Introduction: Build a Western Saloon Kid's Fort With Standard Fence Boards

Picture of Build a Western Saloon Kid's Fort With Standard Fence Boards

Howdy pardner! So you think you have what it takes to wander into the Wild West? Have you got a posse of pint-sized pistol packers? Well grab those gunslingers, get in your garage, grab your gear and giddy-up! Y'all are about to make a western saloon fort... with standard fence boards.

Step 1: Sketch Out a Plan

Picture of Sketch Out a Plan

There is a bank vault full of fort plans on the Internet. My posse and I took the elements of forts we liked and combined them into our own design.

Our first inspiration was a "Frontier Fort Playhouse Built From Stockade Fencing" designed by John Lewis, and available free on the web. While small, Mr. Lewis's design is cost-conscious and looks easy to build. Unlike ours, his is made without framing or siding the walls one board at a time. Instead, he simply uses pre-fabricated and spaced stockade fencing PANELS turned sideways, and uses a lightweight roof. We take our hats off for Mr. Lewis for inspiring us with his fine concept... but I reckon it just wasn't all we we wanted.

What we wanted was a much bigger fort (ours is bigger in every dimension, twice the volume, and the ceiling high enough that an adult can stand inside). We wanted a stronger fort (ours will hold the weight of a heavy cedar shingle roof plus a dad and kids who want to sit on it to look at the stars). We wanted it to be craftsman quality (ours is framed with 2x4's like a house and is sided with individually routed and cut pine fence boards). And we wanted ours to have a Texas-sized personality (ours has saloon doors, rustic trim, a wood burned sign and lots of other "extras"). And we didn't mind too much if it took more time and materials to get there.

It's impossible to give credit to all that inspired us. Some our ideas came from just looking at Old West buildings at an amusement park.

There is a link to our plans on this page which we followed until we got to the roof structures.*   This Instructable will show you what we did.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools

Here is a general list of what you'll need to rustle up:

1. 3/4" x 4'x8' Plywood (for floor) and 1/2" (for roof)
2. 2"x4"x8' pressure treated pine studs (for framing)
3. 5/8"x5.5"x6' pressure treated pine fence boards (for siding)
4. 2"x2"x8' pine (for inside of ceiling)
5. 4"x4" x 8' pressure treated pine posts (for porch posts)
6. Rough red cedar fence boards (for trim around windows and door)
7. Smooth cedar board (for sign)

1. Black felt roofing paper
2. Cedar shingles
3. Roofing Nails

1. Concrete deck blocks
2. Ground anchors, bolts and washers
3. Deck screws - multiple sizes
4. Plexiglass
5. Western decorations
6. Two brackets used to hold 4x4 posts to porch (the type used in deck construction)

1. Powered Miter Saw
2. Router, table and round-over bit
3. Circular or table saw
4. Cordless drill and bits
5. Electric jigsaw
6. Measuring tape, chalkline, hammer, level, square, and other basic construction tools.
7. Wood burner

1. Children (preferably helpful ones)
2. TNT box made by helpful children (optional)

Step 3: Call Before You Dig

Picture of Call Before You Dig

You are going to do a little digging - probably not deep enough to hit gold, but who knows for sure... This is a good time to teach your minor miners that digging into a power line is not just annoying to those who might lose service, it could be life threatening. Pick up the phone before you dig to have those sparky sidewinders marked.

Step 4: Start With the Floor

Picture of Start With the Floor

The floor is an 8'x8' frame made from pressure treated pine that is covered with two sheets of 3/4" plywood. Everything is screwed together.   A wood fort is an all-you-can-eat termite buffet, you ain't gonna want part of the frame to touch the ground. We raised ours and made it level by digging holes for four concrete deck blocks initially, but much later discovered with the weight of the fort, we should have used six. We used a little sand in the base of the holes to help with leveling. As shown in our plans, make sure the front wall of the fort will line up with a floor joist.

TO ANCHOR OR NOT? The fort is a solid, heavy beast, but we live in Kansas and, you guessed it, it gets windy here. To keep Dorothy from blowing away to Oz, we secured the fort floor to the ground with four corkscrew anchors.

Step 5: Build Wall Frames

Picture of Build Wall Frames

Next, we framed the walls on a hard, smooth surface in the garage according to the plans. After the frames were completed, little hands grabbed one end and we skedaddled to the backyard, laid them on the ground, snapped this photo, then stole some horses.

Step 6: Raise Those Frames Up

Picture of Raise Those Frames Up

Make sure the posse is back outside for this step, because you'll really need their help holding things still and true. This is a good time to teach them how a level works, and why being "square" is a good thing. Since you can't stand there holding the walls up forever... screw the frames together and to the floor. Supervised, my 10 year-old was getting pretty good with the cordless drill by now.

Step 7: Route Till You Drop

Picture of Route Till You Drop

The good news is that pine fence boards are not that expensive. The bad news is that fence boards laid in a row right next to each other look like... well, a fence! To give it a log cabin look, we used a router (mounted to a table) and a brand new round-over bit. We ran the boards through so the outside edges would be rounded off - the profile of the fence board will look like a letter "D" as in "Dodge City".   When running fence boards across the router, you can count on generating enough nasty dust and wood shavings to make your garage floor look like a stable. This stuff, if inhaled, can make you sick. Be sure to wear a dust mask and safety goggles.

And be patient. This monotonous step took several sunsets to complete.

Step 8: Attach Fence Boards to Sides and Frame

Picture of Attach Fence Boards to Sides and Frame

We bandits attached the routed fence boards, cut to length, with screws.  Don't use nails, when fence boards get wet, then dry, they'll pop loose quicker than a buttoned shirt on Thanksgiving.

We started with the bottom and worked our way up. We alternated the lengths of the boards at the corners, as pictured. Fence boards aren't as straight as Tonto's arrows, so count on having some gaps between the boards, and check 'em periodically with the level. Meanwhile, you can also frame your homestead's roof and attach. A notch in the joists can help hold it square and in place.

Step 9: Frame the Porch Cover

Picture of Frame the Porch Cover

Next, we framed the porch cover, added a plywood roof, robbed a train and drank a shot of whiskey.

Step 10: Prepare for Shingles

Picture of Prepare for Shingles

The problem we saw with nailing shingles is the roofing nails need to be long enough to hold the shingles in high winds... but at the correct length the tips of the nails come through the plywood. To address this, after stapling the black felt roofing paper to the top of the roof, we struck chalk likes on the roof to mark where the nails would go, then transferred that measurement to the underside of the roof. We individually measured and cut 2x2 boards and screwed them to the joists. Now, we have protected the Sheriff from scraping her head on a nail.

Step 11: Shingle the Roof

Picture of Shingle the Roof

We stapled black felt roofing paper to the roof, and had our nail lines marked. We used cedar shingles for the roof, and created the effect shown here by alternating the width and position of the shingles.

Step 12: Add a Wood-Burned Sign

Picture of Add a Wood-Burned Sign

Your fort needs a name. Get the kids involved in pickin' a good one that any self-respecting, pistol-toting outlaw would be proud to call their own. Once my varmints picked a name, we found a font we liked and printed it on card stock, cut it out and traced it on a piece of cedar. Then, using a wood burning tool, I traced the edges and filled in the letters in a rustic pattern. While you are taking in the sweet fumes of burning cedar, demonstrate how to safely handle the hot wood burning tool, and if your kids are old enough, let them give it a shot. Finally, at high noon, quick draw that cordless drill out of your holster and pepper the sign with bullet holes. Next... hang him!

Step 13: Trim Door and Windows, Add Accents.

Picture of Trim Door and Windows, Add Accents.

THE GOOD: To trim the door frames, I used rough cedar fence boards. For a little character, using a jigsaw, I cut a curvy line down the middle, going around any knots in the wood. These were nailed in place.  The saloon doors were created from scraps of the standard pine fence boards. The bell, lantern, antlers and other decorations you see are things we picked up at thrift stores while we were working on the project. We turned the antler tips so they touched the wall and fastened securely to make sure there is no possible way an antler can poke an unsuspecting bandit.

THE BAD: We added plexiglass to the side windows which can be open and shut by sliding them along groves. Plexiglass keeps the water out, but scratches and does not age well.

THE UGLY: About 6 months later, we stained the fort. It turned out much darker than expected, but today, as shown in last picture, it does fade and look more "rustic."

Step 14: Start a Hootin' and a Hollerin'

Picture of Start a Hootin' and a Hollerin'

Boy howdy! You're done pardner. Step inside, take your boots off and stay awhile.

If our design is not for you, I hope you still decide to build a themed fort with your little buckaroos. The experience of building something together is priceless.


Mistablik (author)2017-01-25

Do you think this router bit would work?

TimothyH39 made it! (author)2016-05-15

Thanks for the idea. I added a jail in case the saloon gets out of hand!

ElainaS2 (author)TimothyH392016-11-27

How did you make the jail?

jhawkins14 (author)TimothyH392016-05-16

Yes, having seen what my posse has done in the saloon, the jail would be helpful. Except the sheriff is likely to throw me in there too! Nice work!!!

tmaxwell02 (author)jhawkins142016-06-08

About how many 2x4s were used? I want to start building this, need an estimate on lumber to purchase. Also what was used to frame base? Just 2x4 or 2x6? Would you email me?

tmaxwell02 (author)2016-06-08

Can someone give me an estimate on how many 2x4s to buy and what was used to frame base? Email me at it will be easier
Thanks tara

tmaxwell02 (author)2016-06-08

Anyone know how many 2x4s i should buy and what was the base frame constructed with?

christianshamrock1 made it! (author)2015-11-01

I changed it to a tin roof

Thank you for sharing your photo. I like the look of a tin roof too. Your fort looks fantastic! May your family have years and years of enjoyment with it.

JessicaK9 (author)2015-08-12

How did you stain or seal the floor?

jhawkins14 (author)JessicaK92015-08-13

We have used a number of different outdoor deck stains and sealers. Since it is treated plywood and exposed to the elements, we reseal it often. If I built another one, I would likely deck the floor instead of using plywood.

buck2217 (author)2015-07-01

That is very cool

jakescout (author)2015-06-17

Howdy - this looks awesome! I want to do this for my twin boys birthday in August. How long do you think it will take devoting probably 2 nights a week to it for a couple hours a night, and then 1 full day or more on the weekend?

I am also lost on how to build/frame/finish the roof, can you help me out at all?

jhawkins14 (author)jakescout2015-06-18

It took us about 3 and a half months keeping a schedule that involved working a full day on most Sundays and a night or two a week. I think if you added a full day a week that would make a huge difference, cutting the time down to about 4-6 weeks.

jhawkins14 (author)jhawkins142015-06-18

Roof: this is one of those deals where I planned to build it one way, then thought about it, and just built it another way without drawing it up. I will private message you about the roof construction and can send you photos to help with particular steps/questions.

omikeo (author)2015-05-26

straight shootin pardner, I did a treehouse this year, I guess I shouldda rounded my boards, it's a nice touch(along with those nailers and your decor), and at ground level, broken arms are much less of a concern, I had to put a nice mullion down the center and weave in the bridge from the play structure to the house, but they'll still find a way to be too dangerous, thanks for pos

SmashedWord (author)2015-01-14

great instructable mate makes me wish i had kids to build this for. will keep it in mind for when i do, thanks and very entertaining :)

PeterS3 (author)SmashedWord2015-05-26

You are always welcome to build this for my kids. :)

jhawkins14 (author)SmashedWord2015-01-14

Much obliged, feller.

hhughes8 (author)2015-05-26

Awesome directions! Love the colorful ad lib too! The pics are great & actually gives me confidence to build this. Ty

jhawkins14 (author)hhughes82015-05-26

I reckon you'll do a fine job.

damyar (author)2015-05-26


jhawkins14 (author)damyar2015-05-26

That feller in the fo-tee-graph looks like Bad Bart. He owes me money from a poker game. If you see him, give him a kick with yer boot.

damyar (author)2015-05-26

this is very nice !!!

i wanna make it so early.

thank for beautiful desin

Donc2 (author)2015-05-26

I really like this. My kids are all grown up as are my grandkids also. Me being born in 1950, I grew up on Saturday morning westerns as well as primetime TV western series. I've never been on a horse in my life except my Grandpa's old mule Bill when I was a kid, But I have always been a Cowboy in my mind. Still am. I wish I had had this Saloon when I was a kid. Looks Great.

mlanger1 (author)2015-05-26

Very nice. My grandkids would love this. I shared it with the oldest who is 14. He is quite the handyman and they have a backyard full of pallets..... lol he might improvise! Thank you for sharing!

tsfehler (author)2015-05-26

Love this! I have a bunch of little (and bigger) people who want to build a fort this summer. A neighbour is going to teach them to use his sawmill, and this really gives me a visual of "the next step" for if my husband. (but i hope he helps me with the roof part!) Great job - you're a fun dad!

deborahseagraves (author)2014-11-06

That was grate I'm sure the kids love it. I would love to build this for my grand kids to play in. I want one for my self. Grate Job.

idk if you're sarcastic, but you spelled great wrong. not trying to be ,mean or anything :)

EthanJP (author)2014-03-23


annabenson6 (author)2014-01-02

Wow that is awesome. How long did it take you?

jhawkins14 (author)annabenson62014-01-02

Hey thanks! We started in July and finished at the end of October, so about 3 and a half months. An evening here and there... and Sunday afternoons that weren't filled with other plans.

I feel like my middle son actually grew an inch taller while building it. He didn't fit through the doorway as well by the time we finished ;)

hellorakeshdev (author)2013-12-02

good job boss.

Daemonikk (author)2013-11-03

Great work, and thanks! I scaled up the design a bit and tweaked a few things for my particular needs, and now this is gonna be my new workshop! I'll have to add pictures once it's done.

duresti (author)2013-10-28

Awesome idea for the kids!

ledshed (author)2013-10-02

Nice... got me thinking... scale up and real bar :-)

bajablue (author)2013-09-26


fenikkusu (author)2013-08-01

I'm confused what did the router do to the boards? This is asked due to a lack of knowledge as to what the particular bit creates in the wood...sorry I have no clue about that one thing...This is amazing and awesome though! I LOVE LOVE LOVE how you even reminded us about digsafe! You are awesome! People forget those simple things that could turn a project into a disaster!

jhawkins14 (author)fenikkusu2013-08-01

If I told you that, I'd have to kill you. Well, maybe not. Here is a picture of a round-over bit and what it does to a square edge of a board. What I did is run the fence boards through the router, each twice so that if you looked at the profile of the board, it would look like the letter "D" If that doesn't make sense, take a look at the close up pictures at the end of the instuctable. You can see the edges of each fence board are rounded smooth.

jhawkins14 (author)jhawkins142013-08-01

Sorry, I couldn't successfully post a picture in a comment. Here's what you can do: Google "roundover bit" and hit the "Images" tab. You'll see a picture of what the bit looks like. The router itself spins that bit super fast, and shaves one edge of the board so that is rounded instead of sharp.

jhawkins14 (author)jhawkins142013-08-01

Finally, if you look at the one photo taken from the inside of the fort (Step 10, top picture), you can see those edges are not rounded, they are sharp 90 degree edges just like fence boards look when you buy them.

Excellent question. Thank you for asking.

fenikkusu (author)jhawkins142013-09-24

You absolutely rock! Thank you for answering my question about the roundover bit! Your kids have THE...BEST...DAD!!! Please keep posting your projects. I think I speak for everyone when I say. This was just a pleasure to take a look at! ...(even more fun to read!) lol. Two thumbs way way up!!!

Renard_Bleu (author)2013-09-24

Congratulations on your win. Top notch instructabling.

YPF (author)2013-09-13

Thanks for sharing such a great instructable. You've done a great job!

thehaze44 (author)2013-09-09

Good thinking, was wondering why the overkill but heads are more valuable than gold nuggets!

Arabian Outdoors (author)2013-09-04

This is way too cool
vote vote vote
good luck with the contests

kmdill (author)2013-09-01

I enjoyed your Instructable so much I had to sign in and VOTE!! LOVE the finished pictures of you and the Buckeroo's!

SparkySam (author)2013-08-23

Great idea and what an awesome memory for the whole family! Even though I wasn't looking to build a cool fort today, I couldn't stop reading your story! It made me smile! Love it!

cbeatty1 (author)2013-08-08

Very cool. My cousins son wants a fort like this and this would make an awesome one! Good Job!

olbuzzard (author)2013-08-06

This is jhawkins14's dad. Several parents got prematurely grey during that tree house construction adventure he posted about!! They were working 30 to 40 feet up. His older brothers were the instigators of the project. We did require that they fashion a rope harness and tie themselves off to a limb while up there building. They used assistants on the ground to tie materials and tools to ropes for hauling them up. There was absolutely no adult help what so ever. I don't recall that there was a single injury, not even a smashed finger.

There are still a few boards and remnants up there, but alas the thievery continued with the subsequent generations of kids along the wooded creek. No telling how much recycling of tree forts has gone on. Wish I could find the pictures of it. It was a beauty to behold and was the talk of the neighborhood! I don't know of a single adult who ever got the courage to climb up there.

I don't know how much longer the old tree is going to survive. Each year more and more roots get exposed from the creek eroding the bank. It's leaning quite a bit now.

About This Instructable




Bio: At home, you can find me with my wife and three boys, maybe practicing violin, guitar or piano, in the garage doing some woodworking, bicycling ... More »
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