Sunday, June 08, 2008

Finishing Touches

The sun came out again today, after being off vacationing somewhere else for a week, and just in time to finish the big play space project off. With some hefting assistance from PJMcD, we lifted and bolted the final sections of the play structure into place this afternoon.

The chief playtester gave it his squeal of approval.

Afterward, there was some well-earned relaxation time with the uncle.

And here's how it looks all put together.

Now that I've seen how easily the chips get moved around under the swings and at the end of the slide, I'm planning on getting some rubber mats to put underneath the chips at those locations so they don't get dug into all the way to the bottom. Some rough spots in the wood could use some attention, too. And looking around at the edges of the pictures, it's clear I need to start working on the yard some more. Then it's time for the next project! And there are so many to choose from...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Day 42

Today's post is a quick follow-up to yesterday's report on the play space. Since most of the play structure was put together in big assemblies in the garage already, I mostly just had to fit them together and apply fasteners of one sort or another once I got them hauled out to the play space. We set up a work table under our patio umbrella to hold the plans and parts.

Thereafter, it was mostly a case of drill,


and assemble the various parts together.

My chief assistant did some enthusiastic quality assurance.

Here's where we left off today. The next task is to put together the swing set, which will require more heavy lifting than I can manage on my own, so we'll do that tomorrow.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Play is Serious Business

For the past month, I've been busily assembling a play structure that we purchased a year ago from Costco and which sat in its very heavy boxes taking up a big chunk of our garage for most of that year. Despite the instructions calling for two people, I managed to put together large sections of it single-handedly in a couple of weeks' worth of evenings, until I'd pretty much run out of things I could assemble in the garage. I needed a place to assemble the final product out of the large sections I'd put together, so it was time to look at the yard. The plan has always been to use the garden space, since our gardening needs do not really require such a huge space. In fact, as you see below, we've done about all our gardening this year, except for some left-over strawberries, in a cedar raised bed. The carrots and sweetpeas are coming along nicely, as our chief gardener demonstrates here.

The garden space had a couple of bushes removed by our disappearing gardener back in January, and so when I began preparations in earnest, it looked something like this.

Next, I found a level line with my framing level and a laser and marked the fence and some stakes I drove in at the rough corners of the play space, so I'd know what I needed to move around, dirt-wise, to have a level space. To avoid some trees, I decided to make the space a skewed rectangle, roughly 24' by 28' in size, and marked the corners with some garden poles we inherited with the house and some mason's line at the rough top of what I thought the play space border would be.

A couple of years ago we had some landscaping cleanup done, and the landscapers had put down a ton of beauty bark in the garden to control the weeds, and I am not speaking figuratively. I scraped off all of the beauty bark in the play space area and a bit beyond, a layer two inches thick in places, because I didn't want that to be part of the dirt I moved around to level the play space - it would be breaking down and compacting forever if I left it in, so I wanted to just be dealing with bare dirt. I had at least a couple of yards of bark when I was done, most of it clean enough for reuse, so I stashed that under our big cedar tree.

Most of the garden space had only a relatively thin layer of topsoil, over some rocky hardpan that wasn't going to respond to a shovel easily. I rented a big tiller from Home Depot and ground away at the high side, shoveling the softened dirt and rocks over onto the low side until I'd reached the approximate level I wanted within the playspace. It looked something like this.

I considered big railroad tie timbers for a border, but decided I'd rather have a box built with pressure-treated lumber around some posts, so I purchased a bunch of lumber and posts and cedar boards for a top rail. It took two trips in the heavily loaded van to get it all home.

I went back to Home Depot and rented a one-man augur with a 6" bit (that's diameter, not length) and got to drilling. Wrestling the augur against the rocks in the holes was a serious chore, and I wound up taking a couple of days completing all the hole drilling, what with stopping to dig out some rocks with my post hole shovel in practically every other hole, not to mention cleaning out all the dirt that remained after pulling out the augur. Once while my main helper was watching, the augur caught on a rock and twisted itself right out of my hands with the throttle on, and we watched it spin itself around for a while, highly entertained, before I grabbed it and shut it off.

Following in my father's footsteps, I decided to stick in an extra post for a possible future treehouse sort of affair in one corner of the play space and leave the posts tall in that corner. The rest of the posts I cut off as I went, bolting them to the lumber and maintaining a level and for the most part square line around the play space as I went. I added a cedar top rail around the edge, and a step area for easy access from the yard.

Once the border was enclosed and everything bolted together, I filled in around the posts, and levelled the dirt inside the playspace, with a slight slope from one side to the other for drainage, and packed down the loose dirt. Then I got some weed barrier and some humongous staples and covered it all up. And that was all I could do myself until I got something to fill the play space with. There had been a long run of nice weather while I busily worked up a sweat every day, but it finally came to an end about the same time I finished.

While it rained, I called around to find out about play chips. There was one company that would blow it in for you, but I didn't like their chips very much - too big. Another place would deliver with a blower truck, but you were supposed to do the actual blowing with the hose yourself. Interesting idea, but I didn't like their play chips, either - too much bark and slivery bits. I went with a slightly more expensive alternative, cedar chips from the Rainbow Play Systems outfit, and paid to have it installed. They came today, about five hours later than originally expected, and filled the play space up. Their chips came in bags on tall pallets, which they dumped out of their truck in our driveway, and hauled around to the backyard in a wheel barrow. My assistant helped with the raking.

Now that there are play chips, I can haul out the parts I've put together in the garage and start working on the final assembly. We should be done this weekend, unless it really, really pours down.