Everyone needs a clubhouse! You can build your own backyard shelter, retreat, or clubhouse even if you have never built anything before. The clubhouse above was built in 1959 by three kids aged 8, 9 and 11, with no money or help from grownups! I know; I was the 11-year-old who took this picture. I'm sharing here what I have learned since then.
Readers of all ages are welcome to comment with their own ideas, pictures or stories.
To help you on your way, I've written a book titled "Keep Out! Build Your Own Backyard Clubhouse", which is available through bookstores or at Amazon.com . Many of the items I post here are also in the book.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to find wood and other stuff


You can either buy new materials or find them around your neighborhood.

If you don’t have any money, finding the wood for your clubhouse can be a challenge, but it can be done. Keep an eye out as you walk or bike-ride around your neighborhood. Ask around! Is there an old shed nearby that you can tear down in exchange for the wood? How about that fence that fell down a month ago? Does so-and-so want that window sitting in his garage? With patience and persistence, you’ll likely get the lumber, windows, paint, and whatever else you’ll need for your clubhouse with the help of your friends and neighbors.

Getting materials is also where co-operation comes into play. If your friends (and their friends) can help donate the stuff you need to build the clubhouse, then everyone will benefit! This is the point where you might want to write up some sort of club agreement where everyone who contributes wood or other materials can be part of the club on some level. Trust will play a big part here.

It is also likely that you will have to buy some of the lumber and the nails from a lumberyard, so you will need money and a car. If you still need the Basic Tools listed in Chapter 2, you’ll need to shop for them as well. This, along with the permission thing, brings up co-operation with grownups. If you offer to give them something they need, beyond what they already expect of you, there is a good chance you will get the materials and tools you will need. In the process you’ll become very good at real-world negotiating, a great lifetime skill!

          You can find cheap recycled stuff at salvage yards, resale shops, St Vincint de Paul’s or other thrift shops. Hardware store paint departments often have returned custom-color paints for sale at $2. to $5. a can, and it’s good paint if you like the color! (Avoid oil-based paints, though)  
          Another good source: Habitat for Humanity operates The Restore, a chain of used building-material outlets. They have everything including lumber, odd furniture, nails and hardware. It’s an adventure!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wood and Nails

Once you've drawn a plan and have permission, you can start looking for wood for your clubhouse.
A clubhouse can be built with just a few different kinds of boards, all held together with a few sizes of nails. It's a good idea to learn the carpenter words for the boards as they are used. This is what the frame of a possible clubhouse might look like, and what the pieces are called:
The floor is held up by two 4" by 4" thick beams called foundation sills that are 8 feet long. These support  seven 2" by 4" thick floor joists 6 feet long, which then support the floor boards.  The floor supports the walls which support the roof. To make them strong, the walls are built with studs, plates and other pieces; all from 2" by 4" thick boards. Thinner boards or plywood then cover up the 2 by 4s. I'll show you how to put all this together in several steps!
Most nails come in one-pound or five-pound boxes. For starters, get a couple of 1-pound boxes of 6d, 8d and 16d construction nails called "coated sinkers". Exterior galvanized nails are good for nailing on trim boards or siding that will get rained on. These are the kind used in house building everywhere. There are a few other kinds of nails or screws you might be using as well: 
Next: How to find wood and other stuff ... 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Find a Building Site

Take some time to find a good place for your clubhouse. Your own fenced-in back yard is the best, but any space out of the way will work. Front yards are made to look at, so your parents (and complaining neighbors) probably won’t let you build there. A vacant lot or nearby woods might work, but there is a chance that other kids will wreck it while you’re away. A tucked-away corner in a back yard, maybe by the garage, often works the best. If your summers are hot, try to find a shady spot.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Getting Permission

Is there a place here for me?

            Parents and other People in Control will likely imagine a big mess to clean up as soon as you utter the word “clubhouse.” So here is where you’ll need to think like a diplomat and talk like a lawyer to argue your case.
            Be careful not to choose a site too close to your neighbor’s house or on their land. If there is no fence, ask where the boundary might be. Also don’t use a neighbor’s or your own fence as one of your walls without permission! Furthermore, don’t build in front of someone’s picture window or otherwise block their view. You will get complaints.  By all means PROMISE to keep the area clean except where you are actually building your clubhouse, and then KEEP the promise!
Invite your parents or other People in Control to help find a good site for your clubhouse. Also, have a second-choice building site in mind so the People in Control have a choice. If that doesn’t work, tell them that in recent years children have been increasingly deprived of the outdoors and nature, and child-development specialists such as Richard Louv have directly linked the absence of nature/being outside to the recent rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression among children. Show them Richard Louv’s website, http://richardlouv.com/last-child-movement, and then tell them, “You don’t want me to get fat, crazy or depressed, do you?”
Another good argument is this: “I’ll be engaged in something creative, I’ll be learning a lot of practical skills, and you will know where I am!” Then show them your plans (see below) so they’ll know more about your project, and that you are serious about doing it “right”. Tell them you’ll follow the safety tips listed above and remind them you’ll keep the place as clean and neat as you can. If they still resist, keep trying!
            If you live in a community or subdivision that is heavily laden with covenants or deed restrictions, check the rules to see if you can build in your yard. In recent years, some towns and homeowners’ associations have ordered clubhouses removed because they are deemed unsafe, a fire hazard, unsightly, or all three. Many communities don’t want to be “exposed to risk” from lawsuits or insurance claims. This unfortunate trend is part of the reason kids are no longer allowed to create things on their own such as clubhouses.
So fight back! Get your parents or sympathetic neighbors to help you regain your outdoor freedom. The Children and Nature Network: http://childrenandnature.ning.com, is a worldwide support group that advocates this very thing!  One idea: get your supporters to let you build a “protest clubhouse” and when Those in Power demand its removal, offer to sign a “no fault” letter that promises you won’t ever sue them or make a claim against their liability insurance. If that doesn’t work call in the local news media to make your point.  This is America, after all!         


Friday, January 4, 2013


Any kind of plan will help!

Draw a Plan
This works a lot better than just starting out nailing boards together. A plan is simply a way to think about what you want, and then how to get there. Plans might also help you get permission and support for your project. Here’s how to plan your clubhouse:

Think about a space big enough to hold yourself and your friends. Think about what you might want to do in it, and maybe write a list: will you want a desk or a couch? Will you want chairs or just cushions on the floor? Will you want a place to store or hide stuff, or a secret exit?  A 6-foot by 8-foot clubhouse will comfortably hold 4 people, so I am going to use this size for my demonstration: 
Then check the site you’ve chosen to see if your clubhouse will fit. With your tape measure, check the actual size on the ground if you need to. You might have to make it square-shaped or maybe four feet wide and ten feet long to fit a tight space!
Also think about how you’d like to get in and out…what kind of door?  How much light and ventilation do you want? What kind of windows? Some kids like their clubhouses dark and den-like, others like a lot of light so they can read or see what’s going on outside. A sliding window or two are great for ventilation on hot days.

You may want to build a different shape or size, so draw your plan first. Later you can add more rooms if there is enough space around your clubhouse.