Kids Play Structure - Part 1: Swing Set

Buy a pre-packaged play structure or custom build your own? Will your play structure be more then just a swing set? A multipurpose edifice? Will it be moveable or remain in a permanent location?

When it comes to these types of structures, I typically lean towards custom designing and building it on my own. This is due to a variety of factors, including the over inflated prices for the pre-packaged sets, the poor quality of the material you get with them, the fact you end up having to build and assemble these sets yourself anyway, and the reality that they often only serve one purpose.

Planning

As always, my first step is to discuss with Christine what we are looking to achieve with this project. In this case, we wanted a swing set that all three children could use for many years to come, and that eventually would need to consist of an elevated platform for a slide as well as a playhouse.

This was a great start, but I like to squeeze out a little more function out of the things I create. The engineer in me started to look at our available space (considering the future house addition, shop build, and entertaining area), and found that the big oak tree in the backyard was the perfect location for this multipurpose structure.

The design will consist of three phases: A four station swing set, an elevated slide platform around the oak tree with room for firewood storage underneath, and a combination storage shed with second story playhouse.

Four Station A-Frame Swing Set – The Design

Hand Drawn DesignI started the process by doing some research online, knowing ahead of time that I wanted to use 4×4 pressure treated lumber for the main legs and a laminated beam with a minimum of two – 2×6 boards for the top. The next step was to decide the overall dimensions. Based on my investigations, I decided with the custom dimensions of 9’ tall from the bottom of the 2×6 beam, 9’ wide on the inside of the legs, and 16’ long.

With the information gathered, I began the process of hand drafting half of the A-Frame, knowing the other half was going to be its mirror image. Once completed, I proceeded with generating a material list.

Lumber Shopping List:

  • (2x) 2x6x16’ Cedartone Treated
  • (3x) 2x6x8’ Cedartone Treated
  • (6x) 4x4x12’ Cedartone Treated
The Build and Assembly Process

Once the design was finalized and the materials procured, it was time to start measuring, cutting, and assembling. I found this to be challenging at times due to the length and weight of the pieces and lack of a proper cut and assembly table. (Something to think about for part 2 of the Planning the Workshop series. If you’re so inclined, you can read about part 1 here: https://tradingdesksfordirt.com/category/workshop-and-tools/.) I made it work, but because of these issues, some of the cuts weren’t as accurate as I would have liked (I am a bit of a perfectionist). However, these challenges are not insurmountable, and more importantly, I can learn from them for the next phase of the project.

Calculating

A-Frames in the GarageNotching and Assembling Carriage Bolt Hardware

Final Product – Swing Set Complete and Kids are Happy

Testing the Final ProductAfter all the long days working on the structure with many struggles and successes, the swing set was raised without too much difficulty about a week after the build started (with the help of Christine and her sister, Lee Ann).

The kids love to go out and swing, or as Hunter puts it, “wing, wing!” (albeit the two boys still need our help pushing them).

Adding to My Design Toolbox

Using Sketchup Make

After doing the design by hand, and then having a friend ask me whether I would consider using a program, this week I decided to try Sketchup Make. After a couple of days of playing around with the program, I chose to recreate my swing set design. I’ll admit that I’m pretty sure that I’ll never hand draw my designs again. This program made quick work of the planning process and provided a fancy 3D model to help with visualization.

To Summarize

Custom designing and building this swing set was a very satisfying process, but nothing beats seeing the smile on our kids faces when they’re out playing on it in the backyard. I loved how I kept learning throughout the process, and even continued to do so in preparing this week’s blog post. Once I’ve refined my designs, I look forward to making the full detailed plans available for download. We’ll keep you guys posted on that and the next phase of the play structure.


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