Building a toddler "playhouse"

Harriet likes to play "house" with a blanket hanging over chairs or with a cardboard box. I figured I'd make a simple structure to help with that.

Just three arches that plug into two pieces of wood on the floor so that a blanket can be thrown over.

I figured a bent lamination was the best way to make the arches, so I started by cutting a lot of 4 mm thick strips out of 2x4 lumber on the table saw.

The softwood that 2x4s are made of, with a few knots in them is not ideal for bending, but with a relatively gentle arch made of thin layers, it should be OK.

Here testing how the strips will bend.

The lamination consists of four layers. I put a thick bead of glue on three of them.

Then clamped them together with a few spring clamps while still straight, then bending it to an arch shape.

The exact shape of this arch doesn't matter that much, so I'm bending it without any bending form.

With the strips firmly clamped together on one end, and also clamped (but less firmly) on the other end, bending them into an arch puts compression on the innermost strips and tension on the outermost strips, which in turn pushes the innermost strips outward and the outermost strips inward, helping to push the laminations together.

Once I had the other end clamped in place, I added a whole lot more clamps to make sure the laminations are together, then let that dry for a few hours.

I cut the rest of the strips I needed while the glue on the first arch was drying.

After I took the first arch off my bench, I used a scraper to scrape off the glue drips on the bench. This what I like about having a laminate surface on the workbench.

Gluing up the second arch.

The first two arches on the floor as I glued the third one. I put a clamp on the ends to prevent it from trying to straighten itself. The straightening would pull the laminations apart, and I didn't want to stress that before the glue was completely dry.

The next day, with the glue completely dry, I took all the clamps off. There was some "spring back", so the ends of the arches were not quite parallel. But the exact shape doesn't really matter. If I had made the arches out of six layers instead of four, the spring-back would have been only half as much.

Then cutting all the layers flush with each other on the jointer...

... and cutting them all to the same length on the table saw.

I sanded a bevel onto all the edges with my belt sander.

Next I needed to cut some mortises in the base pieces for the arches to plug into. I used my metal pantorouter (one of these). See putting it together.

If I had been doing this in my main shop I would have used my slot mortiser, but the pantorouter also makes a good mortiser and I had this one in my basement workshop.

I used a 1/2" (12.7 mm) router bit to cut a 16 mm (5/8") wide mortise 6 cm deep.

I had a variable length tenon template on the pantorouter. That template is a prototype sent to me. I used it not as intended, just for something to allow me to move the follower side to side and up and down by the right amount to make the mortise wider than the router bit.

This made mortises that are slightly square on the ends with 1/4" radius corners from the 1/2" router bit.

I used a small palm plane to round the corners of the arches to fit.

Test assembling the arches with the base.

I then put it together in the living room. This one is a bit bigger than Harriet's usual play houses, and I had to use a king size bed sheet to fully cover it. It's almost tall enough for her to stand inside.

Harriet checking it out. She declared "it is a tunnel". It provides similar play value that a large cardboard box provided, or a laundry hamper.

We don't have any really big plastic toys, so much is left to the imagination. I think it's better that way, and we have fewer large plastic things cluttering up the house.

Not that I'm opposed to plastic toys though. I think plastic toys are great - they resist denting and denting things, are easy to clean and cheap, so kids can play with them whichever way they want. Compare that to the tyranny of "don't damage the precious handmade wooden toy".

More bent wood:

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