Build a wooden play gym

You can build a 10/10 timber gym that grows with your kids – with a little help from Mitre 10.

A Play Gym is the fun way for children to exercise. And this exclusive Mitre 10 Play Gym is specially designed in modules so that different sections can be added to it as your child grows in balance, muscular strength and co-ordination. The flexible design even allows you to add every child’s delight, a cubby house. Of course, if you wish and your children are old enough now, you can build the complete gym as illustrated in one go. Or, if your backyard isn’t big enough to accommodate it all, build just one or two sections or vary the specifications to fit the space available (refer heading “How much space”). Either way, the result will be a 10 out of 10 Play Gym that is strong and aesthetically pleasing, offering your children maximum use as they continue to grow in terms of swinging, climbing, crawling, scrambling, etc. And by following these simple instructions, you’ll enjoy making it as much as the kids will love playing on it.

How much space

The Play Gym covers an area approximately 5.0 metres long x 3.5 metres wide, even wider if an optional slide is added. Platform 1 and 2 combined measure 1.2 x 2 metres and are the basis for adding all other play sections. Platform 2 provides access to the main platform or other sections. Allow 2m square of space for both platforms including ladder. If you plan to add the Swing Set, allow a further 3m of length. The Monkey Bar will need 2.Im of room. Additional open space is required around the equipment for safe ‘free fall’ zone (refer plan detail). But if space is a problem, this gym’s versatile design can be modified to suit any backyard. For example, you could build just the platforms, adding sand pit and cubby roof to increase its play appeal. Or build just Platform 2 with the Monkey Bar. It’s up to you and your own special situation. But whatever you plan, the same general building instructions apply to all sections.

Play Safe

Children take to swinging and climbing as naturally as monkeys. So safety is a big consideration. The first thing is to ensure there is plenty of room all around for boisterous swinging, so your site must be well clear of fences, trees, sheds and other fixed obstacles. The surface underneath must also be as soft as possible should a child fall. Grass and/or sand are not considered suitable. The safest surface is fine pine bark spread to a depth of 150-200mm. The recommended “safe fall distance/zone” around the perimeter of the play area is a minimum of I500mm. For swings, the measurement is taken from the very end of the seat in full swing. There must also be no sharp edges or splinters to hurt children, so all timber surfaces should be thoroughly sanded and all sharp edges and corners rounded off to a 35mm radius using a disc sanding attachment. This applies to the ends of posts, and the ends of all square shaped timber such as rails, exposed roof beams, etc. All protruding bolt ends should also be cut off with a hacksaw 3mm above the nuts once they have been fully tightened, and then hammered to prevent the nuts coming loose and to totally remove any sharp edges on the sawn off bolt. Repeat this process after maintenance tensioning of all bolts the second time. This is particularly important with pigtail hooks to stop play equipment from falling down while a child is playing on it. Check the tightness of all bolts and nuts two weeks after completion, then on a regular basis. And carry out any maintenance to the frame as needed. Where exposed nuts could come in contact with children, the nut and washer should be recessed. First, cut the bolt 5-8mm shorter than the combined width of the material being fixed. Then drill and countersink the hole large enough to accept the nut and washer as well as a socket spanner to tighten the nut. The bolt end will still need to be burred over and smoothed to prevent the nut loosening and injury to little fingers. If adding a slide, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions exactly. In addition, you’ll need to fix one 38mm diameter vertical grab rail to each side at the top of the slide extending from the platform floor to the cubby roof frame.

Constructions tips

Before you begin building, here are some useful builders procedures common to all of the play gym sections. They’re only small “tricks of the trade”, but they will ensure that your frames are all solidly built, square and plumb.

Setting out

Due to actual timber sizes and site conditions all quoted measurements should be physically checked on the job as work progresses (prior to cutting/drilling) and adjustments made as necessary. Lay out clearly the full extent of the area for the section you are building following the directions given. First, build eight corner hurdles from any suitable scrap timber and drive them in to the ground outside the area, two at each corner (Fig. 1 & 2). Fix nails in the hurdle cross-pieces to the plan dimensions and stretch stringline around to form a box (Fig. 2). Lines 1 and 2 should be equal length, 3 and 4 equal length. Measure the diagonally opposite corners (lines 5 and 6) for the set out to be square. Both diagonal measurements need to be the same. You may have to move the nails on the top of the hurdle cross-pieces until all lines are in the right position. Your “set out” is square when both diagonal measurements are the same and the outside lines are all parallel.

Setting the posts

All posts are set in concrete for stability. Dig holes 300mm square x 500mm deep ensuring that each post is centred in its hole with its outside edge just touching the string line. All post lengths allow for I50- 200mm of fine soft-fall material above ground. Place a 250mm square x 50mm thick sole plate in the bottom of each hole and stand the post on it (Fig. 3). Ensure the thickest end of the post is the one in the hole.You’ll need to brace the post temporarily so it stands upright and plumb. To do this, nail two 50 x 25mm battens to two stakes, and knock the stakes firmly into the ground at right angles to each other (Fig. 4). Use a spirit level to check the post is plumb in all directions. Since all logs have irregularities and vary in width, the plumb line will need to be read from all four sides of the log and final position adjusted to average these readings. When all are plumb, temporarily nail the battens to the post. Avoid driving nails fully in – you’ll want to remove them later. Now measure and mark up from the ground the required height on one post. Transfer that mark around to the other posts using a level or line level. Check again your measurements and level marks for accuracy. Code mark each post and its respective hole, then remove the posts, cut to length and round off the ends with a disc sander. At this stage, cut a 10mm deep “V” to all four sides of each log below ground level (Fig. 3). Replace and brace the posts as previously. Ensure each is positioned correctly just touching the set out stringline and is perfectly plumb using a spirit level. Finally, fill the holes with concrete to within 50mm of ground level and slightly sloping away from the posts as Fig. 3 (TIP: ensure corners and edges of the hole are well filled by tamping the concrete with a scrap piece of timber as you pour it in). Let harden overnight.

 

THE PLATFORMS

The two platforms are the heart of the play gym from which it can grow in size and play use. They provide the basis for adding all other sections.

Step 1: Fix floor beams

As previously described, set out the areas for both platforms and set the posts, ensuring that all are level with each other at the top.For Platform 1, measure 1035mm down from the top of relevant posts and mark the position for the top edge of the floor beam. For Platform 2, measure down and mark 1035mm allowing for a 300mm climbing step between platforms (Fig. 5). Now cut two 90 x 45 x 1200mm long beams for Platform 1 and two 900mm long beams for Platform 2. To fix each beam, first clamp it to the inside of the posts with the top edge on the pencil marks. Drill a I0mm hole through the centre of the post and beam (Fig. 6). Ensure holes are straight by marking both sides of the post and drawing a line around it to act as a drilling guide. Fit a 175 x 10mm galvanised bolt, washer and nut at each post and tighten firmly. Remember to cut off the excess bolt, burr and smooth over as described in “Play Safe”. For safety, bolt heads should be on the outside of posts and nuts and washers on the inside.

Step 2: Add flooring

Cut 16 pieces of 70 x 35 x 1200mm long floor boards for Platform 1 and 2 pieces 1200mm long for Platform 2. Note that a floor board at each end of the platform will need to be cut shorter to fit between the posts, and the one next to it trimmed to fit around the posts (Fig. 7). Allow a 5mm spacing between boards for drainage and nail to the beams with one 75mm galvanised flat head nail at each end. Punch all nails 2mm below the surface.

Step 3: Add guard rails

The guard rails are fixed to the outside of the posts. For Platform 1, cut six 70 x 35 x 1200mm long rails (two each open side). For Platform 2, cut two 70 x 35 x 1200mm long rails if adding the Monkey Bars – if not, cut an extra two rails 70 x 35 x 900mm long. Position the top edge of the top guard rail 800mm up from the platform floor and fix to the posts with a 90 x 8mm galvanised coach screw and washer at each end. The middle guard rail is located midway between the top rail and floor and fixed to the posts in the same way.

ADD A SAND PIT

Now that the platforms are in place, extend their use by adding a sand pit under Platform 1 (Fig. 8). Simply cut four 240 x 45 x 1200mm long boards. Measure and mark 50mm in from the ends of each board and 50mm from both end edges. Drill two 10mm holes through the boards at these markings. Place the boards on edge at the base of the platform on the outside of the posts and mark the hole positions on the post. Drill two 6mm holes into the posts. Fix the boards to the posts with 125 x 10mm galvanised coach screws and washers. (TIP: Mark coach screw holes on boards so that opposite screws do not interfere with each other). Round the exposed ends of the boards. Before adding sand, line the pit with Weed Mat to restrict plant growth and provide drainage.

MAKE THE LADDER

The ladder is 840mm wide with three rungs spaced at 230mm centres (Fig. 9).

Step 1: Setting Out

First, square cut each end of the two 90 x 45mm side rails to 920mm long. Then clamp the two side rails together and mark out the rung positions on the 90mm wide face (Fig. 2). Measure up 230mm from one end and square a pencil line across both pieces. From this mark, measure up another 230mm and square a line across as before. Repeat the procedure for the final rung. With the side rails still clamped together, measure halfway (45mm) in from the edge of one side rail at each 230mm rung location and mark the centre for each rung hole. Drill 38mm holes through at these centre marks. To avoid unsightly splitting as you drill through, drill holes only until the tip of the drill bit just breaks the surface on the opposite face. Turn the clamped pieces over and drill out the balance of the holes from this side using the drill point as a location guide. Next, mark and cut the top and bottom ends of both side rails as shown (Fig. 10). Finally, cut three 38mm dowels to 840mm long for the rungs.

Step 2: Put it together

Unclamp the sides and insert the rungs into both rails. Then lay the ladder on a flat and even surface. Check that the ladder is square and nail through the sides into the dowel rungs with 50mm galvanised flat head nails.

Step 3: Fix to Platform

Dig the 120 x 35 x 900mm base into the ground about 40mm or so. Then lean the ladder against the posts of the platform with the bottom positioned on the base board (Ref Fig. 9), drill a 8mm hole through the top of each rail and a 4mm hole into the posts, and fix to the posts with a 75 x 8mm galvanised coach screw and washer.

ADD A CUBBY HOUSE ROOF

Children of all ages like cubby houses where they can hold secret meetings. And by adding this easily made roof to Platform I, your kids will love you forever.

Step 1: Make the frame

The pitch (or angle) of the roof is formed by six rafters, three per side, cut to 45 degrees. First cut the rafters 990mm long from 90 x 35mm treated pine. Mark and cut a 45 degree angle at each end . Be sure the mitred angles are cut as shown (Fig. 12). Assemble the rafters in pairs joining them at the top (the ridge point) with a 115 x 70mm gang nail plate fixed to each side (Fig. 13).

Step 2: Raise The Roof

At this point, your job will be easier with a helper. With a person at each end, raise an end rafter frame in position against the outside of the corner posts (Fig. 14). Nail it in place temporarily. Then check that the overhang is equal on both sides before drilling a I0mm hole through each rafter and post and fixing permanently with a I75 x I0mm galvanised coach bolt, washer and nut. Fix the other end rafter frame in the same way. Next, cut two 90 x 35 x 1270mm long barge boards. Measure 35mm down from the top surface of the rafters (Fig. 15) and nail the barge board to the rafter ends at this point with two 75mm galvanised flat head nails. This allows the roofing to be fixed over the top of the barge. Position and fix the middle rafter frame midway between the end frames in the same way, ensuring the top edge is 35mm above the barge board.

Step 3: Add The Roofing

The roof is made of 7 cedar weatherboards each side. First, cut 14 x 1350mm long cedar weatherboards, which allows a 40mm overhang at each end. Starting at the bottom on each side and overhanging the barge board by 25mm, nail the bottom of the first weatherboard to each rafter with a 50mm galvanised flat head nail. Before proceeding further with the roofing, check that the roof frame is plumb and square. Adjust to the correct position if necessary with temporary braces which are removed when the roofing is completed. Space the remaining boards up the rafters leaving an exposed surface of 150mm on each board, and fix in the same way. Finally, cut the two top weatherboards to suit the actual width needed to provide a neat, tight fit along the ridge.

Step 4: Add Gable Boards

Four board widths are nailed to the rafters at each end to complete the roof (Fig. 16). Cut the two 2400mm lengths of 150 x 25mm treated pine boards in half so there are four lengths 1200mm long. All pieces can be cut from these lengths as shown (Fig. 17). Nail to the rafters using two 50mm galvanised flat head nails at each side. SWING SET Our unit shows a tyre swing and trapeze, which can be ordered from Mitre 10 Stores. Or you could substitute other accessories such as a rope ladder. The choice is yours. If space is limited, you could build a free standing Swing Centre. Refer to MitrePlan No. 45. 

SWING SET

Our unit shows a tyre swing and trapeze, which can be ordered from Mitre 10 Stores. Or you could substitute other accessories such as a rope ladder. The choice is yours. If space is limited, you could build a free standing Swing Centre. Refer to MitrePlan No. 45. Adding a Swing Set creates a centre of concentrated play activity. For this reason, barriers need to be installed to the platform, whether a sandpit is added or not, to prevent children from running out of one play area into the direct path of a swing or other activity. In addition, climbing from the platform onto the swing cross beam also needs to be prevented. The best way is to install trellis, or better still, 42 x 19mm treated pine vertical slats at 90mm max. spacings to two sides of the platform – the end directly facing the Swing Set and the side directly adjacent to it. Nail the trellis or slats to the facia, platform guard rails and additional 70 x 35mm guard rails fixed to the outside of the posts at floor level and above the sandpit boards with a 50mm galvanised flat head nail at each fixing point. If using vertical slats, spacing between slats must be 85mm-100mm (max). To install the swings, ensure the seats are no higher than 635mm above ground level and that there is a minimum of 350mm of ground clearance when laden.

Step I: Measure Cross Beam

Measure and mark on the 100-125 x 3000mm log the exact locations of the end frames and for the pigtail hooks that hold up the play equipment (Fig. 18). Make sure to mark the log so that any bow (camber) in it is uppermost when fitted to the end frame. Drill 12mm holes centrally through the beam for the pigtail hooks only. Ensure the holes you drill are straight by marking both sides of the log and drawing a line around it to act as a drilling guide. Fit the pigtail hooks to the beam with washers and nuts and firmly tighten.

Step 2: Assemble End Frame

Measure 350mm down from the top of two 100-125 x 3000mm logs (Fig. 20).Drill a 12mm hole through the centre of each log at this point. Join the two logs together with a 275 x 12mm coach bolt, washer and nut, finger tighten only. Space the legs 1800mm apart (Fig. 19). Measure 2000mm down from the join and temporarily nail a timber brace to each leg at this point. This represents ground level when erected. Finally, tighten nuts firmly.

Step 3: Dig Holes

Lay the end frame on the ground measuring 2750mm from where the legs intersect to the structure the cross beam is to be joined to. Ensure the frame is square to the structure. Dig two holes as already explained, but angle them outwards to suit the angle of the legs. Note the legs are not parallel to each other, so holes will need to be off-set by the thickness of the logs, 100-125mm.

Step 4: Installation

Stand the end frame upright in the holes on sole plates. Check plumb with your spirit level, then temporarily brace in position. Place the cross beam over the end frame and clamp the other end in position on the post it is to be joined to on the platform. Use a spirit level to ensure the beam is level and correctly positioned before drilling a 12mm hole through one post and into the beam. Fix together with a 275 x 12mm coach bolt and tighten firmly with a washer and nut. Re-check for plumb and general position of the end frame, adjusting the temporary bracing as necessary. Drill a 10mm hole through the top of one leg into the cross beam, push a 275 x 10mm coach bolt through, fit a washer and nut, and tighten (Fig 20). Fill post holes with concrete and leave 24 hours to set before removing the temporary bracing and fitting the play accessories to the pigtail hooks.

MONKEY BARS

Our unit shows it connected to Platform 2. But you can, if you wish, easily make a free standing unit by using four posts and modifying the instructions here to suit. The monkey bar top rails connect to the side of platform I post, and sit on top of platform 2 outside post.

Step I: Prepare Frame

Start by cutting two 2100mm long top rails. Lay and clamp the rails together and mark the locations of the seven cross bars on each as shown (Fig. 21). Lay out the logs so that when the Monkey Bar is erected, any bow (camber) in the logs is uppermost. Then, with a pencil, run a straight line along the length of each log in the centre and parallel with the sides of the log. Using a square, mark out the hole locations. In the centre of each log at each location, drill a hole to match the outside diameter of the galvanised pipe (this should be 28mm) to a depth of 70mm (TIP: wrap sticky tape around the drill bit at the correct depth to avoid over drilling). On the second cross bar hole in from each end of each rail, use a 10mm bit to drill through the balance of the log. These through holes are for threaded tension rods which will be tightened from the outside. Finally, cut two 2450mm long posts...seven cross bars of 20mm galvanised iron pipe 720mm long ... and two 70 x 35 x 900mm pine rungs.

Step 2: Erect the Frame

Space out the two rails on a level surface, placing all cross bars into their holes. Maintain pressure on the rails to keep the bars in position. In the holes drilled completely through the log, pass a 900 x 10mm threaded rod and finger tighten each side with a washer and nut. Check the frame for square, then tighten nuts firmly. To prevent the crossbars from coming loose and turning, drill a 4.5mm hole into the log and through both walls of the cross bar only. With a 75mm galvanised nail, nail through the drilled holes into the undrilled section of the log. Punch the nail head 4mm below the surface. Should the nail point come out the underside of the log, hammer it over along the grain and punch the end 2 – 4mm below the surface. Next, lay the posts 800mm apart on the ground. Keep them in position by nailing a temporary spreader 100mm down from the top and 600mm up from the bottom. After digging the holes, stand the posts upright on sole plates. Check for plumb and temporarily brace as previously. If connecting to Platform 2, the two supporting posts at that end will need to have corresponding level marks to the endposts. Now place the assembled frame on top of the end posts and clamp in position to the side of platform 1 post, and sit on top of platform 2 post. Where the rails are located on top of a post, the underside needs to be cut “flat” to a depth of 40mm for secure seating (Fig. 22). Fix the frame to the posts with I000mm lengths of hoop iron and Tita Deck ® galvanised nails (Fig. 22). Drill a I0mm hole through each rail but not into the posts. Secure the rail to the post with a I50 x I0mm galvanised coach screw and washer. Where rail ends connect to the side of platform I post, drill a 12mm hole through the rail and post and fix with a 275 x 12mm galvanised coach bolt, washer and nut. Ensure the nut is to the outside of the frame, the bolt cut, burred and smoothed over as previously explained. Check again for plumb and straightness, before filling post holes with concrete. Allow to set for 24 hours.

Step 3: Complete the Unit

Remove the temporary spreaders and fix the two 70 x 35mm pine rungs to the base of the posts with one 90 x 8mm coach screw and washer each end (Fig. 23). Check all fixings are tight, paying particular attention that the cross bars are set all the way into their holes.

SWING BAR

This unit is shown set at right angles to the end of the Monkey Bars utilising one of its posts. Or, it can be free standing by setting two posts and following the rest of the instructions here.

Step 1: Prepare Materials

Cut a I00-I25mm post to I550mm long and stand in its hole on a sole plate. Check for plumb with a spirit level and temporarily brace. Measure up from the ground on both posts and mark the height of the swing bar, generally 700mm to 1000mm depending on the age or size of your child. Use stringline and a spirit level to ensure that the holes to be drilled at these marks for the swing bar line up straight and level. Then drill holes to suit the outside diameter of the galvanised pipe being used for the bar to a depth of 70mm using a spade bit, (TIP: a 44mm spade bit may be needed). Cut the pipe 1440mm long and smooth off both ends with a file.

Step 2: Assemble Swing Bar

Place the swing bar through the hole in each post. Next, mark each post on the outside surface directly opposite the centre of the hole drilled for the swing bar. Drill a 8mm hole through both post and bar at this mark. Fit a 140 x 8mm coach bolt, washer and nut and tighten firmly to hold it all together and prevent the bar from rolling around while in use, cut, burr and smooth the end of the bolt. Finish by filling the post hole with concrete and allow to set for 24 hours. A Word of Caution Preservative-treated pine is harmless to humans, animals and plants. However, it is advisable to wear a mask and goggles while cutting or sanding the timber to avoid inhaling dust or irritating the eyes. Hands should also be thoroughly washed if not wearing gloves before eating or smoking after handling the timber. Offcuts or shavings must never be burnt, particularly on barbecues or in household fireplaces. The best method of disposal is to bury your offcuts or take to a rubbish tip.