Prepare to be Boarded! Arrrgh! – Part 1: Building a Pirate Ship

A big part of Camp Mommy is an ocean adventure! And what better project than making a pirate ship out of our cardboard moving boxes and other recycled materials! Not only does my preschooler have a pirate ship but he has memories to last a lifetime, too.

So here’s my co-parent to explain how he did it and how you can, too!


Building a pirate ship is easier than it looks. Basically it’s cardboard and tape.

Just don’t try this during the hottest month in the history of the earth… like we did. That said my 3-year-old and I had great fun. He really gets into the measuring and line drawing, taping and painting. It turned out to be an amazing father-son project. I looked forward to every minute we worked on it! Almost.

If you have perfectionist issues, I have two pieces of advice: 1. It’s not the destination; it’s the blah blah something blah, and 2. Work quickly during nap times. Truth be told, you have to scale back your expectations for how it will look and how long each step will take. 3-year-olds are pokey and we took a lot of snack breaks. We also stopped to play catch, ride bikes, water the plants/driveway and play chase during the project.

Here’s a complete list of what you need:

-5 cardboard moving boxes (I used Home Depot moving boxes from our garage… we move a lot. 1-wardrobe box, 2-large packing boxes, 2-small packing boxes)

-2 rolls a brown paper packing tape (U-Haul… it’s paintable)

-50 feet of the cheapest looking ¼” rope you can find (Lowe’s)

-6 Wire Ring Anchor Points (Lowe’s… these are typically used for permanent tie-downs)

Here’s the anchor points / tie downs so there’s no mistaking what to get.

-10 Spring Snap Links ¼’  (They look like small rock climbing karabiners… Lowe’s)

-Zip ties (Home Depot)

-Small box of 1&1/4” drywall screws (Home Depot)

-3-feet 1”x3” pine board cut into 12 pieces 4” long (Home Depot)

-2 cardboard masts roughly 6-feet long (Lowe’s gave me these from empty carpet rolls)

-2 dowel rods ¾’ in diameter and 3’ long (Home Depot)

-1 lightweight 3” wide cardboard tube about 2-feet long to cut into cannons (This is the kind of tube a print of some art might ship in)

-5 Minute Epoxy

-Whatever color paints you want. We used 100% washable black, brown and red. (We actually mixed out own brown initially. Epic fail. It looked more orange so we used is as a primer coat. In fact most of the interior is still that orangish color.)

 Days 1 and 2:

This one I found is actually for sale. Not making this up. For a cool 3/4 of a million dollars it’s yours! Call Mark Barrett for more details: 619-336-2403, Please don’t sue us, Mark, but your pirate ship made a great model to build from.

I looked through my spyglass –or Googled, you decide– to find a pirate ship. Generally speaking, the back of the boat is tallest, the front is second tallest and the center is lowest. So I grabbed a wardrobe box for the back, one of the large packing boxes turned at a 45-degree angle for the front and the small packing boxes became the sides. The second large packing box eventually became the bowsprit (that pointy nose thing sticking up and out of the front).

Attaching the bowsprit was easy. Just let the box flaps rest flat on hull and tilt to desired angle. We taped it in place and then sliced off half the box.

From this pic and others below you can see how the boxes form the ship/

WARNING: EVERYTHING when sitting in a big garage looks smaller. My two-mast schooner ended up 11-feet long and about 35-inches wide at the cannons. We happen to have a massive bonus/play room over our garage so it fits… it’s HUGE but it fits. So please consider the size of the room where your boat will end up. Then configure the boxes and start taping. I also measured the doorways to make sure I didn’t build it too wide. I cleared by a half inch. (If you make yours small enough, two kids could wear it for a Halloween costume.)

Not brown. Epic fail.

There’s a good deal of me sitting and staring at the project. I call it research and development. Just all in my head. How much extra cardboard will it take to stableize the hull.? Should I buy some thin slats of wood to keep weak spots from buckling? What to make the masts out of? And on and on.

Anyway, C. and I had it all taped together in about an hour. I took a razor knife and trimmed away portions to help the overall shape (and to give a little boy a low spot on each side to climb in and out of the boat). After that  we started painting. With the help of pre and post nap paint covered wardrobe changes for C, we had it coated inside and out by the end of day 2.

And we only worked on it for about five hours total.

Days 3 and 4: Figuring out the masts… check back tomorrow.

Anna Crowley Redding is a mom and stepmom to FIVE kids and the author of six books for young readers with four more on the way! You can check out more information on her books and support her writing by clicking here.

We swab our decks with 100% washable paint.

5 Responses to “Prepare to be Boarded! Arrrgh! – Part 1: Building a Pirate Ship”

  1. Kristina

    Awesome! Or maybe I should say, AAAAARRRrrrrsome!

  2. Angel

    Great job! I’m
    trawling for pirate ideas for our twins’ 4th birthday, and this is the best. Really impressed by all that quality father/son time, too.