I guess this is actually kind of part 3, if you count Abe’s play kitchen. But the play kitchen is, of course, optional. Whereas a rock climbing wall is mandatory. Or, well, at least some way or other to get up into the tower is. We have two ways! Three if you count climbing the slide.
When I wrote the first post about the tower, I directed you to the tutorial over at View Along the Way because we mostly just followed that, with minor variations. But here I’m going to talk about the modifications we made to that base plan to make it suit our particular needs (mostly the giant age range between our oldest and youngest kids) a little better.
The ramp kind of freaked me out a little. I liked the idea of a ramp instead of a ladder so that Abe could climb up himself, but this thing is crazy heavy, and I tend toward paranoia, so I made Dave reassure me about 300 times that the method he came up with for attaching the ramp would be incredibly secure. And then it’s just possible I wouldn’t let anyone, including the dogs, linger under the ramp for the first few days it was up. But we’re a month and a half or so into life with the ramp now, and I’m finally convinced that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. (Although I should add here that we are not structural engineers and you should proceed with your own swing set construction at your own risk).
Now Dave will tell us about how he attached the ramp:
As Gretchen mentioned before, we drew great inspiration (i.e. copied) most of the playhouse plans from View Along the Way for this project. One significant change we made, though, was to make the floor and roof each one foot higher. The slide we found on Craigslist was ideal for a 5-foot drop, and with older kids we wanted to make it more accessible (fewer head injuries) for them. It seems like a minor difference, but it affected a fair number of details. The most obvious, I guess, would be the price. 10-foot posts are more expensive than 8-foot posts for one thing. Also, taller floor = longer ramp. (The alternative would be taller floor = steeper ramp, but with Abe toddling up the ramp that didn’t seem like a good option.) Since I was already buying a bunch of 12-foot long boards, I decided that’s how long the ramp would be.
So I used the same construction plan for the ramp Andy described, with four deck boards for the floor, two 2x4s for side rails, four 2x4s on the underside to hold it all together, and nine 1×2 strips for tread. We decided against the hinged ramp – cool idea, but we didn’t want kids locking us out if we needed to get to them. Instead, I came up with this construction for attaching it to the horizontal 2×6 supporting the floor.
I wanted a nice flush surface to butt up against the vertical side of the tower. Somehow I decided a good angle of depression (i.e. measured from the horizontal) was 22.5 degrees. Sounds arbitrary, but it’s half of 45 degrees which is half of 90 degrees – and my nifty new miter saw has an easy preset for 22.5. Anyways, that determined how to cut the 2×4 railings, the deck boards, and most importantly the supporting 2×4 underneath the ramp.
Probably the most significant issue that arises with doubling the ramp length to 12 feet is that it’s MASSIVELY heavy. Of primary concern when building this playhouse was to make sure it was safe. Being crushed by a 100+ pound (random guess) heavy wooden ramp doesn’t really fit that criterion, so attaching it securely was of high priority. First I tried two deck screws. It stayed, but I didn’t trust it. So I tried five more deck screws. That didn’t really alleviate our kid-crushing concerns enough. Then I remembered the 3/8” carriage bolts I had left over from the tower construction. Two of those were great, but the ramp was still a bit trampoline-y and we were still concerned about the crushing. (Aside – the 6-inch bolts were too long for the two 2-by’s it was attaching. The ramp got in the way. So I had to borrow a friend’s Dremel to cut off the excess.)
Since we all know how super-strong triangles are (side-side-side congruency theorem? anyone?) I cut some 2x4s that went diagonally from the base of the tower to the underside of the ramp. Getting the precise length and angles to cut, excitingly enough, required use of the Law of Cosines. I knew the vertical height of 5 feet, the angle of 67.5 degrees (90 minus 22.5) and the length along the ramp of 3.5 feet. Use the known two sides and included angle to solve for the remaining one side and two angles. Real world application! Woo hoo!!
Anyway, with all that exhilarating math out of the way, I don’t have much left to say. The ramp is secure, doesn’t bounce, and has a slope gradual enough to accommodate people who might not have fully mastered the art of walking just yet. Win win win!
2. Rock Climbing Wall:
This is one of our big-kid friendly modifications. We bought a big box of Rock climbing holds off of Craiglist for $50 (they were brand new; the person had bought them off Amazon and then decided they weren’t going to work for his young kids, so we got them for a moderate discount and saved on the shipping. I think he was right that they aren’t great for young kids; Milo and Gus can scamper up them no problem, but I can’t see Abe making it any time soon).
We had two big sheets of exterior grade 3/4 inch plywood cut to fit over the back of the tower frame. One sheet covers all of the section below the tower floor, and the other sheet goes about 2/3 of the way up the back of the fort section, with a gap left for a doorway (although they climb over the top of the railing most of the time). Then we attached some 2x4s to the tower frame to kind of make triangles (there are 3 forming an N shape that you can kind of see in the picture later of Abe’s kitchen and then 2 going off of those horizontally. Sadly, we don’t seem to have a picture of it, but it wasn’t very precise; we just added in the boards where we could fit them between the joists). This was to add extra stability, but mostly to give us something to attach the plywood to. We attached the plywood to the frame with deck screws, then attached the rock climbing holds in a semi-random pattern.
Once we did this, we realized we had a problem, or, rather, a few dozen problems. Namely, the sharp, pointy screws from the climbing holds that were now poking out on the other side of the plywood. Not safe! And, you know me, I’m all about safety and kids not getting tetanus.
So Dave took a trip back to Lowe’s to see he could come up with to cover up the pointy screws. He came back with “textured redwood siding” because it looked nice and was affordable compared to other options (like more plywood). It was, he reports, $16 for a big sheet of it, which was all we needed. He screwed that on to the interior of the tower frame: tetanus averted AND lovely backdrop for Abe’s kitchen created:
Lastly, Dave decided a door covering the opening near the top of the rock climbing wall would be a good way to keep Abe from falling and breaking his neck. It’s just a piece of plywood attached with a hinge kit and latchable from the outside with a hook and eye. I imagine when Abe gets old enough to have a little sense, we might take it down. But for now it means he can play up there, and the only openings he can get to are the slide and ramp.
(Dave notes: “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do that door.”) As I mentioned, the kids almost always climb over the railing, so it would have made more sense to just have the climbing wall go all the way across.
Now! You’re all up to speed with all the parts we’ve actually built so far. Before I can tell you about the swingset part, we’ll have to actually build it. Which we hope to do in the next couple of weeks, now that Dave is pretty much done with school for summer! We just need to recruit a tallish person to come over and help, I think.