Inexpensive Homemade Sandbox Ideas

by Reader Contributors

Inexpensive Homemade Sandbox ideas photo

Create a cheap sandbox for your kids with these ideas from our frugal readers. They have advice on everything from inexpensive sandbox designs to effective sandbox covers to cheap sources of sand.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
We’re interested in building a backyard sandbox for our 1 1/2-year-old son. Most important to us is that it be large enough for him and several friends to move freely around in and that it be well covered to keep out neighborhood cats.

Do any of your readers have experience building their own sandbox or have any helpful advice on everything from cheap sandbox design ideas to effective sandbox cover ideas?
Kathy P.

Twin Wading Pools

We have an inexpensive sandbox that has been receiving hard use for a good four years now. We bought two identical plastic wading pools that were about $7 each. One is filled with sand, and the other is set on top of it when it’s not in use to keep the cats out. The sandbox toys are kept in an old laundry basket.

After years of hard use, it now has a few cracks in it, which we’ve mended with duct tape. BTW, the sandbox is located on our patio, underneath shade cloth, so the kids can play safely any time of day. It’s really important to keep children protected from the sun!

Landscape Timbers and Lattice Panel

For an inexpensive 8’X4′ sandbox, my husband purchased 6 landscaping timbers. He stacked them two high on the sides and used one timber for each end, cut in half in order to stack them as he did the sides. He mitered the corners on all the timbers and anchored the corners with long nails. The timbers are wide enough for the kids to sit on comfortably too. The sand was purchased at a gravel company where you shovel it yourself. It was much cheaper than the pre-bagged stuff you’ll find at the store in town.

To keep it from becoming a deluxe sized litterbox, we simply use an 8×4 lattice panel that I had purchased but never used. It covers perfectly to keep the cats out but lets rain in which keeps the sand moist and formable. Our three kids just slide it off and climb into the box for hours of fun time! I have made hash marks on the sides of the box. When the occasional squabble over “territory” develops, I draw the proverbial “lines in the sand” with a stick. It divides the box into thirds and everyone is happy again!
Wendy H.

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Inexpensive Custom Sandbox Cover Idea

Years ago, we were looking for the same thing. We determined where and how large we wanted the sandbox, then used pressure treated wood to construct the box. I think we used 1×12’s. It was quite tall on the sides to keep the toys and sand in. Then we made a slotted lid to cover it. Using 2×2’s (pressure treated), we made a frame to fit across the box in 2 sections. Since the box was a rectangle, we made each section span the width.

We cut 2×2’s to the WIDTH of the box outside edges (so that the lid would be rest on the top). We spaced these about a half an inch apart and placed a cross piece on the bottoms side of each end, cut and positioned to fit inside the box. The appearance was similar to a deck, with the top being flat and the bottom having the stabilizing pieces.

Each section could be dropped in place, but I often left one half covered and sat on that lid. I could play with my feet in the box, but still be pretty well out of the sand. The sand and water also sifted through the slots while the kitties could not get in. I had to open the sandbox for the kids each day, and then close it when they finished, but that really wasn’t a problem.
Cindy in NE

Recycled Tire Sandbox

A very inexpensive sandbox is an old tractor tire. Find a good, flat spot to lay the tire down and fill it with sand. Measure and cut a circular plywood cover to lay on the top. Keeps the kids happy and the neighborhood cats out. The kids can sit on the sides of the tire as they play and you can control the use of the sandbox as the cover is just a little bit too heavy for the kids to move.

My kids thought it was great. When they become too old to play in the sandbox, replace some of the sand with dirt and plant strawberries or flowers. I have seen some tires spray painted but have never tried it.

A Waterbed Frame Sandbox

How timely! My mom just built a sandbox for my niece. It turned out to be a great project. First, she really thought about placement. You don’t just want to plunk something like that in the middle of the yard. She also wanted to make it removable. Since it is for her grandchild who is 5, someday she will want to get rid of the sandbox.

She used a waterbed frame from a ‘Super Single’ size waterbed as the frame for the sandbox. The frame is about 6′ long, 4′ wide and 10″ high. The frame was obtained for free from a family member who was discarding it. She found a large heavy sheet of plastic in the garage and stapled that to the inside of the frame to help control the sand.

For the sand, she found a place that would fill the back of a pickup truck with sand for $10.

She covered the whole thing with a heavy blue tarp weighted down with bricks.

The best part of the project was what we created to go along with the sandbox. She placed it next to an outdoor storage shed that was rusting in spots. Using outdoor paint, craft paint, and glitter leftover from other projects, I helped her create a large garden mural on the side of the shed. We made large, bright sunflowers, sparkly butterflies, and a few ladybugs to complete the garden. For the sunflowers we made a template out of a manilla folder, everything else was done freehand. We painted the rusty roof of the shed bright blue, and covered the whole thing with a coat of clear varnish.

This project took two weekends to complete because of the mural. The total out of pocket was $10. Needless to say, there is one very happy 5 year old in the family!
Kristen O.

Sandbox Cover With Counterweight

I built our kids’ sandbox against the fence. The cover was 1/4 inch plywood, hinged at the fence. I drilled a hole near the front edge of the plywood. There I attached a piece of rope that went up to the top of the fence (there was a 2X4 that ran along the top of the fence that I drilled a hole straight down through) and ran the rope down through the hole. Then I attached a large (and inexpensive) fishing weight (don’t remember maybe 3 -5 lbs? A coffee can full of cement might work, too). Size of the weight and length of rope would depend on the weight of the cover and placement of the rope, height of fence, etc.

Now all the kids had to do was lift the front of the cover and, because of the counter weight, it opened slowly and with little effort. The counter weight also prevented the cover from falling on a child. I also once made a huge sandbox using the same idea for a cover, only the rope attached at the center of a two piece cover where I hinged the two pieces of plywood together to fold in on each other as the cover was lifted flush with the fence.

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Hinged Sandbox Cover

We built a sandbox for our girls and used a piece of plywood the size of the sandbox hinged on one side. We just closed it up at night. And the kids used it a sort of a slide.

Personally, I don’t think that you can beat a sandbox to keep kids happy. Had a preschool teacher once tell me that second to water, sand was the most entertaining thing for kids. Combine sand and water and you have a wonderful way to keep the kids happy and creative.
Carol B.

Advice from a Daycare Provider

I am a licensed daycare provider. I have found that over the past 7 1/2 years of doing daycare, that there is never enough room in the sandbox! I have a 10 x 10 sandbox and it seems to work out fine for all my daycare kids. Like I said there usually isn’t enough room for all of them in there at once, but they do take turns and are able to build bridges, towns, etc.

For the cat problem, we found out the hard way. We had to replace the whole sandbox because it did become the neighborhood cat box. My husband works at a lumber yard, so the problem was easily fixed. We now have two pieces of plywood that we put on the box to cover. We don’t have them attached to the sandbox, but a person could easily hinge them on.

Plastic Covered Plywood Cover

My father built a sandbox for me and my brother when we were young. He used pressure treated wood, filled it with sanitized sand and covered it with a sheet of plastic stapled to a piece of plywood. It lasted for years! He finally tore it down a few years ago (my younger brother is now 19). The plastic keeps the water out and the plywood keeps the plastic from blowing away.

Sandbox Doesn’t Need a Bottom

The most important thing to remember when building a sandbox is don’t put a bottom on it. Otherwise, you’ll end up with sand soup every time it rains. All you need are six pieces of lumber.

When I made a sandbox for my son, I used 2 x 8s. I would not use pressure-treated wood; just plain cheap pine is fine. Length of the pieces obviously depends on big you want the sandbox to be and whether you want a square or a rectangle. Lay four of the pieces on their sides to form a rectangle (or square) and screw them together with long wood screws. The last two pieces should be the same width as the assembled sandbox . Lay them down flat over the short ends to make benches for the kids to sit on. Screw them in place.

You can paint or polyurethane the sandbox if you want. Set the whole thing down in your yard and fill with sand. That’s it! Throw a tarp over it when the kids aren’t playing in it so that neighborhood cats don’t use it as a litter box.
Chris S.

Securing Tarp-Type Cover

With 5 kids, we needed something big and cheap. We put together 4 railroad ties into a square and stapled them with very large spikes found at our local hardware store, 4 for each tie. The cats are kept at bay with a large tarp. This works great for us and the green tarp thrown over the box makes the yard look “neat.”
Louise (Dolly) H.

Simple, Cinder Block Box

A very simple sandbox can be constructed, in any shape/size desired, with cinderblocks. Just outline the “box” with the cinderblocks, holes facing up. The holes make convenient storage places for shovels and toys. Fill the whole thing in with sand, and cover with a tarp or vinyl table cloth when not in use.

I used a large vinyl table cloth. Cut it about 8 inches larger on all sides than the box, serge or zigzag around the edges, and add elastic around the corners to help keep the cover secure.
Julie T.

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Avoid Trees

Another thing you may want to keep an eye on is whether the box is overhung by trees. My childhood sandbox was built in our back yard under a pair of pines. The box was relatively simple. It was short wooden walls with the space inside filled with sand, but year after year, the trees shed needles into the sand and it became more and more unpleasant.

I guess adding new sand over time might have helped, but we never did that.
Nancy S.

Cheaper Sand

Buy your sand at a landscapers’ mulch/dirt/sand supplier rather than at the lumber store. You will probably have to fill your own garbage cans or the back of a pick up yourself but it will cost you a lot less, and it only takes a few minutes.

Often those suppliers will deliver but usually there is a 1+ cubic yard minimum and a delivery fee. Call around. I find I can get a quote and then decide if my time is worth the money or if my money is worth the time.
Hilary L.

Chicken Wire Cover

I have seen them built at friends’ homes. First the box was about 8-10 foot by 8 foot. The sides were about 2 foot high. The neat part was they had a framed lid that was on hinges that the parent would open the sandbox for the kids. This framed lid when closed was made with chicken wire so that cats couldn’t dig in the sand box and deposit fertilizer.

Chain-Link Fence Sandbox Cover

We found a piece of chain link fencing the same size as the box to be the perfect cover. We used good wood (weather treated), built it in the ground without a wooden bottom. Just build the sides the size you want with a bench along each side, put sides a few feet into the ground, and put gardening material or screening across the bottom and pile sand on top. This allows the rain to filter the sand and keep it clean and the chain link keeps cats out but allows rain to get in.

You can’t make the sandbox big enough. They still fight and throw sand. We found smaller is better. We have 7 children and have had this same box for 12 years and it is still in perfect condition. Our grandchildren will love it too. We built a frame and throw a blue tarp over it to keep the sun off the busy builders.
Dianne W., Newmarket, Ontario Canada

Worth the Dig

We went through a little more work but it was worth it. We dug down a foot with a 4×4 or more area to fill with sand, and put support boards and seating at ground level. It was a sunken sandbox. This avoided every kid crawling in and out and tripping over the otherwise raised walls (blood and crying). It had wonderful memories and became the “conversation hang-out” for the tikes in the neighborhood.

You have to make the effort to cover it each night to protect from cats. Blue plastic works fine with rocks at corners.
Jill G.

Reviewed April 2021

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