How to Build a Playground: Materials and Tools
A complete list of all the materials and tools needed to build your own DIY playground and play set!
When I began building a backyard playground for my children, I had no idea about the sheer quantity of materials and tools that I would need for a project of this scale. What would have been really useful is a list of everything that I would end up needing. So, here’s a breakdown of all the materials and tools you’ll need to build your own backyard playground – one that looks like this:
This is the second post of a six-part series covering the fundamentals of building a playground. You can read the other posts in the series through these links: Overview, 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.
I will separate this discussion into three main sections: Power Tools, General Materials and Tools, and Safety Gear. My goal is to make this as detailed and informative as possible, so you know exactly what you’ll need, why you’ll need it, and where you’ll use it during construction. The General Materials and Tools section will be in alphabetical order (since it is fairly lengthy!) so you can more easily navigate to a specific item in that section.
I’ll also have a Quick List first, where I simply list all the materials and tools needed. That way, if you’re familiar with construction projects, you can simply check to see if you have everything. A Detailed List will follow, where I elaborate on each item’s purpose and utility in playground construction. If you’re new to construction projects, you’ll find this more useful than the Quick List. The two lists will use the same numerical numbering to help with navigation, so if you see an item in the Quick List you can look it up by the same number in the Detailed List. All items in the Detailed List will state the quantity needed.
I hope you like lots of tools – here we go!
- Circular saw
- Impact driver
- Power drill
- Work light
- Spare batteries
General Materials and Tools:
- Angle finder (digital)
- Chisel set
- Clamp (bar clamp)
- Clamp (C-clamp)
- Dead blow hammer
- Deck board spacers
- Drill bit set (with 5/16” and 3/8” nut drivers)
- Drill bit set (6 inch)
- Drill bit set (12 inch, brad point)
- Drill bit set (spade bits)
- Flashing tape
- Hand warmers
- Level (48 inch)
- Level (for posts)
- Pencils (with erasers)
- Rafter triangle square
- Router bits
- Sandpaper (low grit)
- Tape measure
- Tool bag
- Wood caulking
- Wrench set
- Safety glasses
- Work gloves
- Ear protection
This is one of three power tools that will be your “bread and butter” for playground construction. The large 7+ inch diameter means that you can cut to a depth of almost 3 inches. That makes a huge difference when notching 6×6 posts, as you will need to notch them about 3 inches deep at times. Plus, this particular circular saw can make 610 crosscuts per charge in 2×4 lumber and 320 crosscuts per charge in 2×10 lumber using two 5.0 Ah batteries! As you will be cutting lumber throughout the playground construction, being able to cut that quantity on one charge is huge! No one wants to wait for batteries to charge before construction can continue.
The second “bread and butter” tool for playground construction, an impact driver will quickly become your best friend. It’s made specifically to easily drive large fasteners and long screws into wood. For my playground construction, I used 8 inch long timber screws to hold the joists up. This impact driver made screwing them in effortless. The compact size (compared to a standard power drill) will also come in handy when fastening in corners and other tight places around the playground.
The third and final “bread and butter” tool, no construction job would be complete without a standard power drill. However, you won’t really be using this to screw in much. It’s main purpose will be for drilling pilot holes so that lumber doesn’t split and that screws go in straight.
When you start to work with dimensional lumber (such as 2×10 joists or 6×6 posts), one thing you’ll find out is that the edges are kind of sharp. Depending on what you’re building and who will be using it, this might not matter. However, for playgrounds, sharp edges will definitely be a problem. You are going to want rounded corners and edges, and that’s exactly what a router does. This way, should a child bump their head on an edge, they don’t end up with a nasty cut. Also, rounding the edges will make the wood virtually splinter-free! Having seen many young children play on various playgrounds and play sets, please take the time to rout the edges of any lumber they might come in contact with. From children to adults, everyone will be happier!
If you’re like me and working the wood in your garage late into the night – or constructing the playset during the winter when the sun sets way too early – then a work light will come in handy. Most companies that make power tools will have a few great options for work lights. Get one of the brighter models. This one is nice because it has both spotlight and floodlight settings, and it’s compact enough that it’s easily portable.
You’ll want at least two spare batteries for whatever brand of power tools you have – no one wants to pause construction for batteries to recharge. The circular saw takes two, and the impact driver, power drill, and router each take one. So that’s five batteries right there. I actually had four extra spare batteries, and greatly appreciated not having to wait around idly for batteries to recharge.
General Materials and Tools
There will be two main times when you’ll need to make cuts at specific angles. The first is for the joists for the rock climbing wall/step ladder and ramp. The second is for the bracing. Both times, this digital angle find will make it incredibly easy to trace a specific angle onto a piece of wood so you can cut it just right.
You’ll need a good chisel set for notching the 6×6 posts. I used this set extensively, and the chisels hold up quite well despite being struck with a hammer repeatedly.
From cutting deck boards and other lumber to holding things in place while you screw them in, clamps will quickly prove their worth. These clamps have an easily adjustable sliding mechanism and a quick-release button, so they’re a breeze to use. Whenever I was cutting down the dimensional lumber to size, these were used to hold the wood in place on my work table. I found having two of these particularly useful for securely holding down very long lumber. You’ll definitely want the large 6 inch size (since a 6×6 post is really 5.5 inches across). And considering the weight of some of the wood you’ll be working with, spring for the heavy duty version of these clamps.
More clamps? Yes, you’ll need more clamps! These are traditional C-clamps, but they are 8 inches in size – meaning that you can lock down the 6×6 posts to your work table while you cut and drill into them. Plus, you’ll need extra clamps when placing the support beams and rim joists onto the 6×6 posts.
Of all the tools in my garage, this is my personal favorite! There’s nothing quite as fun as smacking something with a dead blow hammer. This specific type of hammer is useful when you need to move or position wood without damaging the wood (the face of a traditional hammer is too narrow and hard – if you’ve ever hit a piece of lumber with a hammer, you’ll easily dent it if not crack it). I used this when hammering in the swing and monkey bar support posts into their brackets, as well as repositioning some of the double 2x supports.
You’ll use these for creating a bit of space in between the deck boards of the playground, and also for the boards of the rock climbing wall/step ladder and ramp. I found the 1/8 inch spacing perfect.
You’ll use this for just about everything. The traditional twist bits will be used for drilling pilot holes. The 5/16 inch nut driver will be used with FastenMaster ThruLOKs and the 3/8 inch nut driver will be used with Simpson Strong-Tie SDS Heavy-Duty Connector Screws.
For the Simpson Strong-Tie post-to-beam brackets I used, the brackets require 5/8 inch through bolt fasteners. So you’ll need a long 5/8 inch drill bit to drill the pilot holes for the through bolts. These are the longest drill bits I could find for a 5/8 inch bit thickness, which you’ll need to drill all the way through a 6×6 posts.
I used these for drilling pilot holes in the 6×6 posts when installing the FastenMaster ThruLOKs between notched posts and support beams. Technically you don’t need to drill pilot holes for these fasteners. However, since I reinforced these 90 degree post-to-beam connections with additional Simpson Strong-Tie angle plates (ML26Z), I found it particularly helpful to be able to see the entrace and exit points of the pilot hole on the posts so I could be sure there was enough room for the angle plate. This bit set is the longest bit set I could find so I would be able to drill pilot holes all the way through 6×6 posts.
I needed a 5/8 inch spade bit when installing the 5/8 inch through bolts for the Simpson Strong-Tie post-to-beam brackets. If the initial pilot hole was a bit askew and wouldn’t line up with the holes in the brackets, I found it nice to attach this to an impact driver and clear up a bit more space in the pilot hole.
Small gaps naturally occur in between deck board and joists/support beams. Moisture, rain, or melting snow can easily build up in these gaps, which can lead to wood rot and weaken the playground structure. Flashing tape is a self-adhering, waterproof strip of tape that is designed to protect joists and beams from water damage and rot. This specific link is to flashing tape that is 1-5/8 inch wide – the perfect width for 2x joists (the manufacturer does make this flashing tape in other widths, too, should you need it).
Many of the Simpson Strong-Tie connectors use nails as fasteners, so have a good hammer ready. I prefer slightly heavier hammers (this one is 20 ounces – most standard hammers are 16 ounces) so that you minimize how many swings it takes to drive a nail all the way in. Of course, you can also use a nail gun if you have one (I didn’t buy a nail gun for this project as I didn’t think it would get a lot of use after this project was over).
This is an optional (and season-dependent) item. I built the playground in the winter, and the cold definitely makes for a challenging work environment (on some days, the daily temperature high was 20 degrees Fahrenheit). In order to keep my hands and fingers from getting frostbite, I would shove hand warmers in my work gloves. They’re the only way I could spend hours outdoors in the frigid cold and still be able to use my hands. If you’re building in the winter cold, you’ll find these invaluable.
Long levels like this are useful for checking levelness on joists, deck boards, swing support beams, and other long pieces of lumber.
This will show you levelness in three planes at the same time. It’s a great tool that makes setting a vertical 6×6 post much easier and quicker. I also used this post level for the 4×4 handrail posts.
You’ll be tracing cut marks on lumber throughout this project, and you’ll want to use something that is visible. I went through two whole pencils. You could also use a sharpie, though that’s a more permanent option. It’s a simple item, but you’ll come to appreciate a good woodworking pencil.
You’ll use this to make straight rip cut marks on lumber. The 12 inch length is particularly useful when the joist size is 2×10.
Just like power drills, routers have their own bits. For improved playground safety, you will use the router to round the corners and edges of posts, beams, deck boards, and handrails. Given how much you will use the router, get a high-end router bit for maximum durability and efficiency during routing. I actually only used one specific bit in this set: the 45 degree Chamfer bit. Most of the other bits in this set are for cabinetry, table surfaces, and other (more elaborate) woodworking projects. You can get any router bit set you want, just make sure that it has a high-quality 45 degree Chamfer bit.
I used sandpaper to grind down rough edges after using the circular saw and router. While both of those power tools do a fairly impressive job at creating clean cuts and finishes, I found I always needed a little extra smoothness. You’ll want a fairly low grit sandpaper – something less than or equal to 220 (80 or 120 is ideal). This pack is nice since it has a few different options for grit, so you can choose what you need depending on how rough the surface is.
While the circular saw will be your primary saw blade, there will be times when you’ll need a standard hand saw. Especially for notching the posts, sometimes a circular saw is too large or cumbersome to solely finish the job. Or, if your son is sleeping in the room above the garage where you do your woodworking, sometimes you need a quieter option!
You’ll be measuring and re-measuring things over and over and over. A 25 foot or longer tape measure can be nice when you’re still in the design phase for getting rough dimensions for playground size in your backyard.
With all these materials and tools, you’ll want a very durable and high-quality tool bag. I had two of these tool bags, and would load them up with various power tools and materials I would need that day. I also had two other bags/cases, but those came with the power tools as a kit (the Makita circular saw and power drill kits came with their own tool bags/cases).
There will be two main places where gaps in wood will naturally occur during construction: in between double 2x boards and in the notches of the 6×6 posts. Moisture, rain, or melting snow can easily build up in these gaps, which can lead to wood rot and weaken the playground structure. To counteract this, I fill these gaps with this caulk, which is designed specifically for wood. Much like flashing tape, wood caulk will help keep water out and prolong the life of the playground.
For the Simpson Strong-Tie post-to-beam brackets I used, you will need to tighten the nuts of the 5/8 inch through bolts with a large 1 inch wrench. You’ll also need to tighten the nuts of the swing hangers. This wrench set has a variety of size options and is nice to have around in case you need a wrench of a particular size in the future. A ratchet wrench and socket set can also come in handy and make wrenching easier and quicker, but it’s not necessary.
This is a must when working with wood. If there’s one power tool on this list that will absolutely pulverize wood and send it flying in every direction, it’s the router. You won’t even think twice about putting these on when using the router. The circular saw can also send bits of wood chips flying. Don’t be unsafe or lazy – get a good pair of safety glasses and wear them.
The right pair of work gloves makes all the difference, and this is by far the best pair of work gloves I have ever used. They strike the right balance between having a coating for enhanced grip while not being too hard or stiff that you lose finger dexterity. Plus, the cut resistance is awesome – I would pick up handsaws by the blade and not feel a thing. I would get two, as I used my first pair so much that the nitrile coating began to wear off.
Initially I didn’t have ear protection. Then I started using the circular saw and router repeatedly, and immediately sought out something to dampen the volume! I have an older model of these Bose noise-cancelling headphones (my model isn’t manufactured anymore), and they worked wonders. You don’t need noise-cancelling headphones, but please use something. Especially if you’re using power tools in a confined space like a garage, it can get pretty loud and uncomfortable.
A Note on Power Tools
For a project of this size and scale, you will need really good power tools. As in high-quality, professional-grade power tools. I began my children’s playground construction using some basic Black & Decker power tools I had lying around, and they were incredibly inefficient and frustrating to use. I actually burnt the motor of my old Black & Decker power drill – and that was the sign that I needed to upgrade my power tools.
There are really three big names in professional-grade power tools: Makita, DeWalt, and Milwaukee. If you ever go to a job site, have contractors do work on your house, or see pictures of power tools, undoubtedly the power tools used will be from one of these three companies.
I ultimately switched over my entire line of power tools to Makita. If you look at Consumer Reports or just Google “best power drill” or “best circular saw,” Makita tools are consistently at the top of the list and ranked number one. I first bought a Makita impact driver, and was so impressed with the quality and ease of use that I immediately bought a Makita circular saw. Words cannot explain how amazing a Makita circular saw is. After that, any other power tool I needed was going to be a Makita. I highly recommend their line of tools. I used them in the snow and rain, they survived months of constant and tough use, and their battery life and recharge time was superb.
If you need new power tools or are trying to decide between brands, go with Makita.
Where to Buy?
I bought everything you see here on Amazon. Mostly that was motivated by the fact that this playground was built during the coronavirus pandemic, and I was trying to avoid needless trips to stores as much as possible. But you’ll be surprised how much construction-related products you can get from Amazon. I think about it often, and still find it incredible that you can build an entire backyard playground without ever actually having to set foot in a store like Home Depot!
A Note on List Links
These are the exact materials and tools I used to build this playground. I literally copied and pasted my Amazon order history. I have used everything you see here and I highly recommend each and every item.
Hopefully this post takes the guesswork out of figuring out what materials and tools you need to build a backyard playground, so you can spend less time planning and more time building!
Did you find this guide useful? Have you built a playground or play set? What materials and tools did you use? Let me know in the comments below!
Read the other five posts on playground construction fundamentals: Overview, Connectors & Fasteners, Swings & Accessories, Lumber, and Design Concepts.
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