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Treehouse tips from ‘This Old House’ host Kevin O’Connor

Kevin O’Connor, host of PBS’s “This Old House,”  is building a treehouse with the help of his three children in the family’s backyard in Hamilton.

Kevin O'Connor

Kevin O’Connor, host of PBS’s “This Old House,” is building a treehouse with the help of his three children in the family’s backyard in Hamilton.

This young treehouse

For two years, “This Old House” host Kevin O’Connor has spent nights and weekends chipping away at a DIY treehouse in his Hamilton backyard. Here are some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.

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Involve the kids: Although O’Connor could have finished the treehouse in a long weekend or two — especially if he called in his TV colleagues for backup — this was a project for the whole family. “I didn’t want to go too fast, because I wanted the kids to do it with me,” said the father of three: a 9-year-old and 5-year-old twins. “I always bring at least one of them with me to work on it. That’s kind of the whole point.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff: Part of the fun of building treehouses is that they don’t require precision craftsmanship. “No one is going to say, ‘Your miters don’t line up,’ ” O’Connor said, and that goes double for the kids. Indeed, his were tickled before their cabin was even built, when they just had a platform high in the trees to clamber over. “But I’m the host of ‘This Old House’ for God’s sake,” O’Connor said. “I can’t make ‘This Old Tree Platform.’ ”

Prepare for project creep: While installing a railing, O’Connor had an epiphany: “There has to be a risky side — a place you can threaten to push your brother off or where someone can sneak up on you.” That’s how he found himself building a climbing wall. He added a zipline, too. And a custom ladder that required a concrete footing. And a roof with special venting that would keep the cedar shingles from curling. “It’s probably overbuilt,” he said. “It creeped and it creeped.”

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Consult the experts: To lend the cabin an extra measure of style, O’Connor wanted an intricate Dutch door. He just had no idea how to build one. Luckily, he knew someone he could go to for advice: “This Old House” master carpenter Norm Abram, who had built a gorgeous one on “The New Yankee Workshop.” “On a break, I picked his brain for 45 minutes,” O’Connor said. “All right, Norm, give me all your tips and tricks.” (The rest of us can visit sites like TreehouseSupplies.com that offer kits and free instructional videos.)

Take the long view: O’Connor still has plenty of things on his to-do list — install electric lights and maybe a solar panel; he’s been reading up on rope bridges — and he figures he’ll keep tinkering on the treehouse at least until his kids grow up. “If they go to college at 18, I have up until then until people think I’m a complete idiot,” he said with a laugh. “I think I can convince people it’s for the kids if they still live at home.”

The treehouse.

Kevin O'Connor

The treehouse.

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