What's the best/simplest DIY sandbox design?
April 23, 2008 10:37 AM   Subscribe

What's the best/easiest design to build a sandbox? I'd like to build a sandbox for my boys -- who are currently ages 4, 2 and 2 months, though hopefuly they (and any more kids we happen to have) would use it for a long time. A google search yielded many, many results, but I'd like to know if anybody out there has done it and can point me to a relatively easy design (my skills exist but are limited). I'm thinking 4 feet square would be enough, though if you also have advice for size, I'd like to hear that, too.
posted by odragul to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't specifically answer your question, but I saw this on a segment on This Old House recently. It was a special on projects you can do with help from your kids.
posted by firetruckred at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I see them made of PVC pipe around here pretty often.
posted by piedmont at 10:48 AM on April 23, 2008

It has to have a lid that's kept closed whenever the kids aren't using it -- or else it will become the preferred spot for neighbourhood cats to poop.
posted by winston at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2008

Build it out of a wood like cedar if you are going to be placing it directly on the ground. Then saw and use deck screws to bind it together. I would stake the corners into the ground with rebar so it doesn't slide around or get pulled up.
posted by JJ86 at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: I did this a few years ago and I can’t think of anything with a better ROI. Easy to build and my kid and the kids in the neighborhood have had hours and hours of fun in it.

Mine is (I think) a 5x5 foot square but you can make it any size you want. Just cut all the lumber into the same length.

You need:

Four 2x8s for the walls (or 2x10s if you want higher walls) cut to 5’ in length. Home Depot should be able to make the cuts for you.
Four 2x6s for the “seats” and to add strength, also cut to 5’ in length.
A 6x6’ square of landscape fabric.
As much sand as you want to put in it. (Getting the sand home is the hardest part)
Nails and some metal corner brackets.

You don’t want to use pressure treated lumber as it can be harmful to kids. You don’t need it anyway, since your kids will outgrow the box long before untreated lumber rots.

Clear a square area in your yard. I dug down a couple of inches. Put the landscape fabric down. This will form the floor of the sandbox and will prevent weeds from growing up into the box. You don’t need any other floor material.

Make a square out of the 2x10s (with the 2” side down, of course) to make the walls of the box. Each side should overlap the edge of one other side so that each side is approx. 5’2” (the length of one side+the width of the edge of one other side) I don’t know how else to describe this.

Use the nails and corner brackets (Metal “L” shaped things used to keep the corners together. You might want to put some “liquid nails” or other construction adhesive (or just caulking) in the corners to keep the sand from leaking out.

Place the 2x6s on top of the 2x10 walls to make seats. Again, each seat will overlap the edge of the other seat on one side. Nail in place.

I sanded all the corners to round them a bit (for safety) and coated the whole thing with a polyurethane clear coat.

Fill with sand as high as you want. You can buy the sand at Home Depot. I think it’s even called “Sandbox sand.” Ask them, they’ll know what you need.

You should keep it covered if you have cats in the neighborhood. I nailed some eye bolts on the side to tie down a tarp.

If you google around for “sandbox plans” you should find plans for what I described.

Have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My wife and I just did this (well, technically are still doing it, since we haven't finished putting in the sand). She did the planning, being more familiar with woodworking; I basically did grunt work. Anyway, ours is about 4 by 6 feet—I think you'll find 4x4 is two small for more than one kid (and if we had three grandkids rather than two who were going to use it, we probably would have made it bigger). We got 2x12's sawed into 4' and 6' lengths and four 4x4s for corner posts. Biggest effort: digging the pit (crappy soil, lots of roots). Biggest expense: sand (around $5/bag, 30 bags so far and probably more will be needed). My wife used this site and this one to lay out the sandbox; as the first link suggested, we got landscape fabric to use between sand and soil (much better than plastic because it's porous and lets water escape). Good luck and have fun!
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2008

On non-preview: We dug down almost a foot, and didn't bother with corner brackets (which we may come to regret, of course). And we found the sand labeled "Play Sand."
posted by languagehat at 11:03 AM on April 23, 2008

Yeah, the corner brackets are probably overkill, but I tend to over-engineer things. I would suggest you use caulking / adhesive on the corners though. I didn’t, and as I poured the sand in it leaked out the corners. It doesn’t take much of a gap to leak since the sand is pretty fine.

If I did it again I’d drill pilot holes and use deck screws on the corners.
posted by bondcliff at 11:09 AM on April 23, 2008

I have a very simply constructed sandbox right outside my window. It has been there for about 15 years, so I think the construction is sturdy enough.

Four feet square is quite small, especially for 3+ kids. If you have the space, you might want to consider 5 feet square. You could mark the area out on the ground and place the kids in it to help determine the ideal size (note that if you build something four feet square, that will be the outside dimension and the inside will be a little smaller).

Once you've decided on a size, go buy some wood. You have a few choices: pine (or whatever generic softwood is available in your area) which is cheap but not very rot resistant, or cedar, which is more expensive (and may be hard to find in your area), but is quite rot resistant. You could also use pressure-treated softwood, which rot resistant and cheaper than cedar, but is treated with unpleasant chemicals so I wouldn't recommend it. Our sandbox was made from plain pine and is in perfectly serviceable condition after 15 years (in a relatively dry climate). You can also stain the pine, but that would be more work than I'd be willing to put into a sandbox.

Once you've chosen your wood, go and buy two 8ft (or 10ft if you want to make a 5 foot box) 2x10s or 2x12s (depending on your desired sandbox depth), a piece of 4x4 (you'll need less than 4 feet), and a 1x6 (8ft or 10ft as desired). Pick up about 30 4" or 4.5" deck screws and a dozen 2.5" inch screws.

Cut 4 pieces of 4x4 the width of your 2x10 or 2x12. Cut your other pieces of lumber in half. Attach the 4x4 pieces on the ends of two of the 2x10s, flush with the end. Then lay the box out and attach the other two pieces so that their ends are flush with the edges of the first pieces. Make sure everything is well screwed in to the 4x4. Take your pieces of 1x6 and screw them down on top of the shorter edges of your sandbox (the edges that you first attached the 4x4 to are 3" longer than the others). Use the shorter screws for this. These function as steps to get in and out of the box and help make it a little sturdier.

Fill with sand. You might want to put a little landscape cloth underneath to stop the kids from digging too far and mixing dirt into the sand.

If cats get into your yard, they will probably poop in your sandbox, in which case you'll need a lid to keep them out.
posted by ssg at 11:19 AM on April 23, 2008

Lots of detailed suggestions. My two cents having spent lots of time in sandboxes: definitely have a cover for it. Not just cats but raccoons too who have a very nasty parasite in their poop. And put in a bench for grownups to sit on - if you have a 4x4 corner block you will try to sit on it and fail. Nail a 1x12 cut to a foot or two long across one corner to give you somewhere to sit and play with the kids without having to cram your huge grown-up butt right into the sandbox.
posted by GuyZero at 11:28 AM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Bondcliff has it. Here's a couple more points (I built one a couple years ago):

The Play Sand is expensive but worth it, if you get regular sand it's got glass crystals in it that are bad for their adorable little lungs.

Borrow or rent a dolly to transport the bags of sand, and factor in sand-transport in your location decision. Having built mine up on a hill, I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. It's a lot of sand and it's heavy.

Bondcliff's advice re: the tarp is good. I cut the next-biggest size tarp down to size, folded back a lip and put grommets in there. Then I used bungee cords to attach to the eyebolts. you need a tarp not just to prevent the sandbox turning into a litterbox, but to keep debris out. You'd be surprised how much will collect there when your kids neglect to replace the cover when they're not using it. Which will be ALWAYS.

Make sure your kids have some big sand toy in there that can form a "peak" when you have the tarp on. Without something poking up, water will collect there and attract nasties.

Also be sure to get a little round plastic "screen" the kids can use to clean the sand. They like to do that for some reason.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2008

If you make the sandbox 4'x4' (OUTSIDE dimensions), then you can use a half sheet of plywood as a cover. If you go much larger, you will have an awkward cover or have to use two sheets (either half or more likely full) to cover it with a lot of scrap.

Be sure to make decorating the plywood cover a family activity. You can paint it with primer and if you don't have spare paint hanging around, many paint shops sell returns (wrong color) on the cheap.
posted by plinth at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2008

If you're near an IKEA, you can do what we did and buy a $20 under-bed storage box to fill with sand. It's only big enough for two kids but it has a cover and it's portable. (Someday we'll pick a spot for a long-term sandbox, but in the meantime this is a quick and cheap solution.)

By the way, when you eventually get sand you'll have a few options. I recommend you avoid anything they sell at Home Depot/Lowes—it's all dusty and gritty—and instead call around to local landscape shops for real beach sand.
posted by danblaker at 12:07 PM on April 23, 2008

Posted to fast... That IKEA box is $15 and only big enough for two toddlers; so you'd probably need to buy two of them.
posted by danblaker at 12:16 PM on April 23, 2008

Posted too fast quickly. Sheesh.
posted by danblaker at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: One of the best things in the whole wide world my dad ever did was build me a sandbox...on legs. It was elevated off the ground at a perfect table height for me and I had a little stool. I loved it because you could actually build things without tromping all over what you'd built and my mom loved it because I didn't come in all covered in sand. I still have fond memories of hours spent on my stool, under the wisteria, creating entire universes of sand.

Good luck.
posted by teleri025 at 12:48 PM on April 23, 2008

I'd start at the other end of the project--first investigate sand delivery options. Find out the minimum delivery amount, and plan around that. For our garden, we found that everyone required us to take delivery of at least 3 cubic yards of soil, but it was still much cheaper and easier than carting home bag after bag of soil, ripping open the bags, all that.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:54 PM on April 23, 2008

Here's a picture of a neat idea in which the cover becomes a seating platform when slid open. This could be done with a split cover a shown, or just a large cover that slides to one side. Avoids having a lid little fingers can get slammed beneath.
posted by beagle at 1:30 PM on April 23, 2008

bondcliff FTW.

I cut traiangles from a piece of plywood and nailed those down on the corners for bracing and they make nice seats so you don't have to actually sit in the sand (adults) if you don't want to.

My sandbox is 6x6 so I made a cover out of some small wood trim screwed together with a high quality screen streched and stapled across it . it lets the water in, but nothing else.
posted by internal at 1:52 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: I have never made a sandbox. But I have a new son, and if I ever build a sandbox for him, I am also going to take a crack at the Sandbox steam shovel, because it just looks awesome. Fancier version here.
posted by procrastination at 1:53 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few tips:

1) Since board lengths are usually in multiples of 2', you will have less cutting to do if you choose one of those lengths.
2) Plan on doing some sanding on whatever kind of wood you buy. The kids will be sliding up against the wood sides and splinters will put a damper on the fun.
3) Dry sand weighs 100 lbs per cubic foot. An 8x8 box filled 1' deep has 64 cubic feet of sand. Sandbox sand from most stores will probably cost $4-5 for a 50 lb bag, so the 8x8 box would cost over $600 to fill. If you can find a materials place that sells in bulk, screen sand will cost about $6 per cubic yard (27 cubic feet). You'll find a lot of articles that recommend sterile sand, safeplaysand, etc. and warning about silicates, quartz particles and so on. Guess what, folks, it's dirt -- kids are in it all the time and unless they are snorting it directly up their noses, plain old screen sand will do the job. If you don't want to pay for delivery, a truck the size of a Chevy S-10 can haul about half a yard at a time (although it will be an adventure to drive since the front wheels aren't hugging the road like they usually do).
4) The weight of the sand will put pressure on the walls of your box. Consider sinking the box into the ground a little or driving stakes to support the walls.
5) Bob Vila has a guide that illustrates much of what ssg was describing above.
posted by joaquim at 4:51 PM on April 23, 2008

The sand you want is often referred to as "double washed" and will be a lot cheaper to buy than anything labelled play sand or sandbox sand. It will be hugely cheaper to buy from a landscape supplier than in bags from a hardware, even if it means you have to give some away to the neighbours (or stash it somewhere for when the sand mysteriously disappears from the sandbox, as it will) if there are minimum delivery amounts.
posted by dg at 8:02 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Just a note, pressure treated lumber no longer contains arsenic or chromium, so it's safe to use for building a sandbox.
posted by electroboy at 8:26 PM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster: Wow. This definitely gave us some ideas. Thanks to all of you who contributed.
posted by odragul at 11:55 AM on April 24, 2008

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