Pirate Ship Tree House

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Introduction: Pirate Ship Tree House

Sketchup Model of Treehouse

When my youngest stepdaughter mentioned that they’d like a tree house in their yard I jumped at the idea. I don’t recall whose idea it was to make a pirate ship, but they’ve always loved the pirate theme and the decision was a natural. I looked on the web to see tree houses, pirate ships, and pirate ship tree houses. The site for ours was constrained by the relatively small size of the two redwood trees and the proximity to the fence lines in the corner of the lot. So it would have to be a smallish tree house, kept way from the fences as much as possible. I drew up a rough design in Sketchup and got approval of daughter and son-in-law.

Step 1: Tying It to the Trees

Sketchup Drawing of Tree Brackets

On the web there is info about how to hang weight in a tree while doing the minimum of damage. The best notion was that of floating brackets hanging on large lag screws. A few large holes seems to cause less damage than many small holes. And the floating brackets prevent the structure from being pinned to the tree which would promote rot and put stresses on the structure when the trees move and grow. To avoid this they sell some very pricey screws called Garnier Limbs. These are large lag screws and their advantage is that they have a collar of large diameter where the weight of the structure bears on the tree, thereby spreading the downward force over a larger area. I decided to use this approach but to make my own from 1 inch lag screws, 2 ½ inch diameter washers, and pipe for spacers. I copied the floating brackets I saw and welded these from ¼ inch steel plate and rectangular tube.

Step 2: The Frame

The tree house was to be basically a deck suspended freestanding in the trees with boat frames as the deck rails. At this point I wasn’t sure how or if I would plank (cover) the boat frames. The whole thing was to be built around two main joists which rest on four flat brackets. I hung false “beams” under the key joists using galvanized brackets and put the other deck joists on top of these. The deck would be mostly on the side of the trees away from the fence and would be supported also by two diagonals, mounted on diagonal brackets. To allow a boat shape, the deck had to project out quite a distance past natural support of the brackets. This made it necessary to have a cable supporting the bow (front) of the deck. I used a standard large lag screw mounted high and 3/16 plastic coated aircraft cable for this support. The cable became the ship’s “forestay” (the trees are the ship’s masts). The wood structure at this point was new pressure-treated fir – typical for decks.

Step 3: Deck and Keel

Daughter and son-in-law had replaced a large section of old fence and he saved the old fence boards. Some were rotten to the point of being unusable, but I was able to clean up most of them and had enough for all the decking (floor). I also cut some into narrower pieces for use inside the tree house.

For the ship’s keel (bottom) I used a redwood 2x6 mounted on the diagonals more or less at the center line of the deck. To this I would attach frames for the ship hull. I wanted exaggerated curves for the ship based on examples I saw on the web. I drew a bunch of curves (Bezier curves) using Sketchup and found I could get pretty curvy using 2x6s. My original thought was to design each frame and give the ship curves not only up and down, but also front and back. This turned out to be way too complicated. So all frames were basically the same except for at the front of the boat. And I got very lucky in that when I cut out the hull frame, the drop (the wood that falls away) was quite suitable for the above deck rail. So very little wood was wasted. I used cheap Home Depot fir for the frames.

Step 4: The Hull

Then the question was how to plank the hull. My initial thought was some kind of thin bendable plastic strips. But I settled on redwood bender board, used for garden paths etc. It’s 4” wide and ¼” thick and I bought 12 foot lengths – lots and lots of them. I attached them to the frames with my pneumatic staple gun using longish staples. Trimming the projecting pieces required the oscillating saw (Fein saw) since any other kind of saw would shake everything loose. It was a bit challenging getting the bendy part at the bow to all hold together.

Step 5: Topside

I wanted the topside higher at the stern (back) to simulate a galleon poop deck. I simulated this with an iron railing (bed footboard no longer in use) mounted on top of the stern frames. Tilting it backward enhanced the curvy look. We had to have cannon ports of course. My original attempt was to have boxes on both sides of the planking. It turned out the outside boxes looked too clunky so I settled on inside boxes only. The boxes were necessary to attach the planking around where I cut holes.

Step 6: Treehouse Entry

The entry for the tree house rather designed itself. I left a non-planked portion on the fence side between the two trees. Here I hung a “rope ladder” made of 2x4s hanging on rope and secured at the bottom. The ladder discourages all but determined adults, but kids seem to do well with it. I welded up grab bars at the top of the ladder out of ¾” steel tube. The inward portion of the grab bars also serve to hang a self-closing gate/door.

Step 7: Rail

I stretched some synthetic manila rope for safety across the portion of the topsides which was cut down amidships and under the rail. I built a little decorative railing to connect the iron stern railing to continue the curve of the cut down portion. On the entry side (the back) I gave the door a similar shape with the idea of continuing the curve here too. It sorta works if you look at the right angle.

Step 8: Decoration

Solar powered lanterns hanging at the stern ( My wife found these at the thrift store), stern windows of salvaged Plexiglas, cannons made from bed footboard feet, a garden post for bowsprit, and a prow with fiberglass mermaid figurehead (EBay), and a mainsail and a spritsail all complete the picture.

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    29 Discussions

    1
    ShenalynP1
    ShenalynP1

    1 year ago

    Sooo cool!! I want one hahaha... Voted

    1
    kathynv
    kathynv

    1 year ago

    I love this, and only wish that I'd had an adult to make one for me when I was a kid. The tree house we kids made ourselves was much less safe and looked not one bit as cool as your pirate ship. Did you run into any zoning problems? Here in MA, there have been some high profile news stories about neighbors being enraged at the sound of children laughing and siccing the city on the homeowners to remove the treehouses. (Bet you can't guess whose side I'm on) Nothing else to add, just a high five for your incredible creativity.

    0
    dcolemans
    dcolemans

    Reply 1 year ago

    I didn't look that hard at what the restrictions might be and never asked (forgiveness being easier than permission). But I did know that it had to be under xx square feet. I never heard from anyone official. Fortunately the neighbors who live closest also have kids, and I interacted with them some during the build process. Their kids came over and tried it out, etc.

    1
    Natalina
    Natalina

    1 year ago

    This is amazing! I love it!

    0
    clickclackclunk
    clickclackclunk

    1 year ago

    I am super-duper impressed. Enjoy first prize!

    0
    altomic
    altomic

    1 year ago

    Sea Ward - I love it!!

    0
    tdubius
    tdubius

    1 year ago

    Amazing!

    3
    LilyCat13
    LilyCat13

    1 year ago on Step 8

    Fabulous!!! Even at age 60 I'm jealous... would love to sip cocktails or camp out while gazing out at the sea from my backyard. Wonderful idea, sound construction and explanation. Like that you re-purposed items also. A treasure to behold for years to come! (Hope your kids know how lucky they are!)

    1
    alan.swaffer
    alan.swaffer

    1 year ago

    Fantastic!!! I would love to build one and I have the trees but my kids are 38 and 40 so probably a bit past tree houses!

    0
    dcolemans
    dcolemans

    Reply 1 year ago

    That's why they invented grandkids - even step-grandkids. You could build one on spec. (a treehouse, not a grandkid).

    0
    alan.swaffer
    alan.swaffer

    Reply 1 year ago

    I knew they must hasbve invented grandkids for something. Where can I buy one or two?

    0
    ShamWerks
    ShamWerks

    1 year ago

    Absolutely awesome. Kudos for being great at daddying!

    (and quite a nice instructable, too! ;-) )

    1
    HansG30
    HansG30

    1 year ago

    Wow! Wow! Wow! That is really something!

    0
    BenjaminH109
    BenjaminH109

    Question 1 year ago on Step 4

    It is a really cool Idea. But, does a tree really survife step 1 ?

    0
    dcolemans
    dcolemans

    Reply 1 year ago

    It's been over a year and the trees seem fine. It's the treehouse that's eventually going to be torn apart by the trees growing.

    0
    berninghausen
    berninghausen

    Question 1 year ago

    The lag screws for your tree brackets are labelled as 1 inch. Is that correct?

    0
    dcolemans
    dcolemans

    Reply 1 year ago

    Yes. One inch diameter of course. Needed special order. They don't stock these at the local hardware store.

    0
    berninghausen
    berninghausen

    Reply 1 year ago

    Makes sense. I've never seen anything over a half inch. Brings the brackets into better scale, too.

    0
    cdavenport
    cdavenport

    1 year ago

    That is just a few degrees beyond the pale! You are one helluva Dad and craftsman!