Sky Fort Day 8: Roof, rocks and rails, oh my!

Not a whole heck of a lot of progress today (compared to the last three days of frenzied activity).  It was more about tying up loose ends and getting ready to tackle the next big phase: monkey bars, swings and slide!

First things first though.   As I was making breakfast for the kids before school, I happened to glance out over the deck through the sliding door and look what I see peeking (peaking?) over the top the rail in the distance:

Too funny.  Keaton and Kylie thought the Sky Fort was playing peek-a-boo.  All too soon it was time to pack ’em up and head off to school.

When we got back, I started the day’s work on the Sky Fort by picking up all the wood I sprayed last night, so everything is neatly organized and ready for install.  Finally was able to get rid of that nasty 3 mil plastic sheeting.  That thing had been sprayed so much with the waterproofer it was like walking on ice when you step on it.  Balled up and tossed into the Bagster.

I did this after dropping Keaton off at school, so Kylie got to help me…by drawing with chalk all over Mommy’s side of the garage.

That was about all I could do until after I picked up Keaton from school and the kids went down for their afternoon nap.  Then it was time to bust out the rock wall that Sara and I had promised Keaton we would build (I think he thinks this fort is a la cart).

The instructions called for attaching the rocks to the wall first on different planks.  So I got everything set up on the workbench and got to work.  It was awesome to be able to use the bench that I made from scratch to assemble the rock wall!   It’s about 36″ high and is the perfect, comfortable height for working on stuff.A third of the planks had 2 rocks, another third had 1 rock, and the final third had no rocks.  The rocks are attached with Phillips head truss bolts and nuts and washers (and locking washers).  This means you need two screw drivers to install each rock.  Gotta attack these things from either side of the board at the same time.  Like this:

You’ll notice that I only have one screw driver showing…welll, I had to hold the camera with my other hand.  And the only way I could hold the board steady was to use my leg to squeeze it against the bench.   That’s when I had two ideas—why not use the drill/driver sitting in the corner of the picture, and why not just clamp the board to my new workbench?



Much better.  In the picture I have 2 screw drivers, but after I took the picture, I used the power driver and knocked out the rocks in about 20 minutes.  The first one, done with manual drivers and awkwardly holding it to the bench with my thigh, took me about 10 mintues.

Once all the rocks were attached, I lay down the rails on the back of the wall, then put down the planks in a dry fit.  The instructions call for stating 1/4″ from the bottom.  Well, after dry fitting all the boards, I realized that if I did that, they all wouldn’t fit.  So, that little hazard avoided, I moved on to get the correct overhang on each plank.  The instructions called for a 3.5″ overhang on either side of the rails, to make sure the pilot holes on the planks line up with the rails underneath.  This thing is about 5 feet long and the rails are only about an inch and a half wide, so precision is key to make sure this thing looks good and is safe and sturdy as well.

The trick was how to make sure you get 3.5″ on either side.  Using a tape measure was inaccurate and getting me nowhere.  So, I busted out the combination square and set it for 3.5″ inches andlock it down.

Then you just push the ruler part up against the rail under the plank until the the black part bumps the plank.  Do it on the other side as well and she’s ready to rock.

Once each plank is squared up, it only took a little bit to screw the 1.5″ screws into the pilot holes and lock the whole thing together.

All set for installation.   Not too hard at all!  But it was time consuming.  I took about an hour to get this accomplished and before I knew it, nap time was almost over.  I figured I had just enough time to put up a small section of railing on the Sky Fort to fence in the “porch” area outside the clubhouse.  The kids love to climb the ladder and get up in the clubhouse while we’re working on it and that porch is just not safe for them.

So I grabbed the drill and some screws and took the planks out to the fort.  I tried to access the porch from the ground and realized I could get the bottom of the planks, I couldn’t reach the top.  Out comes the ladder.  But then I realized I couldn’t reach the rails closer to the clubhouse.  So…my only option was to climb inside and sit on the porch and do it.

I haven’t gotten inside this thing yet because the manual states that the maximum weight for any child on the set is 150 pounds.  But, it also says that a maximum of 10 kids can be on the set at the same time.  So I held my breath and tried to climb up.  No creaking, to snapping wood, no shudders.  This thing is solid.  I got up inside the clubhouse (plenty of headroom!) and the only thing I heard was some floorboards and joists creaking.  But nothing as loud as what happens inside the real house so since everything seemed steady, I gingerly made my way to the porch and attached the rails.

Mind you, I didn’t hang out and have a picnic up there or anything.  Once the rails were attached I made my way off of it, just in case.

When Sara got home, we go the kids pumped up and headed outside for some more work.  First up was to finish one side of the roof.  Tadaaaa!


She started work on the other side but realized that the instructions call for you to not finish that side until the swing set and crows nest are attached (yes, there’s a third level!).  But she could add a few more shingle planks to balance things out:

You can see the rock wall in position next to Kylie in the photo above.  It’s just laying against the fort at this point.  I grabbed a shovel (not the one she’s got!) and dug a small 2″ deep trench to get the base of the rock wall low enough for the top to be flush with the deck on the porch.  Then I drilled 3/16″ pilot holes from under the fort rafters and attached it with 3/8″ lag screws, washers and locking washers.  And the impact driver!   Love that thing…

And just like that, the rock wall was installed and rock steady.  Ready for the official inspection:

And yes, he can go up it all by himself already.  He went up and down about 6 times while we gathered up the tools and made ready to head up to the house for dinner.

The next series of steps are supposed to be completed on the ground next to the fort: building the monkey bar assembly, building the swing set assembly, building the porch roof, buidling the crows nest.  Since all the parts for those steps are in the garage (the last stuff I sprayed) we decided to just build everything up there and take it down completed (or as much as we can) and attach it.

First up, Sara assembled the little roof that goes over the porch (and leads to the slide).  Well, sort of:

The instructions call for putting the entire roof together, then attaching to the fort.  Well, the supports we’re supposed to attach it to may or may not be true and square to the rest of the fort.  If we build the roof assembly completely, it will be very rigid and therefore very hard to attach to supports that aren’t perfectly aligned.  We decided it was safer to do it halfway, attach to the roof while it’s still a little flexible, then finish it in place.  So this is ready for install.

Next up was the monkey bars.   This turned out to be way more complicated than we thought, and we are very glad we decided to build this after the kids went to bed, in the garage, rather than out in the yard while the kids ran around screaming around us.  To build the side supports, we had to use the mallet and some scrap wood to pound on the sides and get the width to exactly 22.5″ along the length.  Doing this on the ground would have been rediculously challenging.  On the hard concrete of the garage, it was a piece of cake.

Then we put together the top of the monkey bars (the actual bars).  Again, not so bad in the garage, but on the grass outside we think it would have been pretty difficult.


Then all we had to do was align everything, break out the impact driver and some serious hardware and attach the bars to the ladder:Try to imagine that you are laying down on your back with your head touching the fort.  Look up at the sky and that is how the monkey bars would look.  The end sticking up in the air will attach to the fort, the long thick board on the bottom of the picture sits on the ground.  A few more support boards (which are laying on the ground by the fort right now) are all it takes for this part to be done!  Ready for installation…

Next up was the crows nest.  We could only attach 3 pieces in the garage before hooking it up to the main swingset beam.  But, we did attach the glider swing hardware (they want you to do this in place, which would require ladders).  Now the base of the crows nest is ready for installation.  Then we can add the floor and walls in place.

Lastly, we worked on the swingset.  Really the only thing we could do was attach the big ass swing holders:

Each one of these puppies weighs in about a pound of solid metal.  They are attached to the main beam with 8″ lag bolts and an assortment of washers and a big tee-nut on the top side of the beam. Speaking of the beam, here it is with the swing brackets in place:


If it looks big, that’s because it is.  It’s 4″x6″x8′ of solid cedar and is far and away the heaviest part of the whole project.  Again, the instructions say to install the hardware in place (while you’re holding the beam up!) and we said, naaaaaah.  We’re doing it now.  So much easier in the garage.  I don’t know why they want you to climb up on ladders to do this later.  

Yeah, it’s massive.

Once we were finished attaching the swing hardware, we called it a night.  Everything is set for some major installation!  Here’s an “end of the day” shot of the fort:


You can see by the shadow at the bottom that Kylie helped me take this picture…

One big victory today: the first time in nearly a week that I wasn’t spraying waterproofer on parts!  Woohoo!  I’m sick of that smell…

Build time today: 4 hours, 15 minutes.
TOTAL BUILD TIME: 31 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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2 Responses to Sky Fort Day 8: Roof, rocks and rails, oh my!

  1. Jenn Anderson says:

    How much fun! Glad to see you are enjoying the time together as a family building it. The kids all helped out (including painting mom) with the priming of our new shed out back. It is a great experience. Aren’t power tools the best?

    • Yeah it’s been a blast having the kids running around “helping”! They don’t like the impact driver though (that thing is LOUD)…they run away and yell, then run back laughing when it shuts off…too funny!

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