Garden Woodworking

The Den

In his book, Good Clean Fun, Misadventures in Sawdust, Actor and Sawyer Nick Offerman writes “We all start with building a tree house of some sort.” This was my turn.

We had a recently arrived child, and a hole in the hedge left by a dead bush. I was getting the hang of swinging a saw, and having just sunk some fence posts into concrete without them falling over, I fancied my chances of making a playhouse for the boy to grow up with.

Did I have a design? Well, no, not this time. At least, nothing on paper. I decided I would find some inspiration and some materials and then assemble them into something. The first thing I found came courtesy of a supplier of garden furniture near to my work. I went for a wander one lunch hour, and discovered a slightly shop-worn slide for sale at a knockdown price. He’d like a slide, I thought, so I bought it there and then. I’m glad I had the roof bars in the back of the car at the time.

So, I was going to be building something tall, with a platform from which the slide could emerge. That meant I needed some long legs that could take the weight of a multi-storey structure, along with the various children (and adults, probably) who would climb on it. My next find was an agricultural supplier, who had treated wood for sale, including 10cm diameter poles up to 4 metres long. If I assume that up to a quarter of their length would be sunk in the ground, that’ll lead to a 3-metre high structure right away. So, I’ll have four of those please.

Then I was going to need some other bits of wood to make up the platform, make some walls and a roof and so on. So back to the supplier, and I grabbed a selection of likely looking planks and then thought to see what I could make.

A little bit of design thought came next. The platform would need to be 1.5 metres above the ground to create a good angle for the slide. That’s handy. It’ll give a two-storey den, with hiding space below the slide and a high space for looking out across the garden. So I shall baton the legs together at the middle and the top, to create the shell of the structure. The platform can be secured to the legs using big, stainless steel bolts which my local wood supplier stocks.  So lets get a handful of them and start drilling.

Oh, and time to start digging too. I would need to go down into the pan in the soil to reach a suitable depth for the legs. Our road is built in a dip, on the site of a former gravel pit. This means that, while the soil is sandy and drainage is exceptional, there’s a layer about a metre down where the previous movement of lorries and equipment has packed down a pan as tough as concrete. You don’t so much as dig through it as drill into it. Still, it would give a pretty solid foundation for the posts. (And apologies for the blurry photo. It’s 10 years too late to wind the clock back and go and take another!)

So now I can start building. The bottoms of the holes are packed with rubble, the legs go in, and the structure rises up. With some shuffling around and re-packing I got the four legs level with each other. Then with some temporary cross-braces I got the structure more or less vertical. With everything as straight as possible, I could pour concrete.

Next it was time to construct the platform. For this I bolted wide planks around the outside of the legs then made a frame that would fit inside, and which could be covered in decking. The pieces of the frame were each cut to fit, then cut with lap joints to interlock and give a nice flat and strong surface.

I divided the platform into 6 sections and decided to leave one open so that I could run a ladder to climb up from below. I also decided to lay the decking at an angle to the platform, as that meant I wouldn’t need to cut along the length of any planks to get a fit.

So now I have a platform floating half-way up a set of poles. I need to figure out the walls and roof, which I’ll do in the next blog.



By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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