DIY monkey bars

Three summers ago, we added a slide to our back deck. Two summers ago, we built a wooden teeter totter. Last summer, we bought a secondhand play structure and the kids enjoyed the novelty of having their own swings.

But every time we went to a park or a school playground, they were completely obsessed with something we didn’t have: monkey bars.

I knew we needed to build our own, but it seemed . . . difficult. Where would we get the bars? How would we make sure they didn’t tip over? The local stores only seemed to sell swings, slides and climbing rope systems — no monkey bars to be found.

I was at the point when I thought it would be an impossible DIY when I saw a monkey bar kit* on Pinterest — just six bars and a little bag of screws — for around $40 CDN with free shipping. I ordered it when I was half-asleep one morning and almost forgot about it until they arrived three weeks later.

The DIY monkey bar set we purchased

I wasn’t expecting the set to come with instructions — I just figured my handy husband would rig something up — but it did, and he followed them to a tee. (Not my style, but it works for him.)

The kit didn’t include the wood or most of the hardware, so we needed to buy four five-inch carriage bolts, four washers, four nuts, 44 2 1/2-inch screws, pressure-treated lumber (two 2” x 4” x 8’ boards for the steps, two 2” x 6” x 8’ boards for the bar supports, four 4” x 4” x 8’ posts) and four fence post holders (giant spikes) to fit around the 4×4 posts.

This project barely even requires any cuts, since the 4” x 4” x 8’ posts are already the right height for monkey bars and the 2” x 6” x 8’ boards are already the right length. The only boards that need to be cut are the two 2” x 4” x 8’ boards — from which we cut four steps (each 23 1/4” long) and eight little supports (each 3 1/2” long).

So my handy husband started the build by marking where the six rungs needed to be — exactly 12 inches apart, starting 12 inches from one end — and attaching them to the 2” x 6” x 8’ boards to make what looked like a giant ladder.

(Because the monkey bars were designed to attach to an existing play structure, there’s a 24-inch gap on one end between the last bar and the end of the monkey bars. The bigger kids can still reach the steps from that last rung, and the gap didn’t seem worth modifying the plans.)

Connecting the ‘ladder’ to the four 4” x 4” x 8’ posts wasn’t difficult — and now they really looked like monkey bars — and neither was building the steps using the pieces of 2’ x 4.’ The tricky part was getting the massive fence post holders into the ground in exactly the right spots, at exactly the right angle.

These huge metal spikes went 18 inches into the lawn and it wasn’t a picnic getting them perfectly in place. My handy husband finally used scraps to build a spacer — two chunks of 4’ x 4’ post separated by the width of a step — so he could pound the posts into the ground knowing everything would line up properly.

Despite the minor post hiccup, the monkey bars were up in less than a day — which happened to be our son’s seventh birthday. Swarms of kids were all over them immediately and I had to wait for an afternoon when no one was around before I could stain them (Sico’s Autumn Brown).

I love seeing the kids fly across the bars — you should see their callouses — and hanging by their knees with delighted smiles. I have no idea what we’ll build next summer to top this, but it’s going to have to be really, really good.

(Edited to add: We built these!)

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