a dad explains: why a d.i.y. playset is 100x better than one you buy

Here’s a guest post from our resident dad, Chad. He’s earned some major “Dad of the Year” points with this latest project. Take a look!

We’ve been staring at an empty back yard for a couple of years now as our little toddler has grown into a full-fledged climbing monkey. Obviously we need some kind of playground of our own, but they all seem too gianormous and expensive. After spending months reseplaceing the many options, I still found myself waffling on what to get: Do I bite the bullet and buy one of the top of the line play sets, from Rainbow, Gorilla or Superior. They all offer installation and various add-ons, like a tire swing here or a climbing wall there. Would she care if it had only one swing or a trapeze bar? Yellow or blue slide? One thing was for sure, with an average price tag of about $3,000, this playset decision wasn’t to be taken lightly.

I think the reason I was obsessed with building a set for our daughter is because of my own childhood memories. I didn’t have a swing set as a child but I did know kids who had them: They were rusty, creaky and prone to tipping over. Instead of getting one of those, my father made me a club house when I was five years old. It was on eight foot stilts and sat in our backyard. I can remember watching him cut the wood as his sweat dripped onto the planks under the hot sun. It wasn’t perfect and it didn’t have a tire swing or a rope ladder, but it had a trapdoor and he built it for ME. I helped by holding the nails and standing on the 2x4s as he cut them. I watched the saw rip through the wood as he told me to measure twice and cut once. I drank a gallon of Orange Crush as he built what would become my very own Millennium Falcon, my Alamo… my hideout from the world.

Watching my father build that playhouse taught me some pretty basic life lessons — like the value of hard work and the satisfaction of doing something on your own. It also taught me the value of having friends who are willing to help out for a six pack and the joy of just hanging out for the afternoon working on something simply because they were good friends.

So back to my decision on whether or not to build or buy our playset. I asked myself: What do I want to teach my daughter? What do I want her to think of as she is swinging on this thing? That ten workers in an afternoon can come over and bang out a swing set if you have enough money for the premium deluxe package with the periscope? No, I want her to remember what it was like to help me measure and cut the wood. The excitement she feels as I drill each ladder step into place.

When the raw wood was delivered and sitting in my driveway I started to doubt my choice. When the box of bolts and plans arrived I started to worry. “What have I done?” I thought to myself. Then Isadora came out and walked across the wood pile using it as her own personal balance beam. Grinning, she asks, “Are we building my swing set today?” Yes. WE are.

Click through to the next page for details on how I pieced this thing together.


1. I bought a kit from Backyardcity.com. The kit includes hardware, swings, nuts and bolts and step-by-step plans for building.
2. After you get the kit, all you need to do is get the wood and follow the step-by-step plans. Note: The kit price does not include the plastic slide which costs around $200
3. You will definitely need a friend to help with the heavy lifting and moral support.
4. Tools you’ll need: circular saw, heavy duty drill gun (a cordless one just won’t cut it when it comes to drilling through the heavy beams), a socket wrench, level, square, safety glasses.
5. The plans are based on the assumption that the fort will be sitting on a perfectly level yard. One of my mistakes was not taking the time to level the yard with dirt. You could dig out an area and make it level but once I realized this I was too far along in the process and just decided to drill new holes to compensate for the angle of the ground.
6. If I were building another one of these I would start with longer support corner beams and plant them into the ground and build everything off of the support beams so it’s level.

Do you have any D.I.Y. memories of your dad? Please share and we’ll post them in time for Father’s Day!

From our partners
Mary S

I just discovered this post and wanted to offer kudos. Looks great, and I love your approach, Dad! : )

Thanks for taking the time to post this, and include the pictures showing the build. I think it’s important to take an active role like this in your child’s life, and building them a playset like this one provides some of the most long-lasting and best memories, I’m sure. Nicely done!

John

Dude,

Thank you. This post if by far the most informative thing I have found in my seplace for finding the right playset. I absolutely agree with your approach, thanks to your story, am ready to take the plunge..for all the right reasons!

Jeanie

Great story!! Thank you!

Jeanie

Can you tell us your total cost?

Backyard Playsets: Kids, Swings, Playing Outside - Bombay Outdoors

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steve

Thanks for the post. This is the way to go.

My father was the ultimate d-i-y guy. One year he decided to put a sidewalk around the side of the house. Of course to do that he had to build a cement mixer. He used part of a 55 gal drum, the flywheel and starter from a junkyard, some furniture rollers, angle iron and of course knowledge of light welding. Voilla..

In 1998 as a dad doing the exact same thing for his family, I inadvertently wound up bringing the first ever all bolt constructed DIY playground plans/kits to market. Fifteen years later its been quite a journey with tens of thousands of families following in our footsteps. Take a look at my work, http://www.detailedplay.com, expert on board let me know if you have any questions