Have you seen those plastic playpens sold to keep toddlers out of harm? They're bulbous injection moulded plastic in hideous primary colours, and they cost upwards of a hundred bucks for a small 6-piece pen. No way was I going to have a garish plastic set in the middle of my living room. So I searched for timber playpens, which exist, but those cost hundreds more!
Well I realised that I had 2 used IKEA Gulliver cots that would be perfect for the job. They are solid birch, beautifully sanded and finished, and obviously already pre-approved for kiddie use (to satisfy the wife's concerns on toxicity and such). If you don't already have them, I'm sure these are available as hand-me-downs in your neighbourhood or online for very cheap.
The Challenge: to convert these 2 cots into the largest playpen I could achieve, without drilling any new holes in the cots that would ruin the future re-assembly of the parts back into usable cots or toddler beds.
The Result: The 2 cots were originally 60x120cm (2'x4'), which yielded a 120x180cm playpen (4'x6'), which is about the size of a super-single adult bed.
Plenty of space for my toddler to play and nap in, and even 1-2 adults can join him in there comfortably!
Step 1: Video Overview
Here's a video overview I took after the playpen was complete, where I talk through the features of the playpen including the sliding gate. It's a little long and doesn't show any construction steps, so skip it if you like.
Step 2: Start With a Plan
So I enlisted the help of my baby to draw up some plans. Originally I was thinking of all sorts of 3D printed clips and tracks to hold it together without making additional holes for screws. But in the end I ended up going the easiest route: Zip-ties!
Step 3: Assemble 3 Sides of the Playpen
Each of the 2 cots is made of 2 short ends (60cm long) and 2 long sides (120cm long). To start off, assemble the 2 short ends and 1 long side of each IKEA cot into a 'C' shape as shown. Just follow the original instructions and use the original IKEA hardware. The cot pieces are flipped upside own so that the original top rail sits on the floor. This leaves the original legs of the cots sticking up in the air. They kinda look like turrets, so I was planning to cap them off with castle turret roofs or something later. But it's been over a year and I haven't gotten to that yet...
These 3-sided assemblies were slightly wobbly when constructed without the fourth side, so I added some plastic shelf brackets (also from IKEA) to stabilise them. Yes, I know these required some new screw holes, but that's ok because these are added to the original 'bottom' of the cot, so they will never be seen if I use these as a cot or toddler bed again.
I put the two C-shaped assemblies facing each other, with a gap of about 60cm. You can see the overall shape of the playpen coming together now.
One of the remaining long pieces (120cm) is fixed on to close the gap on one side. I used zip ties as shown, but you could screw it all together if you don't mind holes.
Step 4: Version 1: Flip-down Fence [Failed]
To close the remaining open side of the playpen, my first attempt was to create a hinged gate of some sort, without adding hinges! (Yes I'm crazy)
I tried using zip-ties in a figure-8 loop to let this front gate hinge downwards to the floor like a draw-bridge. The top was then secured with some stick-on baby safety latches that were meant to keep kids from opening the fridge.
This was a total failure. Firstly it was impractical to flip a gate downwards as it blocked access to the entrance. Secondly, the stick-on latches came off within a day of my kid shaking the gate.
Step 5: Version 2: Soft-close Sliding Gate
So I dug out two soft-close drawer glides that I'd bought but never used, and I realised that these were prefect to create a sliding gate. These had a travel of 60cm, which is plenty of space to get in and out.
The assembly of this was tricky, mostly because of my no-holes rule. I ended up adding a strip of pine timber across the bottom of the playpen, so that I could screw in the drawer track to that with as many screws as needed. This strip of timber was attached to the playpen through the existing holes in the playpen legs, plus additional zip-ties for reinforcement. This strip of timber became a threshold across the open side of the playpen, giving it the strength and rigidity needed.
The upper drawer track was installed offset compared to the bottom one, so that it doesn't obstruct the opening. Again I used an extra pine plank to screw the track to. It's hard to describe, so take a good look at the photos and the video too.
Finally I added a sliding bolt on the outside of the door, to lock the playpen. I've added some foam padding to the catch side of the bolt after it gave my mum in law a nasty scratch. This sliding bolt was enough for about a year, but the kid has since figured out how to open the sliding gate, so we've had to add additional safety measures!
Step 6: Play Time, Sleep Time, Grow Time
So with the addition of an EVA foam playmat, and perhaps a thin mattress, the playpen is done.
This has been such a useful addition to our living room, where we can leave the kid to play alone for a while. If you think this is inhumane, don't worry. Our toddler thinks so too and will make sure we give him attention after a few minutes alone.
It's big enough that it's become a mini play-room. We've had up to 3 kids in there on playdates, and we often hang out in there with our kid for story time and other contained games.
In fact, he loves it so much that that became his favoured nap spot over the other fabric crib we had. And now he even sleeps there at night long too!
I think this struck the right balance for us between aesthetics and using temporary fasteners like zip-ties to allow future re-use of the cots. Hope this is useful for other parents out there!
Oh yes, and this is my last minute entry into the Creative Mis-use contest. I'd been meaning to upload this instructable for over a year now, and the contest finally gave me the impetus. Cheers!
Second Prize in the
Creative Misuse Contest