Archive for August, 2012

Okay, so to bring you back up to speed: the area was cleared, we had our timber, and now it was just a matter of putting it together like the model. Our gym is basically two tripods of 12′ beams connected by the monkey bars; not too tough to construct. Sadly, we figured we couldn’t use hot glue for the full-scale playset, so we bought big bolts and lag screws. We dug footing holes for the beams (a little less than 2-feet deep), and connected just 2 beams together, figuring we’d stand them up and then add the third leg of the tripod.

After saddle-notching and joining  two 6″-8″ diameter timbers for the first tripod, we noted that fully green hardwood is really heavy. How to stand up a pair of timbers weighing probably 500 lbs without getting crushed? Here is the place where the Amish would assemble the village and have a barn-raising party. We turned to mechanical advantage:

I hear you can even buy playsets already made…

Yes, that’s my dear wife harnessed up to a block and tackle, pulling from one side while I hoisted from the other. You’ll note we don’t have any “action shots” of the tripod being raised–we were kinda busy at the time, and we didn’t want the girls within a 1/4 radius of our insanity. But the result:

Two tripods up! (And the ring of spars around the alder trees that will later become the web.) No one was even maimed in the process of hoisting these things up. I credit the Sea Scout training I got as a kid!


After the tripods were up, things went fairly quickly after that. We attached the side poles and the rungs for the monkey bars. We finished the ring for the web, and fashioned the ladder to climb into the web from pieces of driftwood we gathered from the beaches of Cape Disappointment on our trip to the ocean a couple of weekends ago.

Then we started weaving the web (basically a big dreamcatcher):


It’s basically just a series of concentric half-hitches, spaced about ten inches apart on the perimeter poles. Once a full circuit is complete, the next half-hitch is made on the center of the open span between the hitches that are already there, and then around and around until you tie it off in the center.

It turned out pretty cool, we think, but because our circle of spars is about six feet across, it took a lot of rope. We used 3/8″ polyester braid, and needed two hundred and fifty feet of it! But, the girls love it.


Next we turned to the climbing walls. We turned one tripod (the one not connected to the web) into a kind of bizarre tepee, adding “haphazard” branches to cover two sides of the pyramid. They are climbing walls and allow the girls to scale over ten feet up in the air, but they also make a kind of playhouse tepee with an area to sit inside. To accent this, we made a doorway of sorts on the open side.

The rest was mostly cleanup: trimming ends here and there, smoothing off pointy protrusions, etc. We had an extra log of about 6″ girth left over, so I chainsawed out notches and we made a balance beam for the girls, too. We still are planning to do a bit more smoothing of edges and points here and there, and then chip the remaining downed foliage from the maple tree (and some other miscellaneous brush we have, too) to make a mulch to cushion the whole area. But basically, it’s done.


Here’s a few shots of the finished product:


So, anyway–it was a LOT of work, a lot of fun, and probably no cheaper than buying one from the store. The thing is solid, too…I could probably lift my car on those tripods. And it’s definitely unique, and we’ll probably keep adding to it as boredom or the mood strikes us.


And now the girls have something to play around on, and we have the satisfaction of having done it….oh! And one last important detail:

It looks just like the model.


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So, what do you do when your daughters need something to climb on for fun and exercise, but you’ve left your jungle gym playset back in Chicago for the buyer’s kids?

First, you find a place where a playset might go.Our actual grass area here at Barewood is small–no more than our Chicago lot, so we needed to find place for a jungle gym that was relatively flat and clear:

The play area “before”

Well, okay, we did say relatively…sure, there’s about an 8% grade and the ground was covered with vinca vines and wild basil, but at least there weren’t any blackberries! So, after harvesting and drying a year’s supply of basil, we got to work clearing out an area to hold the playset.

Next, we realized that a standard pre-fab, suburban-style playset from Toys ‘R Us didn’t seem to fit the natural wooded setting. Luckily, Melissa hit upon a company in South Africa called DreamWeavers that make the coolest organic jungle gyms and play structures, using native gum trees and webs made of rope:

How cool is that?

Sadly, we didn’t have access to such cool gnarled branches like that, but the idea inspired us because, hey, we have trees! Wouldn’t it be cool to make a jungle gym out of our local materials? Being the mature, practical theatre people we are, though, we knew that the idea of something is very different from reality, so we went out and collected some twgis and yarn and hot glue, and made…

…A MODEL!! Now we knew it was possible, because there it was right there on our table! We’ve seen tons of sets at Lifeline Theatre that we thought were impossible to build become amazing 3-D creations all because they had a model! **cough cough**…and professional scene designers, tech directors, and carpenters…**cough cough**

Now we needed to find a likely source for the timber that we would need. Soon we found it: a multi-trunk bigleaf maple that was literally right on the edge of the proposed play area! How perfect could things get?

Well, okay, they weren’t exactly perfect. Doing a bit of research on how to fell a tree (hey, it’s not like I had a lot of opportunities to practice my lumberjack skills in Rogers Park), I discovered the wisdom of clearing the fall zone ahead of time. That’s the area where the cut tree will supposedly land, and ours initially looked like this:

Yes, sports fans: that’s a four-foot high wall of blackberries with nasty thorns, going back yards in every direction. That seemed to be a pretty unpleasant place to then extricate and process our would-be timber. Washington’s blackberry vines are pervasive, tenacious, and mean. I can’t exactly expect my lawn mower to handle them, and they laugh at my WeedEater, so clearing an open area meant literally hacking it out with my trusty machete. An hour (or two) later, our fall zone looked like this:

See? Isn’t this easier than buying a playset at Home Depot? Now we were ready to “harvest our timber” as the cool kids say here in the forest. I decided to drop the trees using a Humboldt notch, making sure to line up the ends of the horizontal cut with the 70-degree rising cut so that I wouldn’t create a Dutchman and barber chair the trunk. (I love learning fancy ‘jack jargon, even if I have barely the slightest clue what it means and NO practice ever doing the referenced techniques!)

Well, here goes nothing:

This is me sizing things up…the goggles were most definitely *down* for the real cutting…

Three trunks later, three trees smack in the fall zone where I wanted them! Sure, it was beginner’s luck, but allow me a bit of exultation!

So now all we had to do was trim off the branches, cut it into 12′ spars, strip off the bark, and move them to the site! Simple. Easier than directions from IKEA, at least.
Maple bark, when freshly cut, proved to be wonderful easy to peel. We thought we’d have to get a drawknife for the job–and tried, in fact, but couldn’t find any saw or hardware store that carried them–but most of the time, we could peel the bark with our fingers, or start it with the machete and then peel it off in long strips.

Melissa and Amelia peeling bark. It was a family affair.


Now, at last, we were ready to build. I’ll save the construction sage for a later post.

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