Introduction: Our Reclaimed TreeHouse

Picture of Our Reclaimed TreeHouse

The Tree House. What could be cooler to a young boy or girl than a tree house? There is just something about having a structure in a tree that is really alluring. I remember dreaming about my perfect tree house when I was young. I came up with all sorts of things that would be included in my tree house like a rope ladder, a pulley for pulling up various treasures, a secrete door that no one knew about but me, and the list goes on and on.

When I did finally build my tree house I was not quite what I had imagined. It was 3, 8 foot boards nailed into two horizontal branches. I LOVED IT! It didn't matter that it wasn't much to look at and it didn't have all of the bells and whistles that I had imagined. It was mine and I spent quite a lot of time in it.

So when I had my son 5 years ago, one of the first father son actives I wanted to do with him was build a tree house. I started to plan and slowly but surely I started on our tree house.

One thing that I really wanted to do is use reclaimed material to make the majority of the tree house. I use reclaimed wood in a lot of my project so I thought I would be cool to see if I could use the same materials to make a tree house. Also to be honest, by finding this material or buying it used I saved a ton of money on this build. In my plans the main frame had to be new treated wood for safety reasons but the rest I wanted to make out of reclaimed stuff. I got pretty close except for the siding, that was a headache I’ll explain later.

This has been a labor of love and I am very excited to share it with you. I hope that you enjoy my project and that it may inspire you to make one of your own. I plan on having many adventures with my son and daughter in our tree house. It’s a little bit more than 3-8 foot boards and so far my kids love it. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy our tree house.

What I used

Treated 2x10s

Treated 2x8s

Treated 2x6s

A plethora of saws, I used circular saw, table saw, jig saw, miter saw

Drills and a lot of different screws, deck screw, self tapping tin screws, small drywall screws

a ton of reclaimed stuff, deck boards, conduit, wood posts,2x4s, plywood, tin, windows

A few new things, tarpaper, cedar siding, roofing nails

Time and patients

In this spot I usually put "What You Need" but not this time. Every tree house is so different I don't think I could make a list that would adequately describe what "you" need. If you plan on making a tree house, plan well and make it to fit your space. Every tree house is different and every one is awesome!

Step 1: The Trees and Frame

Picture of The Trees and Frame

I am surrounded by walnut trees. English and black walnut to be exact. They are beautiful trees but if you have had the experience of one or two of them in your lawn, you know that they are terrible to clean up after. I have 26 walnut trees on my property. I don’t know why that I relevant to my ible, I guess I needed to complain just a little.

Aside from being messy, Walnut is also a very sought after and valuable tree. So sought after in fact that I have had many many people stop by and offer to buy my trees. Here’s the thing. They are messy and I do love to complain about them but they are beautiful and hundreds of years old so I do not want to give them up. But how to stop all these people from hassling me to cut down and buy my trees? I know, put a tree house in three of the most desirable trees. It worked.

I have these three trees in a triangle in the very back corner of our yard that worked perfect. They are 14x14x12 feet apart in an isosceles triangle. Perfect trees, perfect spot, start the tree house.

Like I said before, I wanted the tree house to be made primarily out of reclaimed material, but I wanted it to be very safe and sturdy as well. So I used new treated 2x10 for the outside frame to make sure that I would hold up for my kids. I used 4-10” lag bolts per board end to secure the 2x10 to the tree. I know they are better ways to do this but I did not have those kinds of resources at that time. I used new 2x8 as floor joists and I ran them parallel with the “bottom” of the triangle

After the main frame was complete, it was time for the first of many reclaimed materials. I found someone on craigslist that was selling the wood from an old deck that they took down. They were asking $200 for all of the decking which I though was a lot. I tried in vain to trade for an air compressor that I had no use for but he wasn’t having it. I haggled for a while and eventually settled on $120 for the pile. It was still more than I wanted to pay but it was a lot of wood and it was in decent shape so I was happy. . I don’t have a ton of pictures of this step. I’m embarrassed to say but I didn’t even know about instructables when I started this tree house.

I started in the middle and worked out towards the edges and I used 3” deck screws and attached to each of the floor joists. Although this is hand me down deck wood, it is still very sturdy.

Step 2: The First Structure

Picture of The First Structure

I had this really cool idea for the house portion of the tree house. Because the platform was a triangle I decided to make the structure a triangle too. Not only that but I wanted the walls to angle out to give it an original look. This all sounded really good in my head but when I started to build… it didn’t work. The walls were angled out at a 15 degree angle and it was a nightmare to do everything. I was sheeting the roof when I finally decided that this was a stupid idea. I took the structure down and started over from scratch.

This step was not really necessary but I think it is important to share successes as well as failures. Hopeful someone can learn something from my mistake.

Step 3: The New Frame

Picture of The New Frame

So I had to start over. It was a pain at the time but I’m really glad that I did. I started with a square floor frame made from treated 2x6’s. Again the frame was new treated wood but the decking was reused. Pretty standard floor framing. Because the frame was already sitting partially on another frame, I went with two foot centers to save the cost of a board. I toenailed the top frame into the bottom one in various places. At the two corners that were sticking out I used two 4x4s to support the corners. I dug the holes, leveled the post and poured cement into the hole. This might not have been to code but I think it will serve its purpose well. I used 3” screws to secure the frame and used them to screw down the deck boards as well.

With a completed floor I was able to get to work on the main structure. This one went up much better than the first one.

Step 4: Frame Up

Picture of Frame Up

Reclaimed 2x4’s. actually not too hard to find. I had to do a quick search on Craigslist and I found someone that was redoing a basement and had a bunch of 2x4’s that they had replaced. Perfect! I can’t remember exactly what I paid for these but it wasn’t too much. I used them to make the first unsuccessful building and then I reused them to make the second.

I framed up the walls and made them 5 feet tall. I wanted it to seem like a good scale for my kids. I really like how it turned out. The windows were sitting in my parent barn. They are awesome and save all sorts of cool stuff so I was able to find some great windows. I framed up the windows and they really gave it a great look. I went with a pretty good pitch on the roof and started to sheet.

Step 5: Sheet the Roof

Picture of Sheet the Roof

What’s really fun about reclaimed wood is that it has a story. It has been somewhere else so there is a story to tell. My plywood has an interesting story. About a year before I started on the tree house we has a fire in our machine shed. Our dewalt drills were charging in the shop and one of the batteries super heating and exploded. We know this because it just so happens we had a security camera pointed at the bench it recorded the whole thing. Please don’t leave your drill batteries pugged in.

Anyway, our shed was broken up into 3 bays. The first bay is the shop and that was completely destroyed. The next bay was tractors and that only had heat damage, any plastic parts melted on the tractors. The third bay had some heat but mostly smoke damage and that is where this plywood was kept. As you can see the board was black because of the smoke but still in pretty good shape. The plywood was in a pile so the bottom pieces didn’t look as bad.

I sheeted the roof and covered it in tar paper. For the roof I found this super awesome rusted tin. We use it for all sorts of projects and it worked great as a roof again. I screwed them down with self tapping tin screws and they looks and work fantastic. I filled in any additional holes with clear silicone. I have had the roof on for quite a while now and I haven’t found any leaks yet.

Step 6: The Dreaded Siding

Picture of The Dreaded Siding

So the siding was supposed to be the coolest reclaimed part of this whole build. I had all sorts of awesome ideas of what the siding was going to be, but what I really wanted was barn wood. I love barn wood. Not only does it look really cool but I think it has a really great story. I grew up playing in barns, making forts in barns, and working in barns. But the problem is, barn wood is super sought after right now and crazy expensive. So I went to craigslist again. I wrote up an ad looking for old barns. I explained in the ad what I was going to do with the wood and how I wanted to pay for it. I purposed exchanging my work cleaning up a fallen barn, or sorting the wood in exchange for keeping some or paying for it by the truckload.

The ad was up for a short time when I was contacted by Al the troll. Al seemed quite angry that I was asking for barn wood and claiming it was for my kid’s tree house. He said that it seems like I’m looking for a lot of wood and deceiving the craigslist community with this ad. You see in my area there are ads selling wood by the board ft and I was intruding on their turf. I can only guess but I bet Al was one of those people. I sent Al a picture of the progress I had made with the tree house but that didn’t seem to convince him.

A few days later I stumbled on an ad selling some barn wood for $4.50 a board ft! The funny thing is the ad had my town and my phone number on it even though I had not posted it. So my original ad got flagged a few times and eventually I gave up my search. I couldn’t beat the barn wood cartel.

The tree house sat naked for quite a while until I finally broke down and bought cedar siding. It was expensive and not as cool as reclaimed siding would have been but it does look very nice. I put it up with splitless nails. I did have a small amout of barn wood at my disposal that I could use for the trim. Not enough for the whole thing but that’s ok. I ripped the wood into 3” strips and sanded them with a orbital sander. Just a little sanding really brought the wood back to life.

Sorry about the long story… darn Al

Step 7: The Railing

Picture of The Railing

Because the platform of this tree house is 10 feet high I wanted to have a really sturdy railing but it also had to match the rest of the design. We have an apple orchard so there is an abundance of great material to choose from. First the posts. They are line post from the apple trees. Apple trees need support so in the older plantings in the orchard, each one is supported by a 8 foot post pounded into the ground. When we replace a block of trees we pull out the tree and the post and save the posts. We have a lot of these on hand.

The lower railings are made of old conduit that was also a support system for the trees. Same deal here, when we take out a block of trees we pull the conduit to the side and when we have enough we send it to our local metal company to be recycled.

I took the posts and cut them into 4 foot sections. I drilled 4- 7/8" holes 8" apart. I wanted to make sure that the holes were straight down one side of the post so I took 2 pieces if scrap wood and brad nailed them to the sides of the post. This way the post couldn't roll from side to side. I put it on the drill press and drilled the 4 holes about half way through the post. The holes were different depths depending on the size of the post.

I cut the conduit to have about an inch extra in the posts. The posts were not exactly straight so I wanted a little wiggle room. The holes were big enough to let the conduit slide in easily.

The top railing is this really awesome true cedar 2x4 that had a ton of square nails in it. I have no idea where it came from but I found it in one of our barns and it's great. I pulled all the nails with a crowbar and sanded it down with 60 grit sandpaper. When everything was sliver free, I ran my router over it to give it a nice edge and plopped it on top of the post. I’m really happy with how the railing turned out. All reclaimed and still matches the rest of the tree house.

Step 8: The Door

Picture of The Door

I really wanted the door to stand out and be the focal point of the front of the house. So I chose to go with bin wood. All of our apples are picked and then put into 18 or 20 bushel bins. We use all plastic bins now but in the not so distant past they were all wood. Oak to be precise. When these bins can no longer serve there purpose of holding apples safely, we cut them up and safe the wood for projects. I really like working with bin wood.

I cut off both ends because I didn’t want to pound out nails for two days. I ran them over the joiner and lined them up on two pieces of scrap plywood I had laying around. I went with a different pattern because I really wanted it to look interesting. I ran all the board through the planer to expose the beautiful wood underneath and to make the boards the same thickness. I then glued and nailed the boards to the plywood.

I sealed it with a deck sealer and the wood really popped. I really think that that little door ties the whole tree house together. Its all about the little details.

Step 9: Adventure Awaits

Picture of Adventure Awaits

This tree house has taken me a really long time to complete. There were times when I was excited about it, times when nothing would go right and times I wanted to tear the whole thing down and forget I tried. It was frustrating finding and working with used materials and trying to make it fit like it was new.

But yesterday, I was playing in our tree house with both of my kids… My daughter was pretending to cook me food and bring it to me on the deck and my son was acting like one of his 50 favorite super hero’s and pretending the tree house was his secret hideout. I just sat there and smiled. So all of the challenges that went along with this build were totally worth it. If we only got to play in it for one day, I would build it again. But we don’t have one day, we have years, and I cant wait to see what kinds of adventures my family has in their very own tree house.

This one means a lot to me and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and thank you so much for reading about our tree house.

Andy

Comments

BossyRangs (author)2017-12-06

Congrats on winning grand prize in the Reclaimed Contest!

thanks so much! Congrats on your win too, I really love your treasure c

Thanks! I'm very happy with my router and orbital sander prize.

hammermomma (author)2017-11-27

Wow, I loved your story, and the tree house looks great. I have wanted to build one for years...even bought some books on treehouses, etc. The comment above about giving the trees room to move and grow is worth paying attention to because they are going to do whether you pay attention or not. That’s nature for you. Anyway, on my property in Canada there was a stand of Ash trees that I was planning to use to build on. I don’t need to tell you what happened to those trees, so in that case, procrastination saved me from a lot of grief.

When I saw your pic of setting the posts in concrete, thought I’d share a lesson I learned after putting up 360’ of cedar fencing hung on pressure treated 4x4’s. I took lots of care to ensure they were perfectly spaced and in-line like little soldiers. I saved myself some money on concrete because I was pretty sure that the holes were deep enough that I didn’t need to fill them up to ground level. Then, maybe 20 years later, a big wind blew down one whole 55’ side...all rotted at the bottoms. Of course, it happened in December, so it was cold to be outside. Since then I have replaced 7 posts and have 6 more awaiting replacement, that are braced to keep from toppling . So, here’s the thing, if I had at least tarred the lumber that was underground, above the cement, I think I could have prevented that. I have an older fence that I put in in the mid ‘80’s where the concrete is slightly above ground and the cement is tapered away from the post, and those posts are still fine. Live and learn, lol.

Thanks for the wonderful advice! Some protection for the wood underground is a great idea. Thanks for reading

ffcabral (author)2017-11-28

Well, not just for kids. If I wasn't such an urban animal living in an apartment in the middle of the city, and had the nature space to do so, I would build one of those for me, it would be my outdoors office. Great job!

Thanks for the great comment! Glad you liked it

VICTORCAMP (author)2017-11-26

Me gusta

¡gracias! me alegra que te guste

Alaskan Bev (author)2017-11-26

You did some very outstanding work, CYP, especially with that gorgeous door! Thank you for the great photos and fascinating write-up!

When I was a little older than your son I built a pseudo-treehouse in a couple of beech trees up in the woods. They towered over the spring that furnished our spring water through a very l-o-n-g pipe down the hill to a holding tank in our cellar. (This was in the Catskills of upstate NY.) One day when I was sitting up there whistling and playing my (first) three-octave chromatic harmonica, I heard a rustling in the bushes below. There was a very tiny baby skunk all by herself, whining and looking for support. I skittled down from my treehouse, picked up the little thing, carried her home, and raised her in my bedroom. There are countless Kris stories, all beginning with that treehouse.

My husband and youngest son, then around 14, built him a tree fort 7' up in some huge back yard cottonwoods. The floor is 7' X 7' and the ceiling is 7' up. It's 20 years old now and still holds some of his childhood treasures, but I think the greatest treasure of all is all the time they spent together producing something that provided so much enjoyment for them both. I wish your family many, many happy years in your beautiful treehouse! Thanks for the great 'ible!

Thank you so much for the kind comment. This really made my night. The skunk story was great. We've had a few pet raccoons and one squirrel but never a skunk. I can't wait for the stories that start off " I was in my treehouse when suddenly..." Thanks for reading

sgbotsford (author)2017-11-26

Trees will continue to grow. They will eventually try to grow around the board.

Trees flex. This can do one of two things:

* Bolts with shear.

* Working back and forth will enlarge the hole to the point bolts will fall out of the tree.

* Working back and forth will destroy the main support beams.

Try this: Make the hole in the board about 2" across. Cut a 2" plug out of a tire. Cut 6" strips of 1.5" wide by 3/16 bar stock, with a hole in the middle. Lag bolt goes through the hole, through the tire scrap.

Do Not tighten it all the way. Leave the board 1/2 inch out from the tree. If you want, stuff some backer rod in the top edge to keep leaves from collecting the in crevice and rotting. When the rod is looking flat, back off the lag bolts by half an inch.

If you do this, you have to make the top free to shift on the main supports.

***

For those of you who aren't blessed by hundred year old walnut trees, your local power company sells used electrical poles. Locally they go for $28 each for a 35 footer. Usually the bottom 6 feet is only marginally useful.

Tell your kids the story of Baba Yaga who had a flying house on giant chickens feet.

Thank you for the great ideas.

BillyStuart (author)2017-11-26

Andy - amazing build!!! I totally feel your pain about the siding. I tried to find barnwood for a project here in central IL, and the barnwood people in our area are like vultures! I also ended up with new cedar bevel siding in my project too, a finish style detached sauna. I was happy with the end look, but not with the price tag. :(


I love all the time you put into the details! The railings are super cool, and that door is fantastic. Clearly a labor of love! Do you have plans for what adjustments you'll make over time as your kids grow and evolve?

You make me wish I had a family with an orchard, as you have all sorts of great materials to get creative with. Kuddos to your folks for recognizing that so many things might be useful later, even if they don’t know what for at the time they decide to hang on to it.

Great job!!!!

Thanks so much for the comment! I'm in southern Wisconsin so maybe the barn wood cartel is a midwest thing. I do not have plans expand at the moment but I'm sure we will as necessary. This was a labor of love for sure. thanks again

mdheath (author)2017-11-22

This is amazing. I like everything about it. I hope to make a similar treehouse with my son in a few years. Great job.

ClenseYourPallet (author)mdheath2017-11-24

Thanks so much for the comment. It is an awesome father son project.

SteelLegJ (author)2017-11-22

thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed the story and process

Thanks so much!

bricobart (author)2017-11-22

Awesome project! The use of reclaimed hardware makes it less constrasting with the environment, perfect match & good taste on the design, congrats. Minus is that you screwed directly in those trees. Did you use inox screws? I'm playing with this build also for several years, but I would've chosen fixations who are less offensive...

I did use stainless screws. I would have loved to use a less invasive approach but the treehouse hardware available was way out of my price range when I started this project. Maybe I'll get to use those for the 2nd and 3rd levels. Thanks for the comment and I would love to see what kind of treehouse you would come up with.

deluges (author)2017-11-23

Damn. I'll read that in detail tonight. Beautiful work.

ClenseYourPallet (author)deluges2017-11-24

Thanks so much

diy_bloke (author)2017-11-23

Fantastic. Coolest Dad Award

That is an award I would be very happy with. Thanks!

AMbros Custom (author)2017-11-23

Great project. excellent job.

Thank you

jpmarth (author)2017-11-23

What a fantastic job! Got a kick out of the stories in your steps!!!

ClenseYourPallet (author)jpmarth2017-11-24

Thanks so much! The story is my favorite part of most builds.

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Bio: My Grandpa got me into wood working when I was five years old. Ever since then I have been hooked. I love creating something out ... More »
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