After a friend’s two young daughters wished for their father to build them an outside playhouse, I began to notice how many plastic, premade options are available for parents to purchase today. Though colorful and sturdy, a homemade, handbuilt playhouse can give a backyard much needed charm and character, and the building process can work as a wonderful time of bonding between parent and child. In a continued effort to bring eco-friendly and sustainable qualities to our DIY projects, it came to be that the old 48” by 40” wooden shipping pallets that collect behind my business were the perfect recycled materials for the job! Here's how to do it.
Step 1: Plan for Your Needs and Find Materials
When building this project, my friend and I examined many kinds of structures to emulate. Some were very large and complicated, and some were small and, frankly, decrepit looking. As the girls we were making this for were ages 2 and 4 respectively, they longed for something small that matched their stature and seemed exclusive to them -- nothing I or their parents could certainly fit into. This made our job easier as many books and tutorials we read claimed the project should take months to build and take an upward of 70+ wood shipping pallets to complete. For our needs, we would use around 8 pallets in total; some we left as they were and some dismantled for smaller pieces.
Step 2: Take the Pallets Apart and Make Them Safe
To begin making a pallet playhouse, set aside 5 pallets, which will eventually form the house walls. We disassembled the rest, one by one. Depending on how the pallets themselves are put together, this can be an easy task. We simply used a hammer and hit the wood with opposing force until the nails binding them came loose. We then stripped all the wood of excess nails and staples.
Step 3: Fill the Gaps and Prop the Walls
One of the unique attributes associated with wood pallets is the staggered patterns they hold. The next step in our building process was filling those gaps using pieces of dismantled wood from our excess pallets, adhering them using screws. These slabs later became our playhouse walls. Remember, the wood is being upcycled and is truthfully meant for shipping. The walls are not meant to be seamless, and you don't have to fill every gap the wood holds -- it's simply a fun kids' hideaway and they will love it just the same!
Prop up the walls to see how they work together. Using temporary support beams, lay 2 pallets on their sides so the long edge (48-inch side) is down. Next, set 2 pallets side-by-side also with the long edges down to form the back wall of the house. Finally, place a last single pallet the same way, but in the front of the shelter so it's touching the left wall. This encloses the house but leaves a wide gap for easy playtime entering and exiting. Using screws, begin to bond your structure in place.
Something to keep in mind: don’t be afraid to embrace using smaller screws for this project. We found the #6x1-1/8 drywall screw was an asset to this project as it was small enough that they didn’t pierce through too far, leaving sharp edges for a child to hurt themselves on later.
Step 4: Choose a Roof Option
This step is an optional one. Because the girls we were making this house for were so small, a simple flat roof worked for us (extra head room wasn’t needed). We simply screwed two pallets together adjacently, similarly to how the back wall of the playhouse was formed, and attached it without issue. I have seen gable roofs on homemade play houses which are more complex, and would need scaffolding from added lumber to insure security. There are even playhouses without roofs at all, as many implore a single post in the center of the house itself placing a cotton sheet on top of the whole thing, allowing for a whimsical fort-inspired hideaway.
Step 5: Decorate With Paint, Stain, or a Chalkboard Wall
Now that the house is built, tools can be put away and the whole family can join in to make this playhouse a memorable one. After ensuring there are no splinter-causing edges that need sanding or hazardous construction leftovers to attend to, the kids can really go to town in making it their own. Some design ideas include painting (of course), staining, adding embellishments such as shingles to the roof, or making one wall a DIY chalkboard. In our case, the girls loved that they had their own little place in the backyard and were able to paint their family's names on the front of it, forever encapsulating the time spent together creating it.
Lead photo courtesy of 99pallets.