Sandbox in the city: how I used an old fire hose to build a sandbox in my small backyard

January 8 | Guest post by Matt Schroeder
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All photos by Matt Shroeder.

Five years ago my wife and I bought a great house with a small yard in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. Our firstborn, Sam, was about six months old when I started designing his sandbox. He was born in July so this gave me the winter to get it down on paper.

Building the sandbox itself was easy…

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As you can see in the photos, the sandbox was originally a planter bed with violet ground cover growing in it. I excavated the soil down to about 14 inches, framed the box with 2" x 12" (treated) boards and lined the bottom with two layers of soil cloth. I installed a step at one end and a removable partition at the other (stacked 2 x 4s held in with 2 x 4 channel).

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At this time I had no concept of a cover for this sandbox — all I knew was I wanted it to be flush with the grade and rigid. So with that limited foresight I left a 1 inch relief between the outer 6" x 6" ties and the 2" x 12". For anyone else interested in this style cover, the box doesn't need to be at a grade like ours. You just need to frame it out so there is a "shelf" for the cover to rest on.

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I designed several covers before I settled on the one we installed. The main problem with all of them were the hinges. I knew I wanted the cover to "roll" open but couldn't come up with a cost-effective way to hinge that many pieces of wood together. Then, one day, I had an "a-ha" moment. I'm a firefighter, and while I was rolling up some hose after a training exercise, it hit me: I could use an old fire hose to hinge the sandbox cover boards together.

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I simply took 5/4 treated decking lumber and ran it through a router on both ends. I then used outdoor screws and stainless dome washers to attach the hose to the boards. I'm not going to lie to you: it took me forever to screw this cover together.

As I mentioned, I had installed a partition to have the option of opening the sandbox up to its full length, but I soon realized that the space leftover would be a great place for storage. I just built a toy box cover of the same material and used one section of hose for the door hinge. I didn't want the toys to be sitting directly on the ground, so I ran a 1" x 1" board along the bottom and across the back, then screwed in a cedar floor with 1/4 inch spacing so sand and water could fall through.

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The rest is history. We now have a sandbox that my now three-year-old son Sam and his eighteen-month-old sister Sadie use almost everyday. When they aren't using it as a sandbox it transforms back into usable space that can be played upon. The nice thing is that at 6'1" and 215 pounds I can stand on or walk across any part of the cover — it's completely functional even when the kids aren't using it.

You can see more photos of the sandbox right over here.

  1. What a great idea! I love the cover and how you don't lose any space when it's closed. Also you won't have to worry about any nasty surprises from neighborhood cats…

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  2. This is awesome! I love that you used old firehose for the hinges – freaking brilliant! And the wood-hose-wood-hose stripes are really nice-looking, too…it reminds me of docks in a marina.

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    • I apologize for hijacking this thread—-

      How do you guys like living in Madison? I've heard pretty good things. We're looking at a major move in a couple years, and Madison is on the list.

  3. That's a wicked cool idea! And looks like it would be strong enough to handle the weight of snow every winter. I may have to make one myself in a few years!

  4. Now, for those of us that don't happen to be fire fighters.
    Any ideas on where to get old fire hoses?

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    • Usually if you ask your local fire station they may have some available. They replace it all the time and if they can't find someone to recycle it they just get rid of it.

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    • Yes I would start with a nearby firehouse – hose is tested and taken out of commission often. I know we'd happily donate some if someone were to ask. If you strike out there I'd prob check out craigslist or even post a wanted ad on CL. Worse case you could just by some canvas walled hose from an ag supply store (e.g. Farm&Fleet).

      -Matt

  5. Hi there,

    I really like the idea. I found an old fire hose on kijiji and I'm ready to get started. Just wondering how you cut the hose. Did you just use a sharp exacto/olfa knife?

    Thanks for the great idea!

    Tyler

    • Hi Tyler,

      Yes nothing special – I think I just used a Stanley utility knife. I stretched it out on a 2×6 with the needed length pre marked on the board so all I had to do was lay it down flat and cut at the mark. Hope this helps.

      Regards,
      Matt

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