My kids are crazy about monkey bars. They could spend an entire day swinging by their arms or upside down, via their legs - so much so the they have permanent calluses on the palms of their hands. So when their 6-year old trampoline (which they no longer used) started disintegrating, I wanted to put in something that would get them out playing in the garden, keep them entertained, as well as hopefully keeping them fit.
The trampoline in better days
Our garden is not that big, so space is fairly limited. After I had dispatched the worn out trampoline to start a new life as some recycled aluminium and steel products, I was left with a space of about 2.5m x 2.5m, bordered by an overhanging tree on one side, a shed on the other and a high fence at the back.
Having consulted my kids on what they wanted:
- Horizontal bars to do flip-overs
- A pair of rings to swing from
- A rope to climb up
- Monkey bars to swing from
- Enough space for 2 kids not to be on top of each other
I hunted online for something that might fit the space and the requirements.
There are a few companies that offer pre-built monkey bars, but these are fairly expensive and didn’t fit with the space restrictions, or my kids requirements. In the bespoke category, the space restriction and kids requirements could be met, but the cost was less attractive. I did some field work, looking at playgrounds in my area to get some design ideas and looking at construction materials and what companies sold them. I figured I’d have a go at designing and building my own. After all, it’s just pipes and connectors and I come from a (software) engineering background - how hard can it be?
My drawing skills aren’t great. Sure, I can use a ruler and draw some straight lines, but trying to render a 3D visualisation of something on the inherently 2D medium of paper was a challenge. I first planned in my head how I could deliver my kids requirements within the space and then opted for some 2D architectural-style drawings (though with none of the finesse of an architect).
Involving the Client in the Design Process
Producing the drawings was an important step, because, after showing them to my kids and after they’d finished laughing for 10 minutes, they started doing their own drawings and generating ideas and providing inputs into the layout - “/those bars can’t go to close to each other or we can’t do flip-overs at the same time/”.
This not only got them excited and feeling part of the process, but it also resulted in a much better design than I could have done by myself.
I took them to some parks and we measured the heights, widths and spacing of bars at each one to come up with the dimensions that suited them the most. The ones we came up with were:
- Vertical height: 2100mm
- Horizontal bar width: 500mm
- Horizontal bar spacing: 300mm
- Ladder rungs height (to allow access to the monkey bars): 500-700mm
- Flip-over bar width: 1000mm
- Flip-over bar height: adjustable as they grow
I went with horizontal lengths equal to the 2100mm verticals as these suited my site constraints of 2500mm x 2500mm. It also made the materials order simpler as I had fewer different lengths to contend with.
Building a scale model
I opted to try and build a scale model in order to visualise the end result. I figured this would be useful for others to understand my design (remembering my drawings were terrible), as well as helping me when it came to building the actual monkey bars. I used matchsticks and glue, with a cardboard base - items we had available at home.
Scale model construction materials
Each matchstick is 45mm in length, so I scaled the model such that 2 matchsticks end-to-end equaled 2100mm - the length of my vertical and horizontal bars; other lengths were scaled from a single matchstick, using a Stanley knife. After gluing sections individually before putting them all together to finish the model, I ended up with something that gave a much better understanding of what the end result would be.
The finished scale model
In the next article - Monkey Bars: The Build - I’ll cover how I went about building the monkey bars, including what materials I ordered.