The Ultimate Guide to Building a Wood Playground for the Backyard

A full guide to a completed, fully operational wood playground for your backyard! As long as you built with sturdy materials and followed these instructions, your playground should last you at least 10 to 15 years, if not more

Well, those little babies are starting to walk and talk. They are craving the outdoors and want to be a little more adventurous. But who feels like walking all the way to the jungle gym at the local park when you can just build a wood playground in your backyard? Luckily, it is not impossible:

  • Think simply; decide what to do with your old one
  • Pick the right surface
  • Buy the supplies you need
  • Build your platform
  • Measure, then dig
  • Install the main treehouse
  • Add the roof
  • Add the crossbeam
  • Build the ladder
  • Install the slide
  • Install the swings

Keep reading to learn all about making the best wood playground for your children.

Think Simple

Not all of us are carpenters, so there is no reason to make yourself intimidated by this project. You are not building a full house; there are not going to be things like:

  • Electricity
  • Pipes
  • Furniture
A sofa, socket and water pipes.
For building a wooden playground for your background, you will NOT need electricity, pipes, or any additional pieces of furniture.

Although you have probably seen massive playgrounds in friends’ backyards and in hardware stores over the years, it is important to realize that playgrounds really only need a few key aspects to keep your kids excited and happy:

  • Two swings
  • Slide
  • A fun way to climb up to the top of the slide
  • Platform at the top

That is essentially the bare minimum. However, it is essentially the norm to turn the platform at the top of the slide into a basic treehouse. Kids like to view the playground as their first separate space to themselves.

Your children obviously cannot own or rent a home yet like mommy and daddy, so a playground becomes that place for them. You have a house with a garage and a kitchen; your kids want their own “place” with a couple of slides and maybe a rope climb.

Thus, if you are building a wood playground from scratch and not from a kit, the choices are up to you and your kids. Just do not take on more than you know you can handle.

Are you worried you will get in too deep? Start small with the bare essentials listed about. Build strong and right the first time. That way, you can always decide to add more to it later on. In the future, when you want to think a little more elaborate, draw some inspiration from this list on Morning Chores.

Decide What to do With Your Old One

Surely your children will not mind two wooden playgrounds in the backyard. If you have space and the money to leave your old one alone when you build your new one, go right ahead. If not, it is time to do some light demolition.

Leaving Your Old Playground Alone

If you already have an existing playground, you can build another one, just not too close. Around any ladders or slides, make sure there are at least 3 feet of space, so your kids have room to slide out or wait to climb.

How much space you need to leave for the swings is a little trickier. It is a good rule of thumb to leave at least 10 feet of space in both directions for the swings, so your kids have room to swing and jump off (carefully of course).

Do not eyeball it, for safety’s sake. Instead, place the end of a good tape measure underneath the crossbeam that holds the swings. Measure 10 feet in either direction and mark the spot with a stick or painted line.

Two straight slides.
If you already have a playground in your background, build a new playground at least 10 feet away from the old one.

When you measure out your new playground, be careful if it is the same vicinity and running parallel. Why? Well, the last thing you want is your kids swinging across from each other and colliding. To that end, the crossbeam on your new playground should be at least 10 feet from that marked spot. Give it a couple of extra feet if you can. The more, the better.

Always err on the side of more space. The last thing you want to do is build your entire new playground and find out that when your kids swing, they are bumping into:

  • The other playground
  • Each other
  • Your house or shed

Even if you want to keep your old playground, doing so may, unfortunately, be a bad idea. How long has it been there? Was it installed by the previous owners? Is it rickety, or do the beams move when your child swings extra high? Look for these trouble signs:

  • A “bouncing” effect on a support beam when swinging (with either one or two people at a time)
  • Loose screws with stripped anchors
  • Cracks in the wood
  • Rusty metal parts

If you do not feel comfortable leaving it up, do not bother trying.

Demolition Time

If your old playground will not fit with the new one or is in bad shape, it is time to tear it down. Take the last pictures. Then grab your hammer and crowbar.

A hammer.
If your backyard is too small to fit two separate playgrounds, you will need to demolish the old one with a hammer and crowbar.
  1. First, take off any removable parts. Slides and swings can typically be unscrewed or unbolted.
  2. Start at the top and work your way down. You obviously do not want to remove a supporting beam first and have it crash down on you.
  3. If needed, you can saw pieces apart.
  4. Always keep an eye above you. If you see something loosening up, take it apart or stabilize it if need be.

Most importantly, use common sense. Take your time, and it should take you no more than an hour or two to dismantle an old playground. If it is significantly decayed, it might even be faster than that. Since nails and rust could be anywhere, it is best to leave the kids in the house for this part.

When it is all dismantled, you will not want to reuse the wood on your new playground. Instead, use it for something else like firewood. Or just discard it.

Pick the Right Surface

When you are ready to start building your brand-new wood playground, you will first want to scope out the right spot. The last thing you want is to build it just for it to fall over. Check for the following on your planned location:

  • Flat surface– a nice and even square of your backyard will work just fine. Avoid any hills.
  • Dry ground– if you build in wet grass or mud, your support beams will sink down and throw off your playground. What looks level today might be on a steep angle tomorrow.
  • Sinkholes– Test out each spot you plan on placing a support beam before you start building. If you encounter a sinkhole, move your design over a couple of feet.
A woman playing softball with the kid.
To keep your playground stable and safe, find a flat surface in your backyard.

Buy the Supplies You Need

Now that you have the right spot for your playground, you will need to purchase the right supplies to complete the job. That will involve tools and building materials.

Tools

The tape measure we mentioned earlier will be crucial not only for finding correct measurements but as a straight edge as well. In addition, purchase these items if you do not have them already:

  • Drill/saw combo: Why spend all the extra hours sawing wood by hand? And using a screwdriver for 3-inch screws? Good luck. Buy this drill with jigsaw accessory, and you will easily be able to install those screws and cut the wood you need in seconds.
  • Carpenter pencils: Pens are fine but slip and slide too easily. Pick these up to help you mark off where you want to cut the wood since you will be doing a lot of that.
  • Posthole digger: Those posts have to go in the ground somehow. For the amount of digging you will actually be doing, there is no need to buy some fancy auger.
  • Paintbrushes: You do not have to paint your playground, but why not spruce it up?
Tools for construction.
For building a playground in your backyard, you will need drill, saw, pencils, post-hole differ, and some paintbrushes.

Supplies

Once you have the tools you need, you need the building materials to put your kid’s new “home” together. How much you will need depends on how big the playground will be, but this should be enough for a basic one. When it comes to the lumber, your best bet is to head on over to your local home improvement store.

A swing, paint, slide, screws and measurement.
The building materials for your DIY outdoor playground include screws, pilings plywood, wood paint, swings, and a slide.
  • 3-inch screws: You need something long enough to prevent any movement, but not too long where they are sticking out of the other side. Screws, thanks to their threads, also attach more securely than nails.
  • 4×4 pilings: These are nice and thick and sturdy enough to hold the weight of the structure and your family. Buy 4 for the treehouse (10 feet long), plus another two if you are adding swings.
  • 2×4 wood: This handy dimension will help you build almost the entire structure. Do not skimp on 2 x 4. You will need a lot of it.
  • 1×6 wood: This flatter wood is perfect for the platform. Seventy-two feet of it should be more than enough.
  • Plywood: You will probably want a roof for that platform. One sheet of plywood will good.
  • Wood paint: Add a splash and make it fun! Available in multiple colors.
  • Swings: What is a wood playground without swings? This two-pack of factory-made swings is ready for install.
  • Slide: Slides can be pretty elaborate, but this one will do just fine for your first go around.

Build Your Platform

Although it might not make the most sense at first to build the platform right away, it is actually quite helpful. Once you have the platform size and location determined, the dimensions for the rest of your playground will fall into place.

A good size playground will be six-foot square. Big enough to connect a ladder and slide, and still have room for the kids to hang out in.

Begin by cutting six pieces of 2 x 4, 6 feet in length. Lay one piece on its edge, and then place the ends of 4 other pieces perpendicular to that first piece, spaced 1.5 feet apart from each other. Screw those pieces in place to that first piece of wood. (Those four pieces will be your platform’s floor joists.)

Next, attach your last 6-foot piece of 2 x 4 to the other ends of the floor joists. It should be perpendicular to the first piece.

The Floor

Now that you have your floor joists put together, you need to install the actual floor on top. Cut your 1 x 6 flat wood into 12 pieces of 6 feet long. Lay them flat, perpendicular to the floor joists for maximum support, and then screw them in place.

Although it may be tempting here to keep going and build a whole roof, do not. You will be wasting materials and make the platform too heavy to move around.

Source: Green Acre Homestead

Measure, Then Dig

Now that you have your platform built as a template, it is time to measure out where your posts need to go. The first four are pretty easy. Just lay your platform down on the ground where you want it to be and mark the four corners on the ground.

A person measuring.
Before actually digging the holes, you should measure and mark the surface.

But it is a good idea to figure out where the last two posts will be too, on the other side of the playground. To do that, find the middle of the platform, and measure 10 feet over (either to the right or left, depending on your design). That will be where the supporting crossbeam ends, not where you dig.

Measure 3 feet in either direction and mark both spots. Those will be the holes for the two outrigger pilings, holding up the beam that holds the swings. Try to dig on an angle here the best you can, since those pilings will not be going in straight.

Dig the Six Holes

Now that you know where all six holes will be, dig them out. Here is some advice on that:

  • Two feet is good. You want them deep enough to be sturdy, but we are not building a skyscraper either. Two feet is adequate.
  • Wider is better than too narrow. If you dig your post holes exactly 6 inches wide, some dirt might fall back in, and it will be too narrow. Instead, go a little wider and then fill it back in.
  • Cement is preferred but not required. If you know how to use it, cementing your posts in place is a way to ensure that your playground is 100 percent sturdy. However, when the kids are older, and you want to make way for a pool, removing it will be a lot more work.
A tools used for digging.
For your outdoor playground, you will need to dig 6 holes.

The Tree House Initial Install

Let’s get this playground looking a little more like a playground, shall we? Grab four of your pilings and place them in their holes. They may wobble a little bit, especially if the holes are a little big. That is normal. Simply fill in a bunch of dirt, so they stay still. If the ground is wet or you otherwise are concerned about needing the ground to settle, give it a day before continuing.

Now is the time to attach the platform. Of course, unless you are Superman, there is no way you will be able to hold it up while attaching it to the pilings. Have a friend or adult family member hold it level while you drive in a couple of screws to each post. Or rest it on a table or a couple of ladders.

Source: Samcraft

Is it Sturdy?

Part of installing the platform/“tree house” structure is making sure it is safe. The best way to test it is for you, the adult, to stand on it. Stand up there and jump up and down. Shake it up. If it can hold your weight and handle your movements with ease, it should be fine for your kids.

However, if you are feeling shakiness or unevenness, you may need to:

  • Add more dirt to the piling holes
  • Add screws to the attachments (you can never really have enough)
  • Replace a piece of wood if it looks cracked or warped.

Add the Roof

You may not decide you need a roof, and that is okay. However, your kids will certainly hear about it the next time they are caught out there in a rainstorm. To build a roof, simply follow the same architectural design you used to build the platform. But leave out the floor.

Install this contraption near the top of the pilings. Now that you have it in place cut the floor joists gradually shorter in one direction. Place the plywood on top of the joists. By doing that, after you cut the joists gradually shorter, the roof will be on an angle.

Building the roof on an angle is critical. It allows rainwater to flow off the structure, rather than resting on it and causing collapse. Water, after all, is surprisingly really heavy.

You can always add roofing shingles at this point. They are not required for a structure this small, but it will certainly help it last longer.

Source: Projects with Steve

Add the Crossbeam

Before we focus on the toys and decorative features, let’s finish up with the main structure. We have our treehouse ready to go, but we need a spot to hang the swings. First, insert your last two 6 x 6 pilings into their holes and lean them against each other.

Climb up (with a ladder, not on the pilings) to the spot where they touch and measure that height off of the ground. Find where that height matches up on the treehouse portion. If it is not in a sturdy location, use an additional 2 x 4 pieces to secure the spot.

Now that we know where each end of the crossbeam needs to go, it is time to build the crossbeam. No, one single piece of 2 x 4 extending all the way across is not going to fly. Why? The piece will not be able to handle the stress of swinging and the weight of the swings’ occupants, no matter how little they are.

To that end, screw multiple pieces of 2 x 4 together. You want the beam to be at least three pieces wide, all the way across. You can even do 4 or 5 pieces if you have the supplies and space.

A roof under construction.
Before installing swings and slides, you should add the crossbeam to the main structure.

Keep it evenly layered throughout. Pieces should be different lengths too. You do not want two pieces to end at the same point. The more you space out ends from each other, the stronger the beam.

Once you have your crossbeam assembled, attach one end to the outlying posts, and the other to the treehouse in the pre-designated spot.

Congratulations! You now have the main structure of your wood playground complete. But as you can see, there is not a lot for your kids to play on yet—time for the fun stuff.

Build the Ladder

Your kids need a way to the top of the platform that is a little safer than climbing up the slide—time to build the ladder. A basic ladder is a lot easier to build than it sounds. Do it on the ground first.

Different hieghts of ladder.
To make the playground accessible for the kids, you should build a basic sturdy ladder.
  1. Lay two pieces of 2 x 4 parallel to each other. These will be the support beams of the ladder.
  2. A good ladder would be 1.5 to 2 feet wide, so cut a few separate pieces of wood at that length. 
  3. Screw the pieces equidistant apart within the two parallel pieces. A foot apart should be good for your kids’ smaller legs. You can always go with smaller steps just to play it safe.
  4. Sturdy? Now lift up the ladder and screw it in place. 
  5. Still have room for the slide, right? Good! The ladder is done!

Source: Econewpower

Install the Slide

Once you have your slide, set up is pretty intuitive. Make sure you screw it into place directly onto the platform, so there are no gaps where fingers could be caught. Also, try to put it on the same side as the ladder, so it is obvious to your kids where to climb on and off.

Another consideration for you is what is at the bottom of your slide. Make sure the bottom of your slide does not have hazards such as:

  • A hill
  • Rock
  • Driveway
  • Animal nests
  • Poison ivy or any other dangerous plant

If you realize late that one of these hazards could be an issue, clear the area out, so there is plenty of safe space. If needed, plant some grass, or at least lay down some softer material.

Install the Swings

Ah, finally, the swings themselves. Arguably the best part of any backyard wood playground. Swing designs can vary, which can affect installation. Most, however, follow a basic concept of a flat, looped down rubber seat attached to a chain. They also include brackets to attach them to the crossbeam.

Some brackets require drilling holes through the crossbeam, while others need to be screwed in place. The brand listed earlier uses a snap hook system that is really easy to hook into place while being really strong. All chains are made with steel, but make sure they are covered in softer plastic for comfort.

The trickiest part of installing a swing is figuring out the right height. Once you have the hooks in place, guesstimate where you think the swing should go and lock in the two chains. Make sure it is level.

Call for one of your kids to come outside, who will no doubt be happy to see the nearly completed playground. Have them sit down and try to swing. If they have trouble moving their legs because the ground is in the way, you will need to raise the swing. On the other hand, if they cannot even reach the swing because it is out of reach, you have to lower it.

This might be common sense, but it is a bit more difficult to find the sweet spot when you have kids at multiple ages. Find a spot that works well enough for both of them by experimenting with different heights having your kids test it out.

If your family is even bigger than that, a good solution is to install the two swings at different heights. That way, each child is able to use at least one swing.

Recap and Future Ideas

There you have it! A completed, fully operational wood playground for your backyard! As long as you built with sturdy materials and followed these instructions, your playground should last you at least 10 to 15 years, if not more. Keep an eye on it, especially in the first couple of months. If you are noticing any issues, make sure you fix them or reinforce the structure somehow.

If the kids start to become a little bored, you can always try further customizations. Adding an offshoot 2 x 4 off the treehouse is an easy way to install a rope climb. Or block off the square section underneath the treehouse and add a sandbox. Ask your kids’ input on what they would like, and even try their fun colored paint ideas!

Lastly, just make sure you keep it safe. Install a wall around the platform just in case. To prevent neighbor kids from using it without your permission, make sure your fence in your backyard. If your kids are young, make sure they only use the playground under adult supervision. And finally, check every six months for any signs of rust. Replace parts as needed.                                                                                                                                                      

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