Building and buying

Fun for the kids: designing and building a sandbox

Arne Schätzle

Making sand cakes, digging tunnels, building sandcastles or simply playing aimlessly with spades and rakes in the sandbox in your garden – all these tasks will keep your children very busy. And a sandbox is practical for parents too: it’s only a few steps away, so you can usually keep an eye on the little ones from inside the house. This guide tells you what you need to bear in mind when creating your own and explains how best to proceed.

Playground equipment such as swings, slides and sandboxes can be seen in a garden in front of a mountain panorama.
© Getty Images/ iStockphoto

In this article

Where is the best location for a sandbox in your garden?

The location for the sandbox should meet these four criteria:

  1. The sandbox should not be in the blazing sun, but in partial shade. If no trees are able to offer shade, a sunshade or a sun sail are also suitable.
  2. The sandbox should be visible from the house. Ideally, you should be able to keep an eye on the children directly from the room where you spend most time during the day.
  3. The sandbox should not be located near thorny roses, ant tracks or conifers.
  4. It should be possible to expand the sandbox in the same location later, for example with a swing or a slide.
Three girls sit playing in a sandbox.

Children can usually keep themselves busy for hours in a sandbox.

How do I prepare the substrate?

To prepare the soil in the garden, you have several options. The most important tip is that you shouldn’t place the sandbox directly on the ground, because weeds and earthworms will make their way into the sand. Or your children will dig down to the topsoil and mix the dark earth with the fine white play sand.

We recommend digging a pit first. This is best filled with gravel. Thanks to this drainage, the play sand will dry quickly, even after heavy rainfall, and the wood won’t be exposed to soil moisture for an unnecessarily long time.

You should then seal the sandbox underneath with a water-permeable, breathable foil placed on the ground and attached to the side walls.

Some sandbox builders do not dig a hole, but instead lay commercially available footpath plates directly on the topsoil. The advantage is that the sandbox will be very even, and water can run off over the footpath joints. However, we actually prefer the more natural looking version with a pit.

How big should the sandbox be?

Basically, the sandbox in your garden shouldn’t be too small, so that the children have enough space to play. So a sandbox of 1 meter x 1 meter might be enough for a single toddler. If a sibling or a visiting child joins in, it quickly becomes too crowded. For cheerful playtime fun it should cover an area of about 2 meters x 2 meters. In addition, the sandbox should be about 30 centimeters deep – otherwise playing in the sand is no fun at all.

Which wood is suitable for a sandbox?

Since the sandbox in your garden should last a long time, you should choose weatherproof wood. Larch wood, for example, may be more expensive than spruce wood, but it is much more durable.

Douglas fir wood is more robust, but also more expensive. It does not splinter or leak resin. Planed, splinter-free wood should be your first choice for a sandbox. You should also make sure that the wood for the sandbox is safe.

Are there alternatives to a wooden sandbox? Instead of wood, you could also use paving stones for the frame, for example. Stones last longer but should be bricked so that they are stable and your children do not injure themselves.

A square wooden sandbox can be seen on some grass.

A nice, practical square: however, you should also make sure that the sandbox is the right size, as a rule it should be at least 2 meters x 2 meters.

Which material do I need?

You can have your sandbox built by a professional or, with a little skill, you can make it yourself. You don’t have to be a DIY expert to do this, because the principle of the square sandbox is simple and easy to implement.

You will need the following material:

  • 4 square timbers as corner posts
  • 16 or 20 planed boards (e.g. Douglas fir) of equal length for the 4 side parts (4x3 or 4x4 boards) and 4 further boards of equal length as seating around the edge
  • Water-permeable, breathable foil as a seal on the ground
  • Coarse gravel as a base
  • Play sand

You will need the following tools:

  • Stainless countersunk wood screws (for example 4.0 x 120 mm)
  • Electrical or mechanical tacker
  • Wood drill: 5 mm
  • Battery-powered screwdriver

How can I build my own sandbox?

  1. First mark out the area where you want to place the base of the sandbox: place four short poles in the corners and pull a piece of string tightly around the outside to form a square. Follow the string to cut out the edges with a spade. Then dig out the entire area to a depth of about 20 centimeters.
  2. Make sure that the bottom of the sandbox is level. Remove any roots and stones if necessary, then fill the pit with coarse gravel. Level the ground and line it with the water-permeable foil. You will subsequently attach this to the walls of the sandbox.
  3. Saw the boards for the side walls and the square timber for the corner posts to the desired length.
  4. Knock the square timber into the floor in the corners and screw the boards together.
  5. Take the four boards for the seat around the edge and saw off the ends at a 45° angle so that they fit together with a miter joint. Screw the border to the top of the corner posts.
Two people build a wooden sandbox.

To build a simple, square sandbox yourself, you don’t have to be a professional craftsman. Maybe even the children can help you with the construction.

It’s best to get a tarpaulin as a cover to protect the sand from leaves, animal excrements and other foreign bodies. Or how about this idea: you could take some more boards and screw them together to make a robust lid for the sandbox. No matter what you decide, a cover is always useful.

The right sand for the sandbox

If you are going to buy play sand, make sure that you get the sort that maintains its shape. To keep the sand dimensionally stable, the grains must be 0.06 to 0.20 millimeters in size. Otherwise, sand cakes and buildings will quickly disintegrate again, and playing in the sandbox will be no fun.

In order to calculate the required quantity of sand for the sandbox, you need to know the internal dimensions of the sandbox and define the desired filling level. A size of 2 meters x 2 meters results in a floor space of 4 square meters. To calculate the volume, multiply the value by the filling height of the sandbox, for example 0.2 meters, and you will get the required volume of 0.8 cubic meters.

Conclusion: whether delivered by a professional or built yourself – children love sandboxes

Perhaps we have whetted your appetite for a DIY project with our simple instructions? Or perhaps after reading them you will come to the conclusion that you would rather hire a professional. No matter what you decide, your children will definitely have a lot of fun in their own sandbox.

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