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My American Ninja Warrior watching daughter has asked me to build her a Brachiation Ladder (fancy name for overhead ladder or monkey bars). Here's an example:

enter image description here

The interesting part is that she doesn't want it to be the normal 6 to 8 feet wide. She would like it to be 12 feet wide. The vertical supports are easy, but I'm not sure what dimensions I need for the two horizontal beams that form the ladder. The constraints are:

  • Douglas Fir since this will be outside in the midwest.
  • Capable of supporting a 50-75 lb child swinging in the middle (6 feet from either end). And possibly multiple kids if the neighbors invade the backyard.
  • Not excessively over engineered so I can still move it around if necessary. For example, if I don't need to use 2" x 12" boards, then I won't.

So assuming a 12 foot beam of Douglas Fir, do I need a 4x4, 2x6, 2x8, 2x10, 2x12, etc?

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First, my flat answer:

For a 12' span backyard monkey bar set I'd use four clear (no knots) 2x8's - two each side. Use threaded pipe flanges screwed to the inner (hidden) face of the inner 2x8's (in a counterbore) to anchor pipe sections. Assemble inner 2x8s and pipe, then laminate the outer 2x8's onto the inner ones.

Yes, that will be heavy, but not beyond the limit for two adults to move around, and reliable for more than the projected loads.

To get nitty-gritty about load calculations, please check out this handy calculator - it should provide you a good approximation of scaling for the lumber. You will have a 'live load.'

https://courses.cit.cornell.edu/arch264/calculators/example8.1/

  • I saw that calculator, but I wasn't sure how to use it so I experimented with the shelving "Sagulator" instead. I'm sorry, but two 2"x8" beams on each side seems like overkill. I'm using a 10' 4"x6" cedar beam for two swings that I know can handle two adults. – GrandAdmiral Jul 23 '16 at 15:24
  • I based my suggestion on both the stated 12 foot span and in anticipation of teens/adults succumbing to temptation. My approach to playground equipment is to make it as bulletproof as is possible, and a 12 foot span with a VERY dynamic load requirement (kids/adults swing in any direction at any point on span, as well as loads from above) is going to take some interesting stresses. Consequences of overbuild: harder to move/slight increase in cost. Consequences of underbuild: injury/loss of investment/etc. – 111936 Jul 23 '16 at 22:07
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Under the assumption that you will use some kind of design resembling the picture you posted, especially the diagonal braces on the ends, I would use two 2x6 for each side rail.

Capable of supporting a 50-75 lb child swinging in the middle (6 feet from either end). And possibly multiple kids if the neighbors invade the backyard.

I think the lumber will lose most of it's stability with the holes that are drilled for the steps/rungs. To compensate for that I would drill all the way through one 2x6 and glue a second one to it. This has the added advantage that you could clamp the two rails with the holes together while drilling, ensuring the holes to be nicely aligned.

One other crucial part regarding the stability is the selection of your lumber. Be sure to avoid posts with as little knots (if any) as possible, they are predetermined breaking points.

Douglas Fir since this will be outside in the midwest

We had a bench built with untreated Douglas Fir and after 4 years it splintered all over the place. I heard them say this was because it was "untreated". Something you might want to consider when building something for children.

Not excessively over engineered so I can still move it around if necessary. For example, if I don't need to use 2" x 12" boards, then I won't.

I don't see a way to avoid the long boards, but all in all I think two moderately strong people should be able to at least carry it around the backyard a bit. The ladder in your picture looks as it could be disassembled fairly easy, which probably would add to the task of engineering it though :)

Another thing to consider is, if it's easy to move, it's also lightweight and prune to tip/collapse. A couple children playing with it might tip it over and hurt themselves if the thing is too flimsy.


My grandfather built something alike for us and we kept messing around on/under/with it way longer than he anticipated. It basically had to hold the equivalent of 3 fully grown men in the end :). So you might want to consider dimensioning the thing to hold 200 lb (~90 kg) in the middle.

Out of curiosity, what are you planning on using for the steps/rungs? I'd go with quarter or half inch pipes I think.

  • Quarter or Half inch pipe rungs ( assume you mean the hand bars) are too small to grip well. I would use 1" to 1 1/4" wooden dowels. They should be glued in place so that they will not twist in place when someone is swing on them. – Ashlar Jul 21 '16 at 11:35
  • good point @Ashlar, although depending on how little the kids (and their hands) are, the smaller ones might suit them better. – Stoppal Jul 21 '16 at 12:11
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    My first instinct is to use 3/4" metal pipe, but I was going to take my daughter to the hardware store to see if that was a reasonable size for her hands. – GrandAdmiral Jul 21 '16 at 13:39
  • You might also look around online and see if you can find a decent price for knurled pipe. Depending on the knurling pattern, it might make for an easier grip. – Charlie Kilian Jul 21 '16 at 14:40

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