On a recent trip home my sister asked me to help her build a waldorf style play stand for her kindergarten classroom. After looking at tons of pictures online she decided she liked the "swooping" style so that's what we made!
We decided to make it out of plywood since it's mostly wide thin panels. we had a whole workshop of tools but you could do the whole thing with a drill, jigsaw and lots of sandpaper if you wanted.
the whole thing goes together without any glue so you can transport and assemble/disassemble it easily, but with wedged through tenon joints so kids can't disassemble it easily ;)
Step 1: Design
There's lots of different styles of waldorf play stands. We liked the more offset curved ones so we tried to design one with that type of look. We couldn't find any references for the dimensions, we guessed the top of the large side pieces should be about as tall as the kids who would play in it. I just googled the average height of a 5-6 year old and used that as the basis for the height.
We used a piece of graph paper and drew a rectangle on it 42"x18" (21 squares high and 9 square wide) then drew our design inside of it, then added the top piece to the design too.
We traced both pieces onto other paper then cut the tracings out so we had 4 of each piece. we could use the tracings to figure out how to cut the pieces out of plywood with the least amount of waste. you can draw a rectangle 4'x8' (24 x 48 squares) and place the tracings in it until they fit most compactly. (I don't have a picture of this but the picture of the plywood has the final layout on it, though it's a bit faint to see very clearly)
once we were happy with the design we drew it full scale on some cardboard. you can do this by eye or draw a 2"x2" grid on the cardboard and compare it with the graph paper to get a closer drawing. we cut out the cardboard templates and traced them onto our plywood in the same arrangement as we decided on with the paper tracings.
it's important to do the design before you go get materials. in our case we needed two sheets of plywood to make the project, but if you were on a tighter budget you could probably tweak the design so you could get it all out of one sheet. our second sheet was just used for two shelves and the top cross beams, everything else came out of one sheet.
Step 2: Gather Materials and Tools
Next up is to gather materials and tools.
Plywood: we bought 2 sheets of nice sanded both sides 3/4" thick plywood. I would buy the nicest plywood you can, you don't want cheap construction grade since kids will be playing with it. buying plywood with pre sanded faces cuts down on the amount of sanding you'll have to do later too.
Dowels: the cross pieces between the top arms are just dowels, and so are the tennon wedges. you don't need ones that are too thick for cross pieces, they really just hold some fabric. Get some bigger dowels for the wedges, you'll need enough for 6 cross pieces (about 18' if you want a 3' wide play stand) and 20 wedges (about 10' of dowel if you make 6" wedges)
Fabric: some light fabric to drape over the top once it's assembled. a piece as wide as your shelves and long enough so you can move the two sides as far apart as you'd like with the fabric cover.
Drill: you'll need a drill with some different sized bits, at least the sizes of the dowels you bought.
Jigsaw: We cut out all the pieces with a jigsaw and a regular wood cutting blade. you could potentially make the whole playstand with just a drill and jigsaw.
router: We used a router with two bits, a 1/2" roundover bit and a 1/2" top bearing flush cutter. The roundover was used on all the edges of the playstand to give nice even smooth edges. We used the flush cutter to make sure all the pieces were exactly the same, you just have to make one version of each piece nice then you can rough cut the others and use the flush cut bit to trim them down to the same size as the good one.
handheld belt sander: to sand the first of each piece to shape and form the wedges
we also used a bandsaw to cut notches in the top pieces all at the same time but you could do them individually with the jigsaw. the shelves were rough cut to width from the plywood with a circular saw, but again you could just do it more slowly with a jigsaw.
Step 3: Cut Out Sides and Top Arms
Next up is to cut out all the pieces. We started with the sides and top arms. cut outside the pencil lines you made when you traced your cardboard template. on one of each try and cut it nice and close. The others you can cut a bit further away and go faster since we'll use the router to match the shapes later.
Sand one arm and side piece nicely. a handheld belt sander works great for this, you can take off lots of material if you need with a coarser belt (like an 80) on if you're nervous you can use a finer grit belt (like 150-200) to go slower. You don't need it to match your lines exactly, just look nice. These pieces will be the "masters" we use to match the other ones to in the next step. if you can, compare the master to the other pieces you've cut and make sure it's the smallest. the router can take material off but can't add it to get them all the same ;)
Step 4: Copy Route Pieces to Match
next up is to copy route the other pieces to match the masters we made.
for the sides I marked where the holes for the shelves would go with a nail on the master side,then drilled a pilot hole through for a screw. The master could then be screwed to the other sides for copy routing so you don't have to worry about clamping them together. Place the master side on top of one of the rough cut sides and position it so there's material for the router to remove along every edge. once it's positioned well you can screw the master to the rough cut piece through the holes drilled in the spot where the shelves will go. We used 4 screws but I'm sure 2 would be enough. you can clamp the whole thing to you workbench and use the router with the copy bit to trim the rough cut piece to size. repeat for the other two sides. now you should have 4 pieces that are identical! (except for the 4 holes in the master side)
The same thing can be done for the top arms, but using the spots where the dowels will go for the screws.
Step 5: Route Through Tenon Slots
Next we drew where we wanted the tenon slots to go for the shelves and top arc on the master. we made a little template out of 1/4" plywood and thin scraps to cut the slots. we just stapled the thin strips onto the plywood so the router could only move such that it cut the slot the way we wanted. it takes some trial and error to get just right, you'll probably have to pry up the strips a couple times so don't glue them down. you can see on our template where we originally had it cut too wide of a slot in the middle section.
since we didn't have a plunge router we had to drill holes in the middle of all the slots so the router bit had a place to start. initially we used the drill press but the pieces were so big it was actually easier with a hand drill.
Once you have your template the way you'd like you can position it over where you'd like a slot on the master and clamp it down. put the router through the whole you drilled then go to town routing out the slot. repeat this on the master for all the slots you need. we had 5 slots, 2 each for two shelves and one for the top arc.
After all the slots are cut in the master side you can use it to copy route the slots into the other sides. clamp the master to side (there's no place to screw it now without having the holes visible in the final pieces). you can then drill holes for the router bit (like you did to make the slots in the master) then copy route out the slots in each side.
once all the slots are cut you can take a roundover bit and go over the edges on both faces of all the sides. you can do a bit of sanding and then the sides are done!
Step 6: Cut Shelves, Tenons and Fit Slots
Next is to work on the shelves and cross pieces. again you can rough cut them out and copy route to get them identical.
rough cut your shelves to width, leave some extra length on them for the tenons. choose one to be your master and lay it on top of one of your sides, positioned how you'd like the shelf to sit i.e. aligned to the back, front or centered. and mark where the slots are on the shelf. use the marks to cut rough tenons out.(make them a bit big to start with so you can adjust them later) in order to fit them to the slots you'll need to use a roundover bit the same diameter as the bit used to cut the slots (since the corners are round) you could also chisel out the slots so they're perfect rectangles, but we didn't want any sharp edges anywhere. roundover the edges of your rough cut tenons and test fit them. trim a bit off if they're too large, and re-round the edge. repeat until the tenons fit the slots. you can then cut the tenons to length and use them as a master to copy route all the tenons. you'll also need to drill holes for the wedges. you want holes the size of the wedge dowels, but drill them so only half the hole will be visible in the exposed tenon, this way the wedge will pull the shelf tight to the side. First copy these master tenons onto another shelf, then use those tenons to route the other end of the master shelf.
you can use one of the tenons from a shelf to copy route the tenons for the top cross piece as well.
roundover all the edges again and sand them up. they're done too!
Step 7: Drill Holes and Cut Slots in Upper Arms
Next we drilled the holes in the top arms for the dowels. again marking them on one piece and using it as a master for the others. once the holes were drilled we stacked the arms, put a dowel through the holes to keep them together, and used a band saw to cut a slot out of the end where they'll rest on the cross piece.
we made the top cross piece the same width along they're entire length so we had a bit of a problem on assembly where the wedges had nothing to clamp against, they would just pull the cross piece through the slot in the side. to solve that we glued some C shaped pieces to the cross piece beside where the top arms attach. I would suggest making your top cross pieces wider than the tenons are to avoid this problem.
Step 8: Form Tenon Wedges and Assemble!
you can make the wedges by cutting your dowels to length then using your belt sander with a coarse belt to make them cone shaped. once you have a nice cone shape sand one side flat. the flat side will go against the sides and provides the wedge action.
put the shelves and cross pieces in place and use a mallet to hammer the wedges in. you want them nice and tight but not so tight you can't loosen them with a couple hits of the mallet the opposite direction. Twist the dowels into the top arms then place them onto the top cross piece. you can drape some fabric over the whole thing and you're done!
you can disassemble the whole thing just by knocking out the wedges. if you have enough fabric you should be able to move them closer or further apart to get different sized play areas.