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Playground equipment is expensive! I have some easy to build backyard equipment designs made from a few 4x4 posts; the whole setup can be made for less than $100 and built in an afternoon. These designs are for use with preschool/kindergarten age kids and are stand-alone or complementary to a swing set combo.

To build the whole set you will need eight to ten 4x4 posts. This design includes a lava pit, monkey bar, balance beam, sand box, and a teeter-totter/seesaw; I've built only some of these in reality, the rest in virtual Google Sketchup. I uploaded the design to Google's Sketch 3D Warehouse database under the name "Playground Equipment," You can download the model in the program and rotate it in 3D with displayed dimensions, and even edit my design. If you don't want to do that, just check out the photo gallery.

Playground 4x4s(click thumbnails to view gallery)

The Whole PieMud PitLava PitAnother ViewBalance Beam

The main tools used for this are a tape measure, level, post-hole digger and a saw; you might need a hammer, drill and hole saw too depending on how much you build. For setting posts in the ground, you can use concrete for light sandy soils; I have clay-loam soil and just packed the soil around the posts with a hammer. Although the bulk of these projects are made from 4x4 posts, you may need a few accessories like short sections of pipe, two old tires, or sand.

Safety! Playgrounds are naturally a little dangerous; watch your kids at play. Moving parts are dangerous, so you can leave out the seesaw if you want reduced anxiety with this project. File down corners into smooth rounds and paint your lumber if it's treated lumber (which most is unless you pay extra for cedar posts.) Always triple-check everything when building for kids and watch them closely to see how they play with the build so you can make adjustments if needed.

I'll start with the easiest, the lava pit. This is a great balance exercise for the little ones and you only need one 8' post cut into 24" sections to make four posts, but you can easily add more. Use a post-hole digger to make 15" deep holes and plant your posts, 9" or so should stick out of the ground. I spaced my posts about 10" to 12" apart. Pack the soil in tightly or pour some dry ready-made cement into the hole; some people would even add a handful of gravel at the bottom to keep the post preserved better. To finish, round the exposed post corners with a saw or rasp; I used a chainsaw.

The balance beam is just as simple to build using one 8' post. Cut off two 20" sections and plant them 15" deep and 56" apart on the outside measurement. The 56" piece is what you have left of the post; you attach it to the others with several 3" screws, "toenail" them into the posts. Round the corners when everything is attached.

The sand box in the drawing uses four posts but can be just two depending on how much sand you buy or if you dig a hole for the sand. Just cut the posts in half and attach them by overlapping the corners using 3" screws or nails. You may need a circular saw to cut notches for the corners.

For the monkey bar use some .5" metal conduit, it works well for little hands. Plant two 60" posts 18" deep into the ground, then use a hole-saw to drill a place for the conduit pipe. Insert the pipe before setting the posts. I spaced the posts 36" on the outside measurement. Once the pipe is inserted, drill a screw sized hole through each end where it enters the wood post; then put in a 2" screw to keep the pipe in place. Just one or several of these can be made; and the leftover post scraps can be used for the lava pit.

OK, in my back yard the teeter-totter hasn't been built yet, but the drawing shows how it will be made. It should use only two 8' posts; but other accessories will be necessary to finish it. Some scrap lumber for the seat, a pipe for the pivot point, and two old tires are needed. I plan to use some old 1.25" chain link fence pipe for the pivot and I may dig up some tricycle/bicycle seats cruising around during trash day. 36" posts are loosely planted 18" deep and 5" apart with holes drilled through for the pipe. Drill a hole in the center of an 8" post for the pivot pipe to slide into. Now attach the 8' post to the planted posts with the section of pipe; drill screw holes in the pipe ends and place 2" screws. Make sure no sharp ends of the pipe stick out of the holes. Put the old tires in the ground at the ends to provide a bounce cushion and to keep feet from getting smashed. Attach some seating and handles made from thick dowels and wood blocks; bicycle handle bars would be fun to add instead of the dowels.

I hope these unbuilt pieces work well; I'll update the post if any changes are needed.


  • Erika

    Thanks for sharing. In the actual picture of the mud pit, there is a playhouse in the background. Do you mind your building plans for it? Thanks!

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