In late February, thanks to some nudging from my kids (and a slight case of Spring Fever), we decided it was high-time our backyard had a tree house. Our yard has a large number of tree-house-ready trees, so we actually struggled over which location would be best.
In the end, we decided the best place would be nestled between a live oak and willow oak, just inside the fence. Not only is the location perfect, with 3 large trunks/branches to support it, but being within the fence line, it helps prevent neighbor kids from coming over and hanging out on the tree house. Not that I wouldn’t be happy about that, but there’s a certain liability that comes along with that prospect.
Building this has been one of the most therapeutic and rewarding things I’ve built (I’ve built a few things). If you’re contemplating doing something similar, my advice is go for it, because you (and your kids) only live once!
To get started, I read a lot about some of the basics of building a tree house. E.g. what size boards should be used depending on the distance being spanned, what type of fasteners to use, how to make things level against an organic surface, etc. I also bought this handy little book. It’s full of awesome little tidbits and illustrations. While not meant to be a complete how-to, it provided plenty of light bulb moments and inspiration. Highly recommended.
I started construction February 25 (2017), and after a weekend and some help from friends/family, I had a basic platform installed with floor joists.
Since I am a web developer by day, it feels super good to get outside and work with my hands (and some power tools!).
As much as possible throughout this project, I tried to use reclaimed wood. In that platform, the joists are all new pressure treated 2x6s and hung with joist hangers, and the longest span (in the picture above) is a new pressure treated 2×10. But the other side’s 2×10 is a leftover from our old water-bed (yep, you heard me right), and the two side 2x6s are leftover frames from an old bunk bed that we never used for the kids that we got from some garage sale.
To fasten the boards to the tree, I used 4 or 5 inch lag screws and washers.
The next weekend was spent working out some details, like corner braces, angle braces, and corner beams for the eventual hand-rails.
Much of the braces are boards from pallets that we scrounged up (the final project probably has about 5-8 pallets in it), and the corner 4x4s were used to hold up an old lattice divider in the yard (the lattice has been gone/destroyed for quite a while).
Here’s a redneck stunt I pulled to get some of those pallets:
Redneck stunt pic.twitter.com/9L1CTnIIGc
— Justin Sternberg (@Jtsternberg) March 19, 2017
(I need a truck!)
By the end of weekend 2, we had half a floor!
As you can see, we also used boards from pallets for the tree house floor.
The next weekend, the first order of business was to finish the floor so the kids could come up and check it out. 😁
Time was limited that weekend, so I had to wait another week before I could start adding the hand-rail. Took me a bit to sort out how I wanted that to look. I didn’t want to have too many boards to obstruct the views (I wanted the tree house to feel open), so I left about a 6 inch gap between each board.
Well, it turns out my son can fit his head through that gap, and so Meagan was having none of that. So, back to the drawing board, and I had to add some lateral boards to make sure nobody was gonna be squeezing out. As you can see below, we took this opportunity to add a little flair and make it look like an authentic kid-built tree house (I mean.. I am just a big kid, so it’s pretty accurate).
We let our kids, their cousins, and some of their friends paint their names and other things on a few boards, and nailed ’em on!
Another end to a successful weekend.
The next weekend, we finalized the other 2 sides (minus the door). We got a little creative with those sides to try and work with the trees’ structures.
This is the point where I consider the top “habitable” and began working from the tree house.
Today's office. pic.twitter.com/iW6vfYePWD
— Justin Sternberg (@Jtsternberg) March 27, 2017
Day 2, to prove it's not a fluke. 😉 pic.twitter.com/DKvYgxEOHK
— Justin Sternberg (@Jtsternberg) March 28, 2017
Of course, some people had fun with this.
— Daniel Espinoza (@d_espi) March 28, 2017
— Daniel Espinoza (@d_espi) March 28, 2017
The next step was to build the door/gate. I used a gate latch and built a crude rope/pulley mechanism that allows the kids to open the latch from below the door. I posted a video at the end where you can get a general idea.
Once that floor was complete, it was time to begin construction of the first level, half-way up. I wasn’t sure I was going to go that route, but once the main part was complete, it just seemed like the best way to go.. It would provide a bit of a safety net on the side where the kids would climbing in/out of the top, and allow them to have multiple levels to their “tree condo”.
At first, I attempted build the platform without adding the additional 4×4 supports on the outer corners, hoping the angle braces would be enough. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide enough structural shear-strength, so I had to dig some holes, pour some cement and install some ground-rated 4x4s. Once those were in place, the platform structure was as solid as a rock.
We then got the sides built:
At this point, the only thing missing is the ladders. Surprisingly, building these was some of the most difficult work in the whole process.
Phew! This has been a ton of (fun!) work. Happy to see it come together. Here’s a quick video tour:
You might be wondering, “what’s next”. Well, the grandparents purchased a tube slide as an early birthday/Christmas type of gift (ssshhh they don’t know yet), so
we’ll see about installing that once it gets in (we got it installed! Scroll down to see). 😁 The adventure never ends! Thanks for hanging with me this far. If you’re interested, page 2 of this post is a big gallery of images from the process. Hope you enjoyed!
LOL my sister-in-law sent me this: pic.twitter.com/PQZvWAxTpS
— Justin Sternberg (@Jtsternberg) May 2, 2017
Update 5-14-17 we got the slide installed!