Tree swings bring to mind the warm, free feeling of childhood on a summer afternoon. Whether you want to build one for your kids or as a romantic backyard getaway, take the time to familiarize yourself with the steps that make a tree swing both safe and enjoyable to use.
Tree Swings 101
There's a bit more to a tree swing than tying a couple pieces of rope to a wooden board and hanging it from a tree.
Choosing the Limb
Choosing the right tree limb is also important for safety. Make sure the tree is structurally sound and that it dosen't have a hollow, rotten core that would indicate poor health and increase the likelihood of losing branches when someone is swinging. The limb that is chosen should be at least 4 inches in diameter and in a horizontal position.
The rope needs to be stout enough to hold up to the weather, so the swing doesn't one day come crashing down. For a smooth, even swinging experience, you also need to tie the rope to the swing in all four corners, not just on the left and right sides -- otherwise, it will be a very tippy swing.
Clear the Swing's Path
Make sure there is no other trees, shrubbery or structures that will impede the path of the swing in either direction. Once you have the ropes attached to the limb, you can check how far they extend in both forward and backward directions if there is any doubt.
- 5/8-inch braided poly rope
- 3 feet of 3/4-inch diameter poly tubing
- 1 - 2" x 8" x 4' pressure treated board
- 4 - 5/8" x 2" galvanized fender washers
- 8 - 2-1/2 inch galvanized screws
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
- Circular saw
- Electric drill
- 5/8-inch drill bit
Once you've chosen your site, it's time to for the first, most difficult step -- getting the ropes positioned over the tree limb. If you have access to a ladder that's tall enough, and the ground is flat and stable underneath the limb, simply lean the ladder against the branch and hang the ropes over it. Otherwise, you'll have to tie a rock to the ropes and carefully throw them over the limb, making sure you step out of their potential path(s) if they should happen to go over and swing back towards you. It may take a number of tries, but keep at it until you're able to position the two ropes as indicated below.
Prepare the Rope
- Measure the length from the limb to the ground and cut two pieces of rope that are twice as long as this distance.
- Cut two 18-inch sections of 3/4-inch poly tubing and slide the rope inside, positioning the tubing at the midpoint of each piece of rope (this protects the rope from chafing against the limb and becoming frayed).
- Position the two ropes over the chosen limb about 36 inches apart from each other and at least 4 feet from the trunk. Adjust the ropes so the portion with the tubing is centered over the top of the limb.
Construct the Swing
- Cut a 2" x 8" board to the following lengths: one piece 3 feet long and two pieces that are 6 inches long.
- Position the two 6-inch boards flat on either end of the larger board so all the edges are flush. Screw the smaller boards to the larger board with a 2-1/2-inch screw in each corner about 1 inch in from the edges (this reinforces the area where the ropes will be attached).
- Drill two 5/8-inch diameter holes through the two boards on either end. Drill the holes in a parallel position 2 inches in from the edges of the boards. This results in a hole in all four corners that are 1-inch from those corners.
Attach the Swing and Ropes
- Turn the swing over so the smaller boards are on the bottom and pass the ends of the ropes through the holes. Make sure the ropes are not crossing each other.
- Have a helper hold the swing at a height of 24 inches above the ground while you slide a fender washer onto each rope and tie it off so the washer is pushed flush against the wood. The washer helps distribute the pressure of the rope against the wood and ensures that the knot doesn't slip through the holes in the future. Use a double knot and tighten it as much as possible while checking to be sure the swing appears level.
- Cut off any excess rope leaving 2 or 3 inches beneath the knots.
The instructions above provide a simple, sure way to build a rope swing that is safe, long-lasting, and fun to use. However, as long as you keep the same principles in mind, there are many other approaches to building a successful rope swing.
- If you cannot locate a suitable horizontal limb on your property, you can also look for two adjacent limbs that have a crotch at the same height and loop the ropes through the crotches. As long as they are the same height it won't affect the swing if they are farther apart than the swing is wide.
- Thick, braided rope is important for safety, but you can also use chains and cables -- just make sure to use poly tubing around them to protect the branch from chafing.
- Having two rope ends on each side of the swing is important for a smooth swinging motion, but they don't have to extend all the way to the branch. You can also devise methods where the ropes join several feet above the swing and continue up to the branch as a single rope.
- You can also experiment with different materials for both improved comfort and style, such as round, curved, or padded seats.
- For a more refined swing, feel free to sand it smooth and paint it or stain it. You can also engrave the wood with a message if you like.
Swing to Your Heart's Delight
Constructed properly, a tree swing will hold to regular use for many years. Still, be sure to check that the knots are holding every month when the swing is in use.