With the safety on top of the decking pretty much assured now, my main focus was to enable the children to be able to get up there. I had earlier on decided to eliminate the ladder configuration and replace it with a ramp, I felt that this would be more in line with the theme that they would use the structure for, a pirate enclave as such. We had saved the pirate flag that Jackson had made for the previous swingset, it was from one of my old black T-shirts. He had painted with my help a yellow skull and crossbones on it and this would be reattached to the new fort after everything was done. The marketing from the Pirates of the Carribean together with all the paraphernalia that goes with it had sparked his desire to make his own flag. Once finished it had been flying from the old swingset for over a year before we had to dismantled it. Although looking a bit tired I’m still surprised that it’s in reasonably good condition but a repaint will certainly spruce it up again.
The ramp material had already been precut, sanded, coated with green preserve and then coated with redwood stain. The first test for me was to collect all the labeled parts for the ramp from the remaining pile of lumber. There had been a vast change in the size of the pile because a good deal of the material had already been assembled but there was still enough left to make it awkward. The two main rails were laid out on the lawn as this was the only place that was free enough to maneuver the length, together with the slats that would line the inside of rails and act as a support for the boards that would be the gangplank.
I had to mark out the position of the three ties that would hold the rails together before attaching any of the support slats, these positions were 18 inches from the top and bottom and an additional 60 inches from the bottom. From each of these central marks an additional dimension of 1 3/4 inches was marked either side of that centerline, giving three positions for the deck screws to attach the ties to the outer rails. For the center point I set my combination square to 1 1/4 inches so I could run it along the bottom edge of the rail and mark the intersect point for the screw positions.This would mark the central position for the ties, each tie would be held in place by three 2 1/2 inch deck screws per side.
To hide the ties and support slats, they had to be lifted 1/2 an inch from the bottom of the rails and seeing that I had no available flat surface I again set the combination square to 1/2 an inch and marked this line along the total length of the rail on the inside surface. This allows for visual positioning rather than spacing with 1/2 inch plywood to gain the correct position. Now before I attached the ties to the rails the support slats had to be fitted first and this can only be done with the rails apart so that I have easy access with the screw gun. With all the slats drill and countersunk I could position the various lengths between the tie positions and fix in with the 2 1/2 inch deck screws. With all the slats positioned and fitted the ties could then be screwed to the rails tying the two rails together giving a ladder frame ready to accept the flooring.
I think that if I were to do something different I would have marked the top dimension of the slats rather than the clearance from the bottom. The 1/2 inch from the bottom of the rail lines up the bottom so they are all straight but what if the thicknesses of the cross ties and slats are different. The flooring will be uneven when fitted especially if the joint hits midway on a tie and the support slat. If the dimension had been marked for the top of the slat and cross tie, thicknesses would not matter, the flooring would still remain flat and the difference would be in an area that did not matter.
At this stage I had to fit the ramp frame to the Jungle Fort but before doing that I had to place the fill in piece on the front edge of the Jungle Fort because of an earlier mistake. That was an easy enough task and once fitted I could place the ramp frame in the opening and centralize it. The angles that had been cut to notch over the edge of the Jungle Fort fitted pretty well but could have been a little tighter and I decided to mark the wood directly from the Jungle Fort. With the ramp placed in position I just ran a pencil off the cross member of the fort marking the area that was touching, bringing the notch parallel to the board, once removed with a jigsaw the ramp fitted snug and a quick coat of preserve on the bare wood made it weather and bug proof again.
The opening for the ramp to fit into was 22 1/4 inches and the overall width of the ramp was 22 inches so it didn’t leave much room for maneuvering and with it being this snug of a fit I just visually centered it to the opening. With it positioned I then marked around the rails where they would fit to the cross member and decking giving me a good indication on where the lag bolts should be used to hold the ramp in place.
Taking the ramp frame away I then drilled two pilot holes of 1/8 inch through the cross member for the position of the lag bolts. I had decided that I would counterbore the cross member where the lag bolts would fit even though the plans did not indicate that you should do so. My thoughts were that I wanted all heads of hardware beneath the surface to eliminate any chance of cuts from bolt heads and such. The 1/8 inch pilot hole was not big enough to throw the spade bit off track so once the surface was counterbored I could place the ramp back into position and drill through with the 1/4 inch spade bit to provide the pilot hole for the lag bolts.
The one thing that I did notice during this procedure was the close proximity of the corner upright, this was a very tight situation for drilling and when tightening the lag bolt it left little room to get good purchase. The second lag bolt was none the easier being firmly planted close to the floor joist. Once they were tightened the ramp was held firmly ready for me to start installing the floorboards.
The installation for the floor should start at the very top and I had decided that the material wood be pine rather than the Wood Polymer Lumber which meant that the thickness was greater than the WPL. With the placement of the first board close to the cross member of the Jungle Fort, the edge of the board was sticking up beyond the level of the decking. The first thing that had to be done was to mark the line level with the upper decking and plane the offending material off.
I decided that I might as well make the edge totally flush with the side cross member as well so I had to plane that edge square to the cross member face. After each fitting and numerous adjustments with the wood plane the first board eventually fit snug and could be attached to the side slats or joists of the ramp rails with 2 1/2 inch deck screws. Once again I had the three drill gun setup to speed the process, I remember when I first started to assembly the Jungle Fort and the time involved in changing out each bit for the task at hand. The additional purchase of the extra drills has certainly paid for themselves in time saved.
With the most important ramp board in place the following boards quickly followed suit, they were a snug fit so just to make sure they were fully in position a few gentle taps with a mallet confirmed they were there.
Like I said earlier I wish I had lined up the slats on an upper marked position, I was finding a mismatch in the boards when straddling the cross ties so I had to make sure that the first screw to hold the board down was on the side slats before fixing to the cross tie. This prevented the board from pulling fully down onto the cross tie, keeping the board flush with the next.
Fitting the twenty ramp boards flowed over to the Sunday which was a much better day weather wise, Saturday had been overcast all day making for less than desirable photographs but I still had a record of the progress. With all the boards fitted there had to be three top boards spaced along the length of the ramp. These boards are to give an extra foothold if a child should start to slide down from the steep incline, even though there will be a rope to hold onto when climbing the ramp.
The next stage was to install the hand rail for the last third of the ramp, at this height it would be three to five feet from the floor, more than enough to cause an injury if a child should fall. These 2 inch by 4 inch rails had already had the angles cut and now placing them into position enabled me to fine tune them before screwing down permanently. As in the previous section where I fitted the ramp to the decking I used the same method and penciled off of the boards where the rail would fit so as to get an exact match. It may have only been a 1/16th of an inch but having a snug fit will keep the hand rail rigid. After fitting, a recoat of preservative then screwed down with 2 1/2 inch deck screws. I used two screws from the topside on each end then one screw toenailed from the outside of the rail. It wasn’t recommended to “toenail” from the inside, I guess this would have no structual purpose if a child should fall against the rail.
With the hand rail installed the vertical slats were the next inline to be fitted. These slats varied in length to suit the drop of the hand rail. I had made these from 2 inch by 2 inch batten material from Home Depot rather than strip off the lengths from one of the boards. These slats had to be hand finished as they were rough cut, although this was an easy enough job I had no power planer, I had to resort to my hand plane but the trade off was I did get to get a workout while smoothing the timber.
I made sure there were plenty of rounded corners as these would be used as the grips to assist in climbing the ramp. While installing the vertical slats I noticed that the lengths could have been a little longer, I had chamfered the ends as the instructions suggested and when I was fitting them there was very little room to screw through the meat of the timber before encroaching on the chamfer itself. I had made sure there was no more than the recommended 3 1/4 inch space before the next slat which left little room for maneuver, I felt that the length could have been an extra 2 inches for optimal performance. I was thinking that maybe the slats were not vertical but I had checked this with my spirit level but maybe along the way something had gone adrift but I’m yet to find out where.
With the ramp safely installed I could fill the remaining gap with a ten foot slide. We had decided earlier to purchase a combo slide, this had a double feature of a wave plus a scoop but on arrival it would appear that it was the wave slide. I’ve only come to notice this since the installation but thinking back I did intend to check it against the image on the website but as things go I got side tracked and forgot about it. It is only now while writing this that I’ve remembered. It’s not that I’m disappointed with the slide but the cost of the combo was an additional $100.00 so needless to say I have emailed the company to find out the best solution. I wouldn’t be surprised if they said it was too late but I do still have the original order online with images to support my claim.
The surprising thing now that I remember is the box never mentioned what type of slide was enclosed and that was why I was going to check against the website. Anyway, placing the slide into position was easy enough, the gap for the slide each side was about 1 1/2 inches. Once I had pulled the slide back enough to seat it level I fixed it down with 1 1/4 inch galvanized deck screws. These recessed nicely into the countersunk plastic giving a flush condition that would not snag skin or clothing. That was the easiest part of the whole build so far and the most pleasing to the children as they tried out the ramp and slide.