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Cedar Play Teepee: A How-To

cedar play teepee killer b designs

With only a few days left until Christmas, we finished up our biggest present just in time! I knew for a while that I wanted to build a playhouse for my girls, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it should be. At first it was a traditional playhouse, then I decided on a teepee. But, what kind? I thought cloth wouldn’t be durable enough. So I set out to research how to build it out of wood. All I found were finished images, no tutorials. A little brainstorming with my husband led us to this design.

cedar-play-teepee-tall

 

For a durable, sturdy outdoor structure I chose cedar. I’m not a fan of treated wood, especially when there are little ones involved. This was simple enough to construct with cedar 4×4′s, 2×4′s, 2×2′s and fence pickets. Things you can find at your local hardware store or lumber yard.

cedar-play-teepee-play

 

So, how big is it? I wanted it to be large enough to feel spacious and real for the kids, and something an adult can stand in too. The entrance is just tall enough that all you have to do is duck your head a bit to get inside.

cedar-play-teepee-inside

 

I even made a little fire ring with some rocks and firewood. Dad’s teaching Charlie how you warm your hands by the fire :)

cedar-play-teepee-back

 

You may be wondering, why the slats? While the structure itself is very solid and heavy, we do get some heavy winds here in Central Texas. These will allow the gusts to blow through without providing a solid wall of resistance. Hopefully this will keep it from toppling over during a bad storm.

cedar-play-teepee-inside-top

 

We also left gaps at the top for even more circulation, and to hopefully prevent too many wasps from nesting in here. Also, you know, stargazing!

cedar-play-teepee-setting

 

I placed it in Charlie’s play area, by the dry creek bed we made with leftover rock from our house siding. It was an area that washed out during heavy rains, so instead of battling the moving mulch we just covered up the bald spots with rock. I love the setting it gives. A little teepee by the creek.

Anyway, enough babbling. Are you ready to learn how to build one of your own? Here we go!

*disclaimer* I am not a professional builder. I am a novice. A mom with some tools and ideas. This is not a guaranteed plan. This is just me sharing how I built something for my family, in hopes it can inspire you to do your own. So if you see any flaws, please share. And build at your own risk.

 

Supplies:
• 5 – 4x4x10 cedar fence posts
• 4 – 2x2x10 cedar
• 2 – 2x4x10 cedar
• 30ish 6′ cedar fence pickets
• 1 stump, at least 20″ in circumference
• 15 – 6″ hex screws (the hex top helps prevent stripping)
• 2 1/2″ decking screws for base
• 1 1/4″ decking screws for siding

 

Step 1

cedar-play-teepee-step1a

 

My plan was still pretty fuzzy at this point. I wasn’t sure how to attach the square posts to each other at the top. We cycled through a few ideas, then settled on attaching them to a center stump. Jacob found a 3′ section of a rough cedar post so we used that. To come up with the angles, I cut the bottoms of each post at 20 degrees off square. Then I placed them on a 2×4 to keep them flush, and placed the stump in the center. Once I had it all lined up I used a square and another 2×4 to create a center cross and mark the angle for the top that I needed to cut. (and yes, I realize this looks like some sort of strange occult practice here! I had to take a photo of my strange triangle markings and the great sun flare ;) )

cedar-play-teepee-step1b

 

You can see above that the left post has been cut at the top, and I set my 2×4 to mark the post on the right.

cedar-play-teepee-step1c

 

Both angles matched, so I marked the rest of my 4×4′s and cut them all the same.

 

 

Step 2

cedar-play-teepee-step2

 

Now it was time to attach it all together. I decided a tripod would be the easiest way to start. My stump was exactly 25″ in circumference, so I marked 4″ for each post (cedar is typically true cut, so a 4×4 really is 4″ x 4″) and left a one inch gap in between them. I screwed the first two in laying on their sides, and then it was time for the third post. I was assembling it alone, taking advantage of nap time. So I propped up my post with cedar fence pickets. Probably not the safest idea, but I like to live on the edge sometimes. I used two screws per post just to set them in place.

cedar-play-teepee-step2b

 

Just as I had finished screwing the posts in my mom pulled up to head over for Charlie’s Christmas program at school, so she helped me tip it up and set it into place.

 

Step 3

cedar-play-teepee-step3

Once I had the three legs set where I wanted them, I propped up the last two and stood on a stool and screwed them in. As I was building it in place on very unlevel ground, I was more concerned with a solid foundation rather than a wobbly “level” structure. So each post is set at a different level. Once they were all in where I wanted them I added another screw for stability.

 

Step 4

cedar-play-teepee-step4

 

Now to keep those posts from moving. I tried to get all my sides evenly spaced, but somehow I got off on my measurements. I cut five 2×4′s at 45 degrees off square, 65 1/2″ from long point to long point. I set them into place and adjusted my posts as needed. It turns out that the four walls are even, and the front entry side is slightly larger, which worked for me.

 

Step 5

cedar-play-teepee-step5

 

Next I attached them with 2 1/2″ screws toenailed into the 4×4′s. Three screws on each side. It was quite sturdy. It was starting to look like a real teepee!

 

Step 6

cedar-play-teepee-step6a

 

Now it was time for the 2×2′s. The sides needed a center support for the fence picket siding, to keep them sturdy and not bowing or warping over time. I cut the base at 20 degrees off square like the posts, but since I bought 8′ sticks instead of 10′ they were too short to reach the stump. So we had to improvise. Dad to the rescue!

cedar-play-teepee-step6b

 

Since you will be smart and buy 10′ sticks because you learned from my mistake, you can just mark the sticks where they need to be cut instead of having to do our crazy jig. My dad (who is the king of rig-em-ups) had these metal strips with holes in them. I’m not entirely sure what their original purpose was for, but we made them work well enough. We bent the metal in the center and screwed them down into each 4×4 post from the front, then made sure the 2×2 would be flush by holding a fence picket over it, and added a screw in from the metal behind the 2×2. Confusing? You bet. Functional? Yup! Whatever works, right?

 

Step 7

cedar-play-teepee-step7

 

Time for the picket siding. I had built the entire frame all by my lonesome during the day, but now the baby was awake and my husband came home so it was his turn. He was in charge of the siding. He held up a picket starting at the bottom and used a pencil to mark the angles. He attached the siding with two screws in the center and one on each side. We may go back and add more later, but we ran out of screws!

cedar-play-teepee-step7b

 

He just used a scrap piece of 2×4 to make a spacer so they would all be even. But since the sides weren’t exactly level, they don’t line up perfectly. They’re all slightly off from side to side, but the evenness of the gaps tricks your eye into thinking it matches.

 

Step 8

cedar-play-teepee-step8

 

Once we got five gaps up, it was time to stop spacing. And break for some air guitar on a picket. Because that’s what the cool kids do. Anyway, we wanted to keep it closed at the top to give it a more “official” teepee look. You can keep with the slats if you like, and just make the gaps smaller. Or whatever. It’s your teepee! The beauty of DIY is making it however you like it. We stopped at the top once the 2×2 ran out. I like it because it gives a bit of air venting and there won’t be any water pooling up at the top to rot out the wood.

 

Step 9

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Finish out all four sides with the pickets. Looks pretty legit now, right??

 

Step 10

cedar-play-teepee-step10

 

Time to finish out the front. He used some scrap 2×4 to bridge the gap in the front to create a brace. Figuring out these angles is tough, so I wish you luck. Ours aren’t perfect, there’s no double bevel, just a single cut at 30ish degrees. Then we cut a scrap 2×2 at 20 degrees at the base and marked the top. These are attached with 2 1/2 inch screws.

 

Step 11

cedar-play-teepee-step11

 

Next there was more marking, cutting, and screwing in pickets. Hooray!

 

Step 12

cedar-play-teepee-step12

 

To gussy it up we found a skinnier cedar post for the lintel of sorts. Jacob just pre-drilled a hole and used some giant nails from my dad’s shop to drive into the 2×4 support beam. The bark was flaking off so I decided to just go ahead and peel it all off so it wouldn’t look like a shedding beast.

cedar-play-teepee-top

 

And then we called ‘er done!

cedar-play-teepee-size

 

It took two days, building during nap times and the brief hours after work before sunset. So maybe 15 hours total. We spent about $250 on the project, but costs will vary with the price of lumber. You *could* go a bit cheaper with treated wood, but personally I don’t think it’s worth it. Not only for the chemicals, but that treated wood needs to set for a while and can warp quickly because of the pressure treatment drying out. Besides, cedar is a lot prettier! And delicious to smell. And is a natural deterrent for pests and bugs.

 

So if you’re looking for a fun addition to your yard this spring, I highly encourage you to think about a teepee! I like our version as it’s not permanent. It’s not set into the ground, nor does it have a platform. So if one day our kids grow out of it or we’d like to move it all we need are five or six strong backs to do so :)  And we saved so much money by doing it ourselves, not to mention the pride we get seeing our daughter’s happy face (and soon faces, once our baby Caroline gets big enough to enjoy it along with her sister). Even if Charlie does *sob!* seem to think only daddy built it for her. Her toddler memory decided to get a bit selective and forget the day mom worked on it while she played outside. Ah, well. At least she knows one parent built something for her, that’s good enough for me!

 



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  1. Kathy C.

    Very Cool!! I would have loved to have such a cute play-tee-pee when I was young! Great job!

  2. mightytravels

    Never mind when I was young… Is it wrong to want to build one for myself now?!

    Just added you on Twitter so I can check out more cool stuff! Hope to see you there sometime!

  3. K. Blakslee

    Very cool and unique, bet she’s the only one that has a teepee.

    1. Brooke

      At least until somebody builds one following the plan! :)

  4. Kathryn

    Just found this when googling how to make an outdoor teepee and yours is easily the best I’ve seen! So unique and I bet she loves her teepee! Maybe one day I’ll make one and hope it looks as good as yours :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Brooke

      Thank you Kathryn! She really does enjoy it, it’s a lot of fun. It’s been almost a year since we’ve built it and is staying very strong, so I’m looking forward to it seeing years and years of use!

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