Two years ago I built a tree fort for under $300 and since then I have thought of some other fun backyard toys I could build for the kids. My 6 year old loves the monkey bars at school, but has outgrown the small set of monkey bars we have attached to a playset. You can buy pre-made sets, but these can easily cost several hundred dollars. I thought that building monkey bars myself could be a relatively cheap and easy addition to our backyard; $100 and two afternoons later the kids are enjoying a new backyard monkey bar set.
Planning To Build Monkey Bars:
Originally I had wanted to go with an all metal design, but that proved to be more costly and more difficult to do. Perhaps in the future I may try to build a metal set, but for now wood was the way to go. For Father’s Day Mrs. C. bought me a set of monkey bars that I had on my Amazon wish list that are designed to be screwed into a wood frame. I wanted to get this built for the kids quickly, so I started sketching out how I would build it. Unlike a tree fort monkey bars are fairly straight forward. 4 posts in the ground with two horizontal runs is the basics of what needs to be done, the two main variables are the height of the structure and the spacing of the bars. The monkey bar rungs came with instructions, but I wanted a larger and sturdier set than what was in the instructions.
I wanted this structure to be something the kids won’t grow out of, so I decided to go with a height of 7.5 feet off the ground. Using 10′ posts 30″ would be below ground and provide plenty of stability. At 7.5 feet adults can easily use the monkey bars, and the drop isn’t too extreme for kids who are over 4 foot tall. When it came to rung spacing I didn’t want the rungs to be too far apart, but with only 6 rungs they would be a stretch for the kids. The playset we own uses the same rung material for steps to the monkey bars, so I stole the 3 step rungs and replaced them with 2X4’s in order to give me 3 more rungs. The distance between rungs is the total length of the run divided by # of rungs plus 1. For my set the math looks like this: 144 / (9+1) = 14.4″ The 12″ boards are actually 145 inches so 14.5 inches is the distance between the rungs.
Material and Tool List:
Materials Required To Build Monkey Bars:
All wood used should be pressure treated since it will be exposed to the ground and the elements.
- (4) 4x4X10′ Posts : These are the four supports for the monkey bars.
- (2) 2X6X12′ Boards: These are the two horizontal runs that the individual bars will attach to. You can use 8′ or 10′ boards if space is an issue.
- (2) 2X4X8′ Boards: These will be cut to provide the steps for the monkey bars and for 2″ supports for the horizontal runs to rest on.
- (1) Box of 3″ Outdoor screws: I had some of these lying around, so I didn’t have to buy them.
- (4) 5/16 Lag bolts with washers and nuts: These will go through where the 4X4 posts meet the horizontal runs to provide extra stability.
- (2) Bags of 50# concrete: I had a lot of aggregrate laying around to mix in with the concrete, if you don’t have any available pick up an extra couple bags of concrete.
- (1) Set of monkey bars from Amazon: These are really easy to install and save a ton of work over trying to make the rungs myself, at around $22, the price is well worth it. They come in a set of 6, which for a 12 foot run means spacing of 20.5″ between rungs. This would probably work best for teenagers. If you have younger kids, picking up an extra set would be a good idea. I stole 3 rungs that were the steps to the old monkey bar set attached to our playset. Using 9 bars and a 12′ run your spacing will be 14.5″ This set comes with the screws to install, but they are star bit screws, so you will also need a set of star bits to install.
- Tape Measure: To ensure the distance between the posts and rungs are correct. I LOVE this QuickDraw Tape Measure that marks what you measure without a need for a pencil/pen/marker that always seems to get lost when working on big projects like these.
- Level: To align the 4 posts and the steps.
- Shovel/Post hole diggers: Post hole diggers would be best, I don’t have a set, so I used my shovel.
- Bucket: For mixing concrete in, will certainly be ruined by the end of the build.
- Drill and circular saw (and proper bits): I used my Ryobi 18V drill and circular saw. 1 battery charge did all of the cuts and attachments needed. A star bit set is also required if using the provided hardware with the monkey bars.
- C-Clamp: This is used to pull 2 pieces of wood together for a tight fit when screwing the pieces together. Chances are your posts won’t align perfectly.
- Ladder: Working at 7.5 feet off the ground certainly requires a ladder.
Transporting 12′ boards in a minivan isn’t easy, but it is doable! After site selection and all materials and tools were gathered I laid out all the boards about where they would go. I then measured out the distance I needed the posts to be from each other and marked out where to dig. I ended up doing one post at a time and then re-measuring to make sure I put the subsequent posts exactly where they needed to be.
Setting Up The Posts:
Digging straight down with a shovel is difficult to say the least. I went down to 30″ for these posts. Once I had the hole dug out I inserted the post and got it level, then braced it with sticks and rocks to ensure it would stay where I needed it. I then filled the hole with aggregate and mixed my concrete to pour in. This was by far the hardest part of the job. Of course I chose to do this project in the middle of a hot day, ideally I would have done half the work in the AM and half in the afternoon after the backyard was shaded.
The next step was installing the horizontal runs. I learned when building my tree house that when working alone I need to set myself up well. I cut and screwed in a couple pieces of 2X4 board to support the horizontal runs, then I attached a temporary vertical support to provide a slot to support one end of the beam. When I screwed in the first horizontal run I realized that the alignment of my posts was a bit off. Building structures like this can be a little bit forgiving, and I was able to use a c-clamp to draw the horizontal run and the support beam together in order to get a tight fit when screwing it in. After screwing the run in place I then added the lag bolts. I installed 5 screws in each connection.
This was a good job for the kids to help with. We measured the distance needed and cut our 2X4’s to fit perfectly. Because the posts were not 100% perfect the length of each step varied just a bit. We put a level on each rug to make sure they were installed as straight as possible and used two screws on each side. We did 3 steps on each side with 12″ gaps. This spacing provides enough of a gap for adults to use the monkey bars, but not so much that a first grader can’t reach the first bar.The two older boys were able to use the level and the drill. These 2X4 steps are very strong and even with me jumping on them as a stability test, they remained solidly in place.
Here is another spot where building can be forgiving. I measured out 14.5″ on each board and drew a line indicating where to screw down the bars. When I went to install the first bar I noticed that it was slanted. Essentially my two horizontal bars were off by about an inch, which uncorrected would leave a difficult set of monkey bars to navigate. All I did to correct this was bump the measurement on the left side up an inch to compensate, making all of the rungs level. No one will notice that the start and stop of the run is an inch off on the one side. These monkey bar rungs install really easily. I had the kids handing me up the monkey bars and screws. I took advantage of as many opportunities as possible on this project to get them involved.
Once the bars were in place I put a few finishing touches on. I went to all of the posts are added dirt and sod into the post holes to replace the grass I dug out. The boys helped me with cleaning up all of the tools and equipment used on the job and then we tested out the monkey bars. I went first to test the safety of them. I weigh around 150 pounds, so if it is going to fail with anyone on, it would be me. I had no problem going across multiple times. I then had the kids try it out and they had a blast. Our little two aren’t tall enough for it yet but I helped them get across by supporting their legs. The structure does move a bit when in heavy use, but it isn’t going anywhere. My Dad suggested to put on some diagonal cross beams from the post to the horizontal runs and that should take the sway out of it.
- 4X4X10 Posts 4 @ $12.97 = $51.88
- 2X6X12 Runs 2 @ $7.87 = $15.74
- 2X4X8 2 @ $2.87 = $5.74
- Concrete Bags 2 @ $1.79 = $3.58
- Monkey Bar Set: 1 @ $22 = $22
- Misc. Hardware: 1 @ $4 = $4
- TOTAL = $99.36
All in all I built a great backyard monkey bar set for around $100. This could be more or less depending on what you have lying around. If I had built this when Mrs. C. and I first moved in I would have only had to spend around $30. The guy who used to own the house left a decent sized wood pile behind the house. We have since used all of it, or given it away. The kids love the monkey bars and it is a good fit for both my 6 year old and 12 year old. I can use these monkey bars just fine, so I know they won’t outgrow it. The set is safe, but it does move a bit when in use by a larger person, so at some point I may re-enforce it a bit to minimize the movement. Not bad for a $100 investment, and you can easily get everything from your local hardware store with the exception of the actual monkey bar rungs from Amazon.
Monkey Bar Expansion SUMMER 2018:
This spring I expanded on my monkey bar set and added in 2 flip bars and a pull up bar. When I started with the flip bars I made sure I had the following equipment: 3/4” galvanized pipe, drill and titanium drill bit, paddle bits, concrete, and a 4X4.
I bought 1 16 foot long pressure treated 4X4 and cut it in half because I didn’t need the posts to be the full height of the monkey bars. I dug a hole on each side of the ladder up to the monkey bars 33” away and used a 36” long 3/4” diameter galvanized pipe, giving me 1.5” on each side to attach into the 4X4 post. (okay 1 side was roughly 40″ because the bar was a scrap piece from another project.) I knew I was going to put the posts in the ground 30” inches and I wanted the flip bar to be 54” high, so I drilled both holes with a paddle bit that I pre-fit to the pipe to ensure it would be a tight fit. I used a paddle pit that was slightly smaller than the pipe, then slowly wallered it around until it was a tight squeeze for the pipe. I practiced on a scrap piece of 2X4 to ensure I would get it right. I did the 2nd flip bar at 42” for the little kids, however they tend to use the steps for the monkey bars to reach the taller one. In retrospect I should have put both flip bars at 54”. The kids currently using this age range from 5 – 10.
After digging the hole and getting the post to about where I wanted it, I added in the bar before I poured the concrete to get the fit right. I then put a level on the bar and adjusted the post as necessary until the bar was level. Next I drew a line 90 degrees around from the center of the bar at the post to the front of the post . I then measured in 3/4” and drilled a hole all the way through with my titanium bit, then I ran a screw through this hole. The screw keeps the pipe from turning, this is the most important part of the project. If the pipe turned it wouldn’t work as designed and would frustrate the kids. The best solution I could come up with was pegging the bar in place by drilling a screw through it. Next I filled the concrete in and reinstalled the turf I shoveled from around the hole to get the grass to grow back.
The Pull Up Bar: The pull up bar could be done the exact same way, except with using a full sized 10′ post. The ¾” galvanized pipe is more than strong enough to support my weight (155 pounds) and getting a 10′ bar and cutting it to make 2 flip bars and 1 pull up bar is an inexpensive route to go. I however had a heavy duty pull up bar sitting around that I’ve had collecting dust for about 10 years and decided to install it. All this required was 4 lag bolts. The pull up bar I have has triangular supports and the bar sits in the middle of the triangle, which causes it to be lower than ideal for me. Here’s one on Amazon that would work perfectly for this application, with the bar at the top. I added a 4X4 on the backside to connect the 2 posts together for added stability.
What do you think of the added flip bars and pull up bar? Any other suggestions to make this better?