‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’ In retrospect it might have done Richard III more good if he had asked for a castle! These defensive medieval buildings are found throughout the country, and exploring the dark, dank passages, the scary heights of the look-out towers, the primitive living conditions and the dungeons where the prisoners were held makes you glad that you live in the twentieth century.
This castle, I am glad to say is a far more friendly building and gives great scope for playing ‘baddies and goodies’. It is made entirely from standard plywood sheets held together by wooden battens, and you can adapt the towers and walls to suit your garden or play area. For stability, it is best to arrange for a tower to be at the end of each wall section.
If you decide to make wooden swords, they need to be carefully rounded off and you should fit large lumps of Blu-tack on the ends of the dowel-rod arrows. The bows I made from standard battens, free from knots and planed down and bound the centres with plastic tape. The bows and arrows need to be used with adult supervision and on no account should the bows be made capable of firing anything heavy or pointed. The bows detailed in the drawings were capable of shooting some 40 feet – quite sufficient! Do emphasise to your children that they must take great care with ‘weapons’.
The castle is made up of two front towers with a drawbridge in between, two side walls, a look-out tower, a lock-up tower and a rear wall. The tower walls are held together by battens of wood in the corners providing a firm substance to screw into. In addition battens of wood are screwed on to corners of the towers to form channels into which the walls are slotted. This means the castle can be assembled on fairly uneven ground successfully and can be dismantled quickly.
1. Start by cutting out the entire front wall which contains the drawbridge. Now mark out the door area and cut it out carefully with a jigsaw. You can insert the jigsaw blade into the plywood in two ways: i by drilling a series of small holes along the pencil outline, inserting the blade in one and then ‘joining up the dots’.
ii by what is called ‘sabre sawing’. If you look at the sole of your jigsaw, you’ll see it has a curved end. Start up the jigsaw and. holding the tool very firmly with the curved end on the plywood, slowly engage the blade with the wood. The curved sole makes it possible to ‘rock’ the blade into the panel. Practise on some scrap pieces first. When you’ve acquired the knack, you’ll find it a very quick and successful method.
2. Screw a batten of wood across the bottom of the outside, of the wall and another on the bottom of the outside of the door. Use four back flap hinges (available from ironmongers and DIY stores) to attach the door to the wall by screwing them into these battens of wood.
3. You will need to strengthen the door so that when it is lowered it can be walked on by parties of brave knights. Glue and screw battens to the door in the positions shown on the plan.
4. Now for the drawbridge mechanism which is very simple. Cut slots in the wall to take the drawbridge ‘chains’ (rope). These need to be wide enough to ensure the rope won’t rub against the plywood and fray. Drill holes in the two horizontal battens screwed on to the top of the door which stick out slightly. Knot a length of rope in each hole and thread the other ends through the slots.
5. Make the winding mechanism by first cutting a length of thick dowelling rod (or broom handle) to size. Cut out two discs of plywood and drill a hole through the middle of each to the same diameter as the rod. Then cut out two large bearing blocks which will hold the rod to the wall and drill these with the same size holes.
Glue and screw the bearing blocks to the inner face of the wall and thread the dowelling through the holes. (You’ll find this easier if you rub candle wax in them first.) Push a plywood disc on to each end of the rod so that they butt up against the bearing blocks. Glue these discs firmly in position on the rod.
Mark the rod exactly in line with the slots in the wall and drill holes at these points through the rod to take the ropes. Knot the ropes into these holes with the drawbridge in the ‘down’ position.
6. Make the winder handle by cutting out a small block of wood and drilling a hole through the centre large enough to push it on to the end of the main dowelling rod. Drill four more holes, one in each side, and glue a length of rod in each to form ‘spokes’. Glue the block onto the end of the main dowelling rod. This winder mechanism works just like a wheel brace. When you turn the spoked handle the ropes wind round the rod and the drawbridge is raised. However, when you let go. the winder handle spins round at alarming speed and the spokes could hurt a child. So, to prevent injuries, skewer a hole in four tennis balls and push one firmly onto each spoke.
7. The drawbridge is fixed in the closed position by attaching a piece of strong cord to the wall and tying a loop in the other end. Screw a cup hook into the drawbridge and loop the cord over this.
1. The two front towers are identical. Start by cutting out the three walls needed for each. Cut arrow slots in the walls as detailed in the plans and as described below. Screw a batten of wood down each side of the inner face of the front (longest) wall and then attach the side walls to the front by screwing them onto these battens. Finally, screw two battens onto the free ends of each side wall as shown on the plans. These will provide a channel into which the drawbridge wall and side walls can be slotted.
2. Now make the look-out tower, which requires three full-size walls, a shorter inner wall and a floor i Cut out the required pieces of plywood and cut the arrow slots (see below). Screw battens in place down each side of the front and back walls (inside faces). These will project at the top to take the roof.
ii Now screw horizontal battens across, the middle of the three main walls and across the top of the short inner wall, these will bear the floor. Note that you have to cut notches out of the four corners of the floor so that it fits in place around the vertical battens. Screw the side walls to the vertical battens and push the floor into position.
iii Screw more vertical battens in place as shown on the plans to provide channels in which to slot the side and rear castle walls.
iv Finally, make the look-out tower roof and screw it to the top of the inner vertical battens.
3. The lock-up tower is misnamed really since it provides a hiding place rather than a dungeon as the door can only be locked from the inside. Otherwise little brothers might find themselves in there for weeks if big sisters ‘unwittingly’ forgot about them!
i Cut out the four walls and the arrow slots. Mark out the door on one of the inner walls and cut it out with a jigsaw using the same procedure as for the drawbridge.
ii Use back flap hinges to fix the door to the wall, but you will need to glue battens of timber in place on the door and wall to fix them onto since plywood is not thick enough to hold the necessary screws.
iii Cut out the latch. Cut out a piece of timber and cut a notch in it. Screw this on to the inside face of the wall for the latch to hook into. Screw the latch on to the inside of the door with a washer on either side of the latch so that it can easily be raised and lowered.
iv Finally, fit a door stop of timber on the outside face of the door to prevent the hinges being strained if children try to push the door in. (As if the little dears would do such a thing!) v Fix the tower walls together with vertical battens as with the other towers, and screw channels of battens in place for the rear and side castle walls to slot into.
Cutting the arrow slots
The arrow slots m the tower walls and main walls need careful working.
1. Firstly mark out the shape of the slot on the plywood. If you have two or more duplicate walls (e.g. the two front walls of the front towers) it saves time if you cut the slots for all of them in one operation.
2. Hold down the sheets, one on top of the other, very firmly. Place a scrap piece of board underneath the sheets to reduce the number of splinters when the drill or jigsaw breaks through. You could also tape over the area you are working on as an extra precaution.
3. Using a flat bit, drill the holes at the four ends of the arrow slot cross. Insert the jigsaw blade in a hole and cut out the slots.
4. Glasspaper smooth the edges of the cut plywood.
1. Cut out the two side walls and the rear wall of the castle.
2. Slot the rear wall into place between the look-out and lock-up tower.
3. Slot the side walls in place between the look-out and lock-up towers and the front towers.
4. Slot the drawbridge wall in place between the two front towers.
As you will see, this push-fit method of construction means you can compensate for slightly uneven ground, though you should not attempt to erect the castle on anything steeper than a very gradual slope.
If you find the structure isn’t rigid enough you could bore holes in the vertical battens and push dowel rods through for extra strength.
Do go over the entire castle diligently with glasspaper, removing splinters and rounding off corners. Painting the castle is fun and will give your artistic tendencies great scope, but make sure you use an exterior grade paint. I painted black lines to simulate stone work and outlined the arrow slots in red. You could paint grass and flowers around the base of the wails for a romantic castle. I also painted the look-out tower roof and the drawbridge winder handle red and my son made a St George’s flag from cardboard which we attached to the walls with a dowel rod and tape.
Bows, arrows, swords and shields
1. The bows are made by planning down batten until it is sufficiently thin to be bent. Drill holes in either end and thread a piece of nylon cord through the holes. Bind the middle of the bow with plastic insulation tape. The tape makes a good centre marker for children to place the arrow on and also helps to prevent the bow splitting in the middle.
It is a good idea with a bow to flex it several times before attempting to use it – a case of training the wood to bend!
2. The arrows are made from standard dowel rod with a slot cut in the end to fit the string. The dowel rod must be fitted with a lump of Blu-tack or a rubber sucker. Do impress on your children that they should aim at things’ and not people. Although they are only toys they are quite capable of inflicting serious damage to eyes if not used sensibly.
3. The short swords are made from batten with a small hand guard fitted at the handle end. The hand guard has a trench cut in it that corresponds to the width of the blade. The hand guard is glued and screwed in place. Do make sure that all edges are rounded and, once again, that the children are taught how to use the swords sensibly.
4. The shields are the same as for the Viking boat.
Children need time to play – to explore the world around them and use their imaginations. But they do need to be taught that there are some things that are dangerous and that their friends can get hurt unless they are careful.
I feel very strongly that children should be able to play in castles, use swords, bows and arrows, play hide and seek, climb trees, ride bicycles and so on. But our part as adults is to give them some understanding of the dangers involved and how to avoid them. This castle has given ten of my friends a wonderful afternoon of fun, I do hope it will give you and your children equal pleasure.
Side and rear walls 3 off 1220 × 1220 × 9mm (48 × 48 × 3/8 in) Plywood
Front wall 1 off 1524 × 1220 × 9mm (60 × 48 × 3/8 in) Plywood
1 off 1220 × 102 × 22mm (48 × 4 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 137 × 95 × 44mm (5 3/8 × 3 3/4 × 1 3/4 in) Timber
Drawbridge raising bar assembly 1 off 1220mm (48in) × 22mm (7/8in) diam dowelling
1 off 102 × 64 × 44mm (4 × 2 1/2 × 1 3/4in) Timber
4 off 203mm (8in) × 12mm (1/2 in) diam dowelling
4 off 25mm (1 in) diam spherical balls
2 off 89mm (3 1/2 in) diam × 9mm (3/8in) plywood discs
Sword as required 610 × 44 × 20mm (24 × 1 3/4 × 3/4 in) Timber as required 178 × 44 × 20mm (7 × 1 3/4 × 3/4 in) Timber
Bow as required 1575 × 22 × 9mm (62 × 7/8 × 3/8 in) Timber
Arrow as required 521 mm(20 1/2in) × 12mm (1/2 in) diam dowelling
Drawbridge assembly 1 off 1118 × 762 × 9mm (44 × 30 × 3/8 in) Plywood
2 off 762 × 102 × 22mm (30 × 4 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 984 × 89 × 22mm (38 3/4 × 3 1/2 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 613 × 89 × 22mm (24 7/8 × 3 1/2 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 295 × 47 × 22mm (11 5/8 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
Front tower — right and left hand 2 off 1220 × 610 × 9mm (48 × 24 × 3/8 in) Plywood
4 off 1220 × 305 × 9mm (48 × 12 × 3/8 in) Plywood
4 off 1220 × 47 × 22mm (48 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
4 off 1118 × 47 × 22mm (44 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
4 off 1220 × 98 ×22mm (48 × 3 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
Lock-up tower 4 off 1220 × 610 × 9mm (48 × 24 × 3/8 in) Plywood
6 off 1220 × 47 × 22mm (48 × |1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 1220 × 98 × 22mm (48 × 3 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
1 off 660 × 47 × 22mm (26 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
Door 1 off 813 × 305 × 9mm (32 × 12 × 3/8 in) Plywood
1 off 660 × 47 × 22mm (26 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
1 off 121 × 28 × 22mm (4 3/4 × 1 1/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 127 × 44 × 22mm (5 × 1 3/4 × 7/8 in) Timber
Latch 1 off 70 × 64 × 22mm (6 3/4 × 2 1/2 × 7/8 in) Timber
Look-out tower 3 off 1220 × 610 × 9mm (48 × 24 × 3/8 in) Plywood
1 off 610 × 508 × 9mm (24 × 20 × 3/8 in) Plywood
1 off 610 × 590 × 9mm (24 × 23 1/4 × 7/8 in) P:ywood
4 off 1829 × 47 × 22mm (72 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 1220 × 47 × 22mm (48 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 1220 × 98 × 22mm (48 × 3 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 514 × 47 × 22mm (20 1/4 × 1 7/8 × 7/8) Timber
2 off 546 × 47 × 22mm (21 1/2 × 1 7/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
Look-out tower roof frame 4 off 432 × 86 × 22mm (17 × 3 3/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
2 off 102 × 60 × 22mm (4 × 2 3/8 × 7/8 in) Timber
Look-out tower roof panel 2 off 838 × 457 × 9mm (33 × 18 × 3/8 in) Plywood
Flag pole ! off 1829mm (72in) × 12mm (1/2 in) diam dowelling
Flag 1 off 483 × 381 × 6mm (l9 × 15 × 1/4 in) Plywood
4 off 102mm (4in) long × 38mm (1 1/2 in) wide hinges
2 off 32mm (1 1/4 in) long × 38mm (1 1/2in) wide hinges
1 off 3,65 metres (12ft) strong cord