Introduction: How to Build a Fort Using 3d Printed Fort Loops

About: I'm a High School Technology teacher with Creativitis, a disease that doesn't let my brain sleep. I spend my days trying to infect my student's minds with a desire to learn. I lead by example and hope that my …
Simply ask, and there are not many people that did not enjoy constructing forts during their childhood. I have a 6 year old nephew who asks almost every time I see him, "Can we build a fort?" I shamefully admit that I have occasionally neglected his requests. You see....

I was one of those kids that was always building forts out of household objects. I was one of those kids that nearly burned down the house because I draped sheets over a halogen lamp. I was one of those kids that wasn't happy with my room the way it was. Architectural and engineering insight started at a very early age for me. I was inspired by the challenge of creating something new and finding creative uses for the materials around me. At the time, I didn't know that I was a designer, but I'm well aware of it now. So I must now take the opportunity to re-visit my child hood construction site...the bedroom.

Before I started this project, I gave a lot of thought to what it means to build a fort. When I was a kid I made forts because it was fun. I loved hanging out and sleeping in the interesting enclosed spaces that I came up with. A fort was often a safe haven from your siblings. There were rules involved. You could deny access to your fort, eat your breakfast inside, or even set up traps to detect intrusion while you were away. The interesting thing about forts is that they are so individual. Each fort is a product of a child's mind, their materials and their surroundings. Each child faces design challenges and solves them the best way that they know how, given the materials they can gather in their home. Some parents are not that supportive of this process and a child's creativity can be thwarted. There are often parental rules about what materials can be used and how long your fort can stay erected. 

Now that I'm somewhat grown up, I look at forts in a different way. I have new skills and new technology that will help me take fort building to the next level. One of the biggest obstacles I faced while building forts as a child, was finding appropriate points of attachment. After doing some research about fort building systems online, I was slightly dissatisfied with the standard pvc style fort sets.

Fort Magic


It's the obvious answer, and you can build some great structures, but I just feel like these kits take away from the true nature of fort building.You have to be imaginative and take advantage of your environment. Simply making a box inside your room doesn't cut it for me. I'm looking for something different. I'm looking for something that will help me modify and manipulate the standard fort building materials. What can I add to the pile of sheets, pillows, blankets, cardboard, matresses, bed knobs, and broom sticks?

The answer is Fort Loops.......

Step 1: The Future of Fort Building

Fort Loops is a system that helps take fort building to the next level. As a kid, I was often frustrated by the sheets sliding off the top of my dresser. I sometimes even tucked them into the drawers of the dresser but it was never the right solution. Now that I'm partially grown up, I have the ability to solve some of the greatest fort building obstacles of my past. Having suitable points of attachment is huge part of building a successful fort. Without an appropriate way to hang or elevate roof structures, you're left doing the limbo through your front door. Having the technology to 3d print custom parts helped me to put a new spin on the art of fort building. Being able to create new points of attachment without drilling or screwing holes in the wall, makes fort builders and parents very happy. Fort Loops takes advantage of the fact that every room you'd conceivably build a fort in, has doors, outlets and switch covers. Gather up the standard fort building materials and you're ready to go.

Decora Cover Plate

The standard Decora cover plate will cover your switches and outlets. It provides 2 points of attachment at a reasonable height in your room. If you're lucky, you have a 3-way light which gives you even more points of attachment. The round style outlet cover provides 1 point of attachment. If you have Decora style outlet covers, you can use the same cover as the switch cover.

Standard Cover Plates

Standard outlet covers only have one point of attachment No big deal. Just make sure you have what you need before you get started. My sister's house had a strange combination of both decora and standard covers.

Door Hinge Hanger

Simply knock out the pin on one of your door's hinges and slide on the handy Fort Loops door hinge hanger. The beauty of this part is the ability to create a high point of attachment in your room. You can even install one on the lower hinge too. Just keep in mind that you'll likely still need to open and close your door, so pay attention to where you string your ropes.

Door Hanger

The door hanger gives you another high point of attachment in your room. This can go on a closet door or even your entry door. However, it's not a great idea to install it on a door that still needs to be opened and closed.

Sheet Conector

Need to to connect a sheet in a completely different way? Simply sandwich a sheet between the bottom and top clips of the sheet connector and you have a new way to connect materials. Maybe your fort has an awning, or maybe you need to hold the front door open occasionally. Your imagination is the only limit.

Picture Hanger

I was really trying to avoid screwing into the wall. However, if you have a picture hanging in your room anyway, why not hang it with a Fort Loops Picture Hanger. Simply screw the base plate into the wall, preferably into a stud, and hang your picture. When it comes time to build a fort, simply slide in the Fort Loop adapter. This Fort Loop didn't make it into our first fort but you can view sample pictures here.

Fort Loops Break-Away Connectors

I got a lot of attention with the release of Fort Loops. Some good and some bad. As much as you want everyone to love your project, it's important to listen to your criticism and use it to develop or defend your design. I was really happy with the results of my original Fort Loops and really didn't consider the safety concerns that some people might have. I got some good suggestions and some ridiculous ones. I decided to develop my design further to satisfy the safety concerns that people were having and to stick to the original concept of avoiding having to screw holes into the wall. Ultimately, the solution becomes more economical because I no longer have to print out an entire plate cover, and the whole system will be cheaper to buy on Shapeways. Now, why didn't I think of that in the first place? These Fort Loops didn't make it into the first fort either... you can picture one here.

Fort Loops are available in my Shapeways shop. 

I'm not out to make money on these things, but a lot of people have expressed interest in having some, so I posted them on shapeways so that people without 3d printers can order them. Have fun!

Fort Loops Door Hinge Hanger

Fort Loops Decora Cover Plate

Fort Loops Break Away Connectors are Coming Soon......

Step 2: Design

There is something about 3d printing that gets my creativity boiling. The ability to think of an object and literally print it out minutes later is extremely empowering for a designer. The fort contest gave me an excuse to relive the fort building ways of my childhood and put my 3d printer to work.

The first thing to do was let the pencil hit the paper. I was hung up on pvc pipe for a while, but somewhere along the line I got the idea to somehow create points of attachment on the wall. My original idea involved rare earth magnets. I  wanted to see if I could find magnets strong enough to support sheets on a wall. I wanted to stick them to the drywall screws and to the metal corner bead. Unfortunately, I could not achieve the holding power I was looking for, and rare earth magnets are not that safe for kids to be playing with anyway. I ultimately decided to look for other ways to attach sheets to the the wall. The idea for Fort Hooks was born. (I later changed this to Fort Loops, because the design is indeed a loop and not a hook)

The printing of these parts was relatively straight forward. I used the UP 3d printer that instructables gave our school through the sponsorship program. The outlet and switch covers took about 2 hours each to print, while the hinge and door hangers took around 15 minutes. 

For those of you that do not own a 3d printer and do not want to use one of the 3d printing services on the internet, I have a viable alternative to 3d printed Fort Loops. I actually used a bunch of them myself because I have not yet printed enough Fort Loops outlet and switch covers. (they take 2 hours each to print)

Using some standard screw hooks, you can simply re-thread the ends to same size as the screws that hold your switch covers in place. It's so quick and easy. Just take out the screw and replace it with a new hook. Depending on the size of the hook you start with, you may have to use a few different sizes of dies to gradually bring the diameter down to size.

The final die should be a 6/32 UNC as shown in the picture. Simply clamp the hook in a vice and start threading. I hope you have a tap and die set or know someone that does.

Step 3: Materials

I've seen some interesting things go into a fort build on this site. Sadly, my parents never let me put the couch on end and have the TV inside any of my forts. I hope the invention of Fort Loops can help repair this hole in my childhood. 

So, the other advantage of being a little bit older than a 6 year old, is that fact that dollar stores now exist and I have the means to drive there and purchase materials. Sweet!

As with many of my instructables projects, the dollar store is an indispensable supplier for materials. I already had the following for our fort:
  1. Fort Loops
  2. Sheets
  3. Blankets
  4. Pillows
  5. A room 
I still needed:
  1. Rope
  2. Clips
  3. Adjustable paint Poles
  4. Toilet plungers
The last two items on the list from the dollar store turned out to be the holy grail of fort building items. I went looking for suction cups and broom sticks, and I pretty much hit the jack pot with this find. That is the beauty of the dollar store. You can walk up and down the aisles until the magical piece of your instructables project puzzle jumps out at you. The adjustable paint poles offered the perfect solution for tent style poles. The fact that I could screw them into plunger bases made them extremely practical and stable for fort building purposes. It's funny how many times I go to the dollar store and leave with the most random pile of products. The looks I get are priceless.

Step 4: Building the Fort

Finally......It's time for the best part of all....building the fort. Luckily for me I had a crew of willing and eager volunteers with varying levels of experience. I got started with Jack, Maddy, and Angus at my side. Building a fort using Fort Loops is quite simple:

  1. Start by replacing your switch covers and outlet covers with Fort Loops. If you don't have 3d printed ones, you can use the alternative Fort Loops that I described earlier.
  2. Install Fort Loops Hinge Hangers on any appropriate doors.
  3. Install Fort Loops Door Hangers on any appropriate doors.
  4. Decide where your support poles will be positioned. Have your helpers hold them in place. If you have adjustable paint poles, it's a good idea to set the height at this time. Push down on the plunger end to hold the pole's position.
  5. Begin threading your rope from Fort Loops to other Fort Loops and any other available connection point that your environment offers.
  6. Thread your rope through the top of the poles so until it held in an upright position and supported in each direction.
  7. Additional rope can be used to create a webbing on top of the original support ropes.
  8. Once your web is complete, you can begin to add sheets and blankets.
  9. You can hold the sheets or blankets in place using varying sizes of bull dog clips.
  10. Larger clips will be needed to attach blankets to the support poles.


The crew got a great start on this fort. Angus and Maddy had to go home for dinner, but we kept on working. They were pleasantly surprised when they returned!!


Fort Contest

Runner Up in the
Fort Contest

Weekend Projects Contest

Participated in the
Weekend Projects Contest