Introduction: Pirate Ship Playhouse

Picture of Pirate Ship Playhouse

Motivated by a recent poster of his awesome Pirate Ship playhouse, I'm posting photos and drawings of my crazy adventure from last summer. My children and I built a ship in our backyard. You know, for the kids.

For you professionals out there, a word of warning - you may see some details that will can cause great horror. But in my defense, I have no training or background in building anything like this. I work in an office, I have a degree in English Literature, but I did spend a year on a Coast Guard icebreaker. So I know the ship's terms at least.

Step 1: The Sub Floor

Picture of The Sub Floor

I built it on top of some cement pavers that my neighbor was eager to get out of his yard, and I had a lot of 2 x 6s left over from when we built our deck.

This was my design for the floor.

By the way, I drew this on MS Publisher. Because that's what I use for my job, and I didn't know any better.

If you look closely, you'll notice that I'm going to make some curves.

In fact, all of the 2x4s that are forward of where the bow starts to curve in are angled outward.

Why? I figured that any moron could build a ship with simple angles, but only one moron in a million would attempt to build ship with curves, instead of angles.

Step 2: Subfloor and Deck

Picture of Subfloor and Deck

First, look at the subfloor.

You can see the brick pavers, as well as the 2x6s going across. I also put in 2x6 scraps going across the joists.

You can also see how the hull is angled outward.

The angle gradually changes with each rib of the ship, so that there will be a distinct curve.

I had trouble making the outward angles uniform on each side. I struggled with that a great deal, and still didn't get it right. The port side of the bow looks a lot better than the starboard.

The deck is using, well decking boards. I had them left over from making a deck.

In this photo, my daughter is touching the boards I originally planned to use for the hull. They are very thin, unfinished, pine paneling.

However, they were too thin. They cracked every time I tried to screw them, and they ended up being a bit too expensive. So I went with something else.

Step 3: A Mistake

Picture of A Mistake

Here is a profile of the ship, and here is where I want to discuss a major error I made.

I make the deck high enough so that little kids could see over the side, but I didn't want the deck too high and they could tumble off. So this is where I put the deck, in relation to the rail.

What I should have done is to put a deck on the bottom of the ship, on top of the joists, then, have the deck higher, and the the sides of the ship a little higher.

This would have created a usable space under the deck of the ship. An actual playroom. With a little effort, it could be made relatively rain proof. The kids could put in chairs, tables, maybe even a video game console. You know, just like Blackbeard.

Step 4: The Mast

Picture of The Mast

I decided that the ship must have a mast. A significant one.

If you're curious, below is my coming clean about an idea I had that didn't quit work out.

I placed the mast just to the left of where my daughter was standing in the previous photo.

The plan was to build it so strong so that kids could climb up to the crow's nest.

I received some great advice -- If you're building for kids -- overbuild it. They are rough on stuff and you don't want them to get hurt.

So, after building the mast, my son and I dug a three-foot hole, put the mast in and surrounded the base with cement.

Here's the details of my good idea that turned out to be something less than that:

A friend of mine works at a utility company, so one day I asked him if I could have an old utility pole that they were going to through away. I thought that would make a good mast for the ship.

Then I forgot about my request. About two weeks later, my wife, who was home, calls me at work, sounding alarmed. She said, "Why is there a semi and a crane here dropping off huge telephone poles?"

"Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that."

After two weeks of trying, I had to finally give up on the poles. They were about 40 feet long, and probably 18" across. I'd need a crane to lift one into place. Then I'd have to put it in a hole 6' deep, with cement. Even I cut one of them short enough, they were just too big around.

After a month of looking for a suitable home, I found a welder / artist who cut the poles up and used them as stands for his art work.

Step 5: Crow's Nest

Picture of Crow's Nest

But before putting up the mast, I had the foresight to build the crows nest.

Here is the base of the crows nest.

For this, I used 2x4s for the base and actually used former pallet boards for the floor. It worked out well, and looks great.

However, my wife, the joy killer that she is, decreed upon seeing the crows nest towering over the ship, decreed that I may not build a rope ladder to the crows nest, and that no children are ever allowed up there.

Something about not wanting five year olds to fall to their deaths in our backyard. Whatever.

Step 6: The Quarter Deck

Picture of The Quarter Deck

This is the raised platform at the stern of the ship. It's 4x8.

Again I overbuilt it. Instead of 2x4 joists, I had a bunch of 2x6s, so I used those.

But it's still standing, and no kids have died on it, so there you go.

Step 7: The (relatively) Finished Quarterdeck

Picture of The (relatively) Finished Quarterdeck

I splurged and bought posts from Lowe's.

Also, in this photo are, oddly enough, hot wheels and a giant Lego piece. Clear signs that my helper was alongside me helping on this particular afternoon.

And, yes, I made the wheel myself, but that didn't work out too well.

I had to remove the handholds because one afternoon when one kid was spinning the wheel, another kid was coming up the ladder and he got whacked on the head by a peg. Not a big deal. We solved it by giving the kid his very own ice pop.

Step 8: I Could Have Just Bought a Wheel

Picture of I Could Have Just Bought a Wheel

But this wheel was really small.

And plastic.

I asked my daughter, and she declared she'd rather have a wheel made by Daddy. Of course, she's not the kid who got whacked in the head.

Step 9: The Hull

Picture of The Hull

Here is my (totally not spoiled) daughter, standing next to the hull of the ship.

For the hull boards, I used fence boards.

They are 6" wide, about 6' long, 3/4" thick, pressure treated, and cost less than $2 each at Lowe's (in Delaware, USA)

They were thin enough to bend, and worked perfectly.

However, one mistake I made was that I didn't glue the boards to the supporting 2x4 ribs. The boards shrunk a bit over the past year, and there are noticeable gaps between the boards.

Step 10: 36 Hours Before the Birthday Party

Picture of 36 Hours Before the Birthday Party

Did I mention that this was a present for my daughter's fifth birthday?

This was two nights before the party.

You can see that most all of the support stuff, and the decks are built. We just need a few things, like a hull, for example.

By that way, am I the only person here who prefers to work on stuff like this in the dead of night? This was in the summer, so it's a lot cooler. And because everyone else is sleeping, there are no other demands on your time for stuff like supper, or a critical need for a walk to the park.

Step 11: 12 Hours Before the Party

Picture of 12 Hours Before the Party

For the sail, I used a canvas drop cloth.

They are inexpensive and look perfect for the ship. This summer, I plan to paint a design on them.

Step 12: I'm Never Done.

Picture of I'm Never Done.

Here is one of the cleats that I made recently. I use these to secure the sail and for other lines on the ship.

Also, here is a design of what I want to paint on the sails. I have room for two sails, and I'll use an old overhead projector to put the design on the sail, so I can trace it out.

I mean, if this is a pirate ship, it sure needs a skull and cross bones.

Besides, the state's newspaper wants to feature the pirate ship this spring in a photo essay on extreme playhouses. That's the excuse I'm using with my wife why I need to work on the pirate ship. As soon as it gets warm again.

Step 13: Thanks

Picture of Thanks

Lastly, if any of you would like to visit the pirate ship, sit upon the quarterdeck, hoist a beverage and salute the sunset, you're invited.

The ship's current position is 38.807 Latitude, -75.595 longitude (southern Delaware, U.S.)

In the comments below, please leave questions, suggestions, and and statements you may have regarding my sanity.

Thanks a lot for reading.


KathleenM49 (author)2016-03-08

Does your sail lower and raise? If so, how did you do that. Our grandson would like a working sail on his ship.

smadden10 (author)2015-01-30

Ive been looking at these for awhile. I really want to do it but am scared to death to try to undertake such a big project

JimWesthoff (author)smadden102015-01-30

The trick is to just start building the base which is easy. Then you're kind of committed to finishing it. And like the other guy who posted a (much better) pirate ship playhouse, the key is to tell your spouse that it's just going to be a little thing. Then, well, the design kind of gets away from you. By the time he/she realizes that there is a damn ship in your backyard, the kids love it, and it's too big to disassemble.

Plus, it helps a great deal if you really have no idea what you're doing. That way, you don't know what you're in for. It's best just to blindly stumble from one stage to the next, amazed that you've even got this far.

beth722 (author)JimWesthoff2015-05-06

I think this is how my husband operates too! (Nicely done, btw)

JimWesthoff (author)beth7222015-05-11

Tell your husband howdy from Delaware.

cmitchell44 (author)2015-05-08

Hey it looks great and just to let you know if u really care about the spaces between the planks there are two different things u can try first is use strips of cotton to stuff the seems and then calk over it or second just use calking. The cotton just so u know keeps the calking from going out the other side so easily. It is also the traditional way to deal with seems on a real wooden boat. Once again it looks amazing and very ship like.

JimWesthoff (author)cmitchell442015-05-11

That's a great idea, and yes, I've been struggling with how to fill the cracks. The lumber shrinks a great deal.

When you say strips of cotton, you mean like material from t-shirts or something like that? Then wedge the material in the cracks using a putty knife or something, then cover that with caulk?

reneknght (author)2015-02-24

wonderful gift from dad! better gift from God! "daddys" are rare & irreplaceable. I wish I'd had one.

zman1204 (author)2015-02-16

I like your disclaimer at the beginning that made me crack up, I am 16 but I help my uncle w/ construction I showed it to him and u didn't make any large mistakes

JimWesthoff (author)zman12042015-02-16

Glad you liked it. My son was 16 when he helped me build and design it. Working together was the best part.

As long as your uncle looks at the ship from a distance, he won't see any errors.

GeekTinker (author)2015-02-09

My girlfriend's sister built (a smaller) one in her basement several years ago for a playhouse and a Pirate themed birthday party. Which was a huge success for her three boys and their friends.
I can only imagine how much more exciting having one outside would be.

JimWesthoff (author)GeekTinker2015-02-09

Very impressive. I like how she painted the backdrop. The boards of the hull look great, too. Did she paint them brown, and painted the black filler between the boards?

What was the boat made from?

GeekTinker (author)JimWesthoff2015-02-09

Unfortunately, I don't know the details myself. I will ask the next time I see her.

Greg Kara (author)2015-01-31

Amazing work! I only have some doubts about the safety of it.

No rails or fence , ( don't know if these ropes work well ) iron hangers (as i can see on the last photo ) and many rough edges that are not covered with foam , sponge or a soft material.

Anyway all these are personal doubts . For sure you know better since you made it and been present on it's ''test run'' .

Thanks again for sharing

GeekTinker (author)Greg Kara2015-02-09

Kids are more resilient than most people think they are. The world will not be covered in foam and padded for their occasional falls and spills. They may as well learn how to deal with it in the back yard and at a young age.
(Just be sure to have each parent in the neighborhood sign a waiver of responsibility in order for their kid to play on it.)

ojsefg (author)2015-01-30

You are an awesome Dad.

JimWesthoff (author)ojsefg2015-01-30

Thanks. I think that just trying to be a good Dad is being a good dad. Kids just want to spend time with you, and they want to see that they are truly your biggest priority. They have to see you making them a priority. Telling them only goes a little bit.

If anything, I think I spend too much time building these crazy things and not actually spending time with them. Many evenings, my little one wanted to swing on the tire swing or something and I had to tell her no because I was working on the pirate ship.

However, at this moment, I'm not loved all that much by my 17yo son. He was just informed that he's grounded this weekend for bad (really bad) grades. Apparently, he'll die if he's not allowed to go to the Super Bowl party at his girlfriend's house. I expect social services to come and arrest me to child abuse at any moment.

yugnats (author)JimWesthoff2015-02-03

I like that: "trying to be a good Dad is being a good dad"

People should keep in mind that not every parent has the time nor resources to build something like this but you hit the nail on the head: Kids just want to spend time with you no matter what you're doing.

Great job on the ship by the way :)

Haunted Spider (author)2015-02-01

Very nice. Now you need some cannons and an old trunk or two for pirate gear. The build came out great though. I built a pirate ship for a parade float. I think yours came out much better. Here is a pic of our homemade cannons from pvc and bondo.

Cannons! Yes! So I'm not the only one. You see, I live in Delaware, the home of Punkin Chunkin, so many of my friends and colleauges participate in that event. When they see the pirate ship, the first thing they say is that it needs some cannons, and they know just how to set it up.

How did you build your cannons? They look amazing.

As for the float, it has been discussed that I should transform the pirate ship into a float. Honestly, it wouldn't be tough. The local library was interested in making it a pirate-themed float with Peter Pan, Hook, and all the rest, cavorting about as we go through the town.

Last question -- how did you propel the pirate ship? Towed by a pickup, or did you have some type of internal power like a mower hidden inside the ship?

For the cannons, I used 4 inch PVC and added layers of bondo to the ends to flair them out. The backs were nothing special as you couldn't see them from the crowd on the road. Two of the cannons had a 1.5 inch pvc liner in them that I piped fog through. The other two I made launch candy. (a jiff peanut butter jar fits perfect inside as the top of the plunger). We used therabands and a rod of 1.5 inch pvc to basically create a cross bow you pulled back, someone put candy in the top, and fire away. It launched the candy out about 15 feet.

The float was pulled with a full size pickup. It was built on a 2200 pound trailer 16' trailer. No way in internal engine would have pushed that along and for a church budget, it definitely wasn't happening.

They look fantastic. Very aged. I'll use the bondo idea.

I also like that you resisted the temptation to hook up some kind of crazy air powered gun. The crossbow idea garauntees that you won't be impaling kids with high-velocity tootsie rolls.

I did the air powered thing when I was in College. We made an Oil Derrick and used Air cylinders for confined space entry, straight lined it to a PVC base, loaded candy and confetti in the top, and turned the valved. As quick as 2200 psi in the bottle could come out the nozzle, it launched the candy in the air about 50 feet and rained down on the surrounding people (small sidewalk parade at college campus with golf carts). Too much power, never again. :)

Also, the bondo is a pain in the butt to sand to the shape you want. Use a power belt sander for rough work and then hand sand to smooth it out. If it wasn't so expensive, I would use Apoxie sculpt next time instead. I still might just for ease of use.

PowellMade (author)2015-02-03

I got an idea! orange cannons!! Kids will have so much fun.

Love what you have created!!

JimWesthoff (author)PowellMade2015-02-03

You mean cannons that shoot oranges? Or cannons that are orange colored?

Either way, sounds like fun.

nndhdhe (author)2015-01-30

im so happy I was given a Xbox Live 1 month card code and it worked! I got it at

The spammers have already boarded the instructables ship! Fire the cannons and batten down the hatches!

With our swords (re-painted styrofoam pool noodles), nothing can stand in our way!

Ye best not forget ye mighty cardboard shields

mikeasaurus (author)2015-02-02

Luckiest daughter ever! Looks like loads of fun to play on

bricobart (author)2015-02-02

Great work, captain. At least those kids will be safe when it comes to global flooding. Special award for that write-up, also - too much too underestimated on this site...

ajohnson119 (author)2015-02-01

You rocked it! I'd never have the patience to build something like this.
We'll done!

robolimbo (author)2015-02-01

Great build. Excellent work! Your kids will remember that ship forever! Keep creating!

NathanSellers (author)2015-01-31

Beautiful work. Thanks for sharing.

J Walker (author)2015-01-30

Excellent work. I really like the this ship. It really is shaped well and seems to be easily accessible to kids. I like one of the first co mentors was thinking that you should use the main sail as a projection screen. I think they even make projection screen paint. Over all...excellent job Super Dad.

amatz2 (author)2015-01-30

Coolest Dad award!

jhawkins14 (author)2015-01-30


SailorBoy (author)2015-01-30

Brilliantly done mate.
Have you thought about putting flood lights and a projector on to of the mast. This means you could have an out door cinema... that you so lovingly built for your wife....

What ever you do... don't question your sanity... coz occasionally it answers back.

cindywesthoff (author)2015-01-30

It was all fun and games because he said it would be just a little playhouse. Then 2 telephone poles were delivered to our driveway. Just note..... this guy says just tell your wife its a small project...... uh, I don't think so. PS: Do you know how hard it is to find someone to come GET 2 telephone poles out of your driveway because they were too big for a mast????? (I still love him)

skepticaljay (author)2015-01-30

Very good and very entertaining.

JimWesthoff (author)skepticaljay2015-01-30

Thanks. I tried to use humor to take the place of actual, you know, plans.

pseaton (author)2015-01-30

Ambitious project, and the curves are impressive. Looks super fun!

JimWesthoff (author)pseaton2015-01-30

Thanks. The curves were, and still are, a huge PITA. But it's my favorite aspect of the ship. This spring, I need to put in a bowsprit, off the bow, so the kids can stand there, wave around the pirate swords, and swear vengeance on other neighbor kids.

But that darn curve of the bow makes the whole process very challenging. I tried to do it last Fall, but had to quit after a couple of days. Getting those curves perfect is tough.

Kiteman (author)2015-01-30


tomatoskins (author)2015-01-30

I think the kid in all of us wants this in our backyard!

pneumatist (author)2015-01-30

Three cheers for you.

About This Instructable




Bio: I don't have any training or experience in any of the trades, but I love making stuff for my kids. Yeah, it's all ... More »
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