Introduction: Pirate Ship Princess Castle

About: I am an Architect and Dad, based in Dublin, Ireland. Instagram @rob_salmon_1981

This instructable, is set against a backdrop of Covid 19 Lockdown 2020. Bored kids, Bored Adults, Economical stretching, penny pinching on screws... the works.

For me, This was a "long weekend" project. With no kids helping, it could even be a weekend project...but thats part of the fun.

The instructable is loose, and its purpose is to generate ideas. It is quite context specific, so would need to adapt to suit specific constraints.

It is about having fun, and instilling a spirit of playfulness into something that is not made of colorful plastic!

The Brief was provided by a 5 year old girl and a little boy with an impending 3rd birthday, quickly running out of things to do. Needless to say, the brief was complex with multiple conceptual strands.

Part Pirate Ship, Part Princess Castle, Part Tree house Hangout

Really, this is purely a backdrop to fuel imaginative play.

In addition, I didnt want to create an eyesore in the garden, it had to sit comfortably with its leafy surrounds.

I had one eye on "legacy mode". Unfortunately, the kids will bore of this one day, in which case, I want to very simply, convert this into a handsome unthemed deck.


For supplies Refer to Step 3 - in order to ascertain your list, you need a design bespoke to your space, when you've done the design you get a gauge on quantity. I always over-order by one or two lengths...AND always end up using the excess!!

- Pressure Treated Timber / Hardwood Alternative

  • Joists (~150x44) the size can flex based on the span and centers.
  • Planks (~175x25) Can be any standard decking board.
  • Walls Finish(~50x25)
  • Walls Structurel ~75x50 / 100x50
  • ~75/100 dia. Posts - For Mast
  • ~25dia. Dowel For Jib/Boom


Decking screws of suitable length - pref. stainless steel. - LOTS OF THEM !!!

Long Countersunk Joist Screws with bare shank at top ~150mm long. LOTS OF THEM.


Sheet material eg. plywood for Trimming Pieces For Portholes & Accessories

Wood Preservative / Stain - Lash it on - Pressure treated will last long, but not forever.

Concrete blocks - For Joist Supports

Fiber Cement Slates - To stop water coming though supports - could use any impervious material.


Power Screwdriver/ Impact Driver

Mitre Saw - But Sharp handsaw will do - Dependent on how fit you are!

Step 1: A Rough Design

In order to even do a rough design, I needed to be certain of my site. In this case the site, was the most awkward "slopiest" part of my garden, the part that is a bit too steep for a 2-3 year old to run around. It also happened to be an area where i had installed a makeshift palette fence to a portion of, to keep my dog from getting lost!

There are 3 sketches in the images above.

The first sketch, a sketch in real life, using 2 planks of wood, so I could get a vibe of sizes. I highly reccomend this type of "sketching".

The second sketch is the colouring in with kids concept sketch. Its very embrionic at this point... but you can see the relationship to the end product.

With garden projects, with rough sawn timber, I really think there's no need to be too precise in a design. Even if you plan it out perfectly, no doubt, it will end up differently!!

The third sketch, is a quick sketchup Model - with an approximate scale, so I could get a good idea of the quantity of timber to order... Note, i'ts more like the concept sketch than the end product.

Step 2: Establishing Quantities

I will NEVER go to a builders providers with a printed list... or a neatly written list.

In fact, my list pictured above, is still too much.

Lists should be written on :

a) Piece of scrap wood

b) back of screw box

c) corner of tabloid newspaper

My crumpled list had everything I needed - I'll do better next time!

Another thing to note, I flit between Metric and imperial, even in this Instructable.. but when i'm in the builders providers - I'm imperial, When I'm marking wood for a rough job like this, I'm imperial. Almost all other times, I'm Metric - It is both a curse and a super-power at the same time!

Anyway.... Once it's delivered - you have to build! Pictured above - Sunny Day - Mitre Saw setup & timber laying around begging to be made into something!

Step 3: Building a Deck

I'm not going to get into this too much as I'm not building something to last 60 years & I'm building something in a weekend. - There are hundreds of guides on YouTube, and even Instructables on how to build a deck, and i suggest you follow them.

I use pressure treated timber 150x44 (6"x2") to form joists. Joists are C16 class, and I install them at ~400 c/c.

I brace with noggins @ ~ 600 c/c.

I support at edges on concrete blocks. Note for one of the corners, I used a fence post to support the deck, generally because I had one!

Supports are concrete blocks - with fiber cement slates sitting on top. The slate stops water sucking up through the concrete block and into the timber.

There are no foundations / etc. This deck is just holding a couple of kids playing & its sitting on fairly firm earth and is uniformly supported.

I use ~150mm no.8 screws with partial thread. Because of the partial thread these screws, draw timbers together & also let timber wriggle a bit.

I cut everything with a mitresaw - However - none of this is beyond a sharp handsaw. It is rough carpentry..not fine joinery.

SEQUENCE (See photos)

1) Install Perimiter -I roughly placed the perimeter (screwed together at corners)

2) Add supports to Perimiter - no. of supports = Every Corner & Middle.

3) Level the Perimeter. Use a spirit Level & shim the corners and middle pieces until level (or close to) - I put a small visually negligible fall down the plank to stop rain pooling

4) Infill with Joists

5) Infill with bracing

6) Place Geotextile weed Barrier underneath (optional) - I did this, because I had some. What is permeable to water, and impermeable to growth. Not that anything would grow underneath a deck in any case.

7) Loose Lay 7"x1" Planks

8) Screw Fix Planks

9) Before I put the last plank in, I added some bracing to support my mast (more on that later)

10) Take break.

Step 4: Castle Walls & Pirate Ship Hulls

First off, the language of this build is based on cheap and cheerful 2"x1" pressure treated timber battens.

So we establish a couple of things.

1) Hit & Miss pattern - keeps things airy, light, economical, and accentuates direction of the plank.

2) pirate ships Hulls - pretty certain the planks are horizontal - my Hull will only be recognizable as such by the "portholes" i install.

3) Castle walls - It's the castellation at the top, that evokes the sense of "castle" - as such, these will be vertical planks.

This assists in giving me 2 sides to the enclosure - short of drawing a line down the middle for the two kids!

The first build step is to build a frame out of 3"x2" timber. I found the easiest thing to do, was to assemble simple frames on the ground & lift and screw in place. The strength here comes from

i) multiple long screws down into the joist below

ii) the fact that the "balustrades" turn corners, which braces everything. So I get multiple fixings at perpendicular frame connections.

Here you get a sense of just how rigid this will be. I am not designing a balustrade on a balcony - I am designing a simple guarding to stop children from falling a small amount. nonetheless, without getting into engineering, I simply satisfied myself with leaning and wobbling tests, that the walls/balustrades/guarding, could handle a sufficient load of idiot grownups leaning or sitting on, and children bashing up against. Remember the taller the balustrade, the bigger the lever arm. i was not worried about code compliance here. if there was any sense of height or risk of falling, this isn't necessarily the best way to do it - and you would be in intermediate "newell post" territory. Its common sense design for something like this.

The second step is to add the vertical and horizontal battens, once they're cut to size. I made a small cutting list, and cut everything at once, once I checked the first piece (measure twice cut once).

The addition of the battens, strengthens the frames, and makes them act as a complete unit.

Again, this is all screwed together, with visible fixings.

Rough sawn timber and certain garden projects like this, bring with them a rustic aesthetic, where not only do i not mind seeing screws, but I almost expect it.

Bonus Pic - A fox scurrying about the undergrowth - My shouts of "hey there little fella" scared him away.

Step 5: How to Raise a Mast!

I had trouble getting any circular post, longer than 1.8m. Rather than scouring the world for better, I compromised, remembering that tall ship masts, traditionally were made of a number of timbers spliced or strapped together (at least that's what I told myself) .

1) Before last decking plank put in place - Drive a post into earth with sledge hammer.

2) Create bracing on that post with packers between joists.

3) After Leveling / straightening- Screw upper Mast to Lower Mast, & then screw to horizontal timbers also.

4) The horizontal boom/jib, which is 3/4" hardwood dowel, is pilot holed, and screwed on. A bit of rope effect cable covers the mess.

5) The Sail ? - Its gotta be another days project, lets face it, IT NEEDS a scull and crossbones!!

Step 6: Accessories!

Unicorns - CHECK

Anchor - CHECK

For the Unicorn & Anchor, I free hand sketched on scraps of 1/2" WBP and cut out with a jigsaw.
After sanding the splinters off, I coated with metallic paints, and spray lacquer. How long will they last - who knows - maybe a few coats of "marine grade" varnish should be in order. I used some braided lamp cable as a chain or rope alternative, so the anchor can be cast off with abandonment and love!

Note - See images - The cardboard box, with the circle cut in it, that is serving as a "spray station" is actually a cardboard rocket ship - last weeks project!!

Plant Pots - CHECK

Portholes - CHECK

The portholes are more 1/2"WBP scraps cut in concentric circles. Big enough for a childs head not to get stuck, and small enough for a child not to fall out of! These were simple to install, just screwing in place, and then simply cutting the waste away with a pad-saw. My god- do these things need to be painted. That WBP will waste away in the next rain-shower!!

Arrow-slit Windows - CHECK

A princess must have a way of defending her castle. These windows were braced with a timber batten lintel on top, and then the waste cut away. It was all about evoking the great castle turret typology!

Telescope - CHECK

But Shock horror - This will be the only piece of useless plastic which I purchased. There just aren't enough hours in the day to make a telescope! - even a non functioning play telescope. Which is annoying, because surely a length of plastic pipe would have sufficed!! :)

Helm / Ships Wheel - I have started to draw it, but this is another days project - I did only have one weekend!!

Step 7: Epilogue | Swabbing the Deck

I like unfinished timber - It develops a wondrous patina with time. Pressure treated timber, if not submerged lasts a long time, certainly long enough for my kids to grow out of playing with a pirate ship.

Nonetheless, As there is a "deck here" and "balustrades" there is no sense in it rotting prematurely.

I am currently in the process of agreeing a colored preservative stain. Agreeing the color will take longer than the project... or swabbing the decks themselves. Could take Months.. or even years.

So what does a project like this achieve:

It gives kids something to do - particularly under COVID 19 restrictions!!!

It gives mums & dads something to do - particularly under COVID 19 restrictions!!!

Can clean up a messy corner of the garden.

Cut away that mast, and chop off the top of the castle walls - and you got yourself a plain old deck. personally however, I enjoy sitting in the castle!

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