Don’t Fence Me In!

Sorry kiddos, but we built you a cage. But not just any cage! A room sized playpen with an entire wall designed to help you pull yourself up to standing and allow you to practice walking!

So, what really has happened is this: We moved to a new home earlier this month. We now have a formal dining room for which we have no furniture. With a young family under our roof, we do not intend to buy a dining room set until our kids are much, much, much older. In the meantime, we’re going to use the dining room as a play area for the boys. Linus & Keelan, currently 10 months old, need some boundaries. As we had a missing 4th wall, I decided to build a fence to separate the dining room from the living room.

Our design constraints and my results

  • $$$ – Do not spend more than $200. Once I return the can of stain that I did not need, my total should be approximately $135.00. I constructed the fence using #2 Pine & birch dowels, all from the local big box lumber yard. Hardware, sanding paper & glue came from my neighborhood hardware store.
  • Child safe – The fence should meet or exceed guidelines of no gaps greater than 4″. The fence should also have a non-toxic finish as our little guys will use the ballisters as much for teething as for climbing. I standardized on 3″ spacing on all of the ballisters and floor-to-rail height; small enough to keep baby noggins from passing through, but large enough not to pinch pudgy baby thighs between the rails. I found a really nice “Salad Bowl Finish” from Rockler Woodworking. It’s food-safe when cured, so I think it’s as good as we’re going to get for a satin natural wood color finish.
  • Aesthetics. All of the store bought baby gates I’ve found are fugly! Plus, in order to cross the chasm of 11 feet, we would have had to buy some monstrous accordion fence. No Thanks!. I chose to build it myself, creating a solid wood railing that spans the entire length of the opening between our living room and the play area.
  • Temporary & easy to disassemble – When the fence comes down in two years, make it easy to return the dining room to its original state. To do this, I used a simple eye-bolt to eye-bolt hinge to attach the railing to the wall. It’s a simple matter of undoing four bolts to remove the fence when we need to. When we’re ready to return the room to its original state, I will have just 4 small (1/4″) holes to patch and paint… that’s assuming I don’t have any other kid-sized holes in the wall to patch at the same time. I plan to reuse the fence as well! While large, it should fit nicely in the garage rafters where I plan to use it store our camping gear.


All in, it took me a day and a half to build and glue it up. I spent another two days putting on 3 coats of food-safe finish.

Things I might change next time

  • I built the rails very beefy (1.5″ x 3″) in order to keep the fence from sagging across its 11′ span. If I did it again, I would probably drop it to 1.5 x 2.5″ to make it look a little more slight.
  • The eye-bolts and hardware on the ends are shinier than I anticipated and draw the eye to the corners. I may paint them to try to get them to blend in.