How to Make Your Own Pirate Ship Playhouse




Introduction: How to Make Your Own Pirate Ship Playhouse

About: People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff.

Are you tired of your boring square box playhouse?... Do you want to sail the seven seas from the back of your garden?... Are you sick of paying way too much money for decent playing apparatus? WHY NOT BUILD A PIRATE SHIP PLAYHOUSE???

Some of the Pirate Ship's features include an opening cannon hatch and moveable cannon, a steering wheel, retractable sail, large interior and detachable slide. A retractable anchor, treasure chest, cannon balls, steps, windows and doors, and a trapdoor.

I built this pirate ship over the summer for my nephews and niece. It took about 3 or 4 weeks to build with the help of my girlfriend. The total material cost estimate was just £450 or $600!

You will need...

  • 2"x2"x2.4m Timber Post (At least 18)
  • 2"x4"x2.4m Timber Post (At least 8)
  • Decking Screws (Two boxes)
  • Other selection of screws
  • Feathered Edge Board 100mmx11mmx2.4m (Around 70, they're in packs of 10)
  • A sheet of Plywood 18mmx4'x8'
  • Decking 28mmx140mmx3.6m (About 36)
  • Handrail Spindles (x6)
  • 6mm Rope (45m)
  • 120mm Diameter Circular Post 3.6m
  • 70mm Diameter Circular Post 3.6m
  • 2m of Waste PVC Pipe
  • Door hinges (x4)
  • Weed Sheeting (A roll)
  • Polystyrene Balls (For cannonballs)
  • 3'x4' Pirate Flag
  • 170 Degree Kitchen Door Hinges (x2)
  • Kitchen Door Piston (The ones that make it easier to open vertically)
  • Exterior Grade Black Paint (5L)
  • Exterior Grade Red Paint (<1L)
  • Oak Decking Paint (1L)

You Will Also Need...

  • A Saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Screwdrivers
  • Planer
  • Paint brushes
  • Drill Bits (various)
  • Tape Measure
  • A spare pair of hands and other general tools...
  • ...Also some snacks to keep you going.

Enjoy the build, I had a lot of fun making this ship and all my family love it!

Step 1: Supporting Posts

The main structural supports of the pirate ship are made of 9 posts consisting of a sheet of ply sandwiched in between two 2x2 posts. There are nine posts in total, four tall, four short and a final short post at the front. The posts support the weight of the deck and form the curve on which the ship-lap will be mounted.

For each tall post, you will need to cut a 2”x2” timber post at 200cm, and one at 120cm. These posts will sandwich a piece of 18mm plywood cut at 130cm tall which follows the profile of the ship. You can use the templates provided to draw and cut the correct profile. As you can see in the image, all the plywood pieces will fit onto one sheet of 8’x4’ ply. An extra ‘lip’ should be cut out which will add thickness to the outside edge.

After screwing the ‘lip’ onto the edge of the profiled plywood, it can be screwed between the two posts ensuring that they all align at the bottom. The pictures should better illustrate how they come together.

The bottom two posts are very similar, however the 2”x2”s are cut at 170cm and 90cm, and the plywood is 30cm shorter.

You need 2 tall posts for the left, and two for the right, so make sure they are mirror images. This is the same for the smaller posts.

The front post is a little different in that the plywood is two layers thick, and has a ‘lip’ on each side which is set back from the front profile. This is then screwed onto the front of a piece of 2 by 2 that is 170cm tall.

Step 2: Putting Together the Frame

With the posts made, the rest of the frame can be assembled starting with joining each pair of posts together with a 2 by 2 at the bottom, and a 2 by 4 at the top. See the illustration above for reference.

The 4 rear taller posts are parallel but the front 4 are at an angle, they need to follow the rough curve of the ship so the feather edge board can be fixed securely.

For the rest of the assembly it is best to relocate the pieces to where you want the pirate ship to be because they will start to get heavy.

Joining these sections together is relatively simple, a 2 by 2 on the bottom and a 2 by 4 on the top, with the top pieces being 2 inches longer than the bottom. The top brace will sit on one side of each post, the other side can be screwed onto the next post. I added short pieces of 2 by 2 under each unsupported end for extra strength.

The frame should now be coming together and it should start looking like a ship. Before it gets too heavy, I suggest making sure the ground is roughly level underneath it (we packed some hardcore underneath the front to make it so), and lay down some weed sheeting under the ship to reduce grass and insects getting inside the ship.

After the main frame is assembled, more 2 by 4s should be cut and screwed between each top brace to add more support for the deck.

Step 3: Adding the Shiplap

The cheaper and flimsier the feather edge board is, the better. The idea is to bend the board around the posts in the shape of the ship, screwing them to each post along the way. I found it was easier to bend the ship lap if it had been soaked in water overnight. I stacked some bricks into a makeshift wall and put a tarpaulin over them. Filling the tarpaulin with water and leaving some ship-lap in the water for a day or so makes them much easier to bend. It also stops the wood from spitting when driving a screw through it.

Starting from either side of the ship, at the bottom back, line up the first piece of feather edge board to the back, leave a few centimeters extra so it can be cut off later. Screw the board into the plywood edge with two screws. Bend and form the wood around the boat, screwing it in to each plywood support as you go. When the wood doesn’t reach, cut it to the nearest plywood support and screw it so that the end lies half way between the support. Continue the process along the ship until reaching the end of the boat. It should be less than two boards long if you buy them 2400mm long. At the front of the ship, cut the feather edge board at an angle following the bow of the ship, and instead of screwing it into the end of the plywood, screw it by the side so that the front most piece sticks out like a bow.

Continue adding rows making sure they are overlapping at least 1cm. I found it made it easier if I drew equidistant lines along the plywood face so I could line them up more easily. When overlaying the boards, try and make it so that a joined piece is sitting under a whole piece for extra strength.

IMPORTANT: I would recommend completing one side of the ship, then adding the first few rows of board on the other side of the ship. This makes it easier to add the interior decking. Once the inside is decked then you can go all the way to the top. (see step 5 for decking)

Step 4: Door and Steps

To make the frame for the door I added 2 upright 2”x2”s. I chose to put my door on the left and make a window on the right. To make the window, I did the same however also cut two shorter pieces and made a ledge and top.

Measure the space where the door should fit and cut 4 pieces of 2x2 to which will make the door, a butt joint will be plenty strong enough for a small door. For extra reinforcement I added a diagonal piece which I tapered to fit within the door, this will prevent it from warping or twisting. I screwed the door on with two hinges so that it opens outwards, if you can buy wide opening hinges these will work best.

To make the steps I cut two pieces of 2x4 which could be stood up against the ship. I then cut 12 small wedges and screwed them to the insides of these pieces at equal intervals (around 20cm). I then cut some decking steps and joined them together, screwing them down into the wedges. In the end I just propped up the steps against the ship but it’s probably a good idea to screw them to it in some way. If your steps are warping you could reinforce them with some 2x2 underneath.

Using a short piece of 4"x4" I had lying about I cut a square hole using a jigsaw and tapered one end so I could fix it around the front post. I screwed it in place and it became the front "Bowsprit"

Step 5: Decking

Starting with the inside of the ship, I placed a board perpendicular to the ship roughly where it would go, then marked the taper I had to cut off the end. I cut this line at an angle to account for the bow of the ship so that it would sit flush to the walls. Once cut, I placed it back in its position and marked the other side. I cut the other side the same way and then screwed them down with two screws at each end, and four screws along the two centre beams.

I started from the back of the ship and worked my way towards the front. I had to do some intricate cuts to get around the supporting poles but it looks much better if you spend more time on it. I did not leave a gap in between the boards, I wanted to minimise the number of insects that could camp in the ship.

For the top deck, I started with the higher level and ran the decking parallel to the ship. All the top deck pieces were the same so I made a template and copied it each time. Because of the ships curvature, the outer most pieces were cut at an angle, so they would follow this curvature. The most difficult part of cutting the decking is making square holes and slotting them over the railing posts. To do this I first cut a piece of cardboard to use as a template, then drew it onto the piece of decking. Make sure to leave at least an inch of overlap on all sides so that any water will drip over the edge and not inside.

The lower deck was done in a similar way to the top deck, however they were all different sizes. I lined up 4 pieces of decking in the middle of the ship (not screwing them in) then started cutting and screwing in the surrounding decking boards. I did this because I wanted to make a trap door in the centre of this deck. I cut the centre 4 pieces to length so that they would only overlap half of a joist where the door starts and ends. The door was made using 4 pieces that fit in that gap, and screwing them into two pieces underneath which run perpendicular to the hatch. I added hinges to the hatch and drilled a hole to add a flush hatch handle so people cannot trip over it.

After the decking was in place, I went around the edge with a jigsaw to cut all the ends off at a curve to meet the edge of the ship, again leaving about an inch of overhang.

Step 6: Making a Hole for the Cannon

Mark a square where you will cut a hatch door for the cannon. I lined the top and bottom of the hatch with the nearest shiplap board. Once you’re happy with the positioning, drill a small hole at each corner of the hatch. I cut 8 pieces of plywood that would follow the curvature of the ship (see picture above). These pieces were paired up and screwed together. I then screwed them to the inside of the hatch lining them up with the holes drilled earlier. Two on the outside and two on the inside, you need to leave a gap of around 2 plywood thicknesses between the outside pieces and the inside pieces. Once these are screwed I place, you can cut out the door with the jigsaw.

I repainted the ends of the wood with black paint (it’s easier to do it now than later) and cut 4 pieces of plywood to make a frame. I made the frame stick out about a cm and painted it red.

Cut the door to fit in the new frame then to add the hinges, screw another piece of ply to the inside top, and drill holes to fit the kitchen hinges on. The hinges should open the door out and clear the frame, when closed it should line up with the rest of the ship.

I added a small door piston which keeps the hatch open at about 110 degrees. I used a 50n piston which was plenty to hold the hatch up.

Step 7: Making the Steering Wheel and Anchor

To make the steering wheel, I used 6 handrail spindles. Make sure to buy spindles that have a square section and a round section, and are relatively symmetrical. I cut each spindle in half and sanded the cut. On the other side, I cut all the spindles to the length I wanted (the radius of the wheel I wanted which was about 30cm). Then, using an angled saw, I cut all the pieces at 15 degrees on each side. This meant I could fit them all together to form 12 spindles which are equally spaces in a circle.

Using the jigsaw again, I cut two circles at 10cm diameter from ply, and a ring which was 18cm inner and 30cm outer diameter. I centred the circles as much as possible and after pilot drilling holes, I screwed them through into the pins. I then took the front two rings off and painted all the spindles black and the circles red, let them dry, and screwed them back on. I drilled a hole in the centre all the way through which I could put a large bolt in. On the ship, I added a piece of 2x4 screwed to a joist where the wheel would go on the higher deck. I put the wheel and bolt through this post and tightened it. The wheel should spin freely so don’t do it too tight.

The anchor was very simple to make, I found a design on the internet I wanted to use, printed it out, and drew it onto a sheet of plywood. I cut out this shape with the jigsaw and sanded it down using the mouse sander. On the ship I cut a hole, and made a small plywood ring to screw around it. I platted some rope to give the illusion of a chain (you could buy some real chain). I tied the rope round the anchor, threaded it through the ship, and tied a large knot on the inside.

Step 8: Cannon and Treasure Chest

I found a piece of 4” PVC pipe which had an adapter piece on the front. The adapter piece looked very similar to the front of a cannon so this is what I used it for. I cut a front piece (about 15cm long) a middle piece (about 40cm long) and two back pieces (about 15cm long). To set the pieces inside each other, I cut a slit along the bottom of the pipe. The pipe on its own has a small amount of flexibility which is enough to fit it inside another piece. I found a pipe cap and used it for the back of the cannon too. All the pieces were hot glued in place but it’s probably best to use PVC glue if you have it. I cut a hole in both sides of the back of the cannon and slotted a smaller piece of PVC to act as the support bar.

To make the stand for the cannon, I simply cut two pieces of plywood in the shape shown in the picture above. I fixed them together with 3 pieces of 2x4 and painted it all red. I painted the cannon black with chalkboard spray paint; this was the only stuff I could find that could adhere well to PVC. Finally, I drilled a small hole in the back of the cannon and threaded a rope inside, the rope went through the pieces of 2x4 to the front, where it was tied of in the designated height position of the cannon. I made four little wheels from ply, and screwed them loosely to the frame with a washer so they could spin.

To make the treasure chest, I started off by making a simple rectangular box out of plywood and screwed it together at each edge. To make the lid, I made two semi-circular pieces and cut 10 thin long pieces of plywood at angles so they were wedge shaped. Being wedge shaped in the cross section they could be screwed to follow the curvature of the lid.

For finishing I painted the box red and added some black edging I had lying around. I added two small hinges and I will later add a small catch where I can put a lock.

Step 9: Painting and Adding the Mast

I painted the sides of the ship black, with small details in red. I painted the bottom 4 pieces of shiplap red, and the centre line which runs along the ship. I used masking tape on the centre line so I dint get red paint anywhere else. The deck was painted using an oak finish decking paint. This made the decking a little bit darker which fit better with the overall look. Don’t forget to also paint the sides and ends of the decking in the same way. I also painted the railing posts black.

To fil the rope railings, simply screw two holes in each post and thread rope through them, tying them off at each end. Try and keep one continuous line of rope where you can so it is stronger.

I cut the mast at about 3.4m tall, I marked a circle where I wanted the mast to fit (make sure it is next to a joist running inside to make it stronger). I cut the hole and slid the mast inside. I then made two C shaped brackets which I screwed down around the mast on the inside. This stops it from twisting.

To make the horizontal braces, cut the smaller diameter wood to just over 4ft. As you can see from the images above I made a small box which clamped around these pieces. I wanted to keep them as a whole piece of wood as they do on real ships to make them stronger. After a quick paint job they can be slotted over the mast and screwed in place. If you want to make the sail retractable then you should make an end stop on the lower bar, and not screw it in place. Instead, run rope around the base of the bar, up over the top bar, and pin it in place so you can pull it up and down. Finally I stapled the flag I bought in place, and drilled a hole to add a smaller flag in the top of the mast.

This Instructable only scratched the surface of the whole project but I hope it gave you enough direction and advice to make your own Pirate Ship Playhouse.

Thanks for reading!



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    9 Discussions


    Question 6 months ago

    Job Marco

    Great job. I am building it for my boy for his bday.
    I would like to ask you about rough measurements of the frame so I can get similar shape. I’d like to know the size of the elements 4x4 you used to build bottom frame to get the same shape of the ship

    Thank you for any information



    2 years ago

    So, Cool. You probably love your kid so much.


    2 years ago

    Wow its amazing fun and creative work..........


    2 years ago

    What great fun! What really makes this project great is all the detail you put into it. Wow


    2 years ago

    Arghhhh, hope my son never see this... he'll ask me all time to do it. it's amazing !


    2 years ago

    This is an amazing job for some very fortunate children. This brings back memories of the backyard structures my parents built for us, including a Western fort, a locomotive, sand car, and caboose. Endless hours of fun and play.

    Treasure Tabby
    Treasure Tabby

    Reply 2 years ago

    Lucky. At most I had an outhouse shaped thing. But then I guess it was better then nothing. :)