Tree Fort Ladder, Gate, Roof [Finale]

Release the kids…

After finishing the railings, the next thing I wanted to finish was the ladder. At this point I was getting a little tired of carrying my step-ladder back and forth from the garage…not to mention the ground is sloped and I didn’t feel like falling of the ladder anymore…yes it happened a few times.

Let me tell you, it took me many days of thought before I decided what to do with the ladder. I went back and forth over the angle that the ladder should sit. Finally, I took a rough measurement and went to the store and picked up the straightest, knot-free 10 footers I could find. I spent at least an hour or so moving them into different slopes (angles) before deciding. I knew I didn’t want to go straight up and down…I wanted something that was comfortable to climb (especially for the two-year old). I also didn’t want something that stuck too far out into the yard.

I settled around the angle of 65 degrees, which is more like stairs than a ladder. Looking back, I am totally happy with this decision. The little guy has already fallen off from the fourth or fifth step, which would have been much worse had the angle been greater. Luckily, he just had a sore tush.

After I found the right angle, I searched the yard for the perfect foundation stone. I wanted something for the ladder to sit on to slow down the eventual rot. My four-year old helped me find two flat rocks that we swiped from our stone wall in the back.

The ground is sloped around the tree fort, so I removed enough grass and earth in such a way as to level the rocks we had chosen.

Once I got the bottom of the ladder stringers set, I attached each one directly to the inside of the posts that make up the opening using 16d galvanized nails. I left the extra length on the boards that stuck up beyond the post for now…it gave the kids something to hold onto until I installed the gate.

I cut and installed the ladder rungs (2 x 4) using three 10d galvanized finish nails. I made sure to keep them level by marking out the same angle that I had hung the stringers and checking for level. The next day I cut some 1 x 2 as support for each rung. I installed them under each side of the rungs using 2 1/4′ deck screws.

What a difference the ladder makes. Not just in the ease of not having to use my step-ladder anymore, but it really adds to the overall design. It seems to finalize the shape and the statement of the tree fort in the backyard.

After I put the ladder on, the kids were having a blast. It quickly became apparent though that we needed a gate. It’s easy for them to get distracted up in the treehouse and start drifting backwards toward the ladder. I did have a piece of railing that goes across the opening, which would prevent them from falling out, but it was still a little too risky for us to leave it that way.

Therefore, I went to work on designing and building a gate. Luckily, I was able to play around with the gate quite a bit in Sketchup and try a whole bunch of things. I ended up going with a gate that swings inward on self-closing hinges. I set the gate back from the rest of the railing in order to use that railing as a stop…I didn’t want to go with a latch. I didn’t like the idea of the kids trying to open a latch from the top of the ladder. Now all they have to do is push the gate open, and then let it close behind them.


In order to set the gate back, I had to shim up the hinges toward the inside of the tree house. I purchased the hinges at the home center…they are exterior grade, and they feature an adjustment mechanism for the right amount of tension. I purposely put them on upside down in order to fit the swing of the door and the clearance I had for the hinge. However, it doesn’t seem to matter, because they work great.

All that was left to complete the tree house was the roof. It’s fairly simple, a couple of trusses with some 5/4 boards nailed to them. So, no, it is not a functioning roof…but this was all about the looks. It does however do a great job of keeping out the rain, especially with the added help of all those oak leaves on the tree.

I just cut a couple of 45’s for the top of the trusses out of 2 x 4s, and then screwed them together with 5/4 board attached across each side of the truss. Once they were in place, I trimmed them flush to the outside of the truss.

I attached the two trusses to the long posts that were attached to the deck frame and railing. I used carriage bolts with locking washer and nut. I was dreading putting these up, because I was doing the work myself. However, you would be surprised how well a strategically placed couple of clamps can work…I only dropped one of the trusses once. After the trusses were up, it was just a matter of face nailing the 5/4 boards to the trusses. I had originally planed on bringing the boards all the way down the truss, but after thinking about it for a couple of days I decided to stop the last board just above the posts. This gives the kids a little more room to look out from under the roof…and it still looks good.


Another project has come to an end. I have to say, this was by far the most laborious. I learned a great deal…not just about building in trees, but what myself, and my aching body can do with the right amount of motivation.

– JR