How to Build a Playground: Connectors and Fasteners
A complete list of the connectors and fasteners needed to build your own DIY playground and play set!
I distinctly remember spending a very long time researching connectors and fasteners while still in the playground design phase, trying to figure out the best (and safest) way to take a design that was on a piece of paper and construct it in my backyard. To complicate matters, there’s a dizzying array of options for connectors and fasteners. Simpson Strong-Tie, an industry leader in connectors, currently offers 15 different options for joist hangers. And that’s just for face-mount hangers for solid sawn lumber! That’s a lot to sort through when all you’re trying to do is build a playground for your children.
While I enjoyed this engineering challenge due to my former (pre-children) work background, most people probably want to skip the nitty-gritty of connectors and fasteners and just build the playground. So, with this post allow me to take the guesswork out of figuring out what you need, so you can spend less time planning and more time building! And as a reminder, we’re building a playground that looks like this:
This is the third 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, Materials & Tools, 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.
Before we begin, if you’re not familiar with construction projects then you might not be familiar with the terminology “connectors” and “fasteners.” Collectively, they’re the hardware that you’ll use throughout the project. Connectors are used to join two separate pieces of lumber together. Examples include joist hangers, plates, straps, ties, and post-to-beam brackets/caps. Fasteners are used to secure the connectors in place. Examples include bolts, nails, and screws. Of course, you can also use fasteners without connectors. The nomenclature is a minor point, but if you start looking into companies that make these items (like Simpson Strong-Tie), they tend to use phrases like “fastening systems” (read: screws and nails). So, now you know what they’re really talking about!
You’ll also see two other terms that are worth defining. The first is HDG, an acronym for Hot-Dip Galvanized. Hot-dip galvanizing is a process of providing a protective coating (zinc) over steel. The thicker the galvanized coating, the more weather-resistant, durable, and suitable for pressure-treated wood the steel is. The second is ZMAX, which is specific to Simpson Strong-Tie, and is simply their name for a thicker galvanized coating (a “G185” coating) compared to standard HDG (a “G90” coating). Whatever connectors and fasteners you use, make sure they are HDG and rated for exterior use. Alternatively, you can also use stainless steel connectors and fasteners as stainless steel offers the best level of corrosion protection. However, stainless steel tends to be prohibitively costly for most projects (I only used HDG and ZMAX for my children’s playground). Simpson Strong-Tie offers a nice summary of various materials and coatings for wood construction here.
When it comes to wood construction connectors, Simpson Strong-Tie is the industry leader and has pretty much cornered the whole market. If you look closely at playgrounds (or decks, houses, and almost any other wood construction project), they’re all pretty much using Simpson Strong-Tie connectors. And for good reason – they’re engineered well, easy to install, and durable. So, I chose to use their connectors for this project and was incredibly happy with them. In the list of Connectors below, you will find that it is sorted alphabetically by Simpson Strong-Tie product number.
Simpson Strong-Tie connectors require proper installation with the right fasteners, and of course those fasteners are also manufactured by Simpson Strong-Tie. The company says that use of their fasteners with their connectors is for obtaining optimal performance and achieving maximal allowable design load. Since I needed to use a fair amount of Simpson Strong-Tie fasteners anyway, I decided to use their fasteners in two other areas: timber screws (for securing joists and other framing members) and deck screws. While I did like these screws, you can feel free to substitute these with your favorite brand of screws. GRK Fasteners and Spax are two other manufacturers of really great outdoor wood screws.
There are two list categories below: one on Connectors and one on Fasteners. My goal is to make this discussion 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 Connectors list is sorted alphabetically by Simpson Strong-Tie product number. The Fasteners list is sorted alphabetically by fastener type, and then numerically by fastener size.
Much like my other posts in this series, a Quick List is first where I simply list all the connectors and fasteners needed. That way, if you’re familiar with construction projects, you can simply check to see what you need. 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, and the corresponding fastener to use for a given connector and the corresponding connector for a given fastener.
Let’s get to the nuts and bolts (pun intended) – here we go!
- CC66HDG: Simpson Strong-Tie 6x Beam/Post Column Cap, HDG
- ECC66HDG: Simpson Strong-Tie 6×6 End Column Cap, HDG
- KBS1Z: Simpson Strong-Tie Knee-Brace Stabilizer
- LSCZ: Simpson Strong-Tie Adjustable Stair Stringer
- LUS210Z: Simpson Strong-Tie Face-Mount Joist Hanger for 2×10 Nominal Lumber
- ML24Z: Simpson Strong-Tie ML Angle Connector
- ML26Z: Simpson Strong-Tie ML Angle Connector
- Bolts: 5/8 Inch Through Bolts
- FastenMaster ThruLOK Screw Bolts: 6-1/4 Inches
- FastenMaster ThruLOK Screw Bolts: 7 Inches
- FastenMaster ThruLOK Screw Bolts: 8 Inches
- Nails: .131 x 1-1/2 Inch, Simpson Strong-Tie N8D5HDG
- Nails: .131 x 2-1/2 Inch, Simpson Strong-Tie 8DHDGPT500
- Nails: .148 x 1-1/2 Inch, Simpson Strong-Tie N10D5HDG
- Nails: .148 x 3 Inch, Simpson Strong-Tie 10D5HDG
- Nuts: 5/8 Inch Through Bolt HDG Nuts
- Screws: Deck screws, 2-1/2 Inches, Simpson Strong-Tie DSV Wood Screws
- Screws: Deck screws, 4 Inches, Simpson Strong-Tie DSV Wood Screws
- Screws: Strong-Drive SDS Heavy-Duty Connector Screw, 1/4 x 1-1/2 Inch, Simpson Strong-Tie
- Screws: Timber screws, .220 x 3 Inches, Simpson Strong-Tie
- Screws: Timber screws, .220 x 8 Inches, Simpson Strong-Tie
Quantity: 2 total column caps
Fasteners: Six 5/8 inch through bolts per column cap
I like to call these post-to-beam brackets as that’s a more informative description than their actual name, column caps. I used two of these in a specific place on the playground: I cantilevered two horizontal support beams so I could add the trapeze swing bar and gymnastics rings on the cantilevered side while still having a swing seat on the other side, as shown in the below picture.
This is by far the strongest method for cantilevering a horizontal beams. Each CC66HDG bracket uses six 5/8 inch through bolts as fasteners, making this incredibly secure and stable. I’ve seen many adults and children use the gymnastics rings, pull up bars, monkey bars, and trapeze bar and rings, and there is no sway in the horizontal swing support beams or vertical posts whatsoever.
I would have preferred to use the CCQ66-SDS2.5HDG, as these use screws to provide faster installation (the through bolts are kind of a pain to install). However, I wasn’t able to find the HDG version of the CCQ66.
Alternatively, you can use T straps as a more cost-effective solution to making this connection, or even basic tie plates and tie straps. But these options definitely won’t be as secure.
Quantity: 8 total end column caps
Fasteners: Four 5/8 inch through bolts per end column cap
I like to call these end post-to-beam brackets as that’s a more informative description than their actual name, end column caps. You will use these to secure the connection between a horizontal swing support beam and the two vertical posts holding the support beam up, as shown in this picture:
This is by far the strongest method of connecting support beams to end posts. Each ECC66HDG bracket uses four 5/8 inch through bolts as fasteners, making this incredibly secure and stable. I’ve seen many adults use swings on this playground, and there is no sway in the horizontal swing support beam or vertical posts whatsoever.
As with the column caps, I would have preferred to use the ECCQ66-SDS2.5HDG, as these use screws to provide faster installation (the through bolts are kind of a pain to install). However, I wasn’t able to find the HDG version of the ECCQ66.
Alternatively, you can use L straps as a more cost-effective solution to making this connection, or even basic tie plates and tie straps. But these options definitely won’t be as secure.
Quantity: 56 total brace stabilizers
Fasteners: 12 nails (.131 x 1-1/2 inch and/or .131 x 2-1/2 inch) per brace stabilizer
Despite strong connections between posts and support beams, free-standing structures will often have minor sway, or movement. I noticed this when I had finished laying down the deck boards for the towers and bridge, and was testing the stability of the playground structure. While minor, as I would walk across the deck boards I would notice sway in the playground along the direction that I walked. To completely eliminate this motion, I installed bracing between the posts and support beams. The KBS1Z is a great way to make this structural connection and helps stabilize the entire structure. An example is shown here:
Quantity: 9 total stair stringers
Fasteners: 16 nails (.148 x 1-1/2 inch) per stringer
The joists that make up the rock climbing wall/step ladder and ramp on the two towers have to be attached to the rim board of the playground structure. And given that the rock climbing wall/step ladder and ramp at at fairly steep angles, you can’t use traditional joist hangers to make this connection. LSCZ adjustable stair stringers are designed just for this situation, and can be used to connect the angled joists to the rim board – as shown here:
As an alternative, it is possible you might be able to use the LRUZ face-mount rafter hanger. However, these aren’t as adjustable as the LSCZ and are only really meant for angles up to 45 degrees.
Quantity: 32 total joist hangers
Fasteners: 12 nails (.148 x 3 inch) per joist hanger
The LUS210Z is a widely used joist hanger for 2×10 joists. The LUS line of joist hangers has double-shear nailing that distributes the load through two points on each joist nail for greater strength. Ends of joists get connected to the header/support beams like this:
While I did use nails for these joist hangers, you can also use Strong-Drive SD Connector screws. If I had to do this project over again, I would use the screws as manually nailing all of these joist hangers in was quite tedious and time-consuming.
Quantity: 9 total angle connectors
Fasteners: Six Strong-Drive SDS Heavy-Duty Connector Screws (1/4 x 1-1/2 inch) per angle connector
The joists of the rock climbing wall/step ladder and ramp were all connected to the rim board with LSCZ adjustable stair stringers. That was on one side of the joist. For redundancy and increased reliability, I reinforced this connection on the other side of the joist with ML24Z angle connectors. An example is shown here:
Quantity: 24 total angle connectors
Fasteners: Eight Strong-Drive SDS Heavy-Duty Connector Screws (1/4 x 1-1/2 inch) per angle connector
Posts and support beams were connected using FastenMaster ThruLOKs. For redundancy and increased reliability, I reinforced this connection using ML26Z angle connectors. An example is shown here:
Quantity: 44 bolts
Connectors: CC66HDG and ECC66HDG
These bolts did the job, and they’re HDG so that’s good. I did have two criticisms of them, though. First, they have a square underside to the head. That’s meant as a self-locking mechanism when driven in wood in order to eliminate bolt spinning. However, this isn’t necessary when using a steel bracket and the square underside means the bolt doesn’t line up flush with the column cap brackets. Second, the 8 inch length is a bit long. 6-1/2 or 7 inches would have been preferred. Not deal breakers, but if you can find other HDG 5/8 inch bolts then feel free to use those.
Quantity: 58 total ThruLOKs
Connection: 4×4 handrail posts to 2×10 rim board
This specific ThruLOK size is meant to connect 4x lumber with 2x lumber. You’ll use three of these per handrail post, plus a few more for the bridge handrail posts. They provide an incredibly secure connection, and the handrail will feel very sturdy. You install them in a staggered manner like this:
Quantity: 104 total ThruLOKs
Connection: Notched 6×6 posts
This specific ThruLOK size is meant to traverse the width of a 6×6 post. Either 2×10 rim boards or double 2×10 support beams will run through notched 6×6 posts, and the connection at the notch will be made with 7 inch ThruLOKs. This photo shows an example:
Quantity: 20 total ThruLOKs
Connection: 4×4 handrail posts to double 2×10 support beams
This specific ThruLOK size is meant to connect 4x lumber with double 2x lumber. You’ll use three of these per handrail post, plus a few more for the bridge handrail posts. They’re installed just like the 6-1/4 inch ThruLOKs, and similarly provide an incredibly secure and sturdy connection.
Quantity: Approx. 672 total nails
The bracing I used throughout the playground was extra 2x lumber I had left over (mostly either 2×4 or 2×6). This nail length (1-1/2 inch) is meant for nailing into 2x bracing or into 2x rim boards.
Quantity: Approx. 100 total nails
The bracing used throughout the playground made connections between 6×6 posts and 2×10 support beams/rim boards. Since the 6×6 posts have sufficient thickness, I used this nail length (2-1/2 inch) when nailing in the KBS1Z into posts.
Quantity: 144 total nails
The LSCZ stair stringers were used on 2×10 joists connected to 2×10 rim boards. This nail length (1-1/2 inch) is meant for nailing into 2x lumber.
Quantity: 384 total nails
The LUS210Z joist hangers were nailed into double 2×10 support beams. This nail length (3 inches) is meant for nailing into double 2x lumber.
Quantity: 88 nuts (44 bolts x 2)
Connectors: CC66HDG and ECC66HDG
While each bolt can get one nut, the use of a double nut (also called a jam nut) is a more effective method of preventing vibrational forces from loosening the bolt-to-nut connection. A double nut looks like this:
Quantity: Approx. 750 total screws
Connection: 2×2 handrail balusters to 2×4 handrails
You’re connecting two 2x pieces of lumber, which means you have 3 total inches of wood to connect. I like to use as much of that wood as possible, hence the 2-1/2 inch length screws. You could alternatively use a screw length of 1-1/2 or 2 inches if those are more readily available. This photo shows where this screw is used:
Quantity: Approx. 2,000 total screws
Connection: 2×6 deck boards to 2×10 joists, 2×10 blocking, and 2×4 handrails to 4×4 handrail posts
The main screw used throughout the entire playground construction, and the longest deck screw that Simpson Strong-Tie makes. You will use these screws to secure the 2×6 deck boards to the joists, the secure blocking to joists underneath the deck platform, and to secure 2×4 handrails to 4×4 handrail posts. This photo shows an example of where this screw is used:
Quantity: 246 total (54 for ML24Z and 192 for ML26Z)
Connectors: ML24Z and ML26Z
This is the only item that I couldn’t find on Amazon. You can get it at Home Depot here. I will say that the serrated threads offer excellent and immediate wood penetration – I never had to drill pilot holes when using these screws.
Quantity: Approx 50 total screws
Connection: Double 2×10 support beams
I used these 3 inch screws to secure double 2×10 supports beams together. I had initially tried to use a caulk adhesive to keep two 2×10 boards together, but the adhesive strength of the caulk always gave out due to the weight of the boards. So I just decided to screw the boards together. Probably overkill to use timber screws for simply keeping two boards together (could have used the 2-1/2 inch deck screws), but that’s what I used.
Quantity: Approx. 184 total screws
Connection: 2×10 joists (eight per joist – four at each end of the joist) and 2x bracing (two per brace – one at each end of the brace)
Timber screws are the strongest screws that Simpson Strong-Tie makes, and they’re used for structural framing (such as attaching joists to support beams). Each one of these screws holds 405 lbs! You install four of these at each end of a joist, and that joist isn’t going anywhere.
I also used these to further secure bracing, as I found the KBS1Z used with a 2x brace to be a bit weak.
Where to Buy?
I bought almost everything you see here on Amazon. As with the Materials & Tools and Swings & Accessories, 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. There was only one item that wasn’t available on Amazon and that I had to get at Home Depot (the Strong-Drive SDS Heavy-Duty Connector Screw, 1/4 x 1-1/2 Inch).
I’v mentioned this before, 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
As with my other playground posts, these are the exact connectors and fasteners I used to build this playground. I literally copied and pasted my Amazon order history (and, for that one type of screw, my Home Depot 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 connectors and fasteners 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 connectors and fasteners did you use? Let me know in the comments below!
Read the other five posts on playground construction fundamentals: Overview, Materials & Tools, Swings & Accessories, Lumber, and Design Concepts.
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