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Gravel Play Area

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This page will describe how I built a gravel play area, mainly intended as somewhere to place the plastic play structures.

DISCLAIMER: I built my gravel play area and it is working fine. However, I cannot oversee your work if you decide to use my plans, so I cannot guarantee that your gravel play area will not cause injury. Be careful when digging in the ground, as there may be power, communications, or gas lines buried in the area. Remember to wear eye and ear protection while using power tools or working with wood or being around anything that is noisy or can shatter or can project small pieces of material.


This section will let you determine how many yards of material you need to cover an area. This is a calculator for volume of a material, whether pea gravel, fill dirt, sand, or whatever. You can also calculate how deep the gravel (or whatever material you want) will be for a certain number of yards. "Yards" really means cubic yards, which is 27 cubic feet.

Fill At Least Two of the Three Values and Press the Desired 'Calculate' Button
The calculated item will be conspicuously highlighted.
sq. ft.: ft.: and in.: yards:


I spent the following money on the project. Your mileage may vary. These prices are approximate, as best I can remember since I didn't keep notes.

Description Price Per Quantity Price Total
Landscape timbers 3.50 8 28.00
12" galvanized nails 1.00 16 16.00
landscape fabric - 3' x 100' roll 13.00 1 13.00
landscape fabric - 3' x 50' roll 20.00 1 20.00
5 yards of pea gravel 140.00 1 140.00
Total Price for Materials (in US $) 217.00

Also needed:

  • Shovel
  • Sledge hammer
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Level

Very useful:

  • Sod cutter


I spent the following time on the project. Your mileage may vary. These times are approximate, as best I can remember since I didn't keep notes.

  • 8 hours digging and raking the dirt
  • 1 hour aligning the timbers
  • 30 minutes cutting and placing the fabric
  • 1 hour drilling and nailing the timbers
  • 30 minutes smoothing the gravel
Total Time: 11 hours

If you have the right power tools to clear and level the ground, then this could easily be done in a day, possibly even a long afternoon.


Here are the steps that I used to make the play area.

  1. Determining the area

    The first step was to determine where we were going to have the play area. We wanted the location near the house and in the shade for part of the day.

    Once that was decided, then the size was chosen. The reason for the play area was to house the plastic play structures that we had. The local lumber yard was selling 8' long landscape timbers, so the size had to be in increments of 8'. A size of 8' x 16' was too small, as there would be no room around the play structures, so we went with 16' x 16'. That area was marked out (using the timbers) and we moved to the next step.

    Our options for filling the play area were sand, pea gravel, or wood chips. Wood chips were disqualified because of the splinters, sharp edges, and bugs. Sand was disqualified because it gets everywhere. So we settled on pea gravel. The downside to pea gravel is that the pieces that spill (or are thrown) onto the lawn can be kicked around by the lawn mower. Pea gravel still gets inside shoes and clothes, but those few pieces can be picked up and thrown back in the play area. Sand, on the other hand, gets in your shoes and is not so easily removed.

  2. Remove the grass and dig to a sufficient depth

    This was by far the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part of the project. I recommend renting/buying/obtaining a sod cutter or some other power equipment that can make short work of digging a shallow area out of the lawn.

    What I did was dig up the sod, one shovel-ful at a time, load it into the wheelbarrow, and dump it behind the house. Once the sod was gone, I raked the dirt so it was level (I didn't want a sloping play area). Then I realized that I wanted the area to be filled with about 6" of gravel, and the landscape timers were only 3" tall, so I had to dig a few more inches down. Then I re-leveled the area.

    bare earth
  3. Align the landscape timbers

    At this point, the timbers were in their approximate locations. All that was needed for this step was to make them level and abut each other closely for a nice border to the play area. The timbers were about 4" wide, so I had to dig out a strip of lawn that wide all around the area. For good measure, I sprayed weed and grass killer all around the edge where the timbers would go.

  4. Place the landscape fabric

    I rolled out the landscape (weed barrier) fabric along one side of the area. I wanted fabric that would let water through, rather than a solid plastic sheet because I didn't want the area collecting stagnant water that would allow mosquitos to breed and would become a general soggy mess.

    I allowed a few extra inches on each end of each length of fabric so that it would tuck under (and be secured by) the timbers. I overlapped each length by about 1 foot, and the roll was 3' wide, so it ended being 1' overlap, 1' single layer, then 1' underlap. So I think there ended up being 8 strips of 3' x 17' fabric.

    secured timbers
  5. Secure the landscape timbers

    I drilled holes about a foot from each end of the timbers. I drilled a large hole first, about a half inch deep as a counter-sink for the nail head to fit. The I drilled all the way through with a smaller diameter drill bit, about the same diameter as the body of the nail.

    When all the holes were drilled, I then went around and pounded the nails into the holes in the timbers. I had decided on 12" long nails rather than the shorter ones that were available because it has to go through 3" of timber first before sinking into the earth.

    I didn't take any photos at this stage, so the picture that you see on the right was taken at the end. That is why you see pea gravel in there. At this point, there was no pea gravel.

    secured timbers
  6. Place the filler

    We called a sand and gravel company nearby. They gave us a good deal because we were close. Probably 4 yards of pea gravel would have been enough, but 5 yards was the minimum order, so we got 5 yards.

    I wanted as much of the pea gravel as possible dumped in the area so that there would be less shoveling for me to do, but I didn't want the dump truck to drive over and displace, or possibly damage, the timbers that frame the area. The driver did a good job of getting most of it in the area with only a small portion resting on the lawn.

    However, all of the gravel that was in the play area was mounded on one side, so I had to take a shovel and rake to distribute it over the rest of the area.

    pile o pebbles
  7. Place the toys

    Once the gravel was somewhat evenly distributed over the whole area, I then moved the play structures and some other toys into the area.

    Because there was about 1 extra yard of gravel, there was still a pile of gravel on the side where it was delivered. That proved to be the most popular feature of the play area.