How to Build a Playground: Step 2 – Deck Boards
Step-by-step instructions for adding deck boards to your playground’s towers and bridges.
Picking up from the previous step (where we built the main structural frame of the towers and bridges), now we will add deck boards on top of the tower and bridge joists to create a deck/platform surface that you can walk on. Completing this step will feel very rewarding – you’ll actually be able to get up on your playground and walk around on it!
By the end of this post, the playground will look like this (again, hopefully without the snow!):
Or in CAD, at the end of this post the playground will look like this:
This is the 2nd post of my step-by-step How to Build a Playground series. You can read the other posts in this series through these links: Step 1 – Towers and Bridges, Step 3 – Bracing and Blocking, Step 4 – Swings and Monkey Bars, Step 5 – Railing, Step 6 – Rock Climbing Wall and Step Ladder, Step 7 – Step Ramp, and Step 8 – Staining Wood. This series will show you how to build a playground that looks like this:
There are additional posts and a separate six-part series covering the fundamentals of building a playground; you can explore those on my Playground page.
Deck Boards: Overview
This is one of the easier steps in playground construction as it doesn’t require difficult woodworking. Just be sure to take your time when laying the deck boards so that they are evenly spaced.
From my Materials & Tools post, you’ll need an impact driver, circular saw, hand saw, router, sandpaper, and deck board spacers (1/8 inch). I’ve found the 1/8 inch spacing to be perfect. If you don’t have (or don’t want to buy) spacers, you can also use thin nails or screws as spacers. From my Connectors & Fasteners post, all you’ll need are the 4 inch Simpson Strong-Tie DSV Wood Screws.
I talked quite a bit about types of lumber in my Lumber post. For my playground’s deck boards, I used pressure-treated 2x6s. A wood 2×6 is not really made for deck boards, but can certainly be used in this application. Deck boards are their own separate category of lumber. A typical deck board has dimension of 5/4 inches x 6 inches, with radius-edge being extremely common (radius-edge means the edges have already been smoothed).
The reason I chose 2x6s is that they are 1.5 inches thick, whereas the typical 5/4 inch deck board is only 1 to 1-1/4 inches thick. I’m always a fan of using more wood as it means added strength and durability. However, 2×6 edges aren’t smooth – so this did mean that I had to use my router to smooth their edges, which was quite time-consuming. If I had to do it over again, I would have bought radius-edge 5/4 deck boards. It would have made this step of playground construction a breeze and greatly reduced build time.
Finally, if you are using 2x6s you might wonder which side of the 2×6 should face up? My honest answer is to use whichever side looks the best. If both sides look ok, but there is some cupping, then place the cupping downward so the crowning is upward. Crowning will help water roll off the 2×6, whereas cupping will cause water to pool on the surface of the 2×6.
Step 1: Smooth Three Sides of the 2×6 Deck Boards
I used 2x6s for deck boards (as opposed to pre-smoothed, radius-edge 5/4 deck boards). Still wanting to smooth the edges of the 2x6s, I used my router with a 45 degree Chamfer bit and finished the smoothing with some sandpaper.
You only need to smooth the top three sides of the 2×6 (both of the two long sides, and one of the short sides), like this:
The last short side will get cut, routed, and smoothed in Step 4 below.
Step 2: Start with the Deck Boards That Go Between the 6×6 Tower Posts
When laying deck boards, the most important thing is to pick a direction and work your way down the playground in that direction. I moved left to right when looking at my playground. The tower on the left of my playground has an extra post for monkey bars, so I had to cut two 2x6s down to length. Use a router and sandpaper to smooth all four sides of these cut 2x6s.
Place them on the double 2x support beams, and screw them in using an impact driver and the 4 inch Simpson Strong-Tie DSV Wood Screws. You should be able to get one screw in a double 2x support beam and one screw in a joist. The playground should look like this:
Step 3: Use Deck Spacers and Work Your Way Down the Tower
Place the next deck board on the tower joists, and squeeze two deck spacers (blue squares) in between the deck board you just screwed in and the deck board you just put on. Line up the routed short side (green arrow) of the deck board flush with tower rim board. Let the non-routed side (white arrow) hang off the back of the tower. It should look like this:
Secure the deck board to the two rim boards first to ensure it is straight, like this:
Then screw the rest of the deck board down to the tower joists using two screws per joist, like this:
Keep doing this for all of the remaining deck boards. When you get toward the end of the tower, you might need to place the last few deck boards with slightly wider spacing (or no spacing) to make these last few deck boards fit nicely. Otherwise, you may have to trim the width of the last deck board to make it fit perfectly.
Once all of the deck boards have been fastened, it’s nice to take a moment to look underneath the deck/platform and make sure each screw went into a joist. Occasionally you might miss a joist and have a screw sticking out underneath the deck/platform. That’s never good, especially if children will be running around under the towers and bridges. Have someone stand underneath the deck to help you identify which screws missed their joists, then re-screw them into the joists.
Step 4: Trim (and Rout) the Deck Board Overhang
While one of the short sides of the deck boards will be nicely in line with the tower, the other short side will be hanging off the back side of the tower. While I had an 8ft. wide tower and used 8 ft. long 2x6s for deck boards, each 2×6 measured slightly off from 8 ft. The back side of the tower will probably look like this:
This situation is an easy fix. Trim overhanging deck boards using a circular saw. You may need to use a hand saw for the boards close for the 6×6 tower posts as the circular saw may not fit in this tight space. Round the cut edges with a router, and smooth with sandpaper.
This is why we didn’t use a router on one of the short sides of the deck boards earlier in Step 1!
Step 5: Repeat for Remaining Towers and bridges
With deck boards on one tower, you repeat this same procedure for any remaining towers and bridges in your playground.
Like I said earlier, there isn’t a lot of difficult woodworking required with deck boards. Just be sure to take your time when laying the deck boards so that they are evenly spaced.
Once you’re done laying deck boards and they’re all fastened down, be sure to take a moment to get up and walk around on the deck/platform. Your playground is coming along nicely!
When walking on the deck/platform at this stage, you might notice some lateral sway and movement. That’s called racking, and is common in free-standing structures like this.
In the next post, we will add bracing to the tower deck/platform to completely eliminate racking when walking on the playground deck/platform.
Did you find this guide useful? Have you built a playground or play set? Let me know in the comments below!
Read the other posts in this series: Step 1 – Towers and Bridges, Step 3 – Bracing and Blocking, Step 4 – Swings and Monkey Bars, Step 5 – Railing, Step 6 – Rock Climbing Wall and Step Ladder, Step 7 – Step Ramp, and Step 8 – Staining Wood.
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