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This is one of the first things I made after getting home from the hospital with my little one. Of course, she was too small at the time to need to be contained from rolling/crawling/walking around. However, I needed to be able to have a space to play with her on the floor without canine intervention. I also needed a safe haven for her toys so they would not be relocated to the doggie-destruction zone in the yard. (RIP Dumbo toy I left on the counter.) Enter this colorful castle playpen.
I quickly found that trying to use the included door-locking mechanism was difficult, even without an infant in hand. Not to mention that it was halfway down the door. So if you do have the baby in your hand you have to balance them while bending almost to the floor and fiddling with this annoying lock.
So, being that this thing was expensive and purchased long before the baby actually came (and thus unlikely to be returnable), I resolved to make a solution myself. I decided to start simple, figuring I could redesign to increase complexity as necessary to outsmart the baby or the dogs, whoever figured it out first.
Version #1 – Plain, but functional
My first crack at this design was a simple H shape. I measured the walls with my calipers and guessed on all other measurements. It worked decently, but I hated that it did not rest flat. It was also far bulkier than necessary.
Version #2 – Better Aesthetics
The door has a curve where my latch rests and I wasn’t sure how to measure it to recreate it in my 3d model. I decided to use a protractor and just do a flat angle to see if I could achieve “good enough” results. In the end, that worked out great. I am really happy with how it sits now. I also thinned things up to make it less bulky. And I bought some bright green filament to make it seem more like it belonged with the brightly colored playpen.
This simple door latch served me well. It was so easy to open and close the door while carrying an infant. When I wasn’t using it, I could just rest it on the wall of the gate. It ended up lasting me a lot longer than I thought it would. My dogs never did bother it much. I guess they were never that motivated to get in there. They were definitely opportunistic about toys left outside the pen though.
My daughter was 7 months old before she took up an interest in trying to escape via the door. I stopped using this latch as soon as she started showing an interest in trying to open the door and pull herself up. I figured it was only a matter of time before she knocked it loose and escaped.
Possible Future Improvements
I have some ideas for a more secure alternative playpen latch, but we shall see if I become motivated enough to work on them. Now that my daughter is older, I can set her down in the playpen without climbing inside, so the latch issue is less of a big deal to me than it was when she was tiny. If I do need to open the door, I sometimes still use my alternative gate latch to help quickly line up the door for engaging the built-in lock.
I’m thinking I could leverage the grooves and openings in the playpen door and wall to attach something more securely. Then it’s a matter of coming up with an opening mechanism that is easier for me but still difficult for my daughter.
If you like this project and you want one for yourself, I’ve made the design available so you can download and print it.
Note that as discussed above, this latch is definitely less safe than the one that comes with the playpen. So use it at your own risk. You should not expect it to provide much resistance at all to anyone/thing trying to get in/out of your playpen. It is just a simple alternative that met my personal use case for a while.
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