DIY Sandbox for People Who Hate DIY


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Just as I finished writing up this post, I was invited by Union Pacific Railroad to participate in a campaign to raise money for four great organizations: Girls Inc., the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the National Park Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy. A photo of our finished sandbox goes up this afternoon on their Instagram account @uprr and $100 was donated on our behalf to one of the above charities. You can participate too by submitting a photo of your DIY project to What Did You Build? and if your photo is chosen you will also be featured on their IG feed and have $100 donated on your behalf to your choice of those four organizations!

Hate is surely too strong a word, but neither Mike nor I is a big do it yourselfer. We usually figure paying extra for someone else to do it for us is worth not having to do it ourselves. We aren’t particularly handy or crafty. But we got it in our heads to build a sandbox, and build a sandbox WE DID.

When we moved into our house there was a 5×6 or so patch of dirt in the backyard where the previous owners had had a swing set. We tried a few years to plant a garden there, with varying levels of success, but once our dog Russell realized the garden was full of FOOD THINGS, we quickly got frustrated with trying to keep him out. So this year we used that patch for something entirely different. 
1. Clear a patch of earth the size of your future sandbox. This was fairly simple for us since we had no grass there anyway, but we did have to tear up a bunch of weeds, square off the edges, and clear away the rotting flower boxes I’d been using as borders. We found some good earthworms too. Oh and make it level-ish. Ish is fine.2. Choose a plan before you begin. That might sound obvious to some, but trust me if you are not the DIY sort you tend to have thoughts like, We could probably just find some pieces of wood in the garage and nail them together, right? NO. STOP THAT. I think Mike started clearing the earth around 10 in the morning while I was searching Pinterest for the SIMPLEST SANDBOX PROJECT IMAGINABLE. We combined a couple of different designs to come up with a 5’x6′ box with rectangular benches (no triangle benches, because TRIANGLES UGH). 3. Get all the stuff. Armed with our plans and shopping list, Mike went to what we call “the Orange Hardware Store” and brought back four 12″ wide cedar planks – cedar is good because it holds up to weather even if you put nothing on it whatsoever and I had less than zero interest in painting this thing. Also, some bracket thingies, some screws, landscape fabric (we’ll get to that), some other bracket thingies, and two 4″ wide cedar boards for benches. We had that sweet sweet power drill and awesome Lightning McQueen car already.
4. Now screw all that stuff together. Building a rectangle is pretty easy, you guys. We found many sandbox plans that complicated matters with braces and interlocking whatsits and thingamajiggies but ultimately what we did was use those corner brackets for the bottom of the sandbox, then we drove long nails into the ends as well. The boards were fairly warped so they are NOT flush, and also we did manage to fit them together weirdly because I was like “make it like a swastika, does that make sense?” and Mike was like WUT but it worked out okay somehow. Then we also screwed in some additional brackets to the inside corners – see above.5. Make sure your toddler gets in the way a lot and insists he knows how to do everything himself. This is a very easy project and by itself would cause almost no frustration or marital squabbling. So to jazz things up a little, add a toddler. You probably have one, if you’re making a sandbox. He NOT NEED ANY HELP unrolling the entire 150 foot roll of landscape fabric, you guys! Side note, I think I have height dysmorphia; when I see pictures of myself I am always shocked and confused to see how SHORT I am. I honestly do not feel like I am such a small person and then I see a pic and I’m like, weird. 6. Give it a bottom of some sort. Again, lots of people on Pinterest did fancy floors but all you really need to accomplish is making a barrier between the sand and the earth below and also provide drainage in some way. The widest landscape fabric we found came in 3′ wide rolls, so we cut two pieces and overlapped them, nailed it to the bottom of the frame, and then when it was in place we used the plastic stakes that came with it to secure the seam (see below). Fancy Pinterest People sew it in their fancy sewing machines, but ain’t nobody who hates DIY got time for that.

7. Put in place, add benches. Rectangular benches were chosen because they are simple and require very basic levels of carpentry skills, but as it happens they are also kind of nifty because you (parents) can sit out there with the kids and have a place to set your coffee, the kids can set toys up there, etc. I nailed this bench down while Mike was back at the hardware store picking up the sand. It was beyond easy. In the pic above you can also see the brackets we added to the inside corners to reinforce the sides. 
8. Now add sand. Hardware stores sell play sand, that’s the stuff you want to get. Our sandbox is 5’x6′ and 1′ high and all told we put 30 bags in – each one 50 lbs of sand. I will point out, because I would not have realized this if Mike hadn’t pointed it out to me, that that is a LOT of weight (1500 lbs in fact) to put in your vehicle, so Mike ended up making three trips of 10 bags each. We also have a handy dolly that we used to cart the bags from the van to the sandbox so if you don’t have anything like that, remember how heavy the dang things are (you don’t even have to remember, it says 50 lbs on the bag).9. Now add children. We still only have two kids, the other little one is our neighbor buddy from down the street. In this picture above we only had 10 bags of sand in the box and Mike was running to the store for more. They were still pretty thrilled though. Once we got all of the sand in there they just wanted to stretch out and feel it all over their bodies. 
10. Finally, add a cover. There are lots of ways to build covers; we of course wanted something easy to make, but also something that would completely cover the sand from the elements, because the weather gets pretty wild here sometimes. I also wanted something that the kids could open themselves without getting hurt if they tried, so that ruled out the bricks-sitting-on-a-tarp option. We ended up buying a 6’x8′ blue tarp, screwing latch loops on each side toward the bottom, and looping mini bungee cords through the tarp grommets and hooking them to the latches.

11. Catch up on all the regular household duties that you ignored while you were building a sandbox. This project took us all day on day one plus another half hour on day two to fashion the cover – but admittedly, we worked pretty slowly. There was a fair amount of standing around contemplating the project and its next steps, not to mention feeding the kids, playing with the kids, supervising the kids. They did not actually want to stand around watching us build a sandbox for ten hours, oddly enough. Our house fell into shambles as we neglected the laundry, dishes, basic tidying up, and tracked in lots of extra dirt and, of course, sand. But WE DID IT GUYS. And if we can do it, you can too.


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