Thinking of building a wooden swing set? They sure do look cool and offer a lot of options and features. Your kids will love having their own backyard playground. But, they are a big investment of money and time. Don’t pick up that credit card or hit the Buy It Now button before you arm yourself with some facts.
Swing Set Placement
If you haven’t already done so, start with our Swing Set Placement Guide.
Know where you are going to build your wooden swing set? Great. Now let’s talk about wood selection, maintenance and unwelcome visitors.
Wooden play sets are generally made using one of three different woods – cedar, redwood or premium preserved pine. Some kits use recycled and composite materials.
Premium Pine Swing Sets
Of the three, premium preserved pine is generally the longest lasting and requires the least amount of maintenance. Premium pine swing sets are more durable because the wood is pre-shrunk and preserved. Preserved woods were sometimes treated with arsenic. Manufacturers are now using newer methods with safer products that are Greenguard certified. Most premium preserved pine swing sets come with a lifetime warranty on the wood and a 2-year warranty on the parts and accessories.
Redwood Swing Sets
Redwood is the prettiest of the woods generally used in building a wooden swing set. It is the most expensive. However, most redwood swing set kits carry a lifetime warranty on the wood and 2 years on the parts and accessories. Redwood swing sets are generally made of American-grown California redwood. It is naturally resistant to fungal disease and insects. Redwood is quite durable because it doesn’t tend to shrink or warp. When building a wooden swing set, look for “heartwood redwood.” Play structures not made from heartwood may not enjoy the same level of durability and insect resistance.
Cedar Swing Sets
Cedar generally offers the best overall value when building a wooden swing set. Most swing set kits use cedar. Makes sense. It is naturally resistant to rot and decay which is why it is so often used on decks and other outdoor structures. Look for a cedar swing set with at least a 5-year warranty on the wood and 1 year on the parts and accessories.
The newer wood composites offer a “greener” option. Homeowners are using these materials more frequently in building backyard decks and porches. It would only make sense that these materials are now also being used in building wooden swing sets. However, if you spend even a few moments on a home improvement store’s website, you’ll generally find people complaining that their wood composite decks are simply not holding up to the elements. Long boards often warp and the entire structure can become a giant mold magnet. Like most newer products, they are constantly improving and it does seem these materials are getting stronger and more mold-resistant. Wooden composite materials are a bad choice for building a wooden swing set support structures; they simply aren’t strong enough. However, they are an option for decking and walls.
Polymer Coated Wood
Another option when building a wooden swing set is polymer coated wood. They are sometimes called vinyl swing sets; even though they are made with wood. Polymer coated wood is just that – a wooden core covered by a polymer. The coating helps to reinforce the strength of the wood, is insect-resistant and the wood doesn’t rot. And, best of all, no splinters!
We found manufacturers and playground designers discussing the merits of these products but did not find any conversations about long-term durability. However, a number of the manufacturers are warrantying their wood for 10 – 25 years.
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Like all construction projects, there’s often multiple ideas about what makes the strongest, most cost-effective structure. We researched what the experts are saying about the minimum structural requirements for building a wooden swing set. Most experts recommend using a solid 4-inch by 6-inch swing beam. And, the A-frame or ‘legs’ of the structure should be at least 4-inches by 4-inches of solid wood. Do not glue or bolt smaller pieces together. They will not be as strong as solid wood.
Additionally, if you are building a wooden swing set kit that includes the wood, get one that comes with pre-drilled holes. Drilling your own holes in kit wood can void your warranty and besides, who needs the hassle of all that measuring.
General Maintenance of Wooden Swing Sets & Wooden Play Structures
Plan to continually inspect your play structure for loose bolts, screws and fittings. We recommend checking the structure for insect activity every time it is used. Pay particular attention to enclosed structures, under slides and under swings. They provide plenty of hiding places for nasty biting insects. Also, depending upon where you live, scorpions, snakes and other unfriendly creatures might hide within the structure or accessories.
I was extremely lucky as a child. After I had finished playing on my swing set, we discovered a hornet’s nest underneath the plastic swing seat. Thankfully, the nest was safely removed and no one was stung. A friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of her son’s favorite riding toy with a snake curled up underneath the seat. Never forget that we share this world with creatures that can do unpleasant things to us when they feel threatened.
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Discussions about building a wooden swing set or play structure usually gloss-over the topic of wood maintenance. Manufacturers don’t want to talk about structural failure or splinters. A well-built and designed wooden swing set will not generally fail structurally before there are visual clues that there is a problem. Splinters, on the other hand, are far less easily seen and can disastrous when a child is injured.
When you inspect any heavy duty swing set or play structure for unwelcome visitors, check for splinters too. Rough play or contact with other toys can create rough spots or gauges. Fill holes with the appropriate wood putty and use an orbital sander to keep everything nice and splinter free.
Any wood can dry, rot, warp and/or splinter. Swing set manufacturers don’t tend to like talking about maintenance. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules or universal guidelines concerning play structure wood maintenance.
The need for periodic wood maintenance increases if you live in a climate with drastic seasonal weather changes, extremely hot sunny summers or prolonged periods of rainy weather. Protective sealants will help. Recommendations seem to vary from never needing to apply sealer to annually to biannually or as needed. Check with other parents or even a local builder or two. They can offer guidance about protecting your investment. Don’t forget to ask them about footings and other safety measures as well.