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DIY Backyard Play Projects

September 23, 2016

diy backyard projects


In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, an old rubber tire was responsible for opening up mysterious adventures for the young protagonist and her playmates. It’s amazing how much fun a discarded rubber tire can offer to one’s childhood. Anybody’s grandparent probably has a story or two to tell younger family members about using an old tire as swing, or rolling them down a hill for fun.

DIY toys and playground equipment are time-honored traditions in practically any kid’s life. If you want a touch of nostalgia in your backyard play space, here are some easy do-it-yourself rubber swing and seesaw projects you can take on.

The good old-fashioned rubber tire swing

Who doesn’t have a spare tire? Take a leaf from vintage stories about children and construct your own rubber tire swing set. Select a spare tire and choose the sturdiest tree branch or horizontal support beam you have outdoors. Then consider if you’d like the tire to be hanging vertically, as with most depictions in children’s books and TV shows - or horizontally, which is safer and more practical. If the former, simply knot a strong rope through the tire hole and hang it from a tree.

If the latter, drill three holes spaced equally from each other near the tire’s rim (with enough room for a flat fender washer). Screw in some strong steel eye bolts, washers, and hexagonal nuts in the holes. Place a metal S-hook through each eye bolt before using pliers to completely close the end around the eye bolt. Attach 3-foot metal chains on each open end of the S-hooks and test for proper slack and height (there should be enough room for your child to sit comfortably through the chains). Once you’re satisfied, close the open ends of the S-hooks with pliers. Get another S-hook and gather all three ends of the metal chains to hook through it. Close the end gathering these chains with pliers.

Next, attach a metal swivel, connector link, and a clip hook to the end of the S-hook. Hang a length of thick metal chain around the tree branch or bar (for height, make sure your child can alight from the swing safely, but still have enough swing room), use a connector link to close the hanging chain, attach the clip hook to the connector link, and voila! You have a sturdy, modernized rubber tire swing!

A rubber tire and wooden seesaw

If you have another spare tire, you can repurpose it into the teetering base of a seesaw for your small kids. Cut the tire in half and paint it in the color of your choice. Attach a length of wood in the interior of each half and screw the ends in place through the rubber. Select a 4-foot long board for the seat. Sand down the edges so there will be no danger of splinters when your children are sitting on them. You can cut curves at each end of the wooden panel to mark as seats for each child, and so their legs can rest comfortably against the seat.

Next, cut a length of dowel or curtain rod to serve as handles. Nail the handles to wooden blocks, and attach to the wooden panel. Place the wooden panel on top of the tire halves to check for balance. Drill two holes in the center of the wooden panel where they will attach to the wood in the tires. Use nuts and bolts to secure the panel to the wood underneath in place. Test for sturdiness before  varnishing or painting the entire seesaw in your kids’ favorite hue.   

The rubber mulch ball pit

Rubber mulch is one of the best by-products of old tires (aside from tire swings and seesaws, that is). The shredded nuggets of rubber can significantly cushion impact from falls, and are used widely in gardens, playgrounds, horse arenas, and other places requiring springy mulching and surfacing. If you have excess rubber mulch and an inflatable pool that’s waiting in storage for summer to come, bring them all out! Inflate the pool, fill up a fourth of it with rubber mulch, and have the kids play in it like they would in a sand box. You can add plastic balls on top of the mulch layer so they can have an instant ball pit without worrying about injuries.