How to Build a Playground: Step 7 – Step Ramp
Step-by-step instructions for adding a step ramp to your playground.
Picking up from the previous step (where we added a combination rock climbing wall/step ladder), now we will add a step ramp to the playground. While the rock climbing wall/step ladder is a lot of fun, sometimes you need an easier way to get up to and down from the playground deck/platform. That’s where the step ramp comes in!
Here’s what it looks like on the actual playground:
This is the 7th 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 5 – Railing, Step 6 – Rock Climbing Wall and Step Ladder, 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.
Constructing the step ramp will combine the last two steps that we just worked through: the step ramp joists will mirror what we did in Step 6: Rock Climbing Wall and Step Ladder, then we will enclose the step ramp in railing similar to what we did in Step 5: Railing.
To make the step ramp, you will need a circular saw, impact driver, router (with a 45 degree Chamfer bit), angle finder (digital), deck board spacers, flashing tape, hammer, level (48 inch), level (for posts), and sandpaper from my Materials & Tools post. You will also need the LSCZ Simpson Strong-Tie Adjustable Stair Stringers, ML24Z Simpson Strong-Tie ML Angle Connectors, deck screws (both 2-1/2 and 4 inch), 3 inch timber screws, Strong-Drive SDS Heavy-Duty Connector Screws, FastenMaster ThruLOKs (6-1/4 inch), and nails (.148 x 1-1/2 inch) from my Connectors & Fasteners post. Lastly, you’ll need the solar deck lights from my Swings & Accessories post.
The main design choice you’ll need to think about is how steep you want the step ramp to be. The steeper it is, the more difficult it will be to walk up/down. If you’re really constrained by space, you might want to consider putting in stairs.
I made my step ramp 3 ft. wide (which is also the width of the playground bridge). This is a nice width that accommodates two lanes of walking traffic. Note that with a 3 ft. wide step ramp we will need 4 joists (spaced every 12 inches).
This is also another example where I used redundancy in playground construction, as I duplicated the fastening of the step ramp to the playground tower. The step ramp will be heavily used, and it’s also not attached to anything on one side (the side that sits on the ground), so increased reliability for attaching the step ramp to the playground tower is always a good idea.
Step 1: Calculate the Joist Angles
You’re going to want to use the same triangle calculator that we used in Step 3: Bracing and Blocking to calculate the joist angles. Here’s the triangle I used for my playground step ramp:
You need three values for the triangle calculator, and we have exactly three known values to plug in. First is the 90 degree angle we’re creating between the tower and the step ramp (angle B in the triangle above). Second is the height of the triangle (side a in the triangle above) – this is 82.5 inches for my playground. Note that I have a 7 ft. high deck/platform, and 7 ft. is 84 inches. However, I need to subtract off 1.5 inches as that’s the height of the 2x6s I used for deck boards. So, 84 – 1.5 = 82.5 inches. That’s why you see 82.5 in the triangle above. Third, is the length of the joist. Since I was using 2″ x 10″ x 12′ lumber for joists, I decided in advance that 12 ft. would be the length of the step ramp as I didn’t want to cut the length of the joists down to size. So, 12 ft. is 144 inches (side b in the triangle above).
Plugging these three known values in to the triangle calculator gives the two values we really need to know, angle A at 35 degrees and angle C at 55 degrees. Here are where these two angles go on the actual playground step ramp:
Step 2: Cut the Joists at These Angles
On the lumber for your joists (I used 2x10s), mark and trace the angles that you just calculated using the digital angle finder. Then use the circular saw to cut the joists at these angles.
Step 3: Use the LSCZ and Nail in the Joists
Mark the rim board of the playground tower where the 4 joists will go. Then nail in the joists using LSCZ Simpson Strong-Tie Adjustable Stair Stringers and .148 x 1-1/2 inch nails. Nail in the upper portion of the LSCZ Stair Stringer first (red arrow), followed by the bottom portion (white arrow), like this:
Step 4: Further Secure Joists with ML24Z Angle Connectors
You can see that the LSCZ Stair Stringer attaches to one side of the joist. On the other side, you can further secure the joist using a ML24Z Angle Connector with Strong-Drive SDS Heavy-Duty Connector Screws. This connection will look like this:
Since the joists are steeply angled downward, you probably only have room for the smaller ML24Z. However, if space permits, you can certainly use a ML26Z here.
Step 5: Further Secure Joists with Timber Screws
The third and final method of securing the step ramp joists to the playground tower is a simple timber screw. This will run through the rim board of the tower into the joists, as pictured here (in a white circle):
You’ll probably only have space for a 3 inch timber screw, but certainly use a longer screw if space permits.
Step 6: Add Joist Flashing Tape
This step is optional, but recommended. Flashing tape is a self-adhering, waterproof strip of tape that is designed to protect joists 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).
Step 7: Add Bracing and Blocking
These joists will be prone to racking (lateral sway/side-to-side movement) since only one end is firmly fastened to the playground tower (the other end of the joist simply rests on the ground). Just like we did in Step 3: Bracing and Blocking, add bracing and blocking to these joists. The only difference is that this bracing is not diagonal knee bracing, but rather a simple cross brace across all of the joists.
This picture shows bracing (red arrows) and blocking (white arrows) on the step ramp:
Fasten both the bracing and blocking using 4 inch deck screws.
Step 8: Add Deck Boards
I used 2x10s for the deck boards of the step ramp, which were cut to 3 ft. using a circular saw. I then rounded and smoothed the deck boards using a router (with a 45 degree Chamfer bit) and sandpaper.
When laying the deck boards, leave a little bit of space in between successive deck boards using the deck board spacers. Use the 48 inch level to ensure that each deck board is level, then fasten it in using three 4 inch deck screws per joist:
Avoid fastening these 2×10 deck boards at the very top of the 2×10. We will use this space for fastening a 2×2 “step” on the ramp in the very next step below.
Step 9: Add the 2×2 “Steps”
To give a little more traction and support when ascending/descending, you can add “steps” to the ramp. I used the same 42 inch 2×2 balusters from Step 5: Railing, but trimmed them down to 36 inches (cutting off the mitered end) using the circular saw. I would recommend drilling pilot holes before using the impact driver to screw in these steps, as 2x2s don’t have a lot of wood and can be prone to splitting and cracking without drilling pilot holes.
Add the 2×2 “steps” (white arrows) to the top of the 2×10 deck boards using one 4 inch deck screw per joist, like this:
Step 10: Add Railing to the Step Ramp
Constructing railing for the step ramp is the same process as constructing railing for the playground deck/platform. The railing will consist of 4x4s for the railing posts, 2x4s for the handrails, and 2x2s (mitered on one end) for the balusters.
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 step ramp. 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.
Bolt the 4×4 railing posts to the outer step ramp joists using 6-1/4 inch FastenMaster ThruLOKs. Don’t forget to use the post level to ensure that the 4×4 railing posts are level! FastenMaster recommends using three ThruLOKs per 4×4 handrail post, bolted in a staggered pattern like this:
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. 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. 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:
Finally, use the 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:
Use a scrap 2×4 to ensure proper spacing between balusters:
Step 11: 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:
Congratulations! That completes the construction of the playground!
In the next post, we will stain the playground’s wood lumber and tie up a few loose ends.
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 5 – Railing, Step 6 – Rock Climbing Wall and Step Ladder, and Step 8 – Staining Wood.
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