Sky Fort Day 3: Construction begins.

So after the kids went down for bed, my wife and I started work out in the garage on the Sky Fort.  The first dozen steps or so worth of wood had been sealed and dried and was ready for construction.

It’s pretty straight forward on the early steps—get the long poles and attach a few side boards to them.  Repeat for the other side.  Attach a few boards between the two sides to create a box.  Yeah.  Sounds simple right?

Well, it took us about 30 minutes to attach the first board.  We read the instructions and looked at the diagram over and over again and sweated making the first connection.  Why you ask?  Because the pieces we found that matched the number in the instructions didn’t have the same number of pre-drilled holes the instructions said they should.  Or, we didn’t look closely enough.

Turns out, what we thought were pre-drilled holes (along the floor, essentially) were in the picture marks for us to pre-drill.  Hah!  Reading the little blurb next to the very well designed drawings would have helped a bit.  So after changing every piece we can think of and looking at all the angles we finally figured out that on Step 1, we were supposed to pre-drill some holes.  Really?  Not starting off great…

Okay.  So, we got our tools all collected—Sara had a flash of inspiration: why not put all the tools we’re using on the project into the kids’ wagon.  Now we can wheel all the tools down the hill (eventually) and all the screws and fasteners (in the cooler).  Talk about convenient!

Right, so we started.  First up was to attach some Tee-nuts (using Herbie’s Hammer of course) to the long supports, then put some bolts through connecting boards and tighten.  Once that was accomplished—manually, because we found out that our hex head drivers for the power tools only went up to 3/16″ and we needed a monster 5/16″.  Guess where we’re going tomorrow?  Took forever to crank all 8 bolts into place with the socket wrench.  Meanwhile the freshly charged impact driver looked on with a smirk.  Eventually, we got to the point where we had to drill.  I drilled two pilot holes—easy enough.  On number 3 of 6, the bit broke.

Not a good omen.

Really?  The freaking bit broke on the third hole (of who-knows-how-many hundreds?), yes, even in this soft, soft wood.  So, we swapped out for a spare bit we happened to have (5/16″ by the way was what broke.  We used 22/64″ or some other ridiculous fraction that was so close it didn’t concern us…).  Once we used the framing square to make sure all the holes lined up and were drilled and secured with big ol’ lag screws and washers, the first side complete.

Sorry for the crappy quality…I was holding up the right side with one hand and the phone with the other when I thought to take a progress picture…

Then we repeated the process (albeit a lot faster) for the right side.  Once both sides were assembled and standing, or leaning, up, we got the cross boards out and started putting those on.  They went much smoother because they were all pre-drilled and the holes on the support beams lined up nicely.

Very shortly and only a few bits of cussing later, we had this standing in our garage:Now, you may be noticing that the tops of the support timbers are above the top of the garage door.  Don’t worry, I did the measurements before we started—if we turn it over on it’s side, the big frame there will only be about 5’8″ tall.  And even at it’s current end-of-day assembly (you’ll see later on), it’s still light enough for us to rotate and carry outside.  But it’s starting to look imposing…

Okay, so once it was standing on it’s own power, we moved on to add frames to the bottom and top, then add floor joists to the bottom and top.  The bottom area is split in half—one side will be the sand box, the other will be a floor where a picnic table will be.  The second floor will be all planked for the floor.

These pieces went on fairly quickly as well.  The only snag was the bottoms, where I had to sit in the middle and pull both sides together a tiny bit (maybe 1/8″) so Sara could get the boards to connect solid.  This was the easy part.

Next up was our lest step of the night: connecting the corner braces.  These little boards are mitered with 45* ends to fit between the floor joists and the support timbers.  The timber side of the board got a 2.5″ lag screw (more socket wrench fun).  The joist side of the board got two 2″ lag screws.  By now, our arms are starting to feel the burn of all the socket wrench action.  Oooooh, ACE here we come.  The impact driver is starting to pout it’s missing out on all the fun.

Okay, so this last step took the longest of all, nearly an hour for 8 of these little braces.  That’s a lot of socket wrenching (24 total).  Plus, they had to line up exactly 1″ below the top of the joists, so it literally took both of working in tandem to get each one.

But, when all was said and one, here is what we had:

It is surprising how strong and secure this thing feels already—not wobbly at all, considering how light and, frankly, cheap the wood feels.  I knew what to expect because of helping my brother-in-law with his last summer.  But it still seemed unnatural that something so light was so strong and not metal.  Anyway, it’s freaking secure and safe, that’s for sure.  Still light enough for us to rotate and get out of the garage too!

That will be our next step—sort of.  What you see below is our prep for what I will do tomorrow: seal the next batch of wood.  This time, I’m using the garden sprayer I got.  We’ll see if it goes any faster.  That’s a lot of wood.  Tomorrow night I should be able to flip them all and spray the last coat, so by Saturday we can work on assembly some more.

At that point, we’ll have to carry this sucker down to the job site marked out in the yard.  Before the weekend is out, we’ll have to make some trenches and level it too, because even though it’s the flattest part of the yard, it’s still on an incline.  Shouldn’t be too bad though.

So there you have it, the first day of construction.  All in all, not too bad.  A little sweaty, a little nerve-wracking at first, but we’re getting the hang of it and working together pretty well.  We got into a nice rhythm for the second half of tonight’s session.  It was fun!

Time today: 3 hours.





About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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