Sky Fort Day 5: Planking the second floor and so much more…

Wow did we get a lot accomplished today!  I have a lot of info for anyone out there that’s going to build this set as well, so pay attention!  No, there will not be a test at the end—your test will be when you build this thing.

Okay, so like I said yesterday, last night, Sara and I dragged the base out to it’s home in the back yard and aligned it with the stars (not really) and the house (yes, yes we did).  This morning, when I was saying good morning to my daughter, this was the view out her window:

It was only 53* for most of the morning, so we kind of decided to stay inside with the kids.  We were going to take them out with us to play in the yard while we worked but scrapped that idea.  Instead, around 10am we headed over to the local community flea market that is going on this weekend.  Huge event, but nothing really cool.  We walked around, got some fresh fried cheese curds (wow!) and headed back to the house.

After lunch, we split—Sara stayed in with the kids to wind down for nap time at 1pm, while I went outside (around 12:20pm) to start trenching the base to make it nice and level.

 It was strange—a normally difficult task was made easy by the rain we got last night, as the ground was soft.  Not muddy, but super easy to work with.  Also, I only needed to go down about 2 inches.  Here’s a shot of the level before I started work:

One sweaty hour later, I had little trenches dug under every floor joist and base plank.

 When I was finally satisfied that everything was as level as I could reasonably make it, it was time to attach the anchors.

The instructions say to measure back 6 inches from the side and front (or rear, depending on which area you’re working on) in each corner and place the anchor there.  Then they want you to move the base assembly back 6 inches to attach it.  Well, that assumes you get it where you want it, then move it precisely a little away from that spot, measure back 6 inches to the original spot and move the base again:

This is what the instructions tell you to do with the anchors.

Um.  No.  What I did, and what I think is  a lot more logical, was to put it where you want it in the yard, dig the trenches (if needed) and get the thing level.  Then go back with the anchors and put the points right into the spot where you want them.  You’ll have to angle them away from the base because the auger blade won’t let you get them flush.  Then, just lift the base up and move it a foot in any direction.

Once the base is out of the way, it’s actually not too bad (depending on your soil conditions—ours was perfect I guess thanks to the rain the night before) insert a big screwdriver, crank the anchors into the ground and watch them sink lower and lower.

 Our land is full of small rocks though so it took some muscle every now and then.  I wouldn’t call it hard work, but I wouldn’t call it easy either.

At any rate, here’s a warning for anyone else doing this: place the anchors in a spot where they will end up flush (or within an inch or so) of the sides not the corner posts.  I misinterpreted the instructions (silly me thinking you’d want to anchor the big posts) and put all the anchors we used (6…instead of the 4 the instructions require…we put them on every post and ….well, read on, you’ll see) in place.  Only when we went to attach them did we realize they were designed to be anchored through the bottom planks at the 4 corners.  The bolt assembly they want you to use will not in any way make it through a post.  But the 1″ planks, yes.

You can guess where this is going.  Up came the base, again, and up came the anchors.  Then we moved ’em over a bit and put them all back in again.  All 6 of them.  In all, it took us about an extra 15 minutes.  The biggest mistake made to date, but not a game changer.

Like other people who have built this, we wanted to beef up the anchoring.  So, we’re using 6 anchors on the main base (4 at the corners, 2 in the middle) instead of just 4 at the corners like the instructions say.  That will leave us 2 short at the end.  But, they want you to use 2 anchors  per “wing” (monkey bars and swing).  We’re going to do what others have done and beef things up with some small anchors (about the same size as the ones in the kit) from the BORG for about $8 each.

Once the last anchor was in I rechecked for level—spot on—and we tested the framing.  That thing is rock steady.  Feels bolted to the ground—oh wait, it is!

Oh at this point I want to mention how awesome it was to just wheel the wagon of tools and the cooler of screws down the hill to the location where we’re putting the Sky Fort.

 Absolutely awesome how convenient that was—and you’ll see at the end how expedient we were able to pack up too…

Okay, so with the Sky Fort base anchored to the ground, it was time to start weeding through the pile of lumber that Sara brought from the garage while I was man-handling the base with shovels.   Time to plank the second floor and the picnic area.  We did this out of order on purpose to get the thing where we wanted first.  There was no way we were going to be able to actually work on this thing sitting all wobbly like it was half on, half off a hill.

Here I want to extoll the virtues of the impact driver a bit.  Having one and a drill/driver is awesome when you have a project like this.  We each took one (I got to play with the impact driver) and went to down screwing down the planks.  It took us about 15 minutes of fiddling with the layout to iminimize gaps (some of the boards were twisted and warped a bit more than you’d think) and about 5 minutes to lock ’em down with wood screws.  We started at opposite ends, alternating planks and just powered through it, no problem.  Halfway through, Sara got up on top and handled everything in the middle while I took the edges.

 Here it is with the flooring complete!

Sara went to get the now fully awake kids from their nap and I went to go spray the day’s batch of lumber (for tomorrow’s work).

With the flooring on the second floor and ground level complete, we moved on and installed rails (top and bottom) for the picnic table area the kids were running around and playing near us.  Trying to split your attention between the instructions, the work, and the kids, is definitely a job for both parents.  I would not have been able to keep the little ones out of trouble, out of the tools, and out of my way and still get work done.  Sara kept working, I assisted by bringing parts and then rustled up the young ‘uns when needed.  Then we’d trade off every now and then.

Using this teamwork, we quickly installed the braces for the table and the seat planks.  That’s when we hit a snag.

We followed the instructions exactly regrading the seat braces seen here:

But there was a problem.  The angled piece, when attached to the seat and the post do not fit.  The piece is about 1/2″ too short to get a nice solid fit.  If you make it flush with the bench (like we did) there’s about a 1/4″ gap on the part that attaches to the base.

If you try it the other way, the gap appears at the seat, not at the post.  We decided to have the gap at the base, not the seat, to keep kids from getting hurt.    After scratching our heads for a bit, we grit our teeth and installed both.  They both had the same exact gap as in the above picture.  I figure, when we get time (it’s pretty darn stable as is, surprisingly enough) we can come back with a paddle bit and drill and second hole to install another bolt into the base and give it a little more support (maybe even put a wedge in the gap for stability? eh, something to think about when we’re done).

At any rate, that there is the only part of this thing so far where we are not satsified 100% with the stablitiy and/or looks of the joint.  Everything else is flush, true, and steady.  Can’t be perfect I guess.

The next step was to attach the top of the picnic table.  We got all the planks in place but one (I had just sprayed it with sealer so it was drying up in the garage…it got left out of last night’s batch by accident).  When it’s dry, it can be installed tomorrow, no big deal.  Likewise, the next couple steps involve a mess ‘o little planks to be the fencing around the picnic area.  Well, those were all drying up in the garage too.  Moving right along…

Superstructure was up next.  Sara hopped up (more gracefully than I could have pulled off) to the second floor and I began handing big corner beams up to begin construction of the upper level walls.

 There was some serious drilling and bolting going on up there and I was a bit dubious how it was all going to go together, but it worked out quite stable.

By now the kids were beside themselves trying to get to the second floor to be with mommy.  It was more a challenge to keep them occupied (Look!  There’s a bucket, can you pick up the dirt daddy left here on the yard and carry it over there?) and out of the tools and parts pile.

This was also the point where we noticed some nasty clouds moving in, dark and fast.  I checked the weather on my phone and noticed that the forecasted showers and thunderstorms for the afternoon (50% chance) had beat the odds and were racing down on us from the northwest.  We were running out of time, and fast.  I guessed we had maybe an hour, tops, before the big bow front storm hit us.  Lots of yellows and reds coming.

Powering on, the dual drill system was awesome.  We left a 3/16″ or 3/8″ bit in the drill and Sara used the impact driver with a socket wrench attachment (get one if you have an impact driver, it will save you soooooo much time over a socket wrench!) and a 1/2″ socket to power in the lag bolts and lag screws holding the second floor pieces together.  The kids didn’t like the noise of the impact driver, but man it got the job done in seconds per bolt/screw, not minutes.

Here’s another observation: the bolts and screws are listed as 3/16″ x 2″ (or 2.5″, 1.5″ etc.) lag screws/bolts.  Well, that’s great, but if you try and use a 3/16″ socket head, it won’t fit.  The head on the 3/16″ bolt/screw is just about a 1/32″ shy of being 1/2″.   Yeah, that was fun to figure out.   Also, on the bigger bolts, the 3/8″ lag bolts/screws, it takes a 9/16″ socket head to work.  That may save you an extra trip to the garage to dig through the socket wrench kit and find the right one.  Also, if you’re going to the store to buy a hex head driver bit to use in the dirll instead of a socket wrench adapter bit, don’t bother.  We went to ACE and the BORG and neither one had a hex head driver bit bigger than 3/8″ (which on hex nuts means the head is 3/8″ I guess, because there was no way that was fitting on the big ol’ head of the 3/8″ lag screws we had…odd but true).

At any rate, We were able to complete through step 34 today (that’s like halfway through the manual!) less of course, the fencing we skipped because it was drying and the one plank from the picnic table.

But that was fine with me—I was tired (I put in about 5 and half hours at this point) and the storm was quickly bearing down on us.  We gathered up all the tools, put them in the wagon, got all the various bags and buckets of screws and bolts back in the cooler and were ready to go inside for dinner.

Then we let the kids get up on the second floor to test it out.  They just couldn’t stand it seeing mommy up there so it was only fair.  The verdict?  THEY LOVED IT!  I think the smiles on their faces if proof enough of work well done…



And the thorough inspection is complete:

After putting them to bed (after the first wave of the storm went through) I went back out into the garage, flipped over all the wood on the plastic tarp and sprayed the last side.  tomorrow, we’ll have another big batch of wood to use.  Although we weren’t as careful as we were the first couple times in selecting just the wood for the next steps, so other than the fencing planks, the picnic table plank and a few others we know we’ll need, there is just a random assortment.  We’re getting down to the last 1/4 of the lumber in the garage so I’m just going to start grabbing everything I can.  We’ll see how this works…

Build time today: 6 hours.

TOTAL BUILD TIME: 14 hours, 15 minutes.

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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