How to Build a Playground: Overview

I recently wrapped up a project that has occupied me for the past four months: building my children the most epic backyard playground in the neighborhood! Here’s how it turned out:

Large playground stained brown with two green slides, swings, and monkey bars
Completed backyard playground project!

I even added dusk-to-dawn solar-powered accent lights. They change colors, and have quickly become my children’s favorite thing to look at during the evening. Here’s what the playground looks like at night:

Color-changing solar deck lights on a playground at night
Completed backyard playground project at night – showing the color-changing accent lighting.

This is the first post of a six-part series covering the fundamentals of building a DIY playground. You can read the other posts in the series through these links: Materials & Tools, Connectors & Fasteners, Swings & Accessories, Lumber, and Design Concepts. Additional posts have step-by-step instructions for the actual playground construction; you can explore those on my Playground page.

My goal with this particular post is to simply give you an overview of the project and show a photo time-lapse from start to end. In future posts, I will give very specific instructions and step-by-step guides so you can build a backyard playground that looks like this from scratch too!

Before I continue, I need to thank my wife. Not only did she support me entirely and have complete confidence in me that I would build something amazing, she also let me convert our garage into a temporary workshop. So, our cars got bumped outside in the cold for four months. During the winter. A winter where we got over 20 inches of snow! Did I also mention she’s been pregnant throughout this project? Yea, she’s the best!

Playgrounds: To Build or Buy?

When my wife and I first stated researching playsets for our children, we couldn’t believe how expensive they were! A decent playset with a few swings, a slide, and a ladder easily costs a couple thousand dollars. And if you want a really awesome backyard playground (with so many features and activities that it’s more like a playground than a basic playset), the price tag approaches the price of a car. (I’m sure the high demand for playsets during the coronavirus pandemic didn’t help their price, either.)

The price alone pretty much settled it: I would build our children a playground. Plus, since I was building it, I could add on all the things I always wanted on a backyard playground when I was a kid. And, to sweeten the deal, I would add a porch swing with cup holders for my wife and me so we could sit back and enjoy an outdoor beverage together while our children climbed all over the playground. We were excited! (Well, I certainly was. My wife was still mulling over the cars getting kicked out of the garage during the cold and snowy winter months). Anyway, it was going to be the biggest, most amazing backyard playground I could possibly build!

Playground Design

I knew I wanted a bridge (they’re always the coolest parts of large playgrounds at parks). That necessitated two towers. Plus I would add monkey bars to one tower, and swings to the other. I also wanted the height of the playground deck to be 7 ft – that’s the minimum for really awesome slides like spiral/twist tube slides! The only thing left was getting up and down the playground. I debated a bit, and ultimately decided to add a combination rock climbing wall/step ladder to one tower, and a ramp to the other tower.

Here are some of the actual schematics I drew up and used to build the playground (I’m an old-school, pencil-and-paper kind of guy…who needs CAD?):

Believe it or not (at this point, you should probably believe it), this is actually a simplified and downsized version of what I was originally going to build. I initially wanted three towers so that there would be two bridges connecting them. That would have meant more swings too, and you can never have enough swings! I also briefly contemplated adding a zip line – starting at a tree about 100 ft away and ending on the deck of one of the playground towers. Fortunately, my wife came in as the voice of reason and vetoed that idea. (I can always add the zip line later, right?).

Playground Construction

When I think about building this playground, I most remember the cold. It was so brutally cold out there – some days the daily temperature high was 20 degrees Fahrenheit. And for half the project there was a foot of snow on the ground. The entire construction area turned into a slushy, muddy mess. I suppose there are good reasons why most outdoor construction projects don’t occur during the winter!

Here’s the photo time-lapse from playground construction start to end:

  • Building the two towers.
  • Completed towers.
  • Snow day during bridge construction.
  • Laying the deck boards.
  • Adding swings and some handrails.
  • More handrails, plus the porch swing!
  • Adding the monkey bars and the ramp.
  • Adding the combination rock climbing wall/step ladder.
  • Playground construction completed.
  • Finished playground, after adding slides and staining the wood!

Would I Do It Again?

Absolutely! No question about it! Yes, it was a long and physically exhausting project. Yes, it was a cold and snowy winter. Yes, it would have been easier to buy something. But where’s the fun in that? Plus, I get to watch my children thoroughly enjoy something I built them for years to come!

Stay Tuned!

Like I mentioned earlier, this is just an overview of my backyard playground project. In future posts, I will give very specific instructions and step-by-step guides so you can build a backyard playground that looks like this from scratch too.

Stay tuned!

What do you think of the finished playground? Have you built a backyard playground or playset from scratch? How did your project go? Let me know in the comments below!

Read the other five posts on playground construction fundamentals: Materials & Tools, Connectors & Fasteners, Swings & Accessories, Lumber, and Design Concepts.

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