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How to Build Stilts

Walk a little taller after assembling these fun playtime accessories

The folks at This Old House TV invited some kids into the workshop to build a few fun projects. First up: stilts!

A pair of low stilts is a great way to teach older kids about balance without sending them out on the high wire. Because stilt walking takes some skill, we recommend this project for children 8 years old and up.

Building them is quite easy, as TOH general contractor Tom Silva and two kid carpenters demonstrate. All it takes is a couple of pieces of lumber and some sturdy bolts, and in an hour or two you can put on your own circus show. Just be careful, and keep the clowning to a minimum.

Download the template for this project

Shopping List:

  1. 12 feet of 1½-inch diameter pine handrail (round on one side, flat on the other)
  2. 3 feet of 1x8 poplar
  3. Wood glue
  4. 3d nails
  5. 2-inch deck screws6. 1¼-inch deck screws
  6. Four ¼ x 3½-inch carriage bolts with fender washers, lock washers and wingnuts
  7. 120-grit sandpaper
  8. One pair of 1½-inch rubber feet (sometimes used for furniture or canes)

Overview

Illustration of stilt assembly. Carl Wiens

Stilts are simply sturdy poles with treads attached to their sides. To make the poles, Tom Silva and his handy helpers used two 6-foot lengths of pine handrail, which

are flat on one side and rounded on the other. The flat side braces against the user, while the round side provides a comfortable grip.

The treads are attached to the flat sides of the poles with large supports. To make the treads and supports strong enough, Tom recommends using a hardwood, such as poplar. He used carriage bolts to attach the supports to the poles; these can be unscrewed and moved to raise or lower the height of the treads. And last, a pair of rubber feet are popped onto the bottom of the poles to keep them from slipping while you walk.

Steps for Building Stilts:

Step 1: Lay out the pieces

Laying out pieces of wood. This Old House television

Using a tape measure and straightedge, lay out the treads and supports on the poplar 1x8. You will need four support pieces and two treads. Along the middle of two of the support pieces, make one mark 1 inch from the top edge and another mark exactly 4 inches from the first one. Measure carefully—later you will drill holes here for the bolts that attach the supports to the poles.

Step 2: Cut out the parts

Cutting the wood pieces. This Old House television

Make sure a parent does this step. Using a circular saw or jigsaw, cut out the two treads and the four support pieces from the 1x8.

Step 3: Glue the supports together

This Old House television

Cover the face of one support piece with wood glue, and place a second support piece on top of it. Make sure the edges line up. Then tack the two parts together by hammering 3d nails close to their center. With a damp rag, wipe up any glue that squeezes out. Repeat this with the other pair of support pieces.

Step 4: Screw the supports together

Screwing the supports together. This Old House television

Using a drill/driver fitted with a countersink bit, drill three pilot holes through the supports, 1 or 2 inches from each corner. Then sink 1 1/4-inch deck screws into these holes.

Step 5: Attach the treads

Attaching the threads. This Old House television

Again using a drill/driver and countersink bit, drill four pilot holes through each tread for the screws that will attach it to the support, with two holes going through the top edge of each support piece.

Run a bead of glue along the support's long edge. Lay the tread on top of it; make sure that the long edge of the tread is aligned with the long edge of the support.

Screw the tread to the support with 2-inch deck screws.

Repeat this process with the other tread.

Step 6: Drill holes for the bolts

Drilling holes for bolts. This Old House television

Using a drill/driver fitted with a 5/16-inch bit, drill holes at the two marks along the middle of each support piece. These holes will hold the carriage bolts that attach the supports to the poles.

Step 7: Drill holes in the poles

Drilling holes in poles. This Old House television

Lay each pole on the work surface, flat side up. Draw a line down the middle of each pole, then mark the line in four places along the lower third of the pole. Start the marks a few inches from the bottom, and space them exactly 4 inches apart, to align with the holes in the supports.

Hang the end of the pole over the edge of your work surface. Using a drill/driver, make a 5/16-inch hole at each mark.

Step 8: Sand the parts

Sanding the wood parts. This Old House television

Using a random-orbit sander and 120-grit sandpaper, smooth out the treads and supports, taking down any sharp edges and corners. Hand sand the poles to be sure they have no splinters.

Step 9: Assemble the stilts

Assembling the stilts. This Old House television

Brace the flat side of the tread assembly against the flat side of the pole, lining up the holes in the support with the two lowest holes in the pole. Thread a carriage bolt through the pole and the support at each hole. Slide a fender washer, then a lock washer, then a wing nut over the end of each bolt. Tighten the nut. You can change the height of the treads by moving them to align with higher holes.

Fit a rubber foot over the bottom of each pole.

Step 10: Master the stilts

Tom Silva and kids using the stilts. This Old House television

To use the stilts, place the poles behind your shoulders and step onto the treads. Make sure there's an adults around the first time kids try this. With a little practice, you'll be walking tall in no time!


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