How to Build a Fort

How to make a versatile backyard play area, with instructions for parents and kids

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Age Range: 6 to 12 years

A backyard fort is the perfect place to let kids' imaginations run wild. They can create a magical world of knights and dragons or pirates and buried treasure—or just a kid-run kingdom. The design of this fort encourages tons of fun, with a super—cool kid-sized hatch—complete with a peephole to check out visitors—and a flag that kids can design and make themselves. There are also two built-in seats so that little warriors—or Mom and Dad can take a breather between make-believe battles. Set aside an afternoon to cut and assemble the parts, and you'll have a playhouse retreat for years to come.

Download templates for this project


Steps // How to Build a Fort
1 ×

Overview

 
Step One // How to Build a Fort

Overview

overview of how to build a fort
Illustration by Carl Wiens

This fort is made from fencing sections, so most of the cutting and assembly centers around the braces that hold the fence pickets together. The most complicated part of the project is creating the hatch, which requires making new braces to hold together the pickets after they've been cut. These need to be screwed to each picket. The other parts are simple to make. Two corner seats can be cut from a single square of plywood, and the flag is simply a piece of decorated cloth attached to a length of PVC pipe, which you can slide into holes in one corner's brace pieces.

There's a lot kids can do in building this fort. While parents will need to handle most of the heavy lifting, such as carrying the fence sections to the site, kids can help out by measuring, drilling, and holding pieces in place.

 
2 ×

Cut Apart the Fence Sections

 
Step Two // How to Build a Fort

Cut Apart the Fence Sections

family building a fort
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Measure out approximately 5 feet on a section of stockade fence, and find the nearest space between two pickets. (You can approximate these measurements, as long as you create four sections that have the same number of pickets.)

Using a jigsaw, cut through the two brace pieces on the back of the fencing at this space. Cut all four sides in this manner.

 
3 ×

Miter the Fence Braces

 
Step Three // How to Build a Fort

Miter the Fence Braces

family building a fort, miter, handsaw
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Stand the 5-foot section up. Using a combination square, mark out for a 45-degree miter cut at either end of each brace piece. (These miters will allow you to fit the fence sections together at right angles.)

Cut these miters with a handsaw.

 
4 ×

Frame out the Hatch

 
Step Four // How to Build a Fort

Frame out the Hatch

family building a fort,
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Draw an outline on the front of the one fence section where you want the 2-foot-square hatch to go. Position it between the two brace pieces, with its side edges falling between pickets. Drill ⅜-inch holes to mark the door's four corners.

Flip over the section and transfer the hatch outline to the back, using the small holes as guides.

Measure between the brace pieces, and cut a 2x4 to that length. Position it between the braces, along the outside edge of the outline, on the side from which you want the hatch to swing. To attach the 2x4 to the back, screw through the front of the fencing with 1⅝-inch screws every 6 inches down the middle of the picket.

Cut two more 2x4 pieces to fit inside the top and bottom edges of your hatch outline. Screw these onto the back of the fencing in the same manner. Cut a fourth 2x4 to fit between the top and bottom pieces and up against the first 2x4. You now have a frame to hold the pickets onto the hatch door.

Attach hinges between the short and long 2x4s along the side of the hatch.

 
5 ×

Cut open the Hatch

 
Step Five // How to Build a Fort

Cut open the Hatch

family building a fort
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Turn the fencing over so that it's faceup. Using a jigsaw, cut open the hatch along its top and bottom edges between the corner holes. Cut all the way to the edge of the last picket attached to the hatch frame.

 
6 ×

Make the Peephole

 
Step Six // How to Build a Fort

Make the Peephole

family building a fort
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a drill/driver fitted with a 1-inch spade bit, drill a peephole near the top of the hatch. Attach a small scrap of wood with a single screw above the hole so that it can swing back and forth to cover the peephole.

Make a latch from a 2x3 scrap block. Attach it to the brace above the door with a single screw so that it can swing easily to lock the hatch.

 
7 ×

Set up the Fort Walls

 
Step Seven // How to Build a Fort

Set up the Fort Walls

family building a fort
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Before you bring the sides of the fort outside, brace the hatch with scrap wood screwed across the door edge; this will keep it from swinging open and hurting someone in transit.

Carry the four fencing sections to the fort site. Lay them face down in the area where they will stand.

 
8 ×

Screw the Walls Together

 
Step Eight // How to Build a Fort

Screw the Walls Together

family building a fort
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Bring two fencing sections together and line up the mitered corners. Using a drill/driver, screw on L-brackets to hold the corners together where the top and bottom brace pieces meet. Assemble all the corners in this way until you have a square.

 
9 ×

Make the Corner Seats

 
Step Nine // How to Build a Fort

Make the Corner Seats

family building a fort
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a jigsaw, cut a 2-foot-square piece of pressure-treated plywood. Cut the square in half diagonally to make two triangular seats. Using a drill/driver and 1⅝-inch screws, attach the seats to the bottom brace pieces at each back corner.

Measure the front, diagonal edge of one seat and cut a 2x3 to this length; miter the ends with opposing 45-degree angles.

Using a drill/driver, secure each mitered seat support to the fence braces with 3½-inch screws driven at an angle a few inches from each end.

Screw each seat to the cross support with 1⅝-inch screws.

 
10 ×

Plant the Flag

 
Step Ten // How to Build a Fort

Plant the Flag

family building a fort
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Make a flag from a piece of cloth, painting or sewing on your favorite design.

Using a hacksaw, cut a 5-foot section of PVC pipe. Thread thin wire through the left edge of your flag and drop the wire at the top corner into the end of the pipe. Use a pipe cap to hold it in place. Wrap the bottom wire around the pipe.

Drill a ⅞-inch hole through the top brace in a front corner and another halfway through the bottom brace directly below it. Slide the flagpole through the top hole to rest in the bottom hole. Now you're ready to man (or woman) your fort!

 
 
 

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