Introduction: Kid-Size Construction Kit From PVC Pipe

About: Retired from biotechnology company, PhD in Biochemistry (MIT).

Make a kid-sized construction kit from PVC pipe and pipe fittings! All you (the adult) need to do is cut the pipe, and then turn it over to the kids. (Younger kids will need some help.) The children will be able to build the framework for playhouses, tunnels, etc. Throw a sheet or blanket over the frame and the kids will be playing for hours. There is even an instruction manual written for kids. The manual provides step-by-step instructions for over twenty construction projects in pictoral form. Alternatively, the kids can be creative and do their own thing.
There have been thousands of Instructables already for projects made out of PVC pipe. However, this one is different due to its jumbo size and the kid-appropriate building instructions. For a smaller-scale kit see “PVC Pipe Multi Toy - Absolutely Simple".
Now for the disclaimers: I consider this kit to be a reasonably safe for kids. There are no choke hazards, no glues, and no solvents. However, accidents can happen so please be careful. Adult supervision is required. For example, NO CLIMBING, NO SWORD FIGHTS, NO SUCKING ON THE PARTS, etc., etc. etc.

[ ] I accept full responsibility and will not hold the author or Instructables liable in any way.

[ ] I do not accept full responsibility.

If you checked the first box … Thanks, please proceed! ; o)
If you checked the second box … Please stop here.

Step 1: Parts

Parts needed:
• 9 x 10 foot lengths of 1/2” PVC pipe. Note 1/2” PVC pipe is about 7/8” (22 mm) in outside diameter. It comes in two wall thicknesses. (See the second photo.) I prefer the thicker-walled version. It is stronger and less likely to break, but it is heavier and takes more effort to cut.
• 10 x 1/2” slip couplings (no threaded holes) – I call these “Is”. (See the third photo.)
• 4 x 1/2” slip right-angle elbows (no threaded holes) – I call these “Ls”. (See the third photo.)
• 10 x 1/2” slip Tees (no threaded holes) – I call these “Ts” (14 x are shown.). (See the third photo.)
• 12 x 1/2” slip side-outlet elbows (no threaded holes; these may be hard to find) – I call these “Ys”. (See the third photo.)
• 1 x large, 2’ x 3’ (60 cm x 90 cm), laundry bag for holding it all. (The longer pieces will stick out.)
• Optional: colored vinyl tape – red, blue, yellow, green – for tagging the pipe segments.

I bought all of these parts (except the laundry bag and the tape) at Lowes for under $40. Other building-supply stores should have the parts, too. You may have to look around to find the 1/2” side-outlet elbows.

All of this is for the jumbo-sized kit. You can get by with a smaller version of the kit. Use the Instruction Manual (Step 4) to pick the projects you want to do, and make a scaled-down parts list.

Tools needed:
• pipe cutter or hacksaw for cutting the pipe into segments (See Step 2)
• file or sandpaper for smoothing out the cut ends

Step 2: Cut the Pipe

Cut the pipe into the following segments:
• 6 x 48” (121.9 cm) – I call these “#4s”
• 8 x 35.5” (90.2 cm) – I call these “#3s”
• 12 x 23.5” (59.7 cm) – I call these “#2s”
• 14 x 11.5” (29.2 cm) – I call these “#1s”
You can cut these from the 9 x 10-foot pipe lengths as follows:
4/3/3; 4/3/3; 4/3/3; 4/3/3; 4/2/2/2; 4/2/2/2; 2/2/2/2/2; 2/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1; 1/1/1/1/1/1/–.
There will about 4 feet left over.
Note that the #1s, #2s, and #3s are a little smaller than the expected fractional length of the #4s. This is so that when, for example, you join a #1 and a #3 together with a T, the width of the joining piece is compensated for.
One way to cut PVC pipe is simply with a hacksaw. There several other ways. See the Instructable “PVC 101” for a great discourse of working with PVC pipe. I (unlike the author of “PVC 101”) strongly prefer using the type of pipe cutter that is designed for cutting copper pipe (see the second photo). This type of cutter takes only a little practice – you screw it on with the cutter on the mark; carefully inscribe a circle around the pipe (make a circle, not a spiral!); screw it slightly tighter; then repeat, around and around until you have cut through the pipe. With this inexpensive pipe-cutting tool, you can hit the marks spot-on, the cuts will be perfectly square, and there is absolutely no saw dust! A pliers-type pipe cutter would work, too, but the cuts won’t be as perfectly square. No matter how you cut the pipe, smooth the edges afterwards.
Optional: Tag the pipe pieces by wrapping a band of colored vinyl tape around the middle of each. Use red for the 4s, blue for the 3s, yellow for the 2s, and green for the 1s. That way they will match the diagrams in the Instruction Manual.

Step 3: Comments

In this PVC construction kit, everything holds together by friction. The holes in the pipe fittings are actually slightly conical not cylindrical. The fit gets tighter as the pipe segment goes in.
If the fits are too tight, which is likely at the start, try the following: re-smooth the ends of your pipe segments, and lubricate the ends by rubbing them with paraffin, candle wax, bee’s wax, soap, or even Vaselene.
If the fits become too loose, try wrapping the ends with one or two turns of 3/4” vinyl tape.

Step 4: The Instruction Manual

Here I show you a few pages from the Instruction Manual and give you the whole document in Word and in PDF form so you can print it out. At the start of each page, there is a schematic diagram of the finished product, a list of the pieces needed, and a difficulty rating. Next there are three or four step-by-step diagrams for how to proceed. The pipe segments are color-coded: red for the #4s, blue for the #3s, yellow for the #2s, and green for the #1s. The letters, I, L, T, and Y, indicate what type of joint goes where. I have tried not to over-instruct; e.g. the builder will have to figure out the proper orientations of each joint.

Step 5: Enjoy!

Toy Challenge 2

Participated in the
Toy Challenge 2