Garden Woodworking

The Den – part 2

So how is that Den going?

I left off the previous blog having erected and concreted a set of huge poles and assembled a platform between them a metre and a half off the ground. Next, I needed to add some walls, a roof, and a means to get up to the platform.

The walls and roof would be made from tanalised, Feather-edge Fencing Boards. My local woodstore could sell me these by the ton. I began the walls by fixing some batons across the gaps, to give some additional support in the middles of each piece of featherboard. I started nailing boards across the bottom of each wall and worked my way up the outside, overlapping a little each time to provide a complete and rainproof surface.

I decided to put walls on the back and sides of the den’s two floors, and leave the fronts open. The backs would be covered from floor to ceiling, the sides would be covered up to about three quarters of their height, leaving gaps for windows. I used thicker wood strips across the tops of the side walls to create more substantial window ledges. I also put larger planks up the middles of the front and back, to provide a little more stability, and give something to hold onto at the top of the slide. I could then choose to panel in half of the front later if it suited.

The roof presented a challenge. I wanted a pitched roof to keep rain showers out, and had two choices for its assembly: either I built it on the ground and then raised it into place, or I built it in place on top of the legs. I opted for the former as I felt it would be easier to get all the measuring and hammering done on the ground, rather than to try and stretch out and wield tools whilst straddling a ladder.

The roof construction was simple: a basic frame with stripwood cut to form slopes, and featherboard nailed across. I added some wooden brackets to the den’s top batons onto which the roof could be positioned. What was less simple however was the effort of lifting the now heavy assembly into place. Thank you to my neighbour, Steve, for lending a shoulder. In the end we lifted the roof on to the platform, then posted it from there, up through the middle of the den ceiling, then we gradually swivelled it around until it was in place. Fortunately, it fitted its brackets perfectly.

Now I had the basic den complete. It was time to attach the slide.

The top of the slide had a lip that would rest on the platform, and a couple of holes to allow it to be bolted into place. I used coach bolts with nice rounded tops to give a smoother surface that wouldn’t snag clothes or backsides. I also took care with the lengths of the bolts, and counter-sunk them into the underside of the platform. Small child would not remain small, and I would rather he banged his head on a wooden ceiling than he cut himself on a protruding bolt end.

Next came a ladder, to go up through the hole I’d left in the platform. I made this out of a couple of planks and a few broom handles that I happened to have spare from a festival (it’s a very long story!) Some drilling and sawing, and bashing with a rubber mallet and we had a ladder in place.

One last thing I decided to add was a scramble board. This would give another way to get up to the platform, and could form a cover to hide under on the ground floor. It was formed from a frame made from a couple of long planks, with gravel boards nailed across to create a wooden slope when leaned against the platform. Small blocks of wood nailed at random points up the gravel boards gave places for small hands and feet to hold onto while clambering up. I cut a couple of notches in the long planks to locate the board neatly into the den (and I remember priding myself for my trigonometry when cutting the notches to the correct angles!)

And with that, my son had a Den with an upstairs and downstairs and three ways of getting from one to the other. The work was far from over, however. It became, and remains, an ongoing project. I will write about the extensions and changes to the structure in future blog posts.

Before I finish, I will record one more comment from Nick Offerman’s book: “When using a tape measure, the amount of acceptable deviation from the exact “correct” measurement is known as the Tolerance. When framing a house, the tolerance was a quarter inch. In theatre scenery, tolerance was more like 1/8”, and that seemed pretty small and persnickety at the time. Imagine my surprise when I learned the tape measure had regularly marked increments smaller than 1/8”. In the woodworking shop, though, even those 1/16” notations were still too large a tolerance. A deviation of even 1/64” can render a piece unacceptable. Hilarious, right?”

I learn two things from this. First, he is right. You can get away with murder when building big, rough-and-ready dens like this in the garden but the smaller or finer or more complex you go, the less margin of error you get and the more care you must take. Second, I am so glad I’m not in the USA and can do my work in millimetres!

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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