How to make an awesome teepee playhouse
Kids crave refuge. It's why they love the cardboard boxes at Christmas, hiding under the dining room table, building forts, and playing in the little nook under the staircase. Refuge is one of the patterns of the science of Biophilia. It is an escape from our surroundings that makes us feel safe. A good refuge is unique and feels different from everything else around it. I wanted to build a special refuge for my girls. I also knew that it would make my wife happy to get rid of the pile of scrap wood that I was saving for just such a project.
Using scrap wood you can make a gorgeous teepee playhouse that your kids will remember for a lifetime. I'll get straight to it and show you how I built this fun structure for under $50. Here's my photographic, step-by-step tutorial for building a wood teepee.
STEP 1. Make a pentagon ring to secure teepee frame
To make a large teepee with an interesting shape, I chose to make it pentagon. The challenge with making it five-sided was getting the top of the frame to meet precisely and securely. Rather than going through the math of compound angles, I chose to make a simple pentagon top, then lean the five posts against that ring. Easy.
I used 2x4 pine. I cut 6" sections at 58 degree angles on a miter saw. The full angle of pentagon is 108 degrees, so each half of the angle gives you 54. Next, form the five cut sections into a pentagon and screw them together using 2" exterior decking screws.
Use 2" exterior screw to secure each of the 5 sections.
The completed pentagon ring.
STEP 2. To make frame, cut 5 - 8' 2x4 at angle and screw to ring
For the five sides of the teepee frame I used 8' 2x4s. You could easily use long branches or sapling trees for a more rustic look. Next, cut the angle you wish for securing the top of the frame to the pentagon ring. You can adjust the angle for your preferred base width. The wider the base, the shorter the teepee. I had my girls and a couple of their friends sit in a circle on the lawn to determine the size they wanted.
To screw the frame to the ring I set it on a bench after screwing in the first leg of the frame. Once all legs were secured, I stood the frame upright.
Cut the desired angle for the frame legs. Screw the frame legs to the pentagon ring.
Stand the frame upright. Now, it's time to build the base.
STEP 3. Cut and assemble the base frame
Using scrap 2x4 lumber, I then built the frame for the base and deck of the teepee. The length of each side of the based should be the same measurements as the base of the frame legs. I simply measured the width between each section of the frame after standing. Mine were about 3 1/2 feet or so. Again, the measurements don't matter as long as they match your frame; the wider your frame, the wider your base. You want the legs to be able to sit on top of the base deck when you're done. Measure accordingly.
After I cut the angles (again, with the miter saw set for 54 degree angles to make a pentagon), I assembled the 5 sections on my living room floor. I wanted to make sure I had a flat, level surface before screwing the base frame together.
Screw the base together using 4" exterior screws.
STEP 4. Set the posts and secure the base frame
I pounded 5 2x2 stakes into the ground around my base frame. Using a level, I screwed each side into my temporary guide stakes to the height I wanted the base deck. At each stake I made sure the side was level to ensure a flat surface for the deck.
After the base frame was secured to the temporary guide stakes, I placed 5 scrap 4x4 posts on the interior corners of the frame. I marked the posts at the height of the top of the frame. Then I cut each corner post at the mark. Doing this was a short cut to avoid having to level the ground.
Then I screwed 4" deck screws to secure the frame to the posts. I screwed an additional 2x4 across the center of the pentagon for additional support for the floor. Finally, I removed the guide stakes and checked across each angle to be sure the base was level.
STEP 5. Lay the deck floor
For the deck floor use any suitable material you can find. As for all the wood in this tutorial, use what you find. Design to the materials you have rather than finding materials to match your design. I was lucky enough to have lots of salvaged heart pine flooring in my basement. This is really nice stuff and I normally would not recommend using it for an outdoor structure. But, I had it, so I used it.
Once I set up the base I realized that I might want to rest in the kids' teepee with a nice book and cold drink. So, I decided to add a front porch for my legs to stick out the front. I set the boards down on the teepee base to determine how I'd set the boards.
With the boards set, I marked the bottoms of the floor boards with a pencil along the frame base. One-by-one I cut the boards to along the marks to get the angles to match the pentagon. Then I screwed the floorboards to the frame. Alternatively, you could screw the boards to the frame, then cut the long ends with a circular saw.
Once the floor was secured, the kids began to play. I could have stopped right there. They'd already turned this little corner of the yard into their own play deck.
I could have simply painted the floor at this point. But, heart pine is just too gorgeous to paint. So, I spend a lot of time, sweat and sand paper sanding down the old floor to reveal the beautiful grain in the wood. Then I finished the floor with a natural penetrating oil from Safecoat.
STEP 6. Secure to teepee frame to the deck floor
Now's the time to get some help. With only two arms there's no way for one person to lift a pentagonally frame onto a deck. With your helpful friend, set the frame onto the deck placing each leg at one of the five corners. I used a single 4" exterior deck screw to secure each leg to the deck.
STEP 7. Add the siding
I had a huge pile of 1x4 pine salvaged from a friend's basement. It was the impetus for this project. The only thing this scrap lumber was good for was the siding on a kid's teepee fort. You can really use anything you'd like. As siding, don't worry if it's treated lumber. It'll last as long as your kids will be young enough to enjoy the teepee.
Now, if you want to impress your friends with your craftsmanship you can measure precise lengths and angles for your siding. Just know that my teepee has over 350 boards and nearly 1,000 screws. I chose to simply mark the center line of each frame leg and measure each board to meet with the center line. I didn't worry about precision as long as the boards overlapped the frame enough to keep out rain. I used an approximate angle for each board to match the angle of the frame. One-by-one, I cut the boards to length on the miter saw and screwed them in overlapping each other in a clapboard siding fashion.
STEP 8. Enjoy the memories
It's been only a few days since I finished the teepee. I'm amazing by how imaginative the girls and their friends have been with their play in this modest structure. It's different. It's a place of refuge. And I'm certain, they'll remember this playhouse for a lifetime.