Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rescuing a CedarWorks Swing Set

We had the good fortune recently of being offered an old play-structure by a lovely couple who'd recently bought a house with it in the garden, but their kid was too old for it. They'd tried to give it away a few times over the last year or so, but no one who came to look at it had any clue how to take it apart - I'm beginning to suspect that they were just sensible and realised how much work would be involved in deconstructing and reconstructing it all ;)

It was completely worth the effort though. These CedarWorks play-structures are fantastic (seriously, check out that link, it's like swing set porn) and there's no way our kids would ever have had anything like this under other circumstances. We managed to salvage the whole thing for about the cost of the metal steering wheel it came with (~$160).

I took a look and thought, yeah, that'll come apart easy and should squeeze in our back-yard. So the missus and I went down one Sunday with a big U-Haul truck (one of these) and spent about 4 1/2 hours taking it apart with the help of the original owners (and Jessen and Lani who were looking after the filthwizards). We'd actually been down the day before to show the kids and to get started (we spent about 1 1/2 hours there that day). These things are definitely built to stay up!

Most of it was pretty straightforward to deconstruct, it's mostly held together by long bolts and hex-screws. The hardest part was removing all the dowel rods... These were all kept in place with nails driven through the main posts... this turned out to be the biggest pita time-sink of the day. I ended up clearing some of the wood around each of the nail heads by hammering a 7mm socket around the top of them and then using a claw hammer to pull the nail out. We left parts of the structure intact (the smaller tower, the monkey bars and 3 rows of the larger tower). Phew! That was quite hard in the midday sunshine... and guess who forgot his hat! Doh!

We did joke a couple of times that we may have landed ourselves some very elaborate firewood.

Here it is, taken apart and stored down the side of our house waiting for some attention (both of us quietly hoping not of the bonfire variety):

Whilst taking it apart we found that the lower 6 inches of the structure was rotten (including the A-frame support beams/crossmembers) so we'd have to come up with a plan for fixing it up. A few of the dowels were rotten as well and one of them wouldn't come out, so we ended up sawing it in half in order to get the frame apart and out of the garden.

We decided to stain the wood to protect it from further water damage and to make it look a bit nicer. We picked up the stain from Home Depot (Red, Brown and a small pot of green for the horse swing) and set to work.

It took a couple of weeks of preparation (mainly painting and grabbing some supplies) and an entire weekend of painting, sawing, hammering, drilling, lifting, squeezing, sneezing, spluttering (I got a lot of sawdust up my nose and in my mouth) and standing on-top of things with my mate, Jessen, bashing away with a big rubber mallet to get it finished and in a good state to play on. I sawed off the lower 6" or so of the entire structure (16 vertical legs and 3 A-frame legs) and replaced the unsalvageable, A-frame crossmembers with some 8' 4"x4" from Home Depot.

It was going dark on Monday night by the time the kids got a chance to test it out - They were very excited and I had to fend them off for a little while whilst finishing up the A-frames. You would have thought the sight of me running back and forth with a big drill in the twilight would have been intimidating enough... apparently not.

Well, it's still not quite finished. The platforms that go inside the main structure still need sanding and painting, but we can do those piecemeal. Hopefully this means I've got some time to get back to building that CNC machine!

It feels like we're pretty good at not necessarily biting off more than we can chew, but rather biting off enough to give us very sore jaws... It really felt worthwhile when Ffion came running over and hugged my leg, saying "you're the best dad ever!" and Carys shouts out (from the apex of a high swing) "This is AWESOME!". Yeah fine... they have me wrapped around their little fingers...


Ann Martin said...

You;re a VERY good dad! Wish I'd had a swing set like that when I was a kid. How nice to give it a new lease on life.

Nikoli said...

Well done Dad(and Mom and friends)! I built a great playdeck from scratch out of 90% reclaimed wood... I missed out on several "freebies" on Craigslist. I laughed at the people who expected you to PAY them, AND disassemble the play sets.

Seriously GREAT JOB!

TheCuriousHolts said...

HAHAH. We did this same thing. It was hell. Fun hell, but hell nevertheless.

macservice said...

I have to do the same thing.
What exact tools will I need for the take apart?
Please advise on how to label the wood to reconstruct it later. Should I just get some blue painters tape and mark each piece?
Should I stain it BEFORE I reconstruct or after?
What stain do you recommend? Home Depot Behr?

Thank you.

PaulBo said...

Wow, well, this was 4 years ago and 5,000 miles away now!

Let's see what I can remember... I can't give you a list of exact tools. These are the ones I ended up using:

1. Wrench/socket sets. having two of the main hex size was essential - can't remember the size though.
2. pry bar (some items were nailed in)
3. screw drivers
4. Drill - we used screws, rather than nails, to re-secure the dowels in place. Also, I used forstner bits to counter sink some of the bolts on the new A-frames.
5. Rubber mallet
6. Claw hammer (for extracting nails mostly).
7. Patience - taking the playset apart took an entire day. Putting it back together again took a lot longer.

I think we labeled the wood using felt tip pen or permanent marker (knowing we were going to stain it afterwards). We paired up parts using the alphabet - so A and A go together, then B and B, etc.

We chose two different wood stains - both from Home Depot. I can't remember the type. We painted each main section after putting it together. Some of the joints were quite tight, so it's probably best to stain these afterwards.

Anonymous said...

This was very inspirational to read. I just looked at a Frolic set pretty similar to this in as bad condition. It was installed in back of a home near the ocean so the salty air has done a number on it, but seeing what you've done, I think I'm game to try repeat your success. Thanks for sharing your photos knowledge.

macservice said...

TY for the tool list! Honestly, I'm not looking forward to over two days of work on this. I assume this is with a 2nd person. I may be doing some of this solo. Then I have to transport everything 2 blocks away. I have a Minivan but may need a pickup truck.

Q: Can I simply put it on grass or is it high recommended to buy some material on the ground? I can buy small bluestone.

PaulBo said...


The house we retrieved the play structure from had it on tanbark. We put it straight on grass. We had it there for two years before moving house (well, moving country really). It was fine for those two years.

macservice said...

I had a couple friends help. They had a very large work van and was able to take the two larger parts in two trips. The entire take apart and reassembly took about 3 hours. Whew! Looks great sitting on grass.
However, there are carpenter ants loving the wood. I did spray them but it looks like a potential ingoing problem.

Unknown said...

I know this post is older, but I'm about to do the same thing. I talked with cedarworks and they said that the dowel rods aren't safe anymore as they have a 7-10 year life expectancy. I was wondering if you replaced the dowel rods? And how you go about taking those out. Thanks for any information!

PaulBo said...

Hey Ryan - I did replace some of the dowel rods when doing this. I just went to Home Depo and found some rods of a similar size (broom handles?). Removing the dowels was a pain (I think I talk about it in the post) - we had to locate the nail holes and dig the nails out, then the dowels could be twisted out.

Unknown said...

Paul, thanks for the quick reply. I do see that now it looks like it's going to be tough. I just went back and inspected the set I'm picking up and there were 2 rods that are totally rotted and crumbled. I'm just not sure if I should take them all out or just replace as needed. I bounced on all of them and most seem pretty good to hold me. How do you get them to go into the holes being they sit in, do you you have to separate the posts to get them in?