell kits that come with the lumber sheet (amount of lumber to buy and how to cut it), plans, brackets, carriage bolts, canopy, hangers for swings and even a couple of simple swings and rings. There are several styles to choose from, from simple to extravagant. You can also combine different kits together to make larger setups. These can be done in sections if wanted.
Besides the kit, you have to purchase the lumber, screws, basic tools (drill, hammer, saw, etc.) and accessories wanted (slide, merry-go-round, child swings, rope walls, etc.). The kit instructions are pretty precise, with very little waste on lumber cuts. You can do all the cuts ahead of time. It took my brother-in-law and me about 10-12 hours from the first cut to completion. There is even a video that can be purchased to help with the installation. It is a good investment, even if you are very engineering and mechanically inclined.
The whole kit, lumber, accessories and all cost me under $700.00. The kit included a merry-go-round, slide, fort and swings. I already had the child swing, so I saved there, but I did purchase a two seater swing to add. A comparable kit from one of the major retailers of these products would have cost close to $2500.00. This is a great savings! Of course, the more accessories you add, the more expensive it gets, but the ratio stays about the same on savings.
Directory for Play Structures
I have also been looking for an economical play structure and I found this site I think is worth looking at. It's a directory for play structures and gave me a good start. It's world-playground.com.
Mix and Match Structures
We have recently been shopping for a structure that meets our budget and have discovered that there is a substantial variation in price ranges ($500 - $5,000). We researched the matter over the Internet, but found that for the best price the Home Base has a Do It Yourself Center for play structures. They sell all the pieces separately and in kits. The kits also let you customize your play structure. They also have a catalog of special Do It Yourself structures that you can order through the custom order desk. They put together a complete product list and when everything comes in, you just pick up the complete order - everything you need included in one price. (However, we found that buying the structure pieces at Home Base and the wood at Home Depot, we will save even more money. In our neighborhood (in So. California), Home Depot is cheaper on the price of their treated lumber and offer to beat anyone's prices by an additional 10%.)
Plans for Outdoor Play Structures
The book Home Playgrounds: The Harrowsmith Guide to Building Backyard Play Structures
by Merilyn Mohr may be of assistance. Of course, there's always the public library. They may carry this title as well.
Play Structure Soft Landing
Two and one half years ago, my family was in the same position that you describe. In addition to not wanting to spend thousands of dollars, we also chose not to have treated wood for our son to play on. (There is evidence that heavy metals, including arsenic, are leached from the wood.) It was difficult to find an affordable set that would offer us natural cedar or redwood (the most rot resistant materials). We looked at books from the library about building your own. We found the information helpful, but were daunted by the idea of planning a set from scratch. Then we found that many lumber yards and home centers offer kits from "Swing & Slide".
These include detailed plans, material lists, and all the hardware such as swings, bolts, etc. We picked out one we liked, added a couple of additional components to it and built it ourselves out of cedar. We have two regular swings, a baby swing, a pair of rings, a "fort", a slide, and a teeny merry-go-round (very simple). It took us about two weeks to build it. The instructions were clear and the material lists were accurate. We had one faulty piece of hardware and the company replaced it quickly.
It's also very important to consider what will go under the playset. It is critical for safety to have a soft groundcover underneath. Grass or concrete are not appropriate. We use wood chips at least 9" deep under ours. We have gotten two truckloads of chips free from tree maintenance companies. They are happy to give the stuff away, but you must be flexible with your timing. They generally wait until they are working in your area. I called one company and they called months later to tell me that the truck would be here the next day. The other load I got from a company that I saw cutting a tree down on my street. They gladly dumped their load of chips in my yard when their job was completed. Building that set was a wonderful family project! Enjoy!
JS in Yorktown Heights, NY
Reviewed January 2018
Take the Next Step:
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