Kids Play Structure – Part 1: Swing Set

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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Planning the Workshop – Part 1: The Journey

Planning the Workshop - Part 1: The Journey

What makes the perfect workshop? Is it a fully stocked dedicated work area with all the name brand tools? Is it a toolbox with the basics that you take out on the kitchen table on occasion? Or is it the knowledge and assorted tools acquired over many years?

Growing up, I was always around tools of some sort in what I would call “makeshift” workshops. Whether it was in my family’s garage which my dad had all the essentials (and then some) or in my Pépère’s garage which had just that much more. We made do with what we had and that is where we learned how to be resourceful, create, tinker and fix things.

Building a Knowledge Foundation – Learning from my Dad

For as long as I can remember my dad was always fixing something rather then discarding it for something new and shiny. I would say that this was possible due to the work space he created in our double car garage (and yes, it did house our family vehicles) and the resourcefulness he learned through his rural upbringing.

I can safely say that my ability to work with devices and learn how to use them is based on the foundation that I learned from my dad from an early age and will be forever thankful for that.

Building the Tool Chest – The Basics

When Christine and I got married, all we had were what I would call the basics:

Screwdrivers, Pliers, Socket Set and Hammer

  • Toolbox
  • Hammer
  • Screw Drivers
  • Socket Set
  • Pliers
  • Measuring Tape
  • A few other odds and ends.

These apparatuses serviced us well for the first few years of marriage. We could easily store them in our condos and they provided us with the ability to assemble furniture easily, hang picture frames and do the odd necessary repairs.

Expanding the Tool Chest

Once we moved into our house in Calgary, we quickly realized that we were going to need more “whatchamacallits” to help service this new-to-us home. We had so many projects on our list, each requiring one or more new tools we didn’t have to complete them. Now we had the space to store more and a reason to expand our collection, but where to start?

An endless budget wasn’t in the cards, so we needed to be careful what we bought. Decisions to buy tools that would serve us not just for the current project but also future projects were made a priority. We also waited for them to go on sale rather then paying full price when buying new and borrowed from family when possible. If renting was an option for specialty tools and more cost effective then buying, we rented.

Toolsets for painting, demolition and woodworking were needed to complete our projects. Here’s a list of a few we acquired at this stage of our journey:

Chisel Set

Pry Bar Set

  • Hand Saw
  • Circular Saw
  • Corded and Cordless Power Drill
  • Angle Drill Adapter
  • Pry Bar
  • Wrecking Bar
  • Orbital Sander
  • Level and Speed Square
  • Earth Tamper
  • Drill Bits and Auger Bits
  • Various Shovels and Yard tools
Applying Knowledge – Learning by Trying and Doing

Trained as a Mechanical Engineer, I love to learn new things and the art of solving problems. That is what makes me tick. So, when it came time to find a solution for fitting three children in two bedrooms my problem-solving skills kicked into high gear. Will the two older kids share a bed, will they have each a single bed or should it be bunk beds? When looking at the room size, bunk beds were the right solution for us. Our research was getting us nowhere for the budget we had set aside and the quality we wanted, especially considering our children’s safety.

Solution: I decided to design them myself with a lot of research. I made up hand drawn plans so I could show Christine what they would look like before going too far. Once we had the general direction agreed upon, I proceeded with cost estimates, cut lists and hardware and material selection. The build process was a huge learning experience, especially when it came to following my own designs (which I did change throughout the build), making effective use of the workshop I had setup and utilizing the tools I had.

Looking back at this project, here is what I’ve learned:

  • Gather your research information and determine which is accurate (not all sources are to be trusted) and apply it to your design and/or build process.
  • Determine what tools you have and compare to what tools will be required to complete the project. (I ended up buying a router and chisels for this project… The router being less useful once I got into the build process.)
  • Determine the logistics of the build. (I had to constantly adjust my workspace as I had to share it with our vehicle.)
  • Determine whether you can build the project in your workshop and move it or will you need to reassemble it elsewhere. (I needed to build the bunk beds in the garage, disassemble them and reassemble in the upstairs bedroom. This required the ability to disassemble the beds.)

Single Twin Top Bunk with Double Bottom Bunk - In ProgressBunk Beds Complete with Staircase and Additional PlatformToddler Demonstrating Safe use of Staircase and Handrail

Expanding Knowledge – YouTube, Google, Blogs, Etc.

Throughout my journey I’ve used different ways to expand my knowledge. I’ve asked my dad for advice on what worked for him and I’ve used online resources and platforms like YouTube and Blogs. You may choose to find a mentor and learn from them or you may simply want to learn from books (yes, they still exist!). Below is a list of the YouTube Channels (all active at the time of writing this post) that I’ve found very helpful, knowledgeable and entertaining in helping get to the next level of my woodworking hobby/future business.

To Summarize

Bunk Beds second edition with Two Twin Top and One Double BottomThere is nothing more satisfying then encountering a problem, researching solutions to the problem and then solving it without having to hire someone to do it for you. Gaining a good solid foundation on how to work with tools and within a workspace is essential. In my case, this was learning from my dad but in your case, it can be anyone. Acquiring or having access to a basic tool set is also critical in starting to apply what you’ve learned. The best way of solidifying what you’ve learned is by trying and doing. Then, as with anything, continuous knowledge growth will help you get better and try more complex projects.


Check back for weekly posts on a wide variety of topics, including country living, gardening, sustainability, homesteading, family, recipes, and more. We can’t wait to share our lives with you, hear your stories, and gain friends along the way.

Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to our blog by adding your email address to the form on the right. You’ll be the first to hear about weekly updates! Have questions or comments? Leave us a message in the comments section, and we’ll be sure to get back to you. We can’t wait to hear what you think! And as always, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by clicking the links on the right.