Tree House / Stilt House

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Project by SantaPaulaCraftsman posted 11-25-2009 08:46 AM 17672 views 5 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A ‘tree house’ for my son (or was it for Dad?)

“Dad, I want a tree house!” said my 12 year old. We were finally living in a home with a yard big enough for an extra structure, albeit not with a tree big enough to support anything larger than a simple platform. A stilt house was the only solution. Not ideal, but it would have to do.

The idea of building a solid, long-lasting structure with my son, Isaac, was exciting. I could finally hand down some woodworking skills by building something HE was interested in. I asked him to draw me a plan, and I was soon reviewing a complicated picture of secret trap doors, a periscope, sky-high viewing platform, disappearing ladder and other ‘boy’ items.

Hmm. Maybe I can leave this out…substitute this for that… add that… include this….yup. I can make this work.

A good friend, Paul, was as the only other dad I knew who was as enthusiastic about making sawdust as I. His son was a good friend of Isaac. They lived only a block away. Perfect! Paul thought a timber frame structure was the only way to go. If you’re going to build from scratch, why not be creative, and have the chance to use some good old fashioned hand tools? How could I possibly refuse?

I envisioned a picture-perfect craftsman style Greene & Greene-inspired cottage in the sky, but the joinery and unique details, I thought, would take so long that my son would eventually lose interest in the project. That would be unacceptable. After all, his participation and input was the genesis for the project.

We tried to keep it simple but elegant, with some neat joinery that served structural purpose but would show off the collective skills of Paul and I. Oh yeah, and the efforts of our sons. After all, I thought, I’m going to show this off more than he is. And when he’s a few years older… well…. it will probably be my office or man cave.

Paul brought over his collection of Japanese saws and timber frame chisels. Jeez, are those things sharp. I started to look like I had a self-mutilation fixation… with my cuts healing just in time for the next weekend’s efforts.

We used 4×4 posts for the uprights and framing, 2×4 studs and ¾” plywood for the walls, and a hefty floor of 1×8 planks. We let in the floor and ceiling beams with mortises in the upright stilts, and added a skylight for lighting. Two double hung windows with screens, Plexiglas angled windows between the roof and sill, a trap door for entry, and shiplap siding, stained deep brown, gives it a really unique look. We finished the roof with standard home construction plywood, paper and shingles, and I caulked the hell out of every joint I could find.

The whole effect definitely provides a ‘wow’ factor.

Now, a minor concern was local city code enforcement. I had carefully reviewed the rules, but was a little concerned when my wife called one morning to tell me a code enforcement officer was at the front door of my home, asking to see the ‘rental’ that had reportedly just been built in the back yard. I rushed home and enthusiastically presented our collective efforts. “Check it out!”, I exclaimed. “Over 5 feet away from the property line, under 120 square feet interior space, no electric or plumbing, built to standard building specs, and under the height rules.” He studied the structure while I held my breath. “Hmm, looks like you did your homework,” he finally said. “This is pretty neat!” Ok, I’ll close out this report.” Relief.

I’m not sure what this did to the value of my home, but the experience of working with my son and fellow wood enthusiasts was truly priceless.

-- Life so short, the craft so long to learn

11 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


118309 posts in 4914 days

#1 posted 11-25-2009 08:54 AM

great kid project well done


View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 5251 days

#2 posted 11-25-2009 01:15 PM

Nice work. I wish I had one! Everyone likes secret hideaways and the experience of working with your son ( and his with his dad is not to be undervalued. Maybe there is a new Norm in the making…

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View broncbuzzsaw's profile


5 posts in 4495 days

#3 posted 11-25-2009 06:23 PM

very cool

View OhValleyWoodandWool's profile


970 posts in 4457 days

#4 posted 11-25-2009 07:20 PM

It sounds like you have 1 happy 12 year old and friend

-- "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure." Mark Twain

View webwood's profile


626 posts in 4587 days

#5 posted 11-25-2009 07:28 PM

that is really neat!

-- -erik & christy-

View RexMcKinnon's profile


2593 posts in 4532 days

#6 posted 11-25-2009 11:39 PM

Looks great. That’s the best way to spend time with your family.

-- If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

View versa's profile


29 posts in 4470 days

#7 posted 11-26-2009 04:34 AM

Very cool. I wish I could build something like this, but I am sure the code enforcement monkeys in my city wouldn’t let it fly. If they did they would probably assess the crap out of it and raise my yearly taxes insane rates. A professor of a local college one town over built a 3 story wooden castle in his backyard, maybe 300 sq feet for his son, they didn’t find it for a few years as he had over an acre of land. Then they found it, It looked so good it made the paper… as they forced him to tear it down. Glad to hear you made it thru the enforcement in your area.

View AJJ's profile


75 posts in 4485 days

#8 posted 01-02-2010 05:34 AM

My grandson wants to spend his Christmas money on a tree house (without the tree). His plan sounds a lot like your sons original plan. I am not showing him this one, because it is too far over the top. Great job.

-- AJJ, Eugene OR

View Shariq's profile


1 post in 2618 days

#9 posted 11-23-2014 02:21 PM

Lifting tbe cogtage so high up with just four posts and getting code approval is great.
In Mississauga, Canada, you need concrete piers for the posts to raise a deck 12×10.
Building together is bonding together. I liked the Mark Twain quote in one of the reviews.
Joined lumberjocks only yesterday,
as a novice, have innocence’, trying to get confjdence,
going to buy hammer and nails!

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 3344 days

#10 posted 11-23-2014 02:41 PM

Ok. This was posted in 2009. You son was 12 then. Here it is 5 years later, your son is now 17 and probably never even looks at it anymore.

Time to run electricity up there, add a small dorm-size fridge and a large-screen TV. Might even be able to hoist a small Lazy-boy up there. What a great place to get away from the usual weekend craziness!

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View SantaPaulaCraftsman's profile


81 posts in 4442 days

#11 posted 11-20-2015 05:48 AM

  • Update**

It is now late 2015. My son has moved away and the project sits empty and alone. Doodling graffiti from his angst-filled teen years scar the timbers, and water stains discolor the surface. Still, I smile when I gaze on its silhouette in the low, fall sun. I cannot forget the warm summer mornings with my son, anticipation of a hard-earned sweat and small lessons of tools and fasteners that will remain forever. Wood rots, glass windows will crack, screws and nails will rust and loosen. Memories are forever. No regrets.

-- Life so short, the craft so long to learn

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