I was one lucky kid. My dad built us 3 kids an incredible playhouse in the backyard. It was elevated, had a porch and the main part of the playhouse was fully enclosed. I know my dad spent a lot of time and money on that project, but we enjoyed it for years. We even slept in it when we were old… one night we got scared from animal sounds and scurried into our home, but that’s another matter.
While my dad didn’t use pallets, he could have if so inclined. In fact, the playhouse above is made mostly from pallet wood.
Pallet Playhouse Tutorial
1. Start with Building the Windows
Necessary tools: circular saw, hammer, crowbar or catspaw, and heavy cutting pliers. A handsaw will be useful as well. A sturdy ladder is a must. Your most useful tool may be a table saw. It’s unnecessary for the house itself, but without it you won’t be able to craft the siding. It may also help on the windows and as an all-around tool.
However, you can complete this project with the circular saw, miter box, and a handsaw. This isn’t the only way, so try out your own methods, play jazz.
The first step for the windows (two for the “ice cream window” and one for the porthole) is to build the basic frame. Our idea was to take old storm windows from a house and frame them in 1×4 pallet wood. You could use plexi-glass or old glass from sashes, or even simple screening material.
We started with a long rabbet on the side of a 1×4. It took two cuts on the table saw: one for depth, the rest for horizontal area. Note: if you have a dado or a router, you can dig the rabbet out with that.
We had these old storm windows left over from when double-hung windows on the house were replaced.
2. Window frames
After the sides of each were rabbeted, cut 45 degree angles on each side, exactly like you would when building a picture frame. We made this miter sled years ago, which makes the job easier, but you can use your circular saw, a miter box, or even the handsaw.
And now you have the basic building block for the windows. You won’t want the rabbeted-out groove to be too tight– I get a feeling that the wood expanding and contracting would crack the pane pretty easily.
Countersink a hole at four corners for a 2″ deck screw. We happened to have them left over from an earlier project, so while they weren’t free, they were in inventory.
Finish the double windows by backing the frame with more 1×4’s. You can simply butt them together. The first image shows the first two boards horizontally in the background and foreground. The perpendicular board is shown in the proper position in picture number two. Insert two 1″ wood screws in each corner, driven into the underlying frame. Make sure to countersink them.
3. Building the double “ice cream” window
Pictured are the windows, complete and ready for casing. This will be the front, gable-end double window.
We built a frame for the whole thing out of some donated 2×6 lumber. The joints are butted and screwed together with 2″ deck screws. The “hinges” are pieces of an old dowel.
Later, we built a rough opening for the whole piece, slid it in, and fastened with long screws into the playhouse itself. Measuring ahead, the overall depth of the window matched combined width of the framing, siding, and interior paneling. Simply attach moldings to the exterior and interior when it is time for the finishing work.
We also added two handles, wood strips to make it weather-tight, and a simple hook and eye lock to keep it shut when not in use. You may notice wooden X’s in each pane on the finished project. These were glued directly to the glass.
4. Diamond-shaped porthole
The diamond window is an easy step. Craft the frame the same way, then cut a diamond shape and screw it to the top. You may glaze it later with some old window putty to make it water tight.
5. Let’s start on the playhouse floor/deck itself
We gathered a bunch of old 4×4’s and set them on some bricks and cinder blocks. We then built an 8×10 square from reclaimed pressure-treated 2×4’s and leveled the whole thing by adding and removing bricks. You’ll want to do this under your 4×4’s. When it was close, we laid across the pallet 2×4’s using the center 4×4 as a stringer. This works well, as you do not need to cut any of the 2×4’s; simply lay them side to side.
Take note of the odd pallet 2×4’s in the image – there are small, half-oval sections missing. This is where the pallet jack would be slid in.
The overall area is approximately 8×10′. The playhouse itself is 8’X8′, while the 2 foot protruding section is the where the deck will be placed. Throughout the build process, you may have to continually adjust spacing to accommodate the roughly 4 foot 2×4’s and 30″ 1x lumber.
We used various pieces of plywood for the floor, but also had to make sure that the floor joists were no further apart than 15″, in case we had to use any of the 1×6’s. We use 15″ because the short lengths of lumber need to have an alternating “butt” end, much like brickwork. A long, continuous joint would be too weak. By alternating this, you add strength.
The particleboard came from pallets. We obtained them just for the 3/4 inch particleboard. You can see the middle beam where the 2×4’s meet really well in this picture. Toe-nail all the 2x lumber to the 4×4’s, every two feet or so. This is important, as you may want to move the whole structure at a later date.
This is where the frame goes up.After running out of 4-foot pallet 2×4’s we purchased approximately 20 bargain 2×4’s for one dollar each. Notice the 2×6 and 2×8 headers. There are 2 doors: one in front, and one in back. In the photo, you can see the opening for the diamond-shaped window and the front door. The 2×4 at the bottom of the doorway was cut out later. The 2×4’s, spliced together and ugly, are 15″ inches apart. This is because the siding will be 30″ pieces of 1×4, with a staggered vertical seam.
If you need help with basic framing, search Google and especially Youtube, as there are some great resources to discover. Most of all, you should worry about optimizing the material you have without sacrificing safety. We advise using a tarp to keep everything dry until the roof goes up.
It can be quite a pain to splice 4-foot 2×4’s together. Because we planned on siding the playhouse with the 30″ pallet 1×4’s and 1×6’s, each stud was placed 15″ on center, rather than 16″. This allows you to stagger the vertical joints.
7. Ice cream window framing
This header is most likely overkill, but necessary if you want a large opening. Some day, it can be converted into a garage for a riding mower or other similar function. It is dimensional lumber (ie, it really is 2″ thick and 6″ wide, not 1.5″ and 5.5″). There are two pieces sandwiched together.
8. The roof
You can build this little stand to hold the ridge beam. In most houses, the ridge board is just a place to nail the rafters to, and does not hold weight. The pictured setup is meant as a true beam to help bear some of the roof’s weight.
Space the rafters evenly, at 16″, if you’re planning on using regular old OSB plywood. You’ll notice a two foot overhang attached to the main roof. We also put joists in the deck. The fascia is a ten foot board that supports the overhang. Notice that at this point, the windows can be installed.
The dilemma in siding the playhouse is making sure it’s close to water tight. What we did was make our own shiplap siding. It is installed with the “inside” edge above the “outside” edge. You can use a dado blade for the table saw. Two cuts on each board. The second photo shows two pieces of siding together.
Sometimes it’s nice to have help!
The shiplap is installed with the inside edge on top, outside edge on the bottom. This ensures that rain is kept out and channeled away by gravity. The vertical butt joints should be staggered to add strength, much like the pattern you’d see in bricklaying. They should always meet on a 2×4 member. Use two nails per board for the 1X4, one on each side, and four nails for the 1×6’s, two to a side.
Now it’s time to lay the roof deck. This is 5/8 OSB, rated for roofing. It was about $8 a sheet. We bought three 10-foot sections of drip edge as well, for $7.50.
Looking in the front door, you can see that the back wall is not pallet lumber. We ran out at this point and ended up using some recycled 1×10 boards that were formerly shelves.
11. The End
Here we have the finished playhouse. The shingles and moldings really make a difference.
You can carve your own four-panel front door from any used six-panel door. The side rails were cut from scrap fence pickets. The paint you see here cost $120, by far the biggest expense. You don’t have to do the same, but the results really give it a professional feel that we felt worth the cost. Make sure to use a large bucket of exterior wood putty (no more than $8) as just about every piece of siding may have holes from pulled nails.
You can see the 1×10’s in this image. We simply cut a shiplap edge in each board so it would be water tight. The cornerbeads were also salvaged materials.
This is the back door, crafted from old fence panels. You can use any remaining 1×4’s and 1×6’s on the inside, installed perpendicular to the vertical pickets. All you’ll need after this are door knobs!
Good luck on the construction of your own pallet-based playhouse project!
Project (images and instructions) performed and provided by John Kratman – who kindly granted us a license to publish this tutorial.
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