Feb. 25, 2001- Please bookmark this page in it's new location.

Like many fathers, I think a lot about what I can build or buy for the kids (and myself) to play on. I have always been fascinated by trees, tree climbing, and tree houses, and I have vivid memories of treehouses I played in as a child, and especially of the treehouse my father built for us when I was a kid. Naturally, I wanted to create that sort of memory in my own children.

Well, I promised my kids I would begin building it in 1999, but one thing led to another, and other projects were more pressing, so it got put aside. They kept bringing it up from time to time, and my response was always, "Yes, I will build it." Well, I finally decided that I wasn't going to come across a huge bonus of free time, so I had better just get started on it. I had done a lot of research on the internet, as well as purchasing two books on tree house construction. I heartily recommend Tree Houses You Can Actually Build by David & Jeanie Stiles. It features great illustrations and ideas, and practical ways to build safely, including some pretty basic designs as well as some more challenging projects. I also recommend Home Tree Home: Principles of Treehouse Construction and Other Tall Tales by Peter Nelson. This is a much more serious approach, with the emphasis on livable, weathertight tree houses. Still, a valuable reference for building safely. Both books are available at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com.

Fortunately, we have two huge maple trees in the back yard. They are a bit closer to the neighbor's fence than I would like, but that can't be helped. I decided to build in the tree closest to the house to begin with. A rough idea of a platform plan began to evolve in my head, and I went to Menard's and bought a bunch of pressure treated 2X6, 2X4 and 2X2 lumber as well as lag bolts, carriage bolts and galvanized deck screws. My idea was to create a deck surface with a trapdoor entrance approximately 10' high, supported on three sides by the tree, and on a fourth by a post. The shape of the deck would be very irregular to add a sense of whimsy to the structure. No two sides will be parallel.

March 5-8, 2000.
I finally began the project. Most of the beams and the post went up pretty easily. You can see from the framing what the overall shape will be. The path to the trapdoor will be up the center of the tree, using cleated steps lagged into the trunk. The trapdoor will use either a counterweight or a pressurized strut to assist in opening.


March 10-12, 2000.
I took advantage of some time Friday and Sunday to finish the decking and start on the railing. The railings are attached with two 3/8 X 3" hex bolts to the rim joists. I use Nylock nuts to ensure that they don't work loose. The railing is 40" high, which might seem excessive, but 10' off the ground is a long ways. The top rail is a 2X4, and the middle and bottom rails are 2X2. I will be filling the space between the 2X2s with a rope netting to give it a Robinson Crusoe type look.

The kids were begging to get a look at the treehouse, so I did let them up there to have a look around before the railing was up, but only one at a time, and while I was up there.

March 13, 2000.
I'm working on this thing right after work, and even a little before I go to work, so I think I am becoming obsessed with finishing this phase of the project! So far I have two of the railing frames finished (haven't put the rope webbing in yet), and I have two of the posts for the third railing up. That leaves 4 more posts and the stringers and the rope webbing to do, plus the steps and handles.

March 14, 2000.
I had to reinforce the front rim joist by lagging it to the tree. In retrospect, I knew it wouldn't work the way I had it, but I wanted to get the thing up. I had originally connected the front rim joist to the North joist by a joist hanger and by end-screwing it. Well, with a 9' span, that connection just wasn't strong enough, causing noticeable movement whenever I walked on the deck. I knew it would eventually flex enough for potential failure, which would be bad. I fixed the problem by driving wedges behind the joist where it passed in front of the tree, and lagged 1/2"X8" screws through the wedges into the tree. I drilled 1/2" holes in the joist first so that I wouldn't have to screw through it as well. The picture is above. It immediately firmed up the structure tremendously! I will eventually add a diagonal brace from the post to the front rim joist as well. I also got a bit of work done on the third railing.

March 15-17, 2000.
I got the railings all installed and put in the rope webbing - looks really great! I used 1/2" manilla rope for its durability and good looks. Somehow the nylon and polypropylene ropes just didn't look right. The weather hasn't been cooperating, and I haven't had much time to get out and work. I went out to the salvage yard and picked up a pair of liftgate struts off of a Dodge Colt for $10. Hopefully they will work on the trapdoor. If not, I didn't spend much.

March 18, 2000.
Stupid rain! Rained all day, so no work on the treehouse today.

Sunday, March 19, 2000.
At 6:30 p.m. Central, the treehouse is officially finished, and open for business! The kids came out and climbed in it, and the neighbor kids did, too, after their parents came over to check it out and give their OK first. Today's list of accomplishments:

1) Installed the liftgate struts on the trapdoor. They work great! The door was a bit too heavy for Ashley and Stephen to push up, and the struts make it a breeze. The ones I got had a round 7/16" hole at each end for mounting, instead of the usual snap-on style, which would not have worked. I measured the opened and closed dimensions of the struts and figured the best place to locate them. I attached them to the trapdoor and the framing with 3/8" lag screws and washers. I used 3" lags on the trapdoor and 5" lags on the frame. Very cool!

2) Built a ladder to get into the center of the tree. It's not attached, but is very sturdy, built out of left-over 2X4 stock.


3) Attached handles in several key locations. I used 3/8" X 5" lag screws to attach them directly to the tree.
4) Added steps to get up to the trapdoor. These were made out of 2X4 scraps and were either lagged or screwed into the tree, depending on where they were. Two of the steps are essentially cleats, which are lagged at the top and screwed at the bottom to prevent them from rotating. There was also a very convenient knot on the trunk which acts as a step.

5) Used the jigsaw to cut out a space in the decking of the trapdoor to act as a handle. I didn't want a huge gap where a foot could go through, so the space is just big enough for four fingers to slip in.
6) Sanded all edges smooth to prevent splinters.
7) Installed rope webbing in the spaces between the trunks on the other two sides. This tree has three main trunks, and I didn't want anyone falling out as they were climbing up, just in case of a slip. It also prevents kids from trying something stupid, like jumping out. The space facing the neighbor's property was especially important to cover, since the fence is only a couple feet from the tree.

All in all, it's very satisfying to see the treehouse finished and in use. The acid test came when the kids climbed up and all of them commented on how easy it was to climb, and how much they liked it. I am sure that it will receive a lot of use. My wife climbed up as well, and thought it was very cool. I have to say that my favorite aspects are the rope webbing and the strut-assist trapdoor. The whole thing turned out so much better than I anticipated. It has a very "finished" look, but still maintains an earthy, homey feel to it, which was important to me. I will have pictures up in the next few days. Of course, the problem now is, that I have plans going through my head on how to build the next section!

March 25, 2000.
Added some extra bracing to the railings to firm it up. Julie added a colorful windsock, and I added a rope and pulley system so the kids could pull things up to the treehouse in a bucket. Works great!


SOME THOUGHTS AND TIPS SO FAR

  • Use high quality wood. I let the lumberyard workers select some of my 2X4s since I was in a hurry. Big mistake - lots of knots, jagged edges, etc. Pick out your own wood, it's worth the time. I went through 30 2X2s at the yard to find 10 decent ones. Pressure treated wood is a bit pricey, but it will last a long time with minimal attention.
  • Drill pilot holes for the lag screws. This has been a huge help. I drill 1/4" pilot holes for the 3/8" lag screws and 3/8" pilot holes for the 1/2" lag screws. The pilot holes are drilled approximately 80% of the length of the screws. Drill holes the same size as the lag screws through the board you are attaching, so you can hammer the lag screw into the pilot hole to make sure it engages fully.
  • Get a helper. Work goes much faster when you have someone to help you. I have had to do most of the work by myself, with some assistance from the kids, but it would have been much easier with help.
  • A bucket or crate with a rope is a great way to haul tools and supplies up into the treehouse. It beats bringing things up one or two at a time.
  • Good cordless tools are worth the investment. I can drill, saw and drive screws without having to worry about power cords getting in my way.
  • Overbuild. Now that I have finished reinforcing the front rim joist, I can literally jump up and down like a maniac in the treehouse and it won't budge (although the neighbors were curious). Kids, even though they are pretty lightweight, are a lot more active than adults and have a way of breaking things that look really strong. I'm using 2X4s for the decking, which is overkill, but it adds to the strength of the structure.
  • Have fun! Make sure the kids are involved in the building process. They can help you fetch tools and supplies, haul smaller bits of lumber, bring you drinks or snacks, etc. The whole idea of a treehouse is to create a fun and safe play area, so you might as well make the construction process playtime as well! After all, it's not every day you get to hang out in a tree with power tools.
  • Get suggestions from the kids on design features. Although I had to actually design the treehouse, I got a lot of input from the kids on what they wanted, including a trapdoor, rope railing, steps, and of course, ideas for yet more levels! They will shoot for the moon, but it's important to give them a sense of ownership by incorporating at least some of their ideas. Besides, they may just have a better idea than you on certain design aspects.


TREEHOUSE LINKS

  • The Big Treehouse built by Mick Jurgensen and family is a tourist attraction and fixture in the Marshalltown, Iowa area. It was begun in 1983 and is now an 11 level, 5 story high treehouse with thousands of square feet of floorspace complete with electricity, telephone, microwave oven, refrigerator, running water, grill, 14+ porch swings, Shady Oaks Museum, and much much more.
  • The World Treehouse List is a very good resource for anyone interested in ideas or building tips.
  • Jo Scheer has a site showcasing his revolutionary treehouse construction. Check out The Hooch. He is a designer, builder, and self-described "over the edge enthusiast".
  • Terry Spittle built a treehouse in his garden in London England. Actually, it's not a conventional treehouse, in as much as the treehouse holds the tree up, rather than the other way around. He has a eucalyptus tree which developed a heavy list to starboard after a storm; the sensible thing would have been to remove it and plant a new one, but that would have been too easy! Terry and his daughters came up with the idea of building a treehouse with a strong frame which would support the tree, and "feel" like a real treehouse as they would be amongst the branches when up inside the treehouse.
  • Justin's site has some interesting treehouse pictures and links.
  • Fred Dial sent me pictures of the treehouse he recently finished.
  • Corbin's Treehouse site has lots of pictures and links.
  • Corbin's Treehouse links has a pretty long list of other tree house sites on the web.
  • Patrick Fulton's treehouse site has a number of tips and drawings.
  • Treehouse Workshop is a design and construction company offering assistance or complete design of treehouses.
  • Unique Treehouse Co., a California based company, offers design and construction, and has some tips on their site.
  • Shane's Tree House offers some good pictures and construction ideas.
  • Michael Garnier is featured in an Oregon Mail Tribune article.
  • Smithsonian Magazine article on treehouses, focusing on Peter Nelson.
  • Tree House Bed and Breakfast in Henderson, TX.
  • Teton Tree House Bed and Breakfast in Wilson, WY.
  • The Tree House Bed and Breakfast in Point Reyes, CA.
  • Cedar Creek Treehouse at Mount Rainier, WA. 50 feet up in a Cedar tree!
  • Realty Times article on treehouses, featuring Peter Nelson.
  • Parshley treehouse with several pictures of a cable-supported treehouse.

I will be updating this page frequently as this project continues



This page was last updated on December 5, 2001.


This site is made of Recycle Logo
This WebSite is made with 100% Recycled Electrons