Building a Play Set Building a Play Set

Building a kid’s play set is a job most DIY’ers can take on if they are willing to do some heavy lifting and understand basic carpentry. However, before building anything you first want to plan your structure for safety and ensure you have a proper location available. A play set should be built on a level area clear of all rocks, shrubs and trees and including at least a 6-foot ‘fall’ area all around the structure.

After you’ve determined your location, here’s some ideas on how to ensure your play set provides a strong safe play area for many years.

Design considerations

  • Choose high quality bolts and fittings as well as strong wood (4 x 4’s or 4 X 6’s) or an alternative wood product that will last as long as your kids are young enough to use the play structure – say 10 to 15 years.
  • Make sure the top railing are at least 29 inches high for play sets for kids under 5 years and 38 inches tall for kids between 5 and 12.
  • Install protective barriers on any elevated platforms higher than 30 inches for the under 5 set and 48 inches for the older kids. Any openings under protective barriers should be small enough to prevent the passage of a 5-inch cylinder (to prevent a child’s head from getting stuck).
  • Be sure the entire area your play structure will be covered with a soft surface like sand, wood mulch or chips or rubber mulch made specifically for play structures.
  • Try to choose a location for your play set where you can easily watch your kids play, for example through a kitchen window. This way they play independently but you can still keep your eye on them and be sure they’re safe.

Building for strength and safety

  • Set your posts in concrete filled holes 3 to 4 feet deep. You need the strength of the concrete to hold the structure in place because there will be a lot of torque put with kids swinging and climbing on it. Posts only supported by packed earth won’t be able to resist this pressure and will work loose. If you live in a northern area where the ground freezes you need to be sure you dig down below the frost line (4 feet will be plenty) or your structure could heave in the spring.
  • Ensure you get all your vertical posts level by installing them longer than your design calls for then trimming them after installation.
  • Prevent any splinters and tears by sanding all the wood surfaces with 80 grit sandpaper (a belt sander works best) and be sure to round over all the corners with either a router or your sander.
  • Your play structure will look best if you use only stainless steel nuts, bolts and screws. A less expensive but equally strong and long lasting alternative would be galvanized hardware. Any other alternatives over time will end up staining your play set.
  • Use lots of diagonal bracing, even with posts set in concrete, your structure will be stronger and more stable with the extra bracing.
  • Finally, save yourself some effort. Don’t finish your play structure - simply leave the wood to weather naturally. Five years from now, a silver gray play structure will look much better than one with peeling paint or bare patches.


Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer with over 500 articles published on the web as well as in print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada. He writes on a wide range of topics and is a regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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