Multi-Activity Play-Center

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About: I am an automation engineer but I will give anything a go. I don't know if you call if pessimism or just being an engineer, but I look for problems everywhere, then I look for some weird, left field way to s...

I have 2 young boys aged 2 & 4, they have both been asking for me to build toys for them over the past few months and as Christmas approached the requests got bigger. Namely, they wanted a play shop, a play kitchen and a lego table/storage unit.

My wife had the idea of combining them into a single play center and the idea that it should be a U-shape to encourage play from multiple sides, this helps to prevent the scuffles that all 2 & 4-year-olds regularly get into when forced to play on a small space.

We wanted the complete unit to be mobile as we don't necessarily want to permanently dedicate space to it so we decided to fit it out with casters, I chose 100mm casters as I felt with all that ply it would be heavy. I was correct...

I fleshed out the idea on some paper and got my approval.

Step 1: Design

I drew the design up in sketch-up and worked out the finer details.

Each part was made into a component and saved for the construction.

I then used a really useful Sketchup extension called Cut List this produces a PDF of the cut list and also a graphic layout of the best cutting pattern from standard sheets.

I have included the Sketchup model, the cut list and the cutting patterns.

I realised that I originally drew the unit in 8mm and 12mm ply but when it came to construction I went with 12mm (1/2") and 18mm (3/4") so some of the dimensions may need minor adjustments.

Playcenter.skp

Step 2: Frame Construction

The idea was to build around a standard 8x4 sheet, this made sure that I didn't need to add unnecessary joints to the base and I was just about able to work on it in my shop (a 4ft project in a 9ft 2 shop that has a 2ft bench = a tight squeeze for the builder!)

All of the framing was cut using a handheld circular saw and a jigsaw. Each joint was glued and screwed with counter-sunk 4 x 40mm chipboard screws.

You can see from the images that a dropped section was build in the shop section, this is for placing the basket beside the till (checkout).

An angled shelf is used in the shop to keep items forward.

Step 3: Catch Rail

The shop included a sloped shelf to allow the produce slide to the front as items are removed.

An 18mm dowel was inserted as a catch rail.

I drilled all the way through from the lego table end but only 10mm into the end wall stopping the rail from showing through at the visible end.

The dowel was then screwed in place from the till-end and glued at both ends.

Step 4: Lego Area

The lego area consists of a 200mm deep, full-width trough.

The overall height of the unit when on wheels is 700mm so I added a scoop to the front edge to allow easier access to the lego treasure inside.

This was a simple trace of a roll of duct tape and following with the jigsaw.

A little divider was added to split the though in half, this makes searching though bricks a little easier.

I added a shelf on 100% drawer slides as a building surface, this was made with 18mm ply for a bit of additional strength.

Step 5: Sink

I wanted to include a small sink in the kitchen, originally I intended on using a plastic basin.

I marked out the edges and corners and drilled out with a 28mm flat bit, the straight edges were trimmed with the jigsaw.

I didn't correctly assess the radius on the corners of the basin and in the end, it was a poor fit.

I decided to make a simple wooden box and then edge it with some corner strip I had laying around.

Finally, I fitted 3 bathroom taps I got on sale at the local DIY store.

Step 6: Hob

The little hob was quite simple.

I drilled out a piece of ply with a 100mm hole-saw, I then used this as a jig to centre the hole-saw with the arbour removed. This allows you to cut a circle with the hole-saw without a centre hole.

The discs were screwed in place from the bottom so no screws were visible.

Step 7: Oven and Storage

I made a little oven door. Unfortunately, my camera was charging during the construction but you can get the idea.

I cut a square of ply then cut a square section from the centre.

A sheet of polycarbonate was used as a window.

The door is mounted with a pair of small hinges and held in place with a magnetic catch.

A small storage area is made to face the other way, this keeps play 2-sided.

Step 8: Laserjet Transfer (failed)

I saw an instructable by fixthisbuildthat, that detailed transferring laser prints to wood.

I did not follow the steps and ended up with something that looked pretty good at first but as I'd used PVA, every time it dried it got an opaque, milky look. In the end I sanded it back off which was a shame.

Step 9: Chalkboard

My boys love drawing on everything so I used some chalkboard paint to cover most of the large flat surfaces on the unit. This means that they can draw away on a wipe clean surface.

The rest of the unit was varnished with matt finish diamond coat varnish.

Step 10: Mobility

As I stated earlier, this unit is heavy, there are 2.5 sheets of ply then add all of the toys.

I fitted 4 100mm casters to the unit. 2 are standard casters and 2 lockable to stop it skidding around during play or being used as a battering ram.

As the base is only 12mm ply, I added some additional blocks to allow for larger screws, these were reinforced with plenty of glue.

Step 11: Lego Drawer

I added Lego baseplates to the drawer section, I connected them with some Lego bricks to ensure that they were lined up correctly.

I then spread gorilla super glue to the bases and placed them. I added a little weight to keep them flat as they dried.

I also added a small wooden grab to the bottom of the drawer as the slides lock into the 'in' position and this makes gripping a little easier when opening.

Step 12: Finished Unit and Stock Up

Once the play-center was completed and taken inside we stocked it up with all of the loose Lego, added the built models to the storage shelves, stocked the kitchen and the shop with tea sets, a checkout and tonnes of play food.

I really hope that if you decide to make something similar that you post it here as this has given me an appetite for toy building and I'd love to see someone else's take on this. Thanks for reading!

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    4 Discussions

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    Treasure Tabby

    Tip 15 days ago

    A very nice set up for the kitties but I think it can use some colour.

    1 reply

    Thanks. We thought about painting it but the boys have opposing favourite colours (Orange and blue) we felt that including either of these would result in a zone being for one or the other and we don't want that hassle. We may allow them select some colours between them to paint it in future

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    jessyratfink

    17 days ago

    This is wonderful! I love how much storage there is and how many play areas you fit in :D

    1 reply
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    Thanks, there was a real emphasis on making it as versatile as possible and kids have SOOOOO much stuff so finally having somewhere to put them then roll it all away is great.