Build a sailboat sandbox

Build this inexpensive yet fanciful sandbox for your kids

By Art Mulder


Photo by Roger Yip

My family loves a day at the beach—the hot sun, the cool shade of an umbrella, the feeling of sand between their toes, and watching the sailboats along the horizon. Yet for all those other days, when the beach is just a daydream, here is a unique, easy-to-build sandbox to bring a bit of the beach into your back garden.

The sand area is approximately 4′ x 6′ on this design—enough for a small crew of sailors. The design is also deep, with lots of room for sand. There are wide comfortable seats on the sides that also keep the sand confined. I added a hinged lid made of plastic lattice to keep out nocturnal visitors, such as cats and raccoons, but allow rainwater in to moisten the sand.

When it comes to outdoor construction materials, there are lots of choices: composites, pressure-treated lumber and cedar. But instead I went with ordinary, inexpensive spruce construction lumber. I expect it will last six to eight years, and by then my kids will have lost their interest in sandboxes. I bought seven 8′-long 2x10s and two 10″-long 2x10s for the project.


Play Time

The first thing to do is sort your lumber, deciding which pieces you'll use where. Next, use a belt sander to go over all the boards with an 80-grit abrasive. This takes care of splinters and also increases surface absorption so your finish will penetrate the wood well and last longer.

Cut all the base parts to size. Using the plans, lay out the outside long sides and shorter ends in a rectangle. Use three 3" deck screws to secure them together in butt joints. Next, add the inside long sides and ends.

To complete the base, build the bow. At the tip, the prow sides meet at an easy 90º angle. At the body of the sandbox, they meet at 45º angles. Use a tablesaw or a sliding compound mitre saw to complete these cross cuts. Make the 45º cuts first, leaving the boards an inch or two longer than needed, then fit the boards to the sandbox and measure for the final 90º cut at the tip.

Next, install the prow middle just to one side of centre. A centre placement would require a point on the end of the board. By placing it off centre, a much simpler 45º cut is all you need.

Cruising Along

Every sailboat needs a mast. I added a standard patio umbrella to shade the kids. Due to the placement of my sandbox against a fence, I was forced to position the umbrella off-centre in the front deck. But you can place your mast to suit your situation.

I securely attached a 9"-tall pipe into the front structure of the sandbox where one of the prow sides connects with one of the outside ends. A length of 1 1/2"- ­diameter PVC pipe should be just the right size to hold a standard patio umbrella pole, but check your pole first. Nail a scrap of lumber onto the other side of the pipe to ensure it's secure.

Now you can cut the three different front deck boards. The largest piece needs a hole cut into it to leave room for the pipe. Use a jigsaw or hole saw to create this feature. Next, install the front deck boards according to the plans, securing them with 3" deck screws.

Before you attach the seats, start painting. Prime all parts, then add two or three coats of exterior latex. To create the waves, make a cardboard template, trace it onto your boards, then paint to the lines.

Once all the paint is dry, cut and install the three seat pieces with screws. Then prime and paint the seats.

Batten Down the Hatches

If you choose to add a lid, you need to make a support frame for the lattice. I used 1x2 pine boards, joined with lap joints at the corner. (You could also add a centre support piece if you'd like.) Make sure you use a weatherproof glue.

Once the frame has been primed and painted, cut the plastic lattice down to size. It should be 1/2" shorter than the lid frame on each side. Attach it to the frame with wood screws, then fasten the lid assembly to the sandbox with a pair of hinges.

Prepare the location for the sandbox by digging out any sod and levelling the ground. Lay down landscape fabric to block weed growth. If you're building with untreated construction lumber, as I did, put down a thin layer of sand over the whole area. This allows drainage away from the wood so it will last longer.

Next, find a helper or two and carry the sandbox into position. A pair of simple wooden catches on the fence holds the lid open during playtime. Finally, add about a third to half a yard of sand.

Once it's full, hand out some lemonade, hoist the Jolly Roger, and watch your kids set sail in their new sandbox.

Choosing Safe Sand

You can find play sand that is labelled “sandbox safe” at almost any hardware or garden centre. Many are either called sharp sand, which is more often used around playground equipment, and fine sand. As their names suggest, fine sand is softer and it holds more water, while sharp sand has coarser granules.

There has been a great deal of press in recent years about the safety of commercially available play sand. Most play sand in stores is not natural sand; much of it is derived from quarried quartz and contains crystalline silica. This is a common mineral, but it is also a known human carcinogen. Studies have shown that breathing in the dust of crystalline silica in large quanitites can cause silicosis, which is a serious and often fatal respiratory disease, and even lung cancer.

The State of California has added labels to its play-sand products that contain crystalline silica, warning of the possible side effects from overexposure. However, studies into the effects of crystalline silica in play sand are inconclusive due to the small amounts children are exposed to, as well as the need for long-term studies that follow a child's lifespan. The studies that show the harmful effects of crystalline silica all point to workers who are exposed to high amounts on a daily basis. Industries such as construction, sandblasting and mining are plagued with this problem.

There are alternatives to play sand containing crystalline silica. The website not only provides information on play sand, but also sells a product that is crystalline silica-free. Safe Sand is made from feldspar, which is a common material in ceramic production, and comes in a fine-grade and as a white play sand.

Jodi Avery MacLean suggests that whichever sand you decide to use in your sandbox, it's a good idea to replace it with fresh sand every two years.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

For the base

Outside long sides Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" x 96" 2
Inside long sides Spruce 1 1/2" 9 1/4" 93" 1
Outside ends Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" x 53 2
Inside ends Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" x 46" 2
Prow sides Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" 39 1/2" 2
Prow middle Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" x 27" 1

For the seat

Long seat Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" x 96" 1
Short seats Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" x 47 1/2" 2
Long deck Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/2" x 56 1/4" 1
Middle deck Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/2" x 38 1
Short deck Spruce 1 1/2" x 9 1/4" x 20" 1

For the lid

Long lid supports Spruce 1" x 2" x 76 1/2" 2
Short lid supports Spruce 1"x 2"x 49" 2
Lattice (ready made) 48" x 76" 1
Umbrella support pipe 1 3/4"-diameter x 9" 1

* Length indicates grain direction

Recommended Tools


No comments

To leave a comment, please log in

Don't have an user account? Register for free


How do you heat your home?

Loading ... Loading ...