Parents! Ever felt that a long bank holiday weekend in the company of small children just isn’t tiring and stressful enough? Why not set yourself a hugely ambitious and unnecessary project such as building a massive castle for some little plastic knights? Look at me – I did it! And after much swearing and “not now, kids, Mummy’s wielding a lethal piece of DIY equipment” look what I’ve ended up with:

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A castle fit for a Playmobil king! (Not that the ones Playmobil make aren’t and I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy one of those, too. This is purely a supplementary play resource *crosses fingers that this covers any legal issues*)

And now, for the ingredients:

  • two foamy insulation floorboard-y things (a bit like these), 25 cm wide and 6cm deep (or thereabouts)
  • five index card drawers (a bit like this)
  • felt pen & set square for measuring and marking
  • lolly sticks (lots)
  • matchsticks (lots)
  • grey, dark grey and taupe wall paint samples
  • strong cardboard box to cut up
  • foam strips
  • chain (as used for jewellery making or a bath plug chain)
  • piece of dowel rod, about 6 inches (note to pedants: yes, I am inconsistent when it comes to units of measurement)
  • piece of floorboard, about 6 inches tall and 4 inches wide
  • picture hooks (2), nail
  • jig saw
  • strong glue

(Because I’m not Mr Maker (a) the thing I’ve made took ages and isn’t rubbish and (b) I’m not going to pretend all the stuff I used was just randomly lying around. I got most of it very cheaply from a place called Scrapstore which is ACE. And like so many ace things, it had government funding which has recently been cut, so it’s not as cheap as it was. But these are still brilliant places to visit to get, say, a million yoghurt pots or a thousand washing-up bottles should have you have been so remiss as to not hoard everything, ever, on the off-chance a suitable craft project will arise…)

Step 1: Make your castle walls

For this you need to draw a line lengthwise along the middle of each insulation board. Then create the crenelations that go along the top of the castle walls by drawing them along the mid-line, extending equally on either side (I made mine about an inch wide and an inch deep, for no particular reason other than that I’m fond of inches):

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At this point, singing a bastardised version of the Record Breakers’ Dedication song – crenelation’s what ya need! If you wanna be a castle maker! whoooo! – is unlikely to speed up the task, but you may wish to do it all the same (I know I did). Then once you’ve done this and ideally received a round of applause, decide how long you want each section of wall to be. The idea is to make sections of varying lengths as you can take apart and reform your finished castle in different formations e.g. with different numbers of courtyards or as a large square or just one long siege wall etc. I made my sections between three and six crenelations long.

Draw a line down where you’ve decided to separate the sections then add in some notches. The castle walls fit together rather like toy wooden train track (a notch out at one end and in at another). Make the length of the notch the same as the depth of the board so that the pieces will lock together neatly at corners. Your board should now look something like this:

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Now cut your pieces using the jig saw, making sure your children stand way back and ensuring that you adopt an expression of concentration combined with a casual air which says “hey, I do this kind of dangerous shit all the time!” (NB my saw didn’t go all the way through so I finished it off with a kitchen knife. That’s the sort of thing they never used to admit to on Blue Peter but I thought I’d best be honest.)

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Now separate your pieces of foam …

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And hey presto! Castle walls that can be fitted and un-fitted to create different structures!

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Thing for your kids to do: wipe off the felt pen with some baby wipes (tell kids this was the kind of task medieval squires had to do).

Step 2: Make the ramparts

These are made very simply with lolly sticks, matchsticks (well, pretend matchsticks from Hobbycraft) and glue. Line up three lolly sticks and stick on two matchsticks with ends poking out on one side (for you to stab into the castle wall where you want the rampart to be). Do this loads and loads. You can never have too many ramparts, that’s what I say – but here’s just one to get you started:

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3. Make the towers and gatehouse

The towers and gatehouse are made from the index file boxes. For the towers, cut a hole out of one side at the bottom to allow the castle wall notches to slot in when you’re arranging the castle in different ways. Then make the floors by using squares of cardboard with strips of foam to attach them to the sides of the box:DSC00831

The remaining index box will be the gatehouse. Cut out a door that is smaller than your piece of floorboard (because the latter will be your drawbridge). Pierce two holes in the box above either side of your door, to allow for the chains that will pull up the drawbridge (a drill might be good for this. We didn’t have one so the kitchen knife was used again – not recommended, obviously *stern/hypocritical stare*). Fix the picture hooks to the corners at one end of the piece of floorboard and thread through the chain. We also added in a hinge made with some green cardboard (because that was the only colour we had – we told the kids it was grass from the imaginary moat):

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Tie a knot in one end of the chain. The other end will be the one that winds around the dowel when the drawbridge is raised and lowered. Make holes for the dowel rod to be slotted through at around the same height as the top of the door, slot it in then add the nail for the chain to hook around. Your drawbridge can be raised and lowered when you twist the piece of wood, so it’s just like in a real castle only not as cold, miserable, tiring and generally rubbish:

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Step 4: Decorate your castle

This is the bit your kids can finally join in with, assuming they’ve not gone off in a strop because the castle wasn’t ready in five seconds flat and/or you wouldn’t let them cut their sibling’s hand off with the jig saw (“for theft, like in medieval times!”). Use some leftover bits of foam to cut brick shapes which the kids can dip in the paints before dotting different coloured bricks all over everything (my three-year-old seemed to find it most effective to say “blip!” each time a mark was made):

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Add windows and arrow slits by, um, finding some pictures of windows and arrow slits on google images, printing them out then cutting and pasting them onto the towers:

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Step 5: Assemble your castle!

The walls just slot together any way you like, so like this for instance:

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Or like this (you will note in this picture that the castle is being besieged – the wall pieces fall apart and can be put back together quite easily. And fortunately the kids are fairly robust, too):

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Then you can add in the ramparts:

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Position the towers and gatehouse (to be fair, you’d probably want to do this as you go along but I’m trying to divide this into patronizing stages):

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(The items with the orange roofs in this picture are real Playmobil – which blends right in!).

6. Play with your new castle!

You will have spent so long making it, chances are your kids are in bed anyhow, so it’s all yours …

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And because it comes apart, it can be easily stored … somewhere or other (presuming your house is not a total tip already).

Anyhow, that’s our knights’ castle project. Amazingly, it actually seems to have worked! Try it! Enjoy!

Castle update

It’s all hustle and bustle in the busy courtyard:

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But there are enemies approaching …

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To be continued …