Step-by-step instructions for staining a playground’s wood lumber.
Picking up from the previous step (where we added a step ramp), now we will stain the wood lumber used to build the playground. We’ll also use this step to add slides to the playground and wrap up a few loose ends.
Here is a before-and-after showing what the playground looked like before staining vs. after staining:
This is the 8th and final 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 7 – Step Ramp. 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.
Staining helps preserve wood by preventing the two main sources of natural wood decay: water damage and UV (sun) damage. Staining the playground is also a nice way to add visual appeal by coloring the wood.
This step is optional, and also one of personal taste. Depending on how long you want your playground to last, you might not even want to stain the wood. Pressure-treated wood will easily last 10-15 years outdoors, and that time frame might take you all the way through to when your children won’t be interested in playing on a playground anymore. At that point, you might consider tearing down the playground to get your backyard space back. You might also like the look of natural wood, and while it will discolor/turn gray over time without stain, again by the time this happens you might be at a point where you are considering tearing down the playground.
You did spend a lot of time and effort building the playground, though, so I think it’s a great final step to stain the playground’s wood lumber for maximal strength and longevity of the wood. I would opt for a solid stain as opposed to a semi-transparent stain, as solid stains offer more UV protection than semi-transparent stains.
As to which stain to use, there are many great options out there. I simply used the same stain that I use to stain the deck of our house: Sherwin-Williams SuperDeck Exterior Waterborne Solid Color Deck Stain. The stain color I used is called Ember.
Step 1: Seal Gaps with Wood Caulking
This step is optional, but if you added joist flashing tape and you’re taking the time to stain wood, then it’s a good idea to do this step before staining.
There will be two main places where gaps in wood will naturally occur during playground 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.
Much like joist flashing tape, wood caulk will help keep water out and prolong the life of the playground. I fill gaps with Sashco Conceal Textured Wood Caulking, which is designed specifically for wood:
It’s a good idea to add wood caulking before staining, that way you can paint over the wood caulk so that all colors match.
Here is a before-and-after showing the wood caulking (white arrows) before staining vs. after staining:
Step 2: Let the Wood Dry and Weather
For most outdoor construction using wood lumber, it is advised to let the wood dry and weather for 3-12 months before staining. The wood needs to be porous and accepting of stain since the stain will soak into the wood fibers, otherwise the stain will simply dry on top of the wood and eventually peel or flake off.
Realistically, the process of working down the wood and constructing the playground will take a couple of months anyway. And if you built the playground in the winter like I did, then you’ll have to wait a few more months until the warmer Spring weather allows for staining.
Step 3: Wait for a Stretch of Dry Weather
When you’re ready to stain, try to fit it in your schedule during a long stretch of dry weather/no rain (a few days is ideal). That way the stain will have ample time to soak into the wood and dry.
Step 4: Clean the Wood
It’s likely that, even though you might have just built the playground, it has already gotten some use. Be sure to clean the playground of dirt, mud, and other debris before staining. You can use wet cloths, or sandpaper if needed. It’s probably overkill to use a pressure washer, unless the playground has been outside for a long period of time and has seen heavy use.
Step 5: Stain the Wood
You’ll need a few gallons of stain and a few different sizes of paint brushes. As I mentioned before, I used Sherwin-Williams SuperDeck Exterior Waterborne Solid Color Deck Stain, and the color I used was called Ember.
There’s not really any trick to staining – just be sure to apply the stain thoroughly. I try to avoid staining over connectors and fasteners, as they add a little visual contrast to the playground structure.
Be careful around the solar deck lights and other playground accessories. Use a wet cloth, or even baby wipes, to remove excess stain. If the stain has already dried, you might need to use something stronger to remove it, such as paint thinner.
In terms of how often you should stain the wood, it’s typically recommended to apply stain every 2-3 years. This is a matter of personal taste, though. It really depends on how long you want your playground to last.
Step 6: Add Slides
I was able to find slides through Kids Creations – here is a link to the exact slides I bought. I was looking for scoop slides – straight, fast, and tons of fun! With a playground deck/platform height of 7 ft., you’ll need the 14ft. long scoop slide. And of course you’ll need two – one for each tower! Here’s what the slide on the tower with the rock climbing wall/step ladder looks like:
These particular slides didn’t come with hardware to install them, but you already have what you need. From my Materials & Tools post, all you need are three 8-inch timber screws per slide. There are three pre-drilled holes at the top of the slide for the screws to go. Using the timber screws and an impact driver, simply fasten the slide to the tower’s rim joist:
You can also have giant shark sprinklers span across the slides for endless water fun!
This is the final post of my step-by-step “How to Build a Playground” series! I sincerely hope you have found these informative and useful.
If you were following along, hopefully you also built an incredible playground for your children and family to enjoy for years to come! And if you added a porch swing to your playground, be sure to spend time sitting on it so you can relish and appreciate all your hard work!
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 7 – Step Ramp.
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