5 Basic Steps for Building Forts and Treehouses

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Whether you called it a fort or treehouse I think most of us can remember a time when you simply wanted a place of your own. Maybe it was something to escape the stresses of elementary school or maybe a place high in a tree for launching of water balloons at just the right height. That’s right we’re talking about a fort.

Forts come in all shapes and sizes such as simple lean-to’s, free-standing above ground types, and even those that are built amongst the birds high in a tree. If you’ve ever caught Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet then you too have seen just how amazing some tree houses can be. For those of us on a bit more of a down-to-earth budget let’s take a look a 5 tips to help you get started on your very own.

1) Gather Materials

Often with projects like this the materials dictate the result, not vice versa. Beyond the normal lumber pieces (such as 2x4s, etc) the following are some great materials to start with:

Old wooden spools can make a great floor and can be found in sizes as large as 8′ in diameter.
Photo courtesy Austin Granger, Creative Commons
  • old sheds
  • telephone poles (make freestanding)
  • recycled palettes (whole or disassembled)
  • large wooden cable spools (make for great floors)

2) Determine Type

Do you want to make a lean-to, something up in the trees or freestanding fort? There is no wrong answer but the materials you have on-hand may help decide this for you. Here are few to consider:

A great lean-to with one side exposed, cabin style.
Photo Courtesy Daniel Rivera, Creative Commons
  • lean-to (leaving one side exposed, or leaning against something)
  • tree-house (leveraging branches, sits above the ground)
  • free-standing (on or above ground, but atop poles)

3) Build Your Base

Regardless of the type, start by building your base. Set your poles in the ground, determine where in your tree your fort will be or any combination but start from the ground and work your way up. You seldom see a house built from the roof down.

With some creativity your treehouse can be on posts and in the trees.
Photo courtesy of John Mignault, Creative Commons


  • If raised, set your poles securely in the ground.
  • Build or place your floor and attach securely (remember it may be your children up there!) to the poles.
  • If in or around a tree, take care not to damage the tree…last thing you want is a treehouse in a dead tree.

4) Build In Your Walls

That is if you want walls. Walls tend to keep you from falling out of a treehouse, but in some cases a simple safety railing may be all you need.

Maybe your treehouse is nothing more than a platform. Nothing wrong with that!
Photo by Molly Stevens, Creative Commons.
  • Consider who will be in your treehouse? Rails at a minimum may be a must.
  • When building your rails take note of the spaces between. Toys or other things may still easily fall through.

5) Add Accessories and Enjoy!

With all of the big work done you may want to add things like a hoist to pull items up, a window, or other such accessories to make your fort all the more fun.

A simple pulley can make light work of taking toys up!
Photo courtesy of Danny Sullivan, Creative Commons
  • A simple pulley, rope and bucket from the local hardware store are easy additions to your fort.
  • Tying the rope into a circle makes it easy to raise or lower whether on the ground or in the treehouse.

Building a fort can be a wonderful weekend project and can make a lifetime of memories for both you and your kids. There is no wrong type to build just have fun and be sure to make it sturdy and safe.

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Jason is a software engineer, father of 3 boys and avid builder of wacky things. When he's not conceiving one one crazy idea or another he can be found wrenching on a vintage motorcycle.

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