How to Build a Sandbox

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

Age Range: 10 and up

A sandbox brings a little bit of the beach into your backyard, and playtime is even more fun when the box itself has an imaginative shape. Kids can "drive" at the playground for hours of fun in this red car. It even has special storage under the hood for when you're ready to make a pit stop.

This project is a bit challenging, so older kids may want to help build it with the younger ones. You can construct the basic box in your garage, then park it on a level spot outside. With the whole family pitching in, it will take just one weekend to get this car roadworthy, so you'll soon be ready to roll.


Steps // How to Build a Sandbox
1 ×

Overview

 
Step One // How to Build a Sandbox

Overview

overview of a race-car shaped sandbox family project
Illustration by Carl Wiens

The sandbox car has four sides and a seat all built from 2x12s. The ½x6 decking forms the dashboard and the hood, which opens to reveal storage. Inside the box, landscape fabric lines the bottom and sides to keep weeds from growing up through the sand. The sand used to fill the box is a special debris-free, soft sand sold as "play sand."

The best way to build this box is to assemble it in a workspace, such as your garage, then move it to a level spot outside. Before you even cut the wood, you'll need to support the big pieces on blocks or sawhorses. And since the large 2x12s used for this project are so thick, you'll need to drill pilot holes anywhere you will be screwing parts together. You'll also need to clamp plywood pieces to a worktable before cutting them. Make sure the piece you're cutting off can fall freely.

 
2 ×

Lay out and Cut the Parts

 
Step Two // How to Build a Sandbox

Lay out and Cut the Parts

lay out and cut the parts
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Cut one 2x12 into two 48-inch pieces for the grille and seat; cut another into two 45-inch pieces for the back and center crosspieces. Cut the decking into four 48-inch pieces for the hood and dashboard.

Shape the tail fins by cutting off one end of each side piece at a 15-degree angle, making the end come to a point. Cut out the 1⅝-by-17¼-inch angled notches for the doors on each side.

From the 2x4, cut four 11¼-inch corner supports and one 6-inch block for a steering wheel mount.

 
3 ×

Line up the Parts

 
Step Three // How to Build a Sandbox

Line up the Parts

drill pilot holes
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Drill four evenly spaced pilot holes into the back crosspiece, ¾ inch in from the ends. Then drill four evenly spaced pilot holes into the front grille piece, 2¼ inches in from the ends.

Lay down each side piece, with the insides facing up, and attach the corner supports. The front corner supports should be flush with the front edge of the side; the back corner support is inset 1½ inches from the bottom edge of the tail fins.

From the front end, measure 14¼ inches along each side. Drill four pilot holes down the face. This is where the center crosspiece will go.

 
4 ×

Assemble the Sandbox

 
Step Four // How to Build a Sandbox

Assemble the Sandbox

assemble the sandbox
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Stand the sides up again, and line up the back crosspiece between them. Screw through the pilot holes into the edges of the back corner supports.

Line up the center crosspiece with its pilot holes, and fasten it in place.

Put the grille across the front of the box, then screw it to the edges of the corner supports.

Screw the seat to the top edges of the sides.

 
5 ×

Add the Dashboard

 
Step Five // How to Build a Sandbox

Add the Dashboard

make the dashboard
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Align the back edge of your first hood board with the back edge of the crosspiece. Screw the hood board onto the sides.

Stand the notched dashboard up vertically, and line it up with the edge of the first hood board.

Screw the dashboard to the back of the crosspiece.

Hey, Kids! You can help out by holding the pieces of wood together so that they don't wobble.

 
6 ×

Put on the Hood

 
Step Six // How to Build a Sandbox

Put on the Hood

finish the hood
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Lay two hinges on the front edge of the first hood piece, about 8 inches in from the ends. Position them so that one leaf is on the decking and the other hangs over the front. Lay another piece of decking on top to hold the hinges in place.

Screw the front leaves of the hinges to the edge of the first hood piece. Remove the top piece and stand up the hinges. 
Put the top piece back so that it is aligned with the first hood piece, and screw the other leaves onto its edge.

Attach the second set of hinges to the grille, with the leaves hanging over the front. Flip the unattached leaves up, and screw them to the back face of the last hood piece. Now the hood doors will open in opposite directions.

 
7 ×

Cut out the Steering Wheel

 
Step Seven // How to Build a Sandbox

Cut out the Steering Wheel

cut the steering wheel
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Save the plastic or cardboard form the wheel cover came on, and use it as a template for the steering wheel.

Place it on a piece of ½-inch plywood and trace around it.

Clamp the plywood to the worktable.

Using a jigsaw, cut out the steering wheel; you will have to stop in the middle of the cut to unclamp the plywood and turn it around so that you can finish.

To parents: A jigsaw can send dust and splinters flying. Be sure you and your children wear safety glasses.

 
8 ×

Paint It

 
Step Eight // How to Build a Sandbox

Paint It

paint the car
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Stain the sandbox red, inside and out. Also stain the plywood steering wheel and the 6-inch block.

Using a compass, draw wheels at the back end of the sides, with hubcaps inside them.

Draw headlights and the grille pattern on the front of the sandbox.

Paint the wheels and the grille pattern black, and the headlights and hubcaps silver.

 
9 ×

Place the Sandbox Outside

 
Step Nine // How to Build a Sandbox

Place the Sandbox Outside

position the sandbox
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

While the sandbox dries, find a level spot of ground for it. If necessary, 
dig out an area until it is level, then rake it smooth.

Put the sandbox on the cleared spot of ground. Using a 4-foot level, check that the sandbox is level in both directions; if it isn't, rake or dig the ground underneath until it is.

 
10 ×

Make the Lining

 
Step Ten // How to Build a Sandbox

Make the Lining

line the inside of the sandbox with fabric
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Unroll a piece of landscape fabric, and cut it long enough to fit along the bottom and up the sides of the sandbox. You will need two pieces to cover the width of the box.

Line the bottom of the box with the fabric. Using a staple gun, attach the fabric a few inches up the sides. Tuck the fabric into the corners so that it won't rip when you add the sand. Line the bottom with of the box with the fabric.

Using a staple gun, attach the fabric a few inches up the sides. Tuck the fabric into the corners so it won't rip when you put in the sand.

 
11 ×

Add Sand

 
Step Eleven // How to Build a Sandbox

Add Sand

add sand
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Fill the box with play sand.

Using a metal rake, smooth the sand until it's level.

 
12 ×

Affix the Steering Wheel

 
Step Twelve // How to Build a Sandbox

Affix the Steering Wheel

put on the steering wheel
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Fit the wheel cover around the plywood steering wheel. Screw the 6-inch block to the dashboard where the steering wheel will go. Screw the wheel to the block through the center, using a washer between the two so that the wheel can spin.

 
13 ×

Mount the Hood Ornament

 
Step Thirteen // How to Build a Sandbox

Mount the Hood Ornament

put on the handles
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Attach the two handles to the hinged decking pieces so that they face each other to look like a hood ornament.

 
14 ×

You're Done!

 
Step Fourteen // How to Build a Sandbox

You're Done!

start playing in your sandbox
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Grab your digging toys and hit the road!

 
 
 

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