DIY Swing Set, Part 1: What We Did for Spring Break

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By this point in my life, I should probably have long since stopped being surprised every single time that projects go much faster in my head than they do in real life.

I was pretty sure I was going to have a completely finished swing set to show off today (we were also going to put a fence around the garden AND redo all the dining room chairs). I don’t. But I do have an almost finished tower part of a swing set for you. And then, the other night, when this realization was dawning on me, I told Dave, “I thought I was going to do one big post about the swing set, but now I’m realizing that I’m already overwhelmed at the idea of writing about the part we DO have finished.” So.

Today I’m going to talk about how we decided on a plan and show you pretty pictures and give a basic description of what we’ve done so far. Then I’ll talk about where we go from here…and I’ll save the detailed posts on how we did stuff for later on, when the whole project is finished (and Dave has time to write them, in some cases. There’s a lot of math).

I can’t remember when we first started planning this playhouse/swing set, but it was a long time ago. I also can’t remember why we spent so long planning it and not actually building it. Had we known how much the kids would like it, I suspect we would have started a lot sooner.

Originally, I was thinking we’d do just an elevated playhouse without the swing set part. I had a lot of ideas about this, many of them completely insane. At some point, I actually proposed a sort of giant plywood maze on stilts with, like, different activities on each wall. This still sounds fun to me, but also sort of nuts. Finally, though, it occurred to me that most of my plans involved basically building a swing set without the swing set part….like we would still build the fort part that most swing sets you can buy come with. So, really, why not just go ahead and do the swing set, too?

We won’t be doing a detailed tutorial on building the basic swing set structure, because we pretty much just stole it from Kelly and Andy at View Along the Way:

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View Along the Way swingset plans

Thanks, Kelly and Andy! As Andy points out in his tutorial, there are surprisingly few good DIY swing set plans to be found out there with google’s help, so we were very pleased that this one was clear and easy to follow and pretty much exactly what we needed. We made some modifications to make it more suited for our particular needs, which I’ll talk about as we go along. The primary one was that we raised the whole thing up from four feet off the ground to five feet, a change we hoped would make it a little more exciting for our older kids.

And, before I go any further, I also want to say a huge thank you to all of our friends who helped out. Tracy, Jon, Kristi, and Ony all came over for several hours on our first day of construction and helped us with the main tower structure….we never would have been able to do this on our own! And then Dave’s OTHER friend Jon (as in another friend who’s named Jon, not as in Dave only has two friends and this is the other one) came over another day and helped with the roof and rock climbing wall parts of this thing. Thanks so much, everyone! Come over and slide any time!

Okay–picture spew!

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Here’s Dave with a borrowed truck and our first (of two) load of lumber. I’ll give the breakdown of how much everything cost in a later post (spoiler: more than I expected, but still definitely less than buying a pre-made one would have been).

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Abe staggers towards our big pile of supplies, including the slide that we got for $95 off Craigslist. This is a 10 foot slide that sells for $300 new–we needed a slide this long to make the platform as tall as we did, but there was no way we were paying $300 for it, so I’m glad we were able to pick this one up used.

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This project meant Dave finally had an excuse to buy a miter saw. He is in love. He estimates that it saved him multiple hours over trying to use his skil saw, so it was probably worth buying even if he didn’t use it for anything else. But he will. I have lots of plans for him.

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First step was to level out a space for the platform. Our yard is relatively flat, but there’s really nowhere completely flat in it. This was surprisingly fast and easy compared to how we feared it would be. Maybe half an hour of work.

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Abe was wearing a cute jacket that day. I bought it from the thrift store when he was teeny tiny, and I’ve been waiting anxiously for the day when he could finally wear it. Incidentally, planning to build a swing set in April in Georgia can be problematic, weather-wise, but we really lucked out. When we started it on Sunday, it was actually a little chilly, and it stayed really pleasant all week–no unpleasant heat and just one day of rain.

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Getting the tower up was definitely a….many person job. I have no idea how we would have managed without so many people helping. By the end of day one, we had the frame of the tower up, so that Dave could work on his own easily the rest of the time.

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When we looked at the pictures of the slide new on Lowes’ website, we noticed it had supports halfway up, so Dave put some in there. Triangles, because triangles are extra strong! Like ants!

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The sharper eyed among you will notice that the slide mysteriously moved from one side of the tower to another between those last two pictures. That’s because I suddenly decided to read some safety guidelines about swing sets right AFTER Dave attached the ramp and realized that you’re not supposed to put a slide and a ramp on the same side. Which totally makes sense, since you don’t want kids whacking their heads on your nice, sturdy ramp when they fall off the slide.

First we tried moving the ramp to the other side, but it didn’t really work right because Dave had cut the angle very precisely for the original side. “Umm….why didn’t we just move the slide?” I asked.

“Gretchen,” Dave said, “you have really good ideas, but you have them just a little too late a lot of times.” That ramp was really heavy. Bonus of moving the slide to the other side is that it made the angle just a little steeper and the slide a little faster.

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At first Dave thought I was silly for wanting these treads on the ramp. Then he almost fell like three times walking up and down it. It is much better with the treads.

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Getting there!

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The frame of the roof is up! Dave wrote all his fancy figurin’ on the beam with a Sharpie so it would be there forever. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said.

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These rock climbing holds are another Craigslist find. I’m going to keep an eye out for some bigger ones that will work better for Abe when he’s a little older, but these are good for now.

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The back before the rock climbing holds went up.

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Abe is helping. This wall is finished now, but it happened late in the evening, and I didn’t get a picture.

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Gus gives it a try.

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With the treads there, Abe can climb up no problem!

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Even dogs can make it! This is Rory with our new foster, Gertie. More on her later this week :).

Okay, so there you have it! So far! Obviously the swing set part still needs to be attached (as late as last weekend I was still thinking maybe we’d leave that off. But it turns out all the kids are kind of excited about having swings). I have big plans for the part underneath to be a play kitchen for Abe, and I’ve started collecting some stuff from the thrift store for that. And we’re going to put a counter next to the ramp for playing store or restaurant or whatever. And then maybe a music wall! Music wall! Fun!

This is a very long post with many pictures. I think it’s good I didn’t try to fit the whole swing set into one post, because everyone would die before they could finish reading it. If there’s anything in particular anyone needs more details about, please let me know and I’ll make sure to make Dave tell you how he did it in one of the later posts!

Linking with:

Link Party Palooza at I Heart Naptime


Comments

DIY Swing Set, Part 1: What We Did for Spring Break — 24 Comments

  1. I don’t even know where to begin.
    You guys did an amazing job at building this. My kids are jealous and I’m jealous too because I want Gertie now. She is exactly what I have dreamed about and reminds me of my black terrier mix Franz that I had growing up.
    And Abe looks adorable in his thrifted little jacket and of course without it too.

    • Thanks, Julia! Isn’t Gertie adorable? She’s a sweetie, too…..I’m thinking Scottie mix, but it’s all just a guessing game :)

  2. We “built” ours by poutting the whole thing on top of the suburban and driving it across town… Your way takes longer, but seems a lot better! :)

    How long until the kids build little plywood jumps so they can race toy cars down that ramp?

    • ha–I’ll have to suggest it to them. That sounds safer than sliding down the slide in a sleeping bag, which is what they’ve been doing so far ;)

  3. I anticipate hours of fun for the boys! Nick was been dying to build something like this for the kids. I’m a little afraid it’s going to be such a huge undertaking. Maybe you and Dave (and the new miter saw) can spend next Spring Break with us! :)

    • It’s a plan! Really, it was a time suck, but pretty straightforward. There was surprisingly little frustration involved. Without a dedicated week off, it probably would have seemed overwhelming, though. It’d be as solid month of weekends gone, I’m sure.

  4. What a great structure. I love that you made a ramp instead of stairs. That is so smart. And a rock climbing wall… I am getting play structure envy over here :) I can’t believe you got all this built in just a week. That is a ton of cuts. Way to go. The miter was a smart investment :) We love ours!!

    • The ramp vs. stairs or ladder was all Kelly and Andy’s idea, too. They are the smart ones ;). Or maybe we’re smart for waiting around until they did all the hard thinking for us!

  5. This looks like tons of work, but tons of fun for your boys. Such great photos! I’m long past the days of needing a play structure, but read all the way through because it brought back such good memories. You’ll all enjoy this for years.

    • Thanks, Rita! I was a little worried that we’d waited too long for the older boys, but even the jaded near teenager is spending tons of time on it so far :)

    • Thanks to you guys! I think Dave is Andy’s biggest fan now. Not in a creepy way; in a math and building things admiration way ;)

  6. This turned out so awesome! What a wonderful place for your kiddos to play. Ryan and I have been talking about a playhouse or swing set for Henry’s birthday. But, I don’t think we’ll do something this huge (or awesome). It’s overwhelming. I’m seriously impressed. And i want to play on the ramp.

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