...not quite finished!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

But You're a GIRL!

Some of the most satisfying moments came from complete strangers.  As I worked out in the hot sun I'd often hear words of encouragement shouted my way, usually by people driving by.  One sweet elderly woman stuck her head out the window and yelled, "Way to be a hard worker!"  One teenager yelled, "that's the coolest ever!"  One father actually pulled over and got out with his young daughter.  I put my nail gun down and came to greet her.  The father said he'd like his daughter to meet me.  She looked from one end of the fort to the other and said, "Did YOU build this?"
"I sure did", I replied.  She looked at me with huge eyes and said "But you're a GIRL!"  I gave her a big smile and said, "Yes, and girls can do hard things!  I bet you can do hard things, too!"

It had never occurred to me that I would get so much more than a cool fort out of this project.   There is a sense of gratification in seeing something you have built with your own hands, but just as gratifying is knowing that one can do just about anything with the proper knowledge and determination.  It has always been important to me to instill curiosity and a thirst for knowledge in my boys.  Because if they have the desire to learn, the simple phrase "let's just google it!" can open the door to so many adventures.

As the fort was taking shape and my sons were getting more and more excited, my 6 year came and put his arms around me.  He looked up and me and said "You've gotta be the strongest and smartest mommy in the world!"

And THAT is worth every splinter, backache, and gashed knuckle. THAT, to me, is priceless.

Yes...girls can do hard things.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Here We Go Again - a Toddler Style Fort!

The first fort, although super fun, was just too big for little man.  So I geared  up to build another littler one.  There weren't any wooden bunk beds at the thrift store...but there was a nice sturdy metal one! -with railing, supports, ladders and all the hardware to go with it.
I set up the bunk bed, without the top mattress support, and built a little deck inside.  My toddler loves to drive and I had found a steering wheel, keys, accelerator/brake pedals and a horn!  I built a wall on the deck and installed those items for a perfect little race car.  (I also added some light buttons and a sound effect board.)
This new little fort stood on the ground just in front of my Pirate ship.  Stepping back and looking at it I realized it looked even more like a ship, with a high deck and a lower deck! So I started to tie it all in together.

The bunk bed had a metal slide so I installed that at much lower height.  The mattress supports were very sturdy and intended to hold weight and I knew they would come in handy.  I took down the ladder on the first fort (too steep!) and used one of the mattress supports  a ladder/ramp. It was perfect for all ages and added to the pirate look.

I knew every pirate ship needed a plank, but couldn't figure out where to put it.  I tried setting it up going from the higher deck to the lower and it seemed awkward.  But as I was messing around with the design and the space between the two decks I realized this fun piece of scrap lumber (with a little door!) might fit to connect the two.  So I laid my too steep ladder on it's side and put the window/door piece on top.  NO WAY.  It fit perfectly.  What luck! And, unknowingly, I had created my little man's absolute favorite part - the little window with a door!  In my thrift finds I actually had a peephole and door chain. I installed them and played "knock knock - what's the password?" forever.

I had also found tire chains for a few bucks and wondered if I could use them as a ladder.  But when I went to hang them the curved shape never worked out.  But now I had the bottom of a bunk bed, a 5 foot space and then the deck of my fort.  Once again, it happened to fit perfectly! I had to bolt them down so good, and when I did I ended up with a swinging chain ladder - so fun!

The fort was definitely amazing already and hours of fun, but then I got what I interpreted as a direct challenge.  SOMEONE said to me: "You better be careful, this could end up looking like a junkyard."

oooooooooooo.  Just wait.  This will be so far from a junk yard it will FLOOR YOU.

Remember, at this point there was no siding on, no paint, just a fun eclectic fort that somewhat resembled a ship.  But I had a vision.

Monday, June 6, 2011

There's No Going Back

Once I saw it I knew there was no going back.  I had gone back to the thrift store in the rare chance they would have another bunk bed so I could complete the railing and....there it was:  a thick sculpted wooden headboard looking about as Piratey as it gets. Instantly my fort transformed in my mind.  It was no longer a deck with a slide - it was Pirate Ship driven by imaginative young scallywags that brave the seas in search for treasure! I'd just put the whole headboard up instead of the last section of railing. Then as I browsed the store everything morphed into Buccaneer essentials: a scope, a steering wheel, a treasure map, a jewel box, an ammo box, a weather gauge etc.  My boys were going to freak!

After a long day of nailing, reinforcing, making a ladder, and adding all the goodies, and one MAJOR farmer's tan later, it was finally time to put up the slide! My little 2 year old, was just itching to try out the slide.  What I thought was ample space between the ladder rungs was barely enough to make him feel safe going up. Ug. I was disappointed but still excited for him to try out the slide.  He looked through the scopes and gave the steering wheel a spin and headed right to the slide. SWOOOSH!  It launched him right on his little behind about 3 feet from the bottom of the slide!  The platform was about a foot too high.......AARRGH.  Even though it was perfect for the 6 yr old and 9 yr old, I was really bummed.

Well, I had already figured out the hard parts. Why not build another little one?  There wasn't any shortage of used bunk beds and I still had leftover screws and decking.  The boys were so busy running around with swords and eye patches I figured I could kick it out in a day or two.  I hope my Thrift store Karma doesn't run out.

HINDSIGHT: Research or preferably BUY the slide BEFORE you build the deck platform.  Know exactly how high it should be.  Also: Ladder rungs need to be much closer than you'd think.  Oh! and I wish I had left more of the 4x4 post ABOVE the deck frame. That would have lowered my deck and also provided more support to the handrail. eeesh, does that make sense?  Post a comment if you want details.

**TIP** Be safety conscious about every part you build.  Try everything yourself. Test weight loads. Reinforce hand rails and build them up to the proper height.  Slides need to be properly mounted and staked. It's your kiddo's safety we're talking about here!

Monday, May 30, 2011

I Now Have Man Hands

Nothing could more quickly drive a proper woman to swearing than driving deck screws!!! Yet, I refrained. I had all my lumber and thought I'd kick out the deck in no time....so very wrong. My fort was about 75' away from my house and I was using a Black & Decker corded drill/driver. A corded drill is NOT recommended! I'd strip nails, fall off the tip gashing my knuckles, and try 4 times before it would even sink a little. Two words for you: PILOT HOLES! Don't fight it and just drill the dang pilot holes with a separate drill. THEN, preferably with an 18V cordless driver, the deck screws will just sink in. Get the RIGHT tools for the jobs and your life will be much easier (and you won't be NEARLY driven to cursing!)  After I survived laying the deck I took my rusty ol' Skil Saw and zipped off all the uneven ends hanging off the deck. I didn't pre-cut :)
At first I was alarmed about how unstable the deck was and knew I had to cross brace it. I didn't feel like I knew what I was doing, but just kept saying..."it's just a fort, it just needs to be functional and safe - not pretty." So I just bolted some 2x4 scraps from the side of the deck angling down to the posts (on all corners) and it was steady as a rock! The railing from the bunk beds went up in no time. I had purchased a used 8' wavy slide and a rock climbing wall from Online Classifieds. I was SO excited to see it all come together, but I was still missing railing all along one side. hmmmm I think another trip to the thrift store was in order.
HINDSIGHT: I now wish I had crossed braced to the INSIDE of the deck frame...it looks much better.

Please know I didn't completely abandon my hubby and young kids while building this fort. I just thought I'd spare you the details of changing diapers, breaking up fights and and how hard it is to clean up LIFE cereal that's been stuck to the counter all day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bunk Beds are every Pirate Fort's Booty!

I had been pricing the playhouse kits for years and just couldn't believe how expensive they were. So I went to Lowe's and priced out lumber and hardware to build my own little deck with a slide. Still expensive. That same day I went to Deseret Industries, a secondhand thrift store, and saw a sturdy bunk bed made of the same 2X6 lumber I had just priced! I played Tetris with the different parts of the bunk bed and figured I had enough lumber for a good deck frame WITH railing....for $20! AND it already had metal support brackets. So I bought some cement and treated 4X4 posts and went to work - disassembling the bed and then building my deck.
So, at this point, I was still aiming for a simple deck with a slide. I had grown up watching my Dad build houses for a living and already knew my way around a construction site. I also helped my Dad build the house I live in so I have many of my own tools......a must!
Once my posts were set (the digging about did me in!) and framed I nailed in 3 floor joists and realized I was going to have to invest in a lot of 2x4s to make a 6' by 6' deck. But I figured I had the railing already and gone to so much work that I'd just fork out the $80 for the lumber. So I was off to Lowe's again.

**TIP**Pathfinders are deceptively large and can be packed to the roof. If you try this out PLEASE make sure nothing is aiming toward the windshield in the event of a sudden stop...ya, it was a close call.

**TIP** PACE YOURSELF. I got so gung ho my poor family ate mac n cheese and Top Ramen for 3 days!

HINDSIGHT I wish I had prepared the ground properly. Take the time to level it out and clear the weeds. Consider your end product and the possibility of adding on to it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Now that's a fort!

It wasn't my intention to stop traffic with my fort, but it's taken on a life of it's own. I've received such awesome words of encouragement and also MANY questions about how I've built it. So the following posts will be a look into my journey while building .....the Ultimate Pirate Ship Fort!

I feel a huge disclaimer is necessary. I am neither an architect nor a carpenter by any means. I am just the mother of three young scallywags and desperately needed them to have a fort. I wanted to get them away from the TV and computer...and DSi...and iPod... and Wii......ug. I am qualified only with my sheer determination & imagination (and an uncanny knack for finding exactly what I need at secondhand stores!)

To answer the most asked question: No, this fort is NOT a kit. The do-it-yourself kits were uninventive and extremely expensive. You can build your own fort (treehouse/playhouse) for a fraction of the cost. It would be very hard to duplicate my Pirate Ship Fort, but hopefully I can give you some ideas to spark your own imagination. I can't give you step by step instructions, but I'll explain what items I "repurposed", and show you how I used them - and I'll tell you where to find cool supplies!

I guess it all started with......

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