Introduction: How to Build a Pirate Ship Playground

About: My wife is awesome, daughter #1 is a pre-school teacher married to a fantastic aerospace engineer, daughter #2 is a cosmetologist married to a really smart computer guy, and my 24 year old son is a youth Past…

We decided to build a pirate ship for my grandson...this is how we did it.  

I started by drawing out some basic sketches of what I thought would be a cool look and worked out some basic engineering ideas.  Our idea was to capitalize on the standard sizes of decking/treated lumber available to minimize waste.  We also designed the playground so that all activities could be watched from the back porch of the house (swings, slide, entrance, etc.)

Step 1: Layout

We designed the bottom deck to be 4'x8'.  We put together the outside frame first, squared it off, and positioned it where we wanted the playground to go.  I then had my son-in-law dig the holes for the 6 each 2x4x8 posts.

After placing the posts in the holes we leveled the frame and attached them together using lag screws.  Make sure you drill pilot holes to guide your lag screws and ensure the frame is attached level, square, and securely.  

We then poured quickcrete around the posts.

Step 2:

Next we repeated the steps for the second level.  We determined the height of the second deck from the recommended height of the slide we purchased at Home Depot  (approximately 51").  At first we mirrored the top deck to the bottom deck but soon realized we needed to extend the back of the ship to give us symmetry due to the bow coming off the front.  We replaced the 8' sides with 10' sides and let the additional 2' extend towards the back.

Step 3: The Bow

This was perhaps our biggest challenge.  We first attached a 2x12 and outlined the basic shape of the bow.  After drawing the curve of the bow we cut it out with a jigsaw and installed it using lag screws.  Remember...always use pilot holes with lag screws.

The curved side rails were also cut from a 2x12.  The basic shapes require quite a bit of finesse but here how we managed it...

We decided to use fence pickets for the skin of the ship.  We discovered quickly that we could bend them easily if they were wet and mostly free of knots.  Usually if you dig down into a pallet of fence pickets at the hardware store you will find them still wet from the saw mill.  We extended one from the top of one of the footing 4x4s and bent it to the bow.  Using this as a pattern we laid the 2x12 across the top and traced the shape.   We then cut out the shape with our jigsaw and used a router to round the edges.  In the last photo of this section you can see the picket we used for tracing the shape of the bow.  We repeated this for the other side.

Once the basic shape of the bow was complete we added another level that extended forward a little more than the first and made it two pickets high (approximately 11").  All of our height measurements were based on the width of the pickets so we could maximize the use of our materials however, we always ensured the side rails were high enough for the safety of the kids.

Step 4: Framing and the Skin

After framing the boat we used the pickets as the skin of the boat.  Notice we attached the 4x4 for the swings on top of the 4x4 support.  We used a metal attachment plate made for this from the decking section of Home Depot.  We attached a 2x4 temporarily to the swing support to hold it level while we worked on the ship but later replaced it with an a frame.

You can see in the photos how we constructed our framing.  Again, we used the width of our pickets as the standard of measurement for the height.

I also attached a metal strap to the bow as extra support and wooden framing so we could attach a small deck.

We then installed deck boards on all surfaces.  Again, since we made the decks 4' wide we could maximized the deck material by cutting the standard 8' boards in half.

Step 5: The Clubhouse

I wanted a whimsical look for the clubhouse so I added 2x4s at angles between the two decks to make the clubhouse wider at the top than the bottom.  Also note that the pickets making up the walls were attached crooked as well to stay with the theme.  To make the wall we attached pickets at various angles all the way up then trimmed the ends with a saws-all.

After completing the walls we mixed 1 part blue paint to 2 parts water and using a paint sprayer we stained the walls blue.  I watered the paint down to create a white wash effect so the wood grain would show through.  After it dried we used a belt sander to scuff it up even more for that dingy pirate hideout look.

You can also see the framing of the roof starting to take shape.  The idea was to have nothing about the clubhouse square or straight.  

We finished the clubhouse with crooked wooden posts, a pirate sign I found at a Destine Florida gift shop, and framed the window with real driftwood that I split in half.  The door is a facade because we decided we did not want a dark, damp, clubhouse so we left the entire wall under the boat open.

Step 6: The Gangplank and Dock

I originally planned to have a gangplank coming from the boat to the ground but decided a small dock would look better.  

My son-in-law built the dock using fence posts and regular decking materials.  All the posts are anchored in the ground with quickcrete.  We used precut steps and build the deck to match their height.  We made the dock 24" wide so we could get four planks per deck board.    The three posts on each side of the bottom of the stairs are screwed together using 6" lag screws and then rope was wound around each one.  The rope is held in place with fence staples.

We also added rope handles and strips of wood on the gangplank for traction.

Step 7: The Mast

I used a an 8' fence post as the main mast and a 1.5" diameter hand rail for the cross beam and flag pole (see drawings on step 1).  I used a 6" lag screw to attach the flag pole to the mast by embedding it in the mast and then cutting the head off so I could screw the other end into the post.  

I found a cedar planter at Old Time Pottery to use as a crow's nest.  I screwed the crow's nest to the main mast with three deck screws and then after drilling a pilot hole into the mast I secured the flag pole to the it.

To secure the mast to the ship I notched the bottom of the mast to fit securely to the 2x6 deck support.  I cut a round hole using an over-sized hole saw I found at Harbor Freight Tools and simply slid the mast through it over the 2x6 support.  As I held it plumb in all directions my son-in-law drilled holes, inserted the lag bolts, and tightened everything down.

I used a canvas painter's tarp for a sail and we screwed a home made pirate flag to the top.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

We decided to stain the ship with our paint sprayer so the ship would look more like a cool pirate ship.

I found an antique wagon wheel at a flea market, added handles made from miniature candle holders form Hobby Lobby for a captain's wheel, and installed it at the bow of the boat covering the back of the metal strap that we had used to support the bow.

We added various rigging to the mast and extra posts to the dock.  We also added swings and have plans to install lights so that the boat can be illuminated at night for play or just to look cool from the house.

Hope this inspires you to get creative and perhaps you will decide to pass on the "kit" playground and create a real adventure for your little one.

By the way...we figure the entire project costed us between $900 - $1200 in supplies.  Yes we lost track because Grandad (me) kept picking up extra stuff to support my ever changing ideas.  

P.S.  We love you Runner!   -Grandad & Nonni

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