Outdoor play systems/swingsets you have built?


Hi, I am going to start planning a play system to build for my son this summer. I have looked at some home centers and online and have found quite a few kits that come with the hardware and plans. I am leaning towards going this route and then modifying it to get it just the way we want. I was just hoping to get some input from people who have built their own on some of the following points: - What kit/plans did you use, and how was it to build. How is the finished product? - Did you use a kit or build from scratch? - What did you sue for lumber material and what prep did you do on it? - What modifications did you make? - How long did it take, and how does that correspond to the time you expected? - Are the kits a good buy, or can you piecemeal the parts you need for cheaper? - General observations and advice you could provide. - MOST IMPORTANT : What activities on the system do your kids like and use the most? Or, what do they wish you would have added?
And if you would like to share some pics of what you have built that would be super. I am looking forward to this project. Thanks for any information you folks can provide. I look forward to the discussion.
Thanks! RobC
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rob wrote:

Hey Rob,
I did the exact thing that you are thinking about. My neighbor lent me his plans so I built from scratch and bought the accessories, lumber, etc. separately. In the end I save a good amount of money. I forget the name of the kit plans, but it's the one from home depot.
The plans were very good for the list of parts and lumber. They have the exact measurements, etc. Made cutting and fitting the whole thing together very easy. So, in my mind the plans were indispensable just for that.
I used treated lumber and built it all over one weekend. I expected it would take longer - maybe over two weekends. Not nearly as difficult as I thought it might be. The set is nothing spectacular. Just a fort like structure with three swings, o-rings, a horizontal ladder about 7 feet up and a climbing rope. It has two entrances to the fort structure and I modified the ladder system a bit to make it more like a stair system to get in and out. Also added my own hand rails for the ladders made from regular cast iron plumbing pipe. Beats those plastinc thingies that are sold with the kits.
The part the kids like the most is the fort. If I did it over again I would have made it a bit bigger so more kids can fit up there. Sorry, don't have any pics on hand, but you can do this without the kit. I would recommend getting your hands on some plans. Good luck.
Geo
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Me too. I've been looking at kits/plans for over a year and am going to do ours without either, partly because the home center stuff is way overpriced, and party because I want a custom design that's about 2/3 tree house and 1/3 swingset. There are several sellers on Ebay ("playsetsplus" is one)that have what appears to be much better hardware than Home Depot at fairly reasonable "buy it now" (i.e. fixed) prices.
I'm going to design ours partly into a large silver maple, and then connected to two white pine trees I recently cut off about 6-8' from the ground. I expect we'll be moving in 3-5 years and am not worried about the stumps rotting before then. I'm using treated pine for all the framing and cedar for the play surfaces; it will all be finished with a fairly neutral tone that will make it the wood look more similar.
This structure will have a low deck about 2' from the ground with an L-shaped bench on two sides. Steps will lead up into a 4x6' platform fort about five feet up; our existing sandbox will sit underneath. There will be a "rock wall" for climbing access from the opposite side of this fort, and a slide perpendicular to that. This fort will wrap about 50% around the maple, and there will be a ladder to a third area, another fort with a higher peaked roof above that, with the floor at about 7.5'. This one will have a trapdoor and rope ladder for access, and rests partially on a beam that will be supported by one pine stump.The beam on the higher fort will continue out into the yard to an A-frame that supports two swings and a pair of rings.
So, we'll end up with two swings (commercial grade for adult use), rings, 5' rock wall with a dozen holds, slide, rope ladder, bench area, a 4x6" open platform with railing, and a second 4x4 fort with a roof and shuttered windows. And the sandbox.
All the hardware for this will run about $250, including the slide; got a nice rope ladder from Ikea for $12 last week in fact. I haven't yet made up a cut list from my sketches so am not sure about lumber. That will depend in part on how much I end up doing in cedar vs. PT pine.
There are a lot of good books out there on designing play equipment and tree houses. I got about a dozen from the library last winter and just took the ideas I was most attracted to from each. When you look at the cost of things like Rainbow sets-- which run $1000-$8,000+ --I figure I can build something unique to our location for about 10% the cost.
Best,
Kiwanda
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I built one from a 'kit' the kit was really just plans and some hardware. The side of the box has the raw materials list. All of the scraps and cutoffs barely filled a 5 gallon bucket. The kit is optimized to eliminate waste and minimize the number of cuts. The plans were very good and it went together easily.
The one I build can be seen at http://www.playstarinc.com/playsets/diy/champion/g-front.asp I think you can get these kits at either the blue or orange store. I have seen them online as well.
I built mine with PT southern yellow pine. I made no modifications.
The finished product was very nice. I built it in a day with one friend helping.
If I were to do it again I would consider taking a router or sander to all the edges of the wood before making any cuts. I didn't do this because I wanted tight joints. In retrospect doing all the sanding first would have been easier.
Also - Most of the assembly is done with wood screws. I used Philips head and a corded Milwaukee driver. It was OK.
What would be REALLY nice would be
square drive screws such as http://www.mcfeelys.com/multiple.asp?ProductID 24-FA5 and a cordless impact driver such as http://www.hitachi-koki.com/powertools/products/drill/wh12dm2/wh12dm2.html and http://www.lowes.com/lkn?action=productDetail&productId8414-67702-WH12DAF
Also - A miter saw with a stand is very useful. A handheld circ saw will do the job but be slower. If you have a miter saw I highly recommend a 'trac rac' http://www.tracrac.com/workstation/workstation.html
(For me a project is always a good excuse to get a new tool!)
As far as the activities - The kids, now 6 and 7 used them ALL. Personally I liked the monkey rings best. They really help with building confidence and strength.
One other thing - Your site is important. Make sure you put down a nice thick layer of wood chips to cushion any falls. (Install after your set is built. Grass is hard and is not recommended. I used black plastic edging to contain the mulch. There will be guidelines with your kit. Don't use regular mulch, its dirty. A local supplier had a 'Playground Mulch' which didn't get dirt all over the kids. It was much coarser than a bedding mulch.
I cant speak highly enough about the kit I purchased. I could have designed something myself or built from some generic plan. I'm sure if I went that route I would have had a lot of waste and a lot more expense, plus I still would have needed to buy most of the hardware anyway.
Let us know how it turns out and if I can answer any other questions.

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Hey guys, Thanks for the replies! Sounds like I will want to go with one of these kits, and maybe make some mods. It's nice to hear that your kids are using all the activities and enjoying it. I'd hate to spend time and money only to have the kids use 1/4 of the thing. Well, thats like most toys I suppose :) So for the Playstar system you build, could you estimate what your cost was for the finished product? Thanks again! Rob
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I think the kit was one hundred something $$ and the lumber was $500 ish. that was with PT pine. Redwood or cedar would be more. I bought the curved slide which is extra and not in the box. I did not get the 'vertical climber' or the 'climbing wall' options. The Champion kit did come with the fake rocks which the kids loved to climb on.
Essentially I did the Champion Bronze option. The materials required are listed here. http://www.playstarinc.com/playsets/diy/champion/b-material.asp You can call around and get quotes on materials. The lumber yard I bought from had free delivery for over $500. Downside to that is I didn't get to hand pick the lumber pieces. Advantage was that I didn't need to schlep the materials to my truck, load the truck, and then unload again at home.
BTW - I built this kit at my last house but have since moved. One stipulation of the folks buying my old house was that the play set be included. So, I would say, that the playset increased my homes sale-ability as well.
I hope to build another one of these at my new home at some point. I may end up doing a Champion again although the 'Super Star' plan looks kind of cool! http://www.playstarinc.com/playsets/diy/super-star/g-front.asp
Feel free to e-mail me off board if you want to ask me specific questions - brian at peppel dott com
-Brian

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I designed my own taking ideas from a couple of do-it-yourself books and layouts culled from various on-line play-yard sellers. It has 3 swings, a 6'x6'x10" sandbox under a 6'x6' fort, and 10' monkey bars. The fort has a climbing ramp leading up to it with a heavy rope to climb/rappel with, a "fire pole" and slide.
I couldn't find any pre-packaged kit that had everything I wanted, and didn't think the quality matched the prices. I used PT lumber for the structural pieces and composite decking material for the fort floor and the rim of the sand box.
For the swing chains I ended up selecting a fairly heavy rubber coated chain from Lowes rather than the chains marketed as swing chains. The chains are far heavier than needed but were cheaper than the "swing chains" and I expect the coating to last longer than the plastic tubing on the specialty chains.
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