Introduction: Library Story Stroll (Also Called Storywalk®)
My family absolutely loves our local library. For how small our town is the library does an amazing job providing activities an events for the town's youth. Holiday parties, animal specialists, guest authors, crafts, clubs, you name our library does it. I have tried to stay as involved as possible since my kids love going there often. I built a really cool racetrack for pinewood-derby-ish cars that the kids built using scrap pine wood and hot glue guns. This was a big hit and it let the librarian know that I am happy to build things to keep the library purring! So, early this year she reached out to me to see if I wanted to build a Storywalk® for the library. Check out the link to see a more detailed explanation of what a Storywalk® is and to see why it has that little "®" with it. I was only the builder in this case so I cannot give you a complete low down on who to credit and how to go about doing so, but please make sure you do your due diligence prior to jumping into this project.
We had to first decide how we wanted the Storywalk to look. You can go from the super simple of a stick with a board to the complex (and insanely expensive) of welded frames, UV-resistant and tempered glass, with stainless steel posts. We decided to split the difference and use pressure treated wood and earth anchors to affix them to the ground. Sam, our librarian, wanted eighteen of them and wanted them to be weather resistant so that they could stay outside during all seasons. So, I went about coming up with some designs by looking at what other folks put together. The only problem I kept running into was finding affordable clear coverings for the boards. With the Covid pandemic in full swing, Lexan sheets were not only hard to come by but insanely expensive. I ended up finding a super-durable and affordable option that I think you will also like.
During this Instructable I want to show you the steps necessary to build eighteen (or any other number) of robust Storywalk® posts for a fraction of the cost other methods might cost you. With the crazy pandemic going on, now, more than ever, it is important to provide our youth with outside, educationally-rich opportunities while still being socially distanced. This project fits the bill perfectly!
Supplies necessary to build one Storywalk® post:
(1) 4”x4”x5’ PT post
3" Pressure Treated Deck Screws
1-1/2" Pressure Treated Deck Screws
(3) rubber washers
(3) carriage bolts
Pressure Treated wood for both the top of sign and underside (I used 2x4 stock for both of these)
Step 1: Location!
Central Massachusetts is a very hilly area. Our town center, including the library, sits at the top of a hill. Below the library is a large ball field with additional space for kids to run around and some nice semi-open forested areas too. This was to be our location for the Storywalk®. Around the library, around the ball field, and partially through the woods. I believe the entire loop with all 18 posts is about 0.4 miles. A nice little hike with a good hill to climb at some point during the journey. Wherever you decide to install the Storywalk® make sure to consider the following:
1 - Make sure it doesn't interfere with typical work that needs to go on such as plowing, mowing, landscaping
2 - Make sure you mark out the locations you would like the Storywalk® to be with small stakes or ribbons and try walking it. Measure the distance, bring a kid, and make sure that it is enjoyable for anyone who wants to do the walk. Kids lose interest easily or get distracted even easier if the posts are too far apart. Alternatively, you don't want them too close either as that takes some of the adventure out of the mix.
3 - Consider making all or part of the Storywalk® handicap accessible. We were unable to do so with the terrain and the available space, but if you can make it work, all the better!
4 - And, most importantly, make sure the Storywalk® is located someplace where it will be used a lot and someplace that is easy to access for those changing up the stories. No point in building them if they are tucked away and hidden from the public.
Step 2: Rough Cutting the Materials and Letting Them Dry a Bit
Pressure treated wood is WET! If you plan on sanding and working with pressure treated wood it is best to rough cut it to size and then let it dry for a week or two at a minimum. I cut all of the posts (from 10' posts) into two five foot sections, each with a 45 degree cut on one end (for mounting the sign). It's nice doing this outside so you don't throw PT dust all over the place. Wear a mask and eye glasses and use a circular saw to cut it from both sides (my saw's depth of cut is only 2-1/2"). I also cut all of my plywood to rough dimension, cutting the sheets into 24"x18" sections. All of this I stacked down in my basement to let it dry out a bit near my dehumidifier. It was the start of summer so the humidity was already pretty high and even with the dehumidifier running I left the lumber for 10 days to dry out a bit. I put "stickers" between the signs so that they could breathe a bit better and get more air flow through them. You can see in the second to last picture I have all of the rough parts cut out and drying. The weight of the entire mass should keep things from warping too much but you can see in the very last picture that when I removed the posts and such I put a 50 pound bag of salt on top to help keep the signs from warping too much while I shaped the other pieces.
Step 3: Preparing the Storywalk® Signs / Boards
As mentioned in the supplies and intro, I used PT rated plywood. This is not marine grade since I will be putting a stain on the entire shebang during the summer of 2021 (now there is something to look forward too... the summer of 2021 that is, not staining). Also the plastic cover combined with the top "drip cap" should make the plywood pretty darn well protected. I added a nice radius to the corners of all four sides (you really only need to do two of the four but I did all four just in case I didn't like how one came out). To make things move a bit faster I taped together groups of four of the signs. I then used a yogurt cup to mark a good radius on the corners and cut them on my bandsaw in the taped together groups of four. I used an oscillating spindle sander to clean up the cuts and then pulled apart the packs to sand them with a random orbital sander. I sanded them to 150, which is more than adequate between the type of wood and the environment it will be put in.
Step 4: Making the Lower Sign Braces
The lower braces not only support the sign board but they also prevent the sign board from warping during the drying process and also the subsequent wood movement which is bound to occur. I gave mine a slight Roman Ogee to break the edge a bit and snazz them up just a smidge. I used pressure treated 2x4 stock to make these and ripped the 2x4 into two pieces to speed up the process and it was a whole lot cheaper than by 1x4 stock (isn't that ridiculous?). I made a small cardboard template so I could get the end treatment identical on both ends of the brace, marked each 2x4 accordingly and then cut everything on my bandsaw. Once I had the ends shaped on the braces I set my bandsaw so that I could rip the brace directly down the middle, making two braces. From there I took all of the pieces (36 since I was making 18 signs and needed 2 per sign) over to the router and cleaned up all of the edges except for the top straight edge, which was to have a 45 degree miter cut along the entire edge. Once I got everything nice and rounded over on the router I set up my table saw to cut a 45 degree cut and then ripped a 45 degree cut along the top edge of the brace so that it would align with the sign board when affixed to the post. I sanded everything to 150 and then made the marks to align the braces along the post. I found center on one of them, marked that with a pencil and then measured out so it would sit centered on a 4x4 post. Then I drilled four holes with the drill press so that I could attach the braces using 3" PT screws. Braces done, now it's time to put some pieces together!
Step 5: Attaching the Sign to the Post With the Braces
This is where a lot of "smallish" parts become one big part. You will need to attach the sign board to the post, the braces to the post, and the braces to the sign board to make one robust unit. I used 3" PT screws to complete this task. The first step is attaching the braces to the post. We had previously marked out the exact locations of the braces on the post and also pre-drilled the braces to be attached to the post. You are going to want to clamp or hold your post securely to make this job easier. I used the front vise on my workbench to hold the post in place. Make sure to correctly line up the lines you made on the braces and to orient the angle correctly with the angle cut on your posts then use three to four 3" PT screws to attach each brace. From there you will need to draw reference lines on your sign board so that you can line up the sign board with the braces (see pics). Get things lined up as close as you can and then making sure the sign board is centered and then pop a couple of 1-1/2" PT screws through the sign board and into the post. You will then need to mark exactly where the centers of the braces are (remember they are at an angle). Put one screw into each side of each brace (two screws per brace). Pre-drill at a 45 degree angle as shown in the picture. You should be good as gold at this point with six screws adhering the sign board to the brace and post.
Step 6: Making the Upper "drip Cap"
The keep things nice and tight, dry, and easy to use I created a drip cap for the top of the sign board. I used PT 2x4 stock yet again for this task. These were 24" long pieces that were about 2-1/4" wide and 1-1/2" thick. I cut a dado (a groove) out of the center of each piece that would fit somewhat tightly over both the plastic and the sign board (about 7/16" wide and 1-1/4" deep). Test fit this piece prior to cutting all 18 of them... if you are making 18 that is.
Step 7: Sizing and Attaching the Plastic to the Sign Board
The plastic I used to cover the sign boards was ordered for a fraction of the price it would have cost for Lexan. It is not an acrylic material but rather PET, the stuff they make soda bottles out of. My thinking is this, I have seen plenty of acrylic things snap in both and cold weather. How many soda bottles have you seen explode even after freezing what is inside solid? A PET soda bottle can hold over 150 psi. Plus, have you ever, sadly, seen a soda bottle that was left outside (in other words tossed out of a car window) for many years... like ten or more? It might not look like the day it was born but dang it is still just as resilient and as long as it wasn't too abused it isn't even that scratched. This stuff is flexible, strong, and mildly scratch-resistant. Sounds like a perfect candidate for this project. And at an insanely low cost there was no reason to use Lexan... can you cut Lexan with scissors? Alright, I am done being a PET salesman. You'll need to remove the back protective sheeting and then set the plastic sheet on the sign board. Slip a drip cap over the top and then drill a pilot hole through the cap in at least two locations. Use a 1-1/2" PT screw along with a stainless steel or galvanized washer to affix the drip cap through the plastic and through the sign board. Use a pair scissors and cut the corners round a the bottom of the sign board. Then drill three holes equally spaced at the bottom of the sign board about 1" from the bottom to accommodate the carriage bolts. Push a rubber washer on the carriage bolt and use a wing nut behind the sign board to tighten the whole thing together (see the last picture).
Step 8: Adjusting the Boards and And Preparing for Installation
At this point your Storywalk boards should be ready to rock and roll! Before you get too ahead of yourself and bring everything to the installation site you might want to consider setting one up at home to make sure everything is hunky dory. I found I had to adjust the bottom of the post by shaving the corners with a pocket knife before slipping them into the receiver of the ground stake. The ground stakes I ordered did the job but I definitely knew I would encounter rocks... lots of them, it is New England after all. Other than that little adjustment everything worked as planned.
Step 9: Installing the Storywalk®
This is the best part, all be it the most exhausting. Getting 18 of these up to the library, even though it is only a couple of miles away, was a real challenge without damaging them. I ended up using my wife's mini bread mobile (cheap plug, but hey it was my first instructable!) to transport all of the signs at once. Being tiny, four wheel drive, and just fun, it was great driving it around to deliver signs. Whatever the case you will have to consider how you are going to transport these to the "planting" location. To put the ground stakes in I used a sacrificial 4x4 piece to pound on with my sledge hammer. As you can see from the pictures, a few 4x4 pieces were sacrificed for the cause. Yes, I could have manufactured something that could have handled the blows better but I didn't, so whack a post is what resulted. Amazingly only one ground stake met its demise and folded into origami mush. A couple of the ground stakes were not quite as well manufactured as the others and I had to use a pair of vice grips to pull the pieces together to make sure I could fasten the carriage bolts to tighten the whole thing up. A word of caution, wherever you place these things, if they are along forest edges watch out for the three-leaved evil foe called poison ivy. Man I hate that stuff.
So that is it, 18 Storywalk posts ready to go for our amazingly awesome library! Check them out if you get a chance. As for the total cost, each post cost about $50 to make and the total project was about $900 in supplies. Not bad at all! And the happiness I see as kids run from post to post when I pass the library is priceless. Happy Building!!
Participated in the