Building a tree swing out of timber and natural materials can be a fun DIY exercise for you and the family will guarantee many years of enjoyment. Nothing is more reminiscent of old-fashioned, backyard fun than a tire swing. Children love the swinging motion and being outdoors is the healthiest entertainment.
A Timber Tree Swing By John Vivian
- Build a tree swing and feel like a kid again!
- My childhood was graced with an older generation that knew how a kids’ swing ought to be built.
- No flimsy metal frame sets with cramped plastic seats hung on thin, palm-cutting clothes line. No thigh-squeezing rubber slings on finger-pinching chain either.
- Instead, there were stout wood seats that little knees could lock on to, and boat-mooring line, suspended from sturdy tree branches, and that was fat enough to give a firm grasp.
- At the old family homestead, a swing at the river bank was fastened so high that the rope disappeared forever into the canopy of a huge black oak.
- Pumping hard, we could swing 15 feet above the water … let go and fly almost to midstream … and land in a cannonball worthy of the name.
- I’ve built old-style swings on my own country places for over 20 years now.
- I can tell you that an awful lot of children (and adults) have shared the joy of swinging and creating a nice breeze during those sticky summer days.
- There’s a real pride in knowing I helped to put those smiles there — a pride everyone should know. So I’ve decided to teach all of you the craft of building a sturdy swing that your children and grandchildren will remember you by.
- There’s several materials that go into building a tree swing.
- You’ll need a hand saw or electric Skilsaw (try square or other right angle), wood rasp, sandpaper, screwdriver (an electric power driver is best), a drill with 1/8″ and 3/8″ wood-bits, lumber, rope, fasteners, fittings (as specified), plus a can of wood preservative and a brush.
- However, you’ll need no great carpentry expertise, and I’ll demonstrate some marlin-spike seamanship so that you can fasten the rope securely.
- First, there’s the matter of picking the right tree.
- You should look for one that is in open ground, and that has a thick, live-wood limb which is growing parallel to (and not inaccessibly high off) the ground.
- A limb much less than ten inches in diameter will bounce, reducing the young swinger’s stability.
- A solution might be to attach the swing close to the trunk, but too close and the swing will carom off it.
- Deadwood branches will break, and limbs that angle upwards will skew the arc of the swing.
- The higher the limb, the longer the swings pendulum motion and the higher it can go before gravity overpowers momentum.
- Playground swings are six to ten feet high, and a grade schooler can get five to six feet above the pavement.
- Your yard will provide a softer landing for any slip, and your swings ropes can be attached fifteen feet off the ground to give a good but not too-high ride.
- For a real cloud-duster, you can send a good tree climber up to fasten your ropes to a limb 25 feet or more high.
- Make a point of supervising those children under 12 years of age. Measure or estimate the height of the limb off of the ground.
- Then go to a quality lumber yard and a good hardware store and purchase the following weather-resistant materials:
- Wood Measure sure six feet of nominal 4/5″ thick, 6′ wide (actual measure: 1 1/16″ thick and 5½” wide) #2-grade Eastern white, Western red cedar, or California redwood decking, preferably with “eased” or rounded edges.
- If these naturally rot-resistant, non-splintering woods are not available, buy white oak or an other hardwood if you can.
- Common two-inch-thick construction softwood lumber is okay.
- It’s thick and splintery but definitely better than thin, easy splitting, 1″ pine shelving. Don’t think of using deck boards of that colored, pressure-treated wood — you don’t want a splinter containing arsenic or copper preservative in your child’s tender bottom.
- Rope: You’ll need twice the swings height plus four yards of 3/8″-diameter twisted “poly” rope ($.15/ft.). Poly-twist comes in white, yellow, and a woodsy-looking brown.
- Though it gives the best grip of any, avoid natural-fiber manila rope, which will rot in time and break when least expected. Braided nylon rope is seductively soft and pliant, but is too slippery to afford a good hand-hold, and at a half-dollar and up, very expensive.
- Don’t ever use a common clothes line.
Screws: For an electric power-driver, you’ll need 26 #6, 1 7/8″-long galvanized deck screws ($.10 apiece); for hand-driving, use 26, #6, 1 7/8″ brass screws ($.25 each).
Glue: Use a small amount of waterproof wood glue.
Twine: You’ll need several feet of 1/16″ thick 20 to 30 lb nylon twine.
Washers: Use four 3/8″ brass or stainless steel washers ($.20 a piece).
Staples: You’ll need four galvanized 1/2″ fence staples.
Finish: Use a small amount of nontoxic, colorless deck preservative.
Eye Screws: You’ll need two closed-ring-end galvanized giant wood screws, three or four inches long with a 1/4″ shank ($.50).
“S” Hooks: Use two 1/4″ galvanized steel rod joiners ($.50).
Build The Seat
The seat is made from a pair of narrow boards (a single, wide board might split). It is ten inches deep and 16 inches wide to offer young children an ample seat, a good leg hold, and a snug, safe fit. If your kids are broad in the beam, or the swing is going to be used by older teens and adults, cut the seat boards 18 inches long.
LAYOUT AND FASTENING GUIDE
1. Seat Halves
2. Center Cleat
3. End Cleats
4. Seat Boards
5. Rope Holes
Broken line = cleats.
From the 1′ x 6′ decking lumber, saw off a scant 1/2″ to square one edge and to give it a clean end. Then, cutting around knots, saw:
1. Two 16″ long seat boards. Rip-saw 1/2″ off the roughest long edge of each board.
2. One 9″ long center cleat.
3. Two 9″ long, 2½” wide end-cleats. Rip off the eased edges for a more finished look.
Fasten Cleats To Seat
Place the seat boards on a flat scrap lumber surface with the cut edges facing one another. To provide a drainage slot, place the spacers of cardboard (from the back of a writing tablet) between them at the ends and the middle.
1. Spread glue on one side and then place the cleats. The center cleat should be in the middle and the end cleats should be inset a half-inch from the edges of the seat. Clamp or weight in place.
2. Pilot-drill 1/8″ holes 1¾” deep through the cleats and the seat boards where screws will be located.
3. Turn screws into pilot holes so screw heads are just below the wood surface.
Drill Rope Holes
1. To locate the rope-attachment holes, draw a faint pencil line 1½” in from (and parallel to) the ends of the seat top. Make a pencil mark 1½” from the end of the lines. Make a dent at the pencil mark with a nail or punch to center the drill.
2. With a 5/8″ wood-bit, drill four holes straight down and all the way through the seat board and end cleats from top-to-bottom.
3. Use a wood rasp to round sharp edges, and sandpaper to smooth rough surfaces — especially the front of the swing seat and the forward edges of the cleats. Sand-finish cleats, sides, and bottom as smooth as your craftsmanship dictates, but rough the top of the seat and/or cut shallow diagonal cross-hatches an inch apart in the seat with a handsaw or the edge of a file so a kid’s rump can get a good purchase.
4. Coat the wood with several coats of wood preservative. Soak well if using any lumber except naturally self-preserving cedar or redwood.
The swing-ropes are attached to looped rope slings at each side of the seat. The slings give a snug hip-hold, and offer the swing greater stability; it can’t tip forward or backward and dump a child who might be swinging too enthusiastically. And a small child can pull against the forward rope for better leverage.
The Rope Slings
Cut two 5-foot lengths of rope. Tape cut the ends or sear with a match until the ends melt so that the rope won’t unravel (be careful not to breathe the smoke or let the hot, melted poly burn you).
Thread the rope ends down through holes in the seat, slip washers over each end. Now, leaving a good four inches of tail, tie simple but self-tightening overhand “granny” knots in all four ends. Adjust the knots until the slings are of equal length. With the fence staples, tack the tail of each rope to the end cleats.
Then, cut off and sear the ends of four two-foot lengths of the 1/16″ nylon twine. Locate the center of each seat rope sling, and twist 180 degrees into a 1-inch loop. Untwist the sling ropes where they cross just enough to open the strands. Then thread twine through both, and twist them back tight. Pull one end of the twine short (about six inches). Tie the twine ends tight to hold the loop together.
Now, bind (in nautical jargon, “whip”) the loop together where the ropes cross. Form the short end of the twine into a loop with a good tail. Binding in the tail of the twine loop as you go, wrap the long end as tight as you can a dozen times around the “X” where the rope crosses below the loop. Thread the end of the wrapping twine through the twine loop, then pull the end of the loop’s bound-in tail until the loop disappears under the wrapping. Trim and sear the loose ends of twine. Nylon twine is limp, and keeping it tight it takes dexterity, but with a trial or two you will lay on your wrapping tight and evenly spaced, ending up with a seaman-like rope eye or “Becket”:
Attach Rope to Limb
Fasten the swing ropes seventeen inches apart on your tree limb. (Spacing the ropes a bit wider than the seat gives lateral stability so the swing won’t skew or twirl easily. If the kids are small, and you want to reduce and further stabilize the swings travel, experiment with even wider spacings.) Where it circles the limb, you may want to run the rope through a length of old garden hose to protect a thin bark such as beech, or notch rough hickory or maple bark to keep the rope in place.
For easiest attachment, toss the rope over the branch, throw a “bowline” knot in one end (see the illustration: Knots) leaving a three inch tail. Then, for good measure, whip the tail to the adjoining swing rope. Pass the other end of the swing rope through the loop and cinch what is now a running bowline tight up on the limb.
An even better method is to attach the ropes to the eye screws in the limb. Drill 1/8″ pilot holes 17 inches apart on the under side of the limb; insert a screwdriver in the eye screws and turn them into the holes. Then make whipped-tail bowlines in one end of the rope and hang it from the eye screws with secure, but dis mountable “S” hooks. This way you can unhook the swing and store it over winter. Keep those rubbing metal parts (which are up at the tree limb) greased and the swing should last for generations.
Attach Rope To Seat
Attach the free end of the swing ropes to the Becket’s that are in the seat rope slings with a Becket bend. Take your time to loosen and adjust the knots so that the seat is level and at the best height. Remember, you want your children to be able to reach the ground with the balls (but not the heels) of their feet. (Hint: For a 7-year-old, a seat top 13″ off the ground is about right.) Push the whipcord holding the sling Becket up under the loop in the Becket bend, tighten, and whip the loose end of the knot to the swing-rope.
This simple-looking but self-cinching knot will hold forever, even in slippery artificial-fiber rope. But when the kids grow a few inches, you can cut the binding, loosen the knot with a push, raise the swing and rebind. Check the knots until the rope sets over a few month’s use. If your knots or bindings persist in coming loose, avoid shipping out on a sailing vessel any time soon and spray with an all-purpose, water-resistant adhesive. The wood will weather to a dusty gray in time and, with annual applications of wood preservative, should last until your grandchildren have grandchildren of their own.
Finally, a comment on swing safety:
Centrifugal force will hold kids on the seat as long as they don’t go so high that the rope slackens at the top of the swing. Accidents are limited to occasional scratched knees and stubbed toes at the landing zone under the swing if kids are given a non-slippery seat, rope they can grasp, plus training and supervision. Teach them to hang on tight with both hands and to swing straight and not too high. And, prohibit tricks, while swinging high (no twisting the rope, hanging ape-like by one arm, no standing on the seat or letting go to to sail off onto the ground). Scrapes are minimized if kids are dressed in tough jeans and shoes. (Little girl’s dresses are not safe swing-apparel. Silky under drawers can slip off dress fabric, and send kids sprawling to the ground. Bare knees are vulnerable.)
It’s easiest on shoe leather if kids are encouraged to “let the dog die” rather than scruffing themselves to a stop. And, never let grown-ups or older youngsters push younger children higher than they like to go.
DIY Tire Swing
Recycle an old tire and make a simple vertical or horizontal apparatus for hours of outdoor fun.
Here are two types of simple tire swings, vertical or horizontal. The vertical is more suitable for a solitary swinger, while the horizontal allows more than one child to swing.
Choose Tree for Swing
The tree you choose should have a horizontal branch at least 10 feet above the ground and at least 8-inches in diameter. Be certain that the tree is healthy. Don’t choose a tree that appears to be losing many large branches. The branch you choose does not have to be perfectly horizontal because a tire swing hangs from just one spot on the branch – as opposed to a wooden swing, in which ropes hang from two spots.
Prepare the Tire
Recycled tires are available at local garages. A neighborhood service station may even give you the tire free. Tractor and truck tires make the best swings, due to their larger size. Use a rot-proof nylon rope to hang the tire from a sturdy limb on a hardwood tree such as oak or ash rather than a softer-limbed evergreen. Or, in a playground, check that the tire swing is hung from chains securely bolted to an overhead support with no obstacles within swinging distance.
For a vertical tire swing, you will need enough rope to reach the distance from the tree to the swing, pluLight truck tires work well, but bigger, heavy truck tires used on semis can cause harm. Avoid steel-belted radials, which can pose cutting hazards.
Pad the ground beneath the swing with wood chips, bark or recycled-tire rubber tiles.
Easy Vertical Tire Swing
For a vertical tire swing, drill one or two drain holes at the bottom, so rainwater does not collect. Use a ladder to reach the branch and tie the rope to the branch with a square knot. You may also attach the rope to a sock, with a ball inside, and throw it over the branch. You can tie a slipknot and pull both ends until it reaches the top of the branch. (With this method, you will have a double rope). The easiest way to attach the rope is by simply tying the knot around the tire, at the top of the tire (opposite the drain holes). Alternatively, drill holes through the middle of the tire and push the rope through the holes. Tie a bowline knot at the top of the tire.
Simple Horizontal Tire Swing
For a horizontal tire swing, you will need three sections of rope that are long enough to reach from swing to branch and also allow for tying knots. Tie the three sections of rope to the tree with a square knot. Then tie the three together in an overhand knot, at least two feet above the tire swing. Be certain to center the knot, so the tire swing is level. An even better method for securing the three ropes, is to bind with wire. Wrap the wire around the three ropes and around the end of the wire, about 10 to 12 times and then twist both ends together securely.
Drill about three drain holes in the bottom of the tire. Then, drill three holes, equidistant, and from top to bottom of the tire. Thread the ropes through the drilled holes and through a washer and then tie a secure knot.
A simple DIY Tire Swing
What do you need
A clean old tire (wash it!)
A piece of rubber hose
Cut the rope to the desired length. Measure from the branch to the height you want the swing to be, and add a little extra for knots.
Enter the rope into the hose, making sure the hose will rest on top of the branch to protect the branch and your rope.
Drill a big hole at the bottom of the tire so the rain can drip away …
Throw the rope over the branch placing the rubber hose on top of the branch and tie it up. Leave some space open.
Get someone to hold the tire at the desired height (or something) and tie the other end of the rope to your tire.
Check the capacity of your swing. A thicker branch, closer to the trunk, can support the most weight.