The kids have decided they want to be knights and princesses, complete with a castle in the back yard? It’s easier to slay that dragon than you think!
Sketch some preliminary drawings or use pictures cut from magazines for final plans to take to the do-it-yourself store, and figure the project will take at least one weekend. With a design this special, the kids’ castle is going to be a magnet for the entire neighborhood, so figure on a large playhouse.
Your best bet is to build the main structure out of 1/2-inch plywood, with paint, tarps, pennants, and so on adding authenticity. Use stock sizes whenever possible, to cut down on costs and labor. You’ll need power tools and some experience with them, plus a couple of adults to help carry, hold, and fasten things in place.
Do some scrounging first, for things like half-sheets of plywood leftover from other projects, old broom handles or wood dowels, a discarded wire cable spool,’ an old tarp and several painter’s drop cloths. To complete the drawbridge, you’ll need paint, ten feet or so of lightweight rope, four screw-in eyes large enough for the rope to pass through, and at least four sturdy hinges and screws.
Your list for new materials needs to include nine, 4 foot by 8-foot sheets of 1/2-inch plywood. Figure the walls of the ˜castle’ have to be about a foot taller than the tallest kid’s head, so the walls are going to be from four to six feet in height. Have the lumber department cut all the sheets of plywood 6 inches longer than the minimum height you need. The extra six inches of plywood will be used for the cuts creating a crenelated, or toothy’ top on each castle wall. Have one sheet of plywood cut lengthwise down the middle. This will form your castle front and the sides for the drawbridge.
The finished castle will be approximately eight feet wide by twelve feet long. Since you’re actually building an outdoor room, don’t forget you’ll need to frame it in, top and bottom, using at least 2 inches by 2 inches framing wood or preferably something stronger. Use wood screws to attach the plywood sheets to the framing, since nails tend to loosen and fall out of plywood. For extra strength, use wood stakes screwed to the inside of the framing and sunk into the ground.
Cut out all the crenellated wall tops, using the same cardboard or scrap lumber stencil, 6 inches tall by 8 inches wide, on each plywood sheet. Paint the plywood sheets gray on both sides and also the sides of the cuts. Let these dry, and put on a second coat of paint. After this has dried, make yourself another stencil to trace around with a pencil and mark out the stone castle blocks. Use a darker gray paint to go over the pencil marks and make it look like mortar between the stone blocks. Let this paint dry too. Finally, put a waterproofing sealant on all the surfaces, following the manufacturer’s directions, and let it dry.
Now build the frame and waterproof it too. Let it dry. Fasten three sheets of painted plywood to the framing for each long sidewall, and use two sheets for the back wall of the castle.
For the front of the castle, use the end pieces from that cable spool as the top and bottom of a castle tower with a pointed roof. Space framing around the edge at equal distances, and attach the frame pieces to the bottom spool end piece first. Cut a square of scrap lumber to go across the center hole in the top end piece. Drill a small hole in the center of the scrap lumber square, and use a long wood screw to attach a length of dowel or broomstick, cut to 18 inches in length. Fasten the square and dowel to the tower’s top-end piece. Now cut a 40-inch diameter circle out of that old tarp (a bright blue plastic one works great). Drape the tarp over the dowel, and then use a staple gun to fasten the tarp, pulled tight, to the edge of the tower’s top-end piece. Fasten the tower’s now-peaked top to the framing for the tower.
Fasten the tower to the front of the castle wall, either on the left or right side, whichever you prefer. Take one of the half-sheets of crenelated wall and attach it to the tower. Measure all around the outside of the tower, and cut a piece of painter’s drop cloth or scrap canvas to cover it. Paint the canvas the same way you did the walls,’ and let it dry. Use a staple gun to attach the wall’ to the tower.
Take the other half-sheet of the crenellated wall and attach it to the other long castle wall. You’ve just created the opening for the drawbridge. Measure this opening, and cut a piece of 1/4-inch scrap plywood wide enough to fit in the opening, but only half the height of the walls. (This reduction in height and weight should prevent any serious injuries, should the kids accidentally lower the drawbridge’ on top of another kid who happens to be in the way.) Make a strong threshold from a scrap piece of 1 inch by 4-inch lumber cut to fit the opening, and secure it to the ground with stakes, putting screws through the stakes into the side of the threshold.
Paint the drawbridge the same color as the tower roof and let it dry. Waterproof it, and let this coating dry too. Screw-in two of the eyes to the top edge of the drawbridge. Attach the hinges to the other side of the drawbridge and fasten them securely to the threshold. Cut the rope in half, and pass one piece of rope through one eye and knot it. Repeat for the other eye.
Screw in the other two eyes to the frame for the castle wall, being careful to put them at a height that isn’t endangering even the smallest kid’s eyesight. Now pull the rope through these eyes and knot the rope with two or three large knots. In order to raise the drawbridge, it’ll take two kids, each pulling on a rope.
Now all your castle needs is some triangular-shaped pennants, flying from the walls. Make them from bright colored felt or vinyl stapled to small wooden dowels. Attach the pennants to the castle by drilling holes in the framing and gluing the dowels into the holes.Now all your
Time to lower the drawbridge and call the kids to have fun!