Learn how to build an outdoor playground or playset that is higher quality and cheaper than you can buy at a store. No need to be on a waitlist for those backyard wooden playsets because you can start building one this weekend.
DIY projects are perfect for outdoor spaces. You can make it completely yours by adding fun activities for the kids and even a special outdoor space for adults like a screened-in porch project. Our family was so excited to build an “outdoor treehouse” and DIY playset in our backyard.
Why not just buy an outdoor playground for our backyard?
After looking at all the premade treehouses, playsets and playgrounds we came to the conclusion that they were either too cheaply made or the overall price was just too expensive.
The main playsets my husband wanted to get were from places that don’t even list the prices in their catalogs (what does that tell you about price??!) Therefore, this DIY family decided to build our own DIY outdoor children’s playset.
At the end of this post, I will list the cheaper outdoor playsets that we considered buying.
Considerations When Building Your Own Homemade Playset
- How much do you want to spend? Pressure-treated quality lumber and/or natural wood for the outdoors is not necessarily cheap.
- Where will you be putting your playset?
- How long do you want this to last? What age range do you want your playground to accommodate?
- What safety concerns will you address? You will need to build features to make sure that your DIY playset is safe.
- What other accessories may you want to purchase?
Extra Swingset Accessories Used
For our playground, we built the main structure but bought a few additional items. Here is a list of the playground accessories we purchased.
- pirate flag
- steering wheel
- climbing rope and climbing rock holds.
- In addition, we have a spot to add a swing or long rope to climb. I couldn’t believe we were able to order all of our accessories from Amazon.
Unfortunately, sometimes the slide (Olympus Wave Slide) that we ordered is not always available. You may have to shop around to find a slide that could work for you.
If we were building this again, we would maybe consider this 5-foot tube slide.
Other places to purchase Olympus Wave Slide
Designing Your Playset
- We decided to put ours between two trees for the shade
- Ours is 8’ x 8’ because this makes the least amount of waste – most bang for your buck in using 16’ long pieces
- Our major limiting factor for height was due to the pre-made slide we bought from Amazon. It is designed to be mounted 5’ off of the ground.
- Sketch everything out and take the sketch to your local lumber store to bounce ideas off of them. It never hurts to have a second opinion.
Did we need a building permit?
Note we did not apply for a local building permit. Each municipality has varying rules for structures like this. Please do your own research.
Outdoor Playset Plans
Recommended Tools and Materials List
- Six (6) 4″ x 4″ x 16′ posts pressure-treated
- 2x6x16’ – pressure-treated
- 2x4x16’ – pressure-treated
- 1x6x8 – pressure-treated deck boards
- 18 bags of Quickcrete (bagged concrete) – 3 bags per hole/post
- Exterior deck screws
- Double head #16 nails
Any playground accessories you want to add (see our list above)
Where To Buy Lumber
Full disclosure: All wood and lumber were delivered to our driveway from our local lumber store. Local lumber stores are a great resource for this and all other types of projects.
Above, I have linked to the items at big box stores so that you are able to see the items specifically since our local lumber store doesn’t even a have website I could link to.
You will want to do research on whether you are comfortable using pressure-treated wood for a child’s playset. The pressure-treated wood of today (after 2003) seems to be safer, but you need to make that choice as to what you feel comfortable about.
Building Your Outdoor Playset
Step 1: Design Your Playset
Choose the footprint and size of your playset structure. See the above sketch and dimensions of our playset.
Step 2: Layout Post Design
Layout post locations at corners of the structure. This playset has two levels so 6 wooden posts were marked out.
If you only are going to have one level for your “treehouse”, then you may only need 4 posts depending on the size of your structure.
Step 3: Look At Your Layout From A Distance
Take a step back and make sure the orientation is how you want it. This might seem silly, but it is important that you take some time and really make sure you are building this playset in the right location for your yard.
Step 4: Dig One Corner Post Hole
Use a shovel and a post hole digger to dig down below your locale’s frost line (36” to 42”) depending on where you live.
Post Digging Tips
- This first post will act as the structure’s benchmark. This means that everything else will be laid out off of it.
- Dig and set one post then cut an 8’ 2”x 4”. At the end of the 8’ 2” x 4” mark and dig for the next post hole (verify initial measurements).
- With such a small number of holes to dig, a rentable electric auger from a home improvement store is not really needed. However, here is a link to rent one at Home Depot (because not everyone wants to do this manually).
Step 5: Mix Bagged Concrete And Set First Corner Post
Once the post holes are dug mix bagged concrete in a wheelbarrow and pour it around the post. Leave concrete at least 6” below grade (below the existing grass) so new topsoil and grass can grow.
We used a similar post technique when we created our DIY raised garden boxes on a hill. We completed both of these backyard projects within weeks of each other.
You will end up with an appx. 12” wide (diameter) hole for the post by the time you are done.
Step 6: Make The Post Plumb
Make sure each post is plumb by putting a 4’ level on it (in both directions). Plumb means that the post is level on a vertical surface. You want your posts straight!
The post will be appx. 12’ to 13’ out of the ground so you will need to “kick” the post back to the ground to make it plumb (see above pictures).
What does it mean to kick the post?
When you “kick” the post, it means that one of the 4”x 4” x 16’ long posts will be 42” in the ground (42″ down in the ground with appx. 12.5’ out of the ground) and needs to be supported in two directions until it can be attached, by additional lumber to the other to be set posts.
To do this you “kick” the post back to the ground at approximately a 45-degree angle. At the post, you will screw a 2 x 4 to it. At the ground level, you put a nail stake into the ground and then attached the other end of the 2 x 4 to the nail stake with a nail to the stake.
Step 7: Make Sure Post Location Are Square
To make sure you have correctly marked your post location, we set one post first and then use batter boards to help lay out the other corner post locations.
Here you can see an old 2 x 4 and nail stakes helping to lay out the other post locations.
Step 8: Repeat Steps For All Posts
Once posts are marked you can verify the post location will be square by measuring the hypotenuse of the triangles created. Your measurements should equal C^2=A^2 + B^2.
Once you have confirmed your layout is square, follow the above steps to dig and set all 4 or 6 posts.
Step 9: Attach 2 x 4 To Bottom Posts
Attaching a spare 2 x 4 to the posts prior to placing the concrete in 5 remaining post holes.
Step 10: Attach 2 x 4 In The Middle
Once the first post is set, cut 2 x 4’s and attach at the correct dimension over to the next post at ground level and appx. 10’ off the ground. This will keep the structure square based on the first post.
Step 11: Attach 2 x 10’s At Base And Platform Base
Once all posts are set remove the 2 x 4s. Cut, and attach a 2×10 board at the base (ground level) and at the height of your desired platform(s). We used exterior wood screws to attach the lumber.
Once these boards have been attached the structure should be very sturdy. If not something is wrong.
Step 13: Attach Deck Board Flooring
Once the 2x4s are attached, then screw down the deck boards.
Step 14: Build The Second Level Step
If your playset has two levels and six posts. you will follow the above steps to attach 2 x 10s around the perimeter and add a 2 x 4 subfloor in that area with decking boards on top.
If making two levels, you may need to consider building a simple set of stairs or one step. We also added a handle to help kids get quickly up.
Step 15: Attach Slide
Step 16: Build and Attach Accessories
After the deck boards are attached, you will need to determine what you want to be attached to your playset. You will need to consider where you may want something attached on the outside or inside of your structure.
Here the rock wall is being built and a wooden ladder is to get up to the first platform.
See the full tutorial and materials used to build the DIY climbing wall.
Add Rockwall Holds and Rope
We have a slide, a DIY ladder built with 2 x 4s, and rockwall coming off of one side. We were pleasantly surprised with the heavy-duty rope and holds that came with the set we ordered. Additionally, we have a pull-up bar coming off the other side (another DIY project that we made).
Step 17: Add Extra Safety Precautions
Once you figure out how and where kids will be able to climb in and out (up and down) you will have to build a safety handrail in the other spots
Build Handrail and Handles
When building a handrail, you need to consider the building code. For handrails that means no space larger than 4”s can occur. We also added a 2 x 4 across the open area where the rockwall and slide are. This way kids could climb under, but hopefully will not fall out!
Our playhouse has a top rail, mid-rail, and toe board (we are comfortable with this). Each parent needs to put serious thought into the fall protection measure taken or not taken.
Again, you may have to have a permit and meet your city’s guidelines. Always worth stating, we are not liable for your playset design or treehouse design. You can see our full disclaimer.
Once all items are attached, you can truly enjoy your DIY playset! I know our children have already started to create many memories in our backyard.
Other Playhouse Design Options
- Underneath the playhouse, we currently have dirt or (as we call it) a mud pit. Our kids currently really like playing in the mud and dirt but there are other options.
- You could put a ground cloth down and turn this area into a sandbox or have river rocks or rubber mulch, etc.
Our Future Plans
- Cover the bottom floor with deck boards
- Add a small picnic table
- Maybe add swings to the side where we currently have a board hanging off. I even love the idea of a climbing rope, dual swing seat or tire swing. We will have to make sure it is safe before we add that, hence why I am thinking a rope may be better.
- Add safety handle to go on the 2 x 4 above the slide.
- We also have plans to buy an outdoor fabric or canopy that could be attached to the tops of the posts.
Outdoor Playsets or Playgrounds To Buy
If after reading this, you might realize that there is just too much that goes into doing this as a DIY project. So here are some of the playsets we considered buying before deciding to make our own outdoor treehouse or playground.
Backyard swingsets to purchase
- Cheapest or Economy Choice for Playset: Kidkraft Arborcrest Deluxe My sister-in-law has this one. Her kids have loved it, however, she thinks it will only last a few years.
- Highly Rated Playset: Gorilla Playset (on Amazon) and you can also price compare the same set at Home Depot.
- Best Bang for your Buck: Backyard Discovery Skyfort in Cedar (on Amazon) and here it is at Lowe’s
However, due to the time of year, some playsets are very hard to find in stock. Just another reason to try to build a playground in your backyard yourself. Our kids thought this was the best gift ever and have had so much fun over the years.
Depending on the layout and current price of materials, your player price may vary. We spent around $700 on materials to build our playset.
Cedar, redwood, or a mix of pressure-treated wood and decking boards can be made to make an outdoor playset. Each homeowner should do research on the pros and cons of the building materials they choose to use outdoors with children.
Our playground has held up well since we built it. Like any outdoor project, the color of the wood has changed over time, but structurally it is the same as when we built it.
What DIY projects have been so great for your family over the years? We love that this backyard playset will grow with our families for years to come.