In what can only be described as “MASSIVE SCOPE CREEP”, I’ve managed to turn a simple wood sandbox project into an entire backyard playground for our sons, C1 and C2. Carrie and I let our imaginations get the best of us as we schemed and dreamed of a fun and safe DIY Backyard Playground. In the end the project was quite a bit more work than I had figured, but we’re pleased with the results. I hope you enjoy walking through the project and seeing the final results of our DIY Backyard Playground!
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When Carrie and I began discussing summer projects this winter, one item near the top of her list was a play set and sandbox for C1 and C2. It wasn’t a tough sell for me as we both have fond memories of digging in sand and playing in tree forts when we were small. At that point the project scope was pretty simple – build a simple DIY Sandbox and purchase a play set either new or used. That sounds easy enough right? Well the first challenge I had was actually picking out a play set.
I did quite a lot of looking on Craigslist and did my typical engineer’s research on brands, build quality, durability, etc. etc. After a month of investigation, I opted to go with the Playstar Powerhouse XP Silver from my local lumber yard.
Part and lumber quality were the key drivers in my decision. I had looked at several big box stores and generally found the wood to be thin, bordering on flimsy, and the fasteners and accessories to be of suspect quality. So I decided to suck it up and shell out a bit more money to get something that would be a fixture in our backyard for years to come. Mission accomplished! I can tell you from personal experience, this thing is heavy duty, and just plain heavy!
I’m not going to go into detail in this post on the actual build of the Playstar Powerhouse XP Silver, but will share a couple of general insights:
- The kit I purchased contained all of the hardware (swings, slide, mounting hardware, etc) along with a pile of dimensional lumber that required cutting
- Instructions in general were clear and easy to follow. My father-in-law came over to help and we were able to complete all cuts without issue.
- We were both amazed at how efficiently they use the lumber. The scrap pile at the end of all our cutting was ridiculously small – almost every bit of wood is used in the play set.
- The hardware was high quality and once again, assembling the cut pieces was straightforward per the directions.
- Did I mention this thing is HEAVY? I highly recommend assembling it in final position. In my case, the scope creep got the best of me and I was forced to move the play set with my buddy who had come over to help with the sandbox. This required a tractor with a loader and a tow strap! If I didn’t have the tractor I would have had to call in favors from 5 or 6 of my closest friends.
So that’s the play set – which is certainly the jewel in my DIY backyard playground for kids. Below is a picture of the finished play set.
With the Playstar Powerhouse XP Silver chosen for our DIY backyard playground, it’s now time to start creating the park!
How to Make the DIY Backyard Playground
What You Need:
- Landscape Timbers – 8 feet long each – your number will depend on the size of the playground you intend to build and the depth of the playground material.
- Framing Square
- 7″ Galvanized Pole Barn Nails – I recommend 2 nails per ground contact board.
- 5″ Exterior Wood Screws – I recommend a T25 Torx head. You’ll pay a bit more, but they will save a lot of strip out frustration. I used 3 screws per landscape timber, starting with the second layer up.
- Cordless drill/driver
- Weed Barrier – buy enough to completely cover the ground inside your playground frame.
- Utility Knife – for cutting and trimming the weed barrier.
- DIY backyard playground material – The low cost option here is chipped wood, but there are some more expensive recycled rubber options such as Swing Set Playground Rubber Mulch 75 Cu.Ft. Pallet-Brick Red. Once again, be sure that you’re buying enough material to cover the entire ground up to the depth of your choosing. In my case, I purchased 10 yards of chipped wood playground cover from a local source at $15/yard.
1. Choose your site and the size of the DIY backyard playground. The first thing you need to do is choose your site. Once you know the location and the size you can finalize and procure your materials list. We settled on a 16′ X 32′ rectangle with an inset 8′ X 8′ sandbox. Make sure you choose a site that accommodates your play set of choice. You don’t want the kiddos flying off the swing and right out of the playground! As far as the location, if you have an option, choose a nice flat site. In our case, the chosen location slopes more than I would have liked and was pretty bumpy. We were set on that space and committed to the additional prep work.
2. Prep the future DIY backyard playground site. As I mentioned above, the location we chose was not very flat. We spent a significant amount of time scraping and leveling the rectangle and honestly I wish I had spent even more time working on leveling. We were able to make it work, but we put a lot of effort into leveling the play set and prepping for the timbers.
3. Position the play set. If you’re smarter than me, you did steps 1 and 2 prior to ever building the play set, and just built it in the right location to start! In that case you can just move on to the next step. If you’re on par with me, then now is the time to move your play set into the perfect position. As you can see in the picture below, we used a chain with the tractor bucket to gently lift the play set and slide it into position. What you’re not seeing here is that the play set started on the grass! Make sure you use a level to orient your play set and avoid any leaning.
4. Lay out the ground contact landscape timbers. The next step is to get the ground contact layer of timbers in place to define the perimeter. Make sure you’re happy with the position and squareness of the rectangle you’re creating. You can use a square to get the corners to approximately a 90 degree angle or go old school math and bust out the pythagorean theorem to get your corners to a 90 degree angle. I won’t elaborate any more on the second method – if you’re an engineer or surveyor you already know what I’m talking about, and if you aren’t, then you really don’t care! In the name of complete disclosure, for my project, I simply eyeballed squareness and it looks fine. And of course there is nothing limiting you to a true rectangle. You can lay out the timbers in whatever pattern you choose. Once you’re happy with the rectangle you can start driving your 7″ pole barn nails. These will keep the bottom layer pinned to the ground and prevent shifting. Now on to the next step.
5. Build up the walls. It’s up to you whether to put the weed barrier down at this point and pinch it between the bottom timber and the top timber. I started out by pinching, but quickly decided to just finish the entire second layer before adding the rest of the ground cover. This is really the quick and easy part, just remember to stagger your timbers so no timber lays entirely on the timber below it. I drove 3 – 5″ screws to secure each timber – one at each end and one in the center. Cut the timbers as necessary.
6. Lay out the weed barrier. This is as simple as it sounds, just start rolling out the weed barrier row by row until all the ground is covered. Use your utility knife to cut each row to the correct length. Make as many slits as necessary to accommodate the play set or any other obstacles in your way. Carrie and I happened to do this on a windy day so we took handfuls of the playground covering to keep the ground cover in place as we rolled it out.
7. Fill with playground covering. Now that you’ve got the DIY backyard playground framed in it’s time to fill it with the ground covering and spread it around!
The tractor helped a lot in getting the 10 yards of material moved into the DIY backyard playground area, but final spreading and leveling required some elbow grease from Carrie and I.
8. Trim the weed barrier. If you have any weed barrier showing either inside or outside the DIY backyard playground, now is the time to trim it off with your utility knife.
9. Enjoy. Congratulations, you’ve just created a park for the kids in your backyard! There’s no more mowing under the play set and your kids will now have a cushiony play surface to soften the inevitable tumbles! Just watching those little ones wear themselves out in your personal park will make all the effort worth it!
So there you have it, a DIY Wood Sandbox that turned into an entire backyard playground for your kids! If you’d like to follow other similar DIY projects that Carrie and I work on, please subscribe to Kenarry. If you have any other suggestions or great playground ideas, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!
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If you enjoyed this project, you might also like my tutorial on the DIY Wood Sandbox: