ParentsSeptember 3, 2018

The joys of building a crappy playhouse


Spring is just around the corner, so what better time to start work on your own playhouse? Why let a lack of building prowess or your shitty collection of tools stand in your way? Gareth Shute is way ahead of you and shares his journey of mis-discovery.

Have you noticed that all the big hardware stores have their own kitset playhouses these days? Even a cheap one is almost four hundred bucks. Holy shit! But there’s not need for all that – surely a playhouse is just a pile of wood nailed together neatly into a box isn’t it? They’re giving it away free outside the house that’s being renovated down the road. How hard could it be to turn this into something resembling a playhouse?

Next thing you know, it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m leading my four-year-old down the road so he can help me lug some planks of wood a hundred metres along the sidewalk and into our backyard. He’s kinda scratched himself on the leg already, but that’s all part of the learning experience. It’s all gonna be pretty safe because I only have a handsaw – no dangerous electric equipment on this job. My son gets the valuable experience of holding one end of a bit of wood, while I puff and sweat at the other end. He seems mystified at why so much effort only gets me a few millimetres further.

My wife arrives home around dinner time. Not only is there no food cooked, but now there’s a pile of sawn up bits of old wood in the backyard, with rusty protrusions of nails sticking up in this direction and that. “Ah … what are you doing?”

“Building a playhouse,” I say.

She doesn’t bother replying, though she couldn’t look more incredulous if I’d said I admire David Seymour’s dancing. It doesn’t help matters that our son now has the hammer and is banging on the side of the house. I yell for him to give the hammer and he tosses it down onto my foot. My wife leaves us to our important work.

I cut eight equal pieces of 2×4 for the frame. It’s easy enough to nail four of them into one square and four into another, but them I’m a bit bamboozled about how to put them together. There’s a ridiculous half-an-hour where I’m trying to rest one of the square sections onto the four remaining bits of wood so that I can nail them on to create a crossbar. If you can’t imagine what I’m trying to describe then it’s hardly surprising – I doubt this is the way any sensible person would approach this job.

Finally a wonky frame has come together and I go inside for a beer. My son is confused. Where is the playhouse? Patience child! Good things take time!

Later that week, I catch up with a more practically minded friend, hoping he might have some advice on how to proceed. Instead he ups the ante – “you know what kids really like? A little bit of danger. If you want your son to like this playhouse, you should really think about making a second level…”

He’s right of course. That’s the fun of tree houses isn’t it? They’re higher than they should be, which makes the kid think – wow, awesome, I might really be able to hurt myself.


The next weekend we achieve a lot. I nail all the walls onto the frame and my son manages to throw a handful of nails into the bushes and then we make a fun game of him trying to find them again, but instead unearth all shapes of glass and cans (must remember to get his tetanus shots up to date…).

Then I get a flat section of wood to make a split level inside the main cube, with a little ladder for climbing up to it. Though immediately my son discovers a more enticingly dangerous way to get in – you lean the ladder precariously along the outer wall and then scramble over the top. Well … let’s worry about that another day.

I stand back and admire my work. Jeez, it’s not very straight is it? The whole structure has got this Dr Seuss-esq lean to it. I did use a measuring tape, but I guess my sawing could’ve been a bit more on the right-angle. Too late now!

Another weekend later and we’re back for some final jobs. This time, we have the paint out and I’m stunned by my son’s ability to not only get paint in his own hair, but mine as well. It’s water-based paint, but I still end up cutting a few tufts out. Who’s going to notice? … I mean, my wife noticed straight away, but – as I told her – it’ll grow back.

We raise the roof and the playhouse is complete. It’s not going to win any awards, but at least it’s given my son the chance to swing a hammer, hold a bit of wood that’s being sawn, and splash paint around the backyard. And one wall of the playhouse is painted with blackboard paint so he can draw the windows that I would’ve included if I’d known how to make such things (there is a bit of perspex at the front, but it keeps falling off). Another bonus is that it kept us both happily busy for a couple of days and thankfully he never does manage to seriously injure himself – instead it’s me with the blackened fingernail from whacking it with a hammer.

“There you go buddy, your own playhouse. Go and try it out.”

He takes the little ladder and carries it over to the tree in our yard – climbing up to the first branch so he can look over the fence into the neighbour’s yard. He spends the next half-hour climbing up and down the ladder, adjusting it to get at different parts of the tree. Ah well. At least the project was a partial success huh?

Keep going!