How to Build a Playground: Step 5 – Railing
Step-by-step instructions for adding railing to your playground.
Picking up from the previous step (where we added swings and monkey bars), now we will add railing to the playground towers and bridge. We will soon be adding access components to the playground (a rock climbing wall/step ladder and a ramp) so that children can get up to and down from the towers and bridge. Before we do that, we’ll want to enclose the deck/platform with railing for safety.
This picture shows railing on the actual playground:
This is the 5th 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 2 – Deck Boards, Step 3 – Bracing and Blocking, Step 4 – Swings and Monkey Bars, 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.
Railing for the playground is similar to railing for decks. The railing will consist of 4x4s for the railing posts, 2x4s for the handrails, and 2x2s (mitered on one end) for the balusters.
To make the railing, you will need a circular saw, impact driver, power drill, router (with a 45 degree Chamfer bit), level (for posts), and sandpaper from my Materials & Tools post. You will also need deck screws (both the 2-1/2 inch and 4 inch Simpson Strong-Tie DSV Wood Screw) and FastenMaster ThruLOKs (both the 6-1/4 inch and 8 inch) from my Connectors & Fasteners post. You can also install the solar deck lights from my Swings & Accessories post at this time.
There are three critical distances to be mindful of when installing railing, show here:
d1 is the height of the railing. Railing typically needs to be at least 36 inches tall. If the deck/platform is over 6 ft., then a railing height of 42 inches is recommended. I used 42 inch high railing for my playground, and it’s great. I’ve found it very comforting to have the railing be a little taller with adventurous, climbing-prone children.
d2 is the spacing in between balusters and the spacing in between the deck/platform and the bottom handrail. This distance cannot exceed 4 inches. There’s a nice trick you can use to make sure this distance doesn’t exceed 4 inches. Simply use a scrap piece of 2×4 as a spacer (a 2×4 is really 1.5 inches x 3.5 inches – so the 3.5 inch side will ensure you do not space balusters farther than 4 inches apart). Here is an example of a 2×4 spacer in between two balusters:
d3 is the spacing in between 4×4 railing posts. You do not want more than 6 ft. in between adjacent 4×4 railing posts.
Step 1: Make the 4×4 Railing Posts
I had 4″ x 4″ x 8′ lumber set aside for making the railing posts. Cut the 8 ft. 4x4s in half so you have 48 inch 4x4s. On these 48 inch 4x4s, mark a line at 42 inches. This will leave 42 inches for the desired railing height and 6 inches to bolt the post to the playground, like this:
Since these will get touched a lot, use a router (with a 45 degree Chamfer bit) to round the edges of the 4x4s, and further smooth the edges with sandpaper.
Step 2: Bolt the 4×4 Railing Posts to the Playground
We’re back to using FastenMaster ThruLOKs, this time to bolt the 4×4 railing posts to the playground. Note that we need two different ThruLOK lengths: the 6-1/4 inch is used to bolt the 4×4 railing post to a single 2x rim board/joist, whereas the 8 inch is used to bolt the 4×4 railing post to double 2x support beams. So depending on where you are as you move around the playground towers and bridge, you’ll need to use the appropriate length ThruLOK.
FastenMaster recommends using three ThruLOKs per 4×4 handrail post, bolted in a staggered pattern like this:
For the bridge, when you get to the corner railing 4x4s (where the bridge meets a tower), you can split the bolting between the double 2x support beams of a tower and the single 2x bridge joist. This fastening will create a stronger connection. I used two 8 inch ThruLOKs into the double 2x support beams of a tower, and one 6-1/4 inch ThruLOK into the outer bridge joist, like this:
In CAD, the bolting for the corner railing 4x4s looks like this:
Don’t forget to use the post level to ensure that the 4×4 railing posts are level.
Step 3: Screw the 2×4 Handrails to the 4×4 Railing Posts
With the 4×4 railing posts in place, you can easily screw the 2×4 handrails to the 4×4 railing posts using 4 inch Simpson Strong-Tie DSV Wood Screws. You’ll need two handrails per section of railing: one for the top of the 4×4 railing post and one for the bottom of the 4×4 railing post.
Use a tape measure to get the distances in between 4×4 railing posts, then use a circular saw to cut 2x4s to the desired length. Since the handrails will get touched a lot, use a router (with a 45 degree Chamfer bit) to round the edges of the 2x4s, and further smooth the edges with sandpaper.
Use four (minimum two) deck screws to screw the 2×4 handrail into the 4×4 railing post, like this:
For the bottom 2×4 handrail, don’t forget to use a scrap 2×4 as a spacer to ensure proper distance between the deck/platform and the bottom handrail, like this:
Step 4: Screw the 2×2 Balusters to the 2×4 Handrails
I used 42 inch 2x2s (mitered on one end) for balusters. These have two nice features: the edges are already smooth, and the mitered end creates a nice visual look.
I found it easier to cut the 2×2 balusters to the correct length using a circular saw first, then screw them in to the 2×4 handrails. Use the 2-1/2 inch Simpson Strong-Tie DSV Wood Screws here. I would also recommend drilling pilot holes before using the impact driver to screw in the balusters. 2x2s don’t have a lot of wood and can be prone to splitting and cracking without drilling pilot holes.
Try to use four screws per baluster: two screws into a baluster and the top handrail and two screws into a baluster and the bottom handrail. The mitered end can make it difficult to get two screws in, so you might only be able to get one screw into the top handrail:
As mentioned previously, use a scrap 2×4 to ensure proper spacing between balusters:
Step 5: Add Solar Deck Lights
These solar deck lights are a small detail that take the playground to the next level! They are the perfect 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. I spent a long time researching to find an outdoor accent light like this that had an IP65 weather-resistance rating (most I found were only IP55).
They screw right onto the tops of the 4×4 railing posts. Screws are provided. Here’s what the playground looks like at night:
With the deck/platform enclosed with railing, now we can add access components to the playground so that children can get up to and down from the towers and bridge. First up will be a combination rock climbing wall/step ladder.
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 2 – Deck Boards, Step 3 – Bracing and Blocking, Step 4 – Swings and Monkey Bars, Step 6 – Rock Climbing Wall and Step Ladder, Step 7 – Step Ramp, and Step 8 – Staining Wood.
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