The Tree House. What could be cooler to a young boy or girl than a tree house? There is just something about having a structure in a tree that is really alluring. I remember dreaming about my perfect tree house when I was young. I came up with all sorts of things that would be included in my tree house like a rope ladder, a pulley for pulling up various treasures, a secrete door that no one knew about but me, and the list goes on and on.
When I did finally build my tree house I was not quite what I had imagined. It was 3, 8 foot boards nailed into two horizontal branches. I LOVED IT! It didn't matter that it wasn't much to look at and it didn't have all of the bells and whistles that I had imagined. It was mine and I spent quite a lot of time in it.
So when I had my son 5 years ago, one of the first father son actives I wanted to do with him was build a tree house. I started to plan and slowly but surely I started on our tree house.
One thing that I really wanted to do is use reclaimed material to make the majority of the tree house. I use reclaimed wood in a lot of my project so I thought I would be cool to see if I could use the same materials to make a tree house. Also to be honest, by finding this material or buying it used I saved a ton of money on this build. In my plans the main frame had to be new treated wood for safety reasons but the rest I wanted to make out of reclaimed stuff. I got pretty close except for the siding, that was a headache I’ll explain later.
This has been a labor of love and I am very excited to share it with you. I hope that you enjoy my project and that it may inspire you to make one of your own. I plan on having many adventures with my son and daughter in our tree house. It’s a little bit more than 3-8 foot boards and so far my kids love it. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy our tree house.
What I used
A plethora of saws, I used circular saw, table saw, jig saw, miter saw
Drills and a lot of different screws, deck screw, self tapping tin screws, small drywall screws
a ton of reclaimed stuff, deck boards, conduit, wood posts,2x4s, plywood, tin, windows
A few new things, tarpaper, cedar siding, roofing nails
Time and patients
In this spot I usually put "What You Need" but not this time. Every tree house is so different I don't think I could make a list that would adequately describe what "you" need. If you plan on making a tree house, plan well and make it to fit your space. Every tree house is different and every one is awesome!
Step 1: The Trees and Frame
I am surrounded by walnut trees. English and black walnut to be exact. They are beautiful trees but if you have had the experience of one or two of them in your lawn, you know that they are terrible to clean up after. I have 26 walnut trees on my property. I don’t know why that I relevant to my ible, I guess I needed to complain just a little.
Aside from being messy, Walnut is also a very sought after and valuable tree. So sought after in fact that I have had many many people stop by and offer to buy my trees. Here’s the thing. They are messy and I do love to complain about them but they are beautiful and hundreds of years old so I do not want to give them up. But how to stop all these people from hassling me to cut down and buy my trees? I know, put a tree house in three of the most desirable trees. It worked.
I have these three trees in a triangle in the very back corner of our yard that worked perfect. They are 14x14x12 feet apart in an isosceles triangle. Perfect trees, perfect spot, start the tree house.
Like I said before, I wanted the tree house to be made primarily out of reclaimed material, but I wanted it to be very safe and sturdy as well. So I used new treated 2x10 for the outside frame to make sure that I would hold up for my kids. I used 4-10” lag bolts per board end to secure the 2x10 to the tree. I know they are better ways to do this but I did not have those kinds of resources at that time. I used new 2x8 as floor joists and I ran them parallel with the “bottom” of the triangle
After the main frame was complete, it was time for the first of many reclaimed materials. I found someone on craigslist that was selling the wood from an old deck that they took down. They were asking $200 for all of the decking which I though was a lot. I tried in vain to trade for an air compressor that I had no use for but he wasn’t having it. I haggled for a while and eventually settled on $120 for the pile. It was still more than I wanted to pay but it was a lot of wood and it was in decent shape so I was happy. . I don’t have a ton of pictures of this step. I’m embarrassed to say but I didn’t even know about instructables when I started this tree house.
I started in the middle and worked out towards the edges and I used 3” deck screws and attached to each of the floor joists. Although this is hand me down deck wood, it is still very sturdy.
Step 2: The First Structure
I had this really cool idea for the house portion of the tree house. Because the platform was a triangle I decided to make the structure a triangle too. Not only that but I wanted the walls to angle out to give it an original look. This all sounded really good in my head but when I started to build… it didn’t work. The walls were angled out at a 15 degree angle and it was a nightmare to do everything. I was sheeting the roof when I finally decided that this was a stupid idea. I took the structure down and started over from scratch.
This step was not really necessary but I think it is important to share successes as well as failures. Hopeful someone can learn something from my mistake.
Step 3: The New Frame
So I had to start over. It was a pain at the time but I’m really glad that I did. I started with a square floor frame made from treated 2x6’s. Again the frame was new treated wood but the decking was reused. Pretty standard floor framing. Because the frame was already sitting partially on another frame, I went with two foot centers to save the cost of a board. I toenailed the top frame into the bottom one in various places. At the two corners that were sticking out I used two 4x4s to support the corners. I dug the holes, leveled the post and poured cement into the hole. This might not have been to code but I think it will serve its purpose well. I used 3” screws to secure the frame and used them to screw down the deck boards as well.
With a completed floor I was able to get to work on the main structure. This one went up much better than the first one.
Step 4: Frame Up
Reclaimed 2x4’s. actually not too hard to find. I had to do a quick search on Craigslist and I found someone that was redoing a basement and had a bunch of 2x4’s that they had replaced. Perfect! I can’t remember exactly what I paid for these but it wasn’t too much. I used them to make the first unsuccessful building and then I reused them to make the second.
I framed up the walls and made them 5 feet tall. I wanted it to seem like a good scale for my kids. I really like how it turned out. The windows were sitting in my parent barn. They are awesome and save all sorts of cool stuff so I was able to find some great windows. I framed up the windows and they really gave it a great look. I went with a pretty good pitch on the roof and started to sheet.
Step 5: Sheet the Roof
What’s really fun about reclaimed wood is that it has a story. It has been somewhere else so there is a story to tell. My plywood has an interesting story. About a year before I started on the tree house we has a fire in our machine shed. Our dewalt drills were charging in the shop and one of the batteries super heating and exploded. We know this because it just so happens we had a security camera pointed at the bench it recorded the whole thing. Please don’t leave your drill batteries pugged in.
Anyway, our shed was broken up into 3 bays. The first bay is the shop and that was completely destroyed. The next bay was tractors and that only had heat damage, any plastic parts melted on the tractors. The third bay had some heat but mostly smoke damage and that is where this plywood was kept. As you can see the board was black because of the smoke but still in pretty good shape. The plywood was in a pile so the bottom pieces didn’t look as bad.
I sheeted the roof and covered it in tar paper. For the roof I found this super awesome rusted tin. We use it for all sorts of projects and it worked great as a roof again. I screwed them down with self tapping tin screws and they looks and work fantastic. I filled in any additional holes with clear silicone. I have had the roof on for quite a while now and I haven’t found any leaks yet.
Step 6: The Dreaded Siding
So the siding was supposed to be the coolest reclaimed part of this whole build. I had all sorts of awesome ideas of what the siding was going to be, but what I really wanted was barn wood. I love barn wood. Not only does it look really cool but I think it has a really great story. I grew up playing in barns, making forts in barns, and working in barns. But the problem is, barn wood is super sought after right now and crazy expensive. So I went to craigslist again. I wrote up an ad looking for old barns. I explained in the ad what I was going to do with the wood and how I wanted to pay for it. I purposed exchanging my work cleaning up a fallen barn, or sorting the wood in exchange for keeping some or paying for it by the truckload.
The ad was up for a short time when I was contacted by Al the troll. Al seemed quite angry that I was asking for barn wood and claiming it was for my kid’s tree house. He said that it seems like I’m looking for a lot of wood and deceiving the craigslist community with this ad. You see in my area there are ads selling wood by the board ft and I was intruding on their turf. I can only guess but I bet Al was one of those people. I sent Al a picture of the progress I had made with the tree house but that didn’t seem to convince him.
A few days later I stumbled on an ad selling some barn wood for $4.50 a board ft! The funny thing is the ad had my town and my phone number on it even though I had not posted it. So my original ad got flagged a few times and eventually I gave up my search. I couldn’t beat the barn wood cartel.
The tree house sat naked for quite a while until I finally broke down and bought cedar siding. It was expensive and not as cool as reclaimed siding would have been but it does look very nice. I put it up with splitless nails. I did have a small amout of barn wood at my disposal that I could use for the trim. Not enough for the whole thing but that’s ok. I ripped the wood into 3” strips and sanded them with a orbital sander. Just a little sanding really brought the wood back to life.
Sorry about the long story… darn Al
Step 7: The Railing
Because the platform of this tree house is 10 feet high I wanted to have a really sturdy railing but it also had to match the rest of the design. We have an apple orchard so there is an abundance of great material to choose from. First the posts. They are line post from the apple trees. Apple trees need support so in the older plantings in the orchard, each one is supported by a 8 foot post pounded into the ground. When we replace a block of trees we pull out the tree and the post and save the posts. We have a lot of these on hand.
The lower railings are made of old conduit that was also a support system for the trees. Same deal here, when we take out a block of trees we pull the conduit to the side and when we have enough we send it to our local metal company to be recycled.
I took the posts and cut them into 4 foot sections. I drilled 4- 7/8" holes 8" apart. I wanted to make sure that the holes were straight down one side of the post so I took 2 pieces if scrap wood and brad nailed them to the sides of the post. This way the post couldn't roll from side to side. I put it on the drill press and drilled the 4 holes about half way through the post. The holes were different depths depending on the size of the post.
I cut the conduit to have about an inch extra in the posts. The posts were not exactly straight so I wanted a little wiggle room. The holes were big enough to let the conduit slide in easily.
The top railing is this really awesome true cedar 2x4 that had a ton of square nails in it. I have no idea where it came from but I found it in one of our barns and it's great. I pulled all the nails with a crowbar and sanded it down with 60 grit sandpaper. When everything was sliver free, I ran my router over it to give it a nice edge and plopped it on top of the post. I’m really happy with how the railing turned out. All reclaimed and still matches the rest of the tree house.
Step 8: The Door
I really wanted the door to stand out and be the focal point of the front of the house. So I chose to go with bin wood. All of our apples are picked and then put into 18 or 20 bushel bins. We use all plastic bins now but in the not so distant past they were all wood. Oak to be precise. When these bins can no longer serve there purpose of holding apples safely, we cut them up and safe the wood for projects. I really like working with bin wood.
I cut off both ends because I didn’t want to pound out nails for two days. I ran them over the joiner and lined them up on two pieces of scrap plywood I had laying around. I went with a different pattern because I really wanted it to look interesting. I ran all the board through the planer to expose the beautiful wood underneath and to make the boards the same thickness. I then glued and nailed the boards to the plywood.
I sealed it with a deck sealer and the wood really popped. I really think that that little door ties the whole tree house together. Its all about the little details.
Step 9: Adventure Awaits
This tree house has taken me a really long time to complete. There were times when I was excited about it, times when nothing would go right and times I wanted to tear the whole thing down and forget I tried. It was frustrating finding and working with used materials and trying to make it fit like it was new.
But yesterday, I was playing in our tree house with both of my kids… My daughter was pretending to cook me food and bring it to me on the deck and my son was acting like one of his 50 favorite super hero’s and pretending the tree house was his secret hideout. I just sat there and smiled. So all of the challenges that went along with this build were totally worth it. If we only got to play in it for one day, I would build it again. But we don’t have one day, we have years, and I cant wait to see what kinds of adventures my family has in their very own tree house.
This one means a lot to me and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and thank you so much for reading about our tree house.
Grand Prize in the
Reclaimed Contest 2017