How to Build a Sandbox (for free!)

by Marcie
7'x7' sandbox just built and filled with sand

Step 1: Pick out a place for your sandbox

I thought this area next to the shed would be good because it blocks the wind in the winter, gets good sun in the winter, gets good shade in the summer, and can be seen from the kitchen window so I can watch the kids play. It’s also between the house and chicken coop so we pass by it many times a day. Lastly, with all the summer shade, not too much grass grows here. This is important b/c grass grows like crazy here and will overtake anything in the sun.

area near a cinderblock shed where a sandbox is going to go

Step 2: Measure your space

We decided ours would be 7′ x 7′ square. Then, because we measured each wood 7′ and screwed them together, it ended up more like 7 feet 4 inches on one side and over 9 feet on the other including the bench we built at the head. If you have an exact space you need to fit, measure more carefully than we did! And account for the pieces being screwed together.

Step 3: Get your wood

Someone from church dumped two trailer loads of odd-sized wood pieces at our house which we gladly accepted! We made a few bridges to cross our creek, which was really fun. We also made a stand for our blueberry patch. Now we used it to make a sandbox. The pieces we picked out were 7″ x 1.5″. We cut them to 7′ long. You can buy them at a hardware store or use any scrap pieces you have.

Step 4: Measure them and cut them

My son used our Worx recriprocating saw.

Step 5: While someone is getting the frame ready, the rest of the family hoes and digs out the grass and weeds.

kids building a 8x8 sandbox

Step 6: Screw them together

We’re also lucky that we had some screws lying around either from the previous owner (they left lots of jars of old screws) or ones we’ve bought for projects. Get someone to hold the end while you screw them together, two screws per board.

two boys screwing in wood sides for a sandbox

Step 7: Put the frame in the intended spot

Keep digging out grass and weeds if needed.

new sandbox just built

Step 8: Add a layer of dirt or sand

You may not need this step, especially if you’re in the city or have a flat yard. But we added some sandy mud from our creek to help level it and prevent sand from spilling out of the bottom where it wasn’t level. We made many trips to our creek for this step!

kids scooping up sand from a creek and loading it in a wheelbarrow

Step 9: Make a bench along the top or side (optional)

Our sandbox wouldn’t sit flush with the cinder block shed because of a layer of tar or something on the ground around the shed. So with it sticking out 14″ from the shed I thought it would be awesome to make that a sitting bench spot. The hardest problem was again, the tar, as it was so uneven. But Thomas amazingly eyeballed it and cut out notches for the wood to go up and over the tar and still have the bench be flat.

part of a sandbox where a bench is going to go
two brothers screw in parts of a sandbox they're building out of wood

Screw the support pieces in. Then screw the two bench pieces on top. Each piece of ours was the same size as the wood: 7′ x 7″ x 1.5″

the bench area of a finished sandbox

Turned out great! I love the bench and moms who have come here with their 1 year olds also love having a place to sit!

The boys were so excited to start playing they added their cars before we could get the grass all dug out and the sand put in, haha.

Step 10 (Last Step!!): Add sand!

It would cost over $200 to fill this huge of a sandbox. If you have the budget for it, go for it! I didn’t so I kept hauling more sand from our creek. We spent several days hauling loads of sand up our steep hill out of the creek and into our yard. But free is free! When we finally got too tired to haul anymore (over halfway full), we gave up and added some store bought sand. It’s nicer anyway and I wanted them to have good quality sand for years of outdoor play.

siblings unloading sand into a sandbox
siblings unloading sand into a sandbox
siblings flattening down their sandbox

Taking lots and lots of trips to the creek but it’s filling up and looking good!

siblings unloading sand into a sandbox

Adding some store bought sand for the final top layer.

sandbox with new sand and 4 kids playing in it

I also ended up making some benches on the two end corners for additional places to sit. It turned out great! We’ve had it for 5 days now and they’ve played in it at least 3-4 hours each day so already it’s been so worth it just as a babysitter. 🙂 In other words, if I paid a sitter $20 a day to watch my kids for 3 hours, that would have cost me $100. And the sandbox didn’t cost me that much! Here’s to many happy childhood memories playing in a sandbox!

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