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Project Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Project Time: 4 days

Tools and Materials:

Pressure-treated 4x6s or landscape timber for border, as needed
Landscape fabric
Sledgehammer, as needed
Rebar, as needed
Impact-reducing material
Posthole digger or power auger
Spirit level and long straight board
Line level
Measuring tape
Circular saw
Scrap lumber for braces
8 4x4s for posts and A-frame
1 scrap 4x4, 5 feet long, for spacers

Power drill/driver
Spade bit for 1/2" recessed holes
Drill bits to fit eyebolts and carriage bolts
1 4x6 beam, 8 feet long
Saw horses
2 hot-dipped galvanized eyebolts, 1/2" x 6", and 6 washers and 2 locknuts to fit
4 hot-dipped galvanized carriage bolts, 1/2" x 10-1/2"
6 hot-dipped galvanized carriage bolts, 3/8" x 10-1/2"
2 hot-dipped galvanized carriage bolts, 1/2" x 15"
Socket wrench
2 spring-loaded clips, 3/8" x 3-1/2"
Shims, as needed
Large pliers, hammer, or vise (as needed)
2 S-hooks
2 lengths of safety-coated chain for swing, as needed


Swings are almost as vital to a children's playground as tires are to a car. And yet many backyard swing sets sit idle while their intended users head for the swings at school or at the park. There's a good reason for this preference: many backyard swings are small, flimsy structures made of tubular metal and allow only a short swing arc. They are best for very young children who can't propel the swing themselves. Once kids leave the kiddie seat and learn to kick and pump on their own, they crave speed and altitude. The plans here show you how you can make a swing frame that kids won't ignore. (Fig. 1)


1 . Choosing a Swing Seat

Swing seats for babies and infants are usually bucket-style, made of rigid plastic or wood. They should either be fully enclosed, making it impossible for the child to slip out or climb out, or be equipped with a childproof safety strap. In addition to design features, safe use requires constant adult presence. (Fig. 2)

Adult-supervised toddlers are comfortable in soft-rubber or molded plastic half bucket seats that provide support to the lower back and may also include a safety strap. (Fig.3)

For older children, the choices are more numerous. Most older kids are happy with a flexible belt-style seat, which may be made of soft rubber, canvas, or plastic (Fig. 4). You can also choose flat, rigid seats made from wood, rubber, or plastic (Fig. 5). However, keep in mind that hard seats increase the hazard of injury in the event the seat strikes another child.

Some swings, especially those for the youngest children, are sold with rope or chain already attached. You can also find chain coated with a rubberlike material for safety.

2 . Choosing Impact-Reducing Material
To prevent playground injuries, you should install impact-reducing material below your swing set. Several options are available, such as wood mulch and chips, sand, or pea gravel. All impact-reducing materials should be contained in a border, such as wood timbers, with good drainage beneath.

3 . Preparing the Site

When preparing the site, you'll need to decide if it will be above grade, at grade, or hybrid grade.

Above-Grade Surface

Above grade is easiest; install a border, and then fill it with the impact-reducing material. The border can be made of pressure-treated 4x6s or landscape timbers. The top edges of the timbers should be smooth and rounded. To hold the border in place, drill holes through the timbers about every 48 inches. Then use a sledgehammer to drive 18- to 20-inch lengths of steel reinforcing bar, called rebar, through the holes into the ground. Be sure to drive the rebar below the top surface of the timber so that it doesn't protrude.

To ensure that grass and weeds won't grow through the edge materials, underlay them with landscape fabric. This special landscape fabric is preferable to polyethylene sheeting because it allows water to drain through.

Finally, after the play structure is built, fill the enclosure with at least 9 inches of wood mulch or wood chips, or with the appropriate depth of sand or pea gravel. (Fig. 6)

At-Grade Surface

An at-grade surface blends with the yard better than an above-grade surface but involves more work. Remove the sod. Then excavate to the depth your surface material will fill (9 to 12 inches). Line the edges of the hole with landscape fabric. After building the play structure, fill the excavated area with impact-reducing material. (Fig. 7)

Hybrid-Grade Surface

A slightly raised border allows you to reach a depth of at least 9 inches, the minimum for safety, without the need to do extensive excavation. For example, you could use 3x5 landscape timbers and then remove sod and a few inches of topsoil. After the play structure is built, fill in the area with impact-reducing material. (Fig. 8)

4 . Preparing the Swing Posts

Digging the Postholes

Mark the location where you'll install your two doubled posts. Because the holes will receive two spaced 4x4 posts, they must be larger than holes for single posts. The oval surface dimensions of each hole should be 12 x 20 inches.

Local building authorities can tell you how deep to dig, and may insist on inspecting the depth of your holes before allowing you to set the doubled posts in concrete. In general, the depth should be at least 3 feet, plus at least 6 inches below frost line in northern regions.

Dig the hole with a posthole digger or power auger. The holes should have relatively smooth sides, with a slight flaring undercut at the bottom. (Fig. 9)

Shovel about 6 inches of gravel into the bottom of each posthole, and tamp the gravel firmly, using the post bottom.

Positioning the Middle Spacers

Each set of swing posts has two spacers, one near the middle and the other near the top, which will support the beam (see Fig. 1). The spacers are composed of 14-1/2-inch lengths of scrap 4x4 lumber.

To position the middle spacer for one doubled post, insert one of the posts into the posthole, resting it on the 6 inches of gravel. Measure 66 inches upward from the eventual level of the impact-reducing material; make a mark for the center of the middle spacer block, as shown in Figure 9. Transfer this mark to the second post. Lay both swing posts on a flat surface, align the marks, and then center the spacer on the marks. Temporarily clamp the assembly together. Raise the doubled swing post in its hole, make sure it's plumb, and brace it temporarily, as shown.

Repeat for the second doubled swing post, using a line level to transfer the mark for positioning the spacer. After the assembly is clamped, raise it in its hole and brace it temporarily. Do not add concrete yet.

Installing the Top and Middle Spacers

Measure up one post 8 feet above the eventual surface of impact-reducing material and make a mark. Using a line level or a spirit level on a long straight board, transfer this mark to the other set of posts.

Position the top spacers, made of 14-1/2-inch long 4x4s, with their tops aligned with the marks, and clamp in place. Drill holes through the posts and the spacers for 3/8 x 10-1/2-inch carriage bolts, drilling 1/2-inch recesses on the second posts. To do this, drill through the posts and spacers until the tip of the bit just barely emerges. Replace the bit with a spade bit that is slightly larger than the washer diameter, and drill 1/2-inch recesses in the second posts (Fig 10). You'll need a sharp bit and a steady hand to keep the bit from wobbling off center. Install and tighten the bolts, washers, and nuts. Follow the same drilling-and-bolting procedure for the middle spacers.

5 . Lay Out the Beam for the Eyebolt Positions

The plan calls for using two 1/2 x 6-inch eyebolts that will suspend the swing. Be aware that different manufacturers measure eyebolt lengths differently. For some, the 6-inch dimension is an overall length, while for others the 6-inch length refers to the shaft below the eye. Look for the eyebolts with at least a 6-inch shaft.

For safety, it is recommended that the hand level of the swings be located about 48 inches above the level of the impact-reducing surface and at least 30 inches from the side frame (see Fig. 1). Also, by spacing the eyebolts for the swing wider than the seat itself, you minimize the amount of side-to-side motion possible. Note that on the plan (see Fig. 1), the eyebolts are placed 29 inches from the edge of each beam, but the seat is 30 inches from each post.

Before drilling holes for the eyebolts, read the manufacturer's instructions for installing your swing. The following are general guidelines:

Mark the position for the eyebolts along the centerline of the top 4-inch face of the beam; locate each eyebolt 10 inches from the center point of the beam, one on each side. At each of these marks, drill a 7/16-inch hole straight down to the bottom 4-inch face of the beam; make sure the holes are perfectly vertical.

Install the eyebolts from the bottom face of the beam up to the top, with a single washer on the bottom, double washers on the top, and locknuts. Ensure that the eyes of the eyebolts are perpendicular to the length of the beam. (Fig. 11)

Don't attach the spring-loaded clips and S-hooks at this point.

6 . Install the Beam
With a helper, lift the beam into position, resting it on the top spacers. Using a spirit level, check that the beam is level. If it isn't, place shims between the beam and one spacer until it is level.

Drill holes through the posts and beam for the 1/2 x 10-1/2-inch carriage bolts, drilling 1/2-inch recesses in the second posts. Install and tighten the bolts, washers, and nuts.

7 . Fill the Holes with Concrete
Recheck that the posts are plumb. Then fill the postholes with concrete to 3 inches below ground level, sloping the concrete's surface away from the posts to promote water runoff. Let the concrete cure overnight, and do not allow anyone to touch the posts.

8 . Attach the Swings
In addition to the seat and chain, the swing also needs two 3/8 x 3-1/2-inch spring-loaded clips. If you have clips, you would need S-hooks here only if the clips will not fit through small chain links (see Fig. 10). Using large pliers, close the ends of the S-hooks tightly so that they cannot slip off the clips or chain. If you can't close the S-hooks with large pliers, remove the clips from the eyebolts and use a hammer or vise to close them. Attach the seats to the chain with S-hooks (also closing them) or as directed by the manufacturer.

Proper position of all hardware will provide the best swinging motion.

Install swing seats just low enough so that your children's feet can touch the ground (14 to 18 inches is usually ideal). You can add extra sets of S-hooks in the chain and then close them to allow easy raising or lowering of the seat by means of the spring-loaded clips. Be sure to close the S-hooks completely.

9 . Cut A-Frame Posts

You will need four 4x4 posts to make the A-frame. Cut each 4x4 to approximately 10-1/4 feet long. (Size will depend on how deep you sink the posts into the concrete.) Pair the posts into 2 sets, and angle-cut the top edges at opposing 35-degree angles so that they will set snug against the posts holding the center beam. (Fig. 12)

10 . Dig Holes for A-Frames
Dig four holes for the A-frames. Position these holes approximately 44 inches from the outer edges of the posts. Dig the holes as instructed in Step 4, making them at least 12 inches wide and at least 42 inches deep. (This allows for digging 6 inches below the frost line.) Pour concrete into the holes, to about 5 inches below ground level.

11 . Attach the A-Frame Posts
Sink the A-frame posts at least a few inches into the wet concrete so that the angled tops abut the swing posts exactly opposite each other. Drill through the assembly, securing it with a 1/2 x 15-inch carriage bolt, first recessing 1/2 inch for washers and nuts.

12 . Add Impact-Reducing Material
Once the swing frame is built, add your impact-reducing material to the recommended depth. For most common materials used under swings, you should plan for a layer 9 to 12 inches deep.