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I'm not sure what other specs to include, as I haven't started the blueprints yet, just wanted to price the main parts out to see if it would be cost effective to build one vs buying from a big box store.

Mainly just looking for outdoor durability of course, able to handle a couple of 30-50lb kids with the occasional adult or two, they'll possibly be a ladder, slide, monkey bars, the basics.

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Cedar. PT is not so good for kids, in my opinion. –  Tester101 Jun 25 at 16:22

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

The go-to materials for outdoor construction are cedar and pressure treated wood.

Many prefer cedar, and most kits you see from big box stores and other sources use it. It is generally more expensive, but it is lighter and softer (for drilling and hammering). It will last for a number of years untreated, and even longer if it is pre-treated with penetrating sealer and occasionally retreated. Be sure to coat the end cuts for maximum benefit.

Pressure treated woods are also very durable and will also last years with little or no maintenance. In the past, the treatments used harsh chemicals (called CCA for short) that were not ideal for skin contact and when cutting the wood, dust precautions were required. More recent forms use less caustic chemicals and may be allowed in your jurisdiction. (Personally I would avoid pressure treated where food or kids are involved).

While all outdoor projects require hardware that is weather resistant, pressure treated woods need specially coated fasteners to avoid a chemical reaction that causes corrosion.

After pricing good quality materials, you may find that kits from manufacturers may be a fairly good value. I recently built a swingset with a fort, slide and climbing wall from a major manufacturer. It arrived on a 4x8 foot pallet with all cedar, hardware and plastic parts. The instructions were surprisingly good, all parts present and in proper order. Cedar, stainless, and plastic. Even predrilled correctly (one hole at wrong end - no biggy).

A search online will show you these options in both big box stores and directly from manufacturers or their distributors. There are surely units that cost many thousands of dollars, but a significant set can be bought for several hundred. Many sources offer onsite assembly for a few hundred dollars. But where would the fun be in that? The look on my grandkids faces made the cost and time in building all worthwhile.

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What is even better is getting one off of craigslist, reassembling it, and acting like you have been working on it for a week. –  DMoore Jun 25 at 16:56

I gave a lot of thought to this, having two young grandchildren. I was going to build a playset but now will just start with a zipline and slackline; which I have to build towers for, as I have no trees.

Anyway, depending on the size you want there are some very economical plastic semi-spheres out there. I would not use any sort of wood for any of the rungs because of possible splinters. I was going to build the frame out of PT lumber; and seal it. The rungs would have been out of plastic (filled) or iron pipe.

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There is no evidence that modern pressure treated wood presents any risk to children (after all, we're using the newer treatments instead of CCA precisely because of concerns about risks to children). The treatments use ingredients with low toxicity to humans, bind well to the wood, and are easily excreted (so they won't build up with continued exposure).

It's also worth noting (but very rarely mentioned) that rot-resistant woods like cedar don't get their rot-resistance from rainbows and sunshine - they just naturally contain antimicrobial chemicals, which can potentially also be toxic to humans.

When it comes to picking between pressure treated wood and a rot-resistant wood, just pick on price and aesthetics. There's no rational basis to pick one over the other on safety*.

*assuming you're using appropriately corrosion resistant fasteners with the PT lumber.

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Pressure treated wood regulations changed years ago. To be sold in the US the wood has to undergo clean treatment and can be used in all applications. You will see on shows like Holmes Renovation that it is installed 100% in basements due to it ability to withstand humidity changes better. –  DMoore Jun 25 at 21:12
    
That's not exactly true. CCA is only banned from consumer sales. CCA lumber is still produced and used in a variety of commercial applications, and is even permitted for use in a few residential applications (generally, in places that keep the house from falling down). –  Zhentar Jun 27 at 16:55

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