August 8, 2013

Bringing the Beach to Our Backyard

"Build a sandbox," they said. "It'll be fun," they said.

We bought our house just over a year ago, and almost immediately began updating the place. Not a complete gut - by any stretch of the imagination. But a couple of big things (kitchen, master and guest baths), and a ton of one-off projects and small things you (or at least I) would never think of if you haven't had to do them before.

Things like updating light switches and outlets from taupe to white or replacing the lever door handles to a more childproofable (I made it a word) round knobs. Which are both still ongoing, BTW.

Well, after (most of) those projects had been checked off the list, it was time to focus efforts on the outside.

We recently overhauled both front flower beds and I've earned a lifetime membership in the lumberjack club by chopping down approximately 137 medium-to-large trees on our 1/3 acre lot. OK, it was more like 5, but each and every one was a certifiable pain-in-the-ass.

I almost died (twice), and if a slight breeze had kicked up the wrong way in the midst of downing one of them, I'd be in the market for a new pool liner.

But those are risks I'm comfortable with taking when my only other option is to pay a tree service $500-$1000 per tree.

Then I got to this...

And, no...I didn't count this little guy as one of the trees I cut down.
That is/was a flower bed inside the pool area - and it was beyond salvation as such. The small tree came down, and I dug up those sad azaleas. But, what then? Sandbox? Sandbox!

On the surface, it's actually a really, really good idea. It gives Campbell something safe and fun to do without being in the water the entire time.

It's perfect for the space, right next to the pool, and it happens to be right in the perfect spot for afternoon sun, so the top can double as a sun deck of sorts when not in use.

In planning and execution, though, I needed this project like I need barbed wire in my Fruit Loops.

Here is all the help I got from Pinterest. When I typed in "covered sandbox," I got 839 results that were ALL some variation of this.

The internet loves this sandbox design like hipsters love Ray-Bans. I don't need fancy hinged bench seats with armrests, thanks. Besides, I needed something about three times that long to fill the void. So I was on my own. But, if this is your thing, you can find free plans to build it right here.

Step 1: Posts
I cut 2x4s to the length I wanted the box to be, then laid them out on the ground to mark where my support post holes would go, and dug the holes. Next, I cut my posts to a manageable height (I'll cut them to the exact height later with a reciprocating saw), mixed and poured my cement and screwed the 2x4s into the post to keep them in place while the cement dried. I used a level to make sure they were straight and waited.

While we're letting the cement dry, let's see what Knox is up to, shall we?

Oh, nothing - just walking on the 4" brick ledge circling the house.

Step 2: Box Base

Once the cement dried, I installed the horizontal supports to provide extra stability (and make sure the whole thing would end up as a rectangle and not a trapezoid).

Then came the face boards:

Step 3: Top Ledge

Once I had the face boards for the base of the sandbox in place, I screwed 2x4s into the posts to create a ledge. Why? For extra support and to give the top something solid to rest on. But mainly to serve as a bench seat for a particularly small butt.

Then I used a reciprocating saw to cut the posts off flush with the rest of the ledge.

Step 4: Installing the Hinge

I added some extra face boards to the ledge to make a more suitable bench seat for little butts, and installed the hinges for the top of the sandbox. I found it easier to install the hinges using one board that I would eventually screw the rest of the top to, rather than dealing with the weight of the entire top all at once while trying to place and attach the hinges.

You're probably wondering what that black stuff is, right? It's weed liner for garden beds, and I put that in for two reasons: 1) to keep weeds from growing back (duh), and 2) to keep the dirt from mixing with the sand.

Step 5: Installing the Rest of the Top

I cut my boards for the top to size, then did a dry fit to make sure they were evenly spaced and square with the base. Once I was satisfied with the placement, I screwed them into the single board I connected the hinges to.

Then I screwed the 1x4 you see above to the outside of the top boards to keep them in place so that I could do the exact same thing on the underside:

After I was finished, I removed the board from the outside.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

I added a rustic rope handle because the top weighs more than a baby elephant. Then I added the final - and most important - ingredient: sand.

Et've got a multipurpose sun deck and sandbox. No flowers or shrubs to maintain. No weeds to pull.

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