Forts made of sheets, forts made of pillows, forts made in the bushes of the side yard—it’s no secret that kids cherish the idea of their own hideout where they get a break from the prying eyes of adults and let their imaginations run wild. Above all other styles of hideouts, though, the ace of spades is always going to be the tree house. It combines two things kids love—forts and tree climbing—in perfect unison, and with a bit of help from the kids, setting a few days aside to put together a tree house makes for the perfect weekend project.
The Dream Tree: Unlike the laws of equal rights in our fine society, in the law of tree housing, all trees are definitely not created equal. When it comes to picking the right tree, you have to be a discerning juror if you want to be sure that the next storm won’t turn your project into a pile of backyard driftwood. The first aspect to examine is the thickness of tree trunks and their branches. The trunk itself should be strong enough to remain stable in high winds and the areas where you will attach the supports to the branches need to be strong enough to support the weight of the house. Another key element is that the target area isn’t too high off the ground. While a sky-high tree-house might offer panoramic views, it also increases the risk of injury should anything go wrong, and so it’s best to keep the tree-house under ten feet off the ground.
Supporting Cast: The next step after picking a location is to design the actual support system for the tree-house. No two trees are exactly the same, and so this step is going to demand some careful assessment and customization. The main question, whether to use flexible or fixed attachments, is based on how much you expect your tree to move. Flexible attachments—sliding joints constructed by metal brackets—are tough to set-up, but also hold an advantage in that they reduce stress on the joints, an important feature when dealing with bigger tree-houses in heavier winds. This article has a great breakdown on building flexible supports.
Master planners: The perfect location is picked out. The type of support system is decided upon. Now it’s time to actually begin mapping out the tree-house itself. You can find some good walkthroughs online, but it’s more practical (and fun) to use these only for ideas and then to customize a layout for your specific tree. When using a single tree, the best option is going to be a floor plan that wraps around the trunk. Drawing the floor plan first is important because the design of the platform and how it fits into the tree will determine the shape of the rest of the house. Also, make sure that you plan the floor in a way that it can support the rest of the house on it’s own. Attaching parts other than the floor-supports to the tree will put unneeded stress on the trunk and can make the entire structure less stable.
When it comes to the walls and roof, you can save yourself a whole lot of awkward, Tarzan-style hammering by planning to do some framing on the ground and then raising portions up to mount them to the floor. Plywood is the material of choice for most tree-house walls so consider planning for an overlapping pattern to keep wind in rain out as the wood swells and shrinks with varying weather conditions. Pitching the roof is also going to be ideal as a pitched roof coated with tar paper is the perfect combination for a weatherproof lid that allows the kids to spend time in their beloved fort even when it rains.
After the plan is drawn out, now all that’s left to do is the fun part: buying the materials, picking a weekend to spend with the kids, and getting to work constructing the most awesome and biggest tree-house your neighborhood has ever seen.
TIP: Use WD-40® Multi-Use Product to remove stubborn tree sap from tools.