Building a free standing swing set is not as difficult as one might think. With decent sets costing over $1,500, I decided to build one myself to my own specifications.
This project is lengthy, so I broke up the article into 3 parts:
- Part 1 – Overview / Design / Material list (You Are Here)
- Part 2 – Construction
- Part 3 – Installing Accessories
With my kids rapidly growing, I wanted to buy them a sage and sturdy play swing set. With most main beams weighing over 100 pounds, the last thing I want is a shoddy swing set with poor design.
I checked 6 or 7 dealers and found that most decent sets were priced well over the $1,500+ range, including sets made from metal, PVC and other materials. I found a really nice swing set made from red cedar (the same one that is pictured at the beginning of this article) but that was priced over $2,700!
Kids are amazingly talented pushing design limits to put themselves in to danger. To minimize the risk of injury:
- We should create a buffer zone that should be roughly twice the height of the swing. For example, if the height of the swing is 6 feet, the front buffer zone should be approximately 12 feet. Rear buffer zone should also be approximately 12 feet;
- The distance between seats should be 24 inches or greater (to avoid hitting each other while swinging);
- The distance between a seat and the nearest support structure should be be 30 inches or greater;
First of all, if you can afford it, go with red cedar. Red cedar is naturally resistant to rot and has minimal splinter risk, but it is super expensive (about 5 times the cost of a pressure-treated lumber where I live).
Second, with a $500 budget, I decided to use pressure treated (PT) lumber because it is inexpensive. I was not concerned with PT lumber because unlike the play gym, I didn’t expect kids to touch the frame of a swing set that often, if at all.
PT 4x4s come with sharp corner edges so to minimize the risk of getting splinters, I will need to round off the edges using a router.
Lastly, I originally intended to build a backyard play gym that was attached to the swing set. However, due to the size of my lot (100 x 385), I just could not make the configurations work without sacrificing features that my son and daughter wanted.
Instead, we decided to build and locate them separately. So my goals were to:
- Build a simple but rustic looking swing set that can take a beating;
- Handle up to 4 children, using 3 rides (third one being a Mega Rider Swing Seat that supports 2 kids)
I really liked the this swing set (pix below) I found at a local store but at $2700, it was just too expensive. Instead, I am going to try to create a slightly different version of it.
- Main Beam – This is the horizontal beam that will carry the bulk of the swinging weight. It needs to resist the vertical and angular forces as well as to provide torsional rigidity (i.e. twisting). I’ve elected to utilize a 4 x 6 x 12 ft long PT lumber (12 extra inches on either side so the effective span would be about 10 ft)
- Vertical + Horizontal Supports – Use 4 x 4 x 10 ft PT lumber with contiguous load-bearing beams, attached to a 30-degree triangular base for stability;
- Ground Support Braces – 2 x 6 PT to tie in vertical pieces
- Connectors – All connections will be made with galvanized bolts, washers and nuts from Simpson-Strong. The only exception is for the ground support braces which will be secured to the veritical and horizontal braces Simpson-Strong structural lag screws.
|Qty||Item||Where to Buy|
|1||4 x 6 x 12, Pressure Treated, SYP||Local Lumber Yard|
|9||4 x 4 x 10, Pressure Treated, SYP||Local Lumber Yard|
|2||2 x 6 x 8, Pressure Treated, SYP||Local Lumber Yard|
|4||1/2″ galvanized carriage bolts x 6.5″||Local Lumber Yard|
|4||1/2″ galvanized carriage bolts x 10″||Local Lumber Yard|
|8||1/2″ galvanized carriage bolts x 12″||Local Lumber Yard|
|16||1/2″ galvanized washers||Local Lumber Yard|
|16||1/2″ galvanized nuts||Local Lumber Yard|
|1 box||Simpson 1/4″ x 3″ structural screws||Link|
|1||Swing-N-Slide Extra-Duty Swing Seat (green)||Link|
|1 pair||Swing-N-Slide – Extra-Duty Swing Hangers Model #4888||Link|
|1 pair||Congo Play – Commercial Swing Hanger Galvanized Model # SH-04;||Link|
|1||Swing-N-Slide – Mega Rider||Link|
|1||Swing-N-Slide – Extra-Duty Swing Seat (green)||Link|
|1||Swing-N-Slide – Heavy-Duty Trapeze Swing Bar||Link|
*SYP = Southern Yellow Pine (commonly found at local large box retailers)
*PT = Pressure Treated
Other than few drill bits, rest of the tools are pretty standard. If you don’t own most of them, you will need to borrow them but as a DIY, it’s a good idea to start buying them couple at a time as you will need them to build things like decks and tree houses in the future.
- Metal Hacksaw; to trim off the excess bolt;
- Compound Miter Saw or Chop Saw (Like this one);
- Sawhorses (Like this Stanley Folding Sawhorse);
- Drill bit; I would not recommend using a long-shafted speedbor/spade bits because they are very difficult to drill a straight hole (I use this black oxide drill bit);
- Router; not a must but highly recommended to round out 4×4 supports to minimize splinters (I suggest this DeWalt DWP611PK 1.25 HP Max Torque Variable Speed Compact Router Combo Kit with LED);
- Router bit (Like this 1/2″ Radius Rounding Over Bit (Quadra-Cut));
- Spade/Boring Kit; to counter-sink bolt heads (Like this Milwaukee 6-Piece Universal Quik-Lok Stubby Flat Boring Bit Set);
When cutting 4x4s, I placed the miter saw on the ground which is really bad on my back. If you have a saw horse roller (like this Craftsman Roller Stand 11-1/2″ Roller Steel Support Stand), you can use your saw horses as a workbench.
In How I Built My Own Backyard Swing Set – Part 2 post, I will show you how I built the swing set frame.
If you found this article to be useful, would you please do me a favor and sign up for my newsletter (form is found on the upper right screen)? I promise it will be spam free.
Thanks and good luck!
13 thoughts on “How I Built My Own Backyard Swing Set – Part 1”
First off let me begin by saying that I found this design to be one of the best on the Internet. Great job! Props to the poster for publishing this !
I am about to build this. However, I have purchased longer lateral and vertical supports because I will be sinking all supports into concrete, because it will be installed on a slight “hill”. After brainstorming for several days on this project, I keep having the same thoughts. After picking up the 4 x 6 x 12, and feeling how dang heavy that main beam is, the weight really concerns me. The reason that it concerns me is because the four 4 x 4’s acting as vertical supports are at a steep angle in relation to the main beam.
Wood is at its strongest when the compression forces are straight down. (an example that my physics teacher in high school used to use is to imagine walking on wooden stilts. The stilts are very strong when standing on them and the compression forces are straight down on the wood. But if you stand on a stilt horizontally, it will snap like a twig being karate chopped)
I understand the objective to want to avoid horizontal racking of the swingset by angling the vertical post. But I am also worried about the horrendous weight that is being pulled at an angle sideways (remember the stilts story) on these posts. It seems like that 4 x 6 main beam, plus the weight of the swingers, plus the G forces of the swinging action, are begging for those 4 x 4 vertical posts to snap. Well, OK, maybe not snap. But warp and begin to crack with stress fractures.
I am no engineer, but I believe that placing the vertical supports directly at a 90° from the main beam, and sinking them into concrete will provide both horizontal and lateral stabilization effectively. I will be placing my 12 foot posts 4 feet into the ground with concrete. If my swingset has any horizontal racking issues, it could only be from structural integrity of the wood, not from a lack of angle in the vertical posts. I will be installing the lateral supports and concreting them also. However, probably only 1-2′ deep.
I understand some people don’t want to use concrete. And I think on a perfectly flat yard that might be acceptable. Believe me when I tell you that I spent a couple sleepless nights debating whether I could build this without burying the posts in concrete. I even thought about angling the ground supports to match the slope of the yard, and only burying the vertical posts a foot or two in concrete. Like I said, I am not an engineer. ButI could not come up with anything that would make me feel comfortable putting my kids underneath that horrendously heavy four by six beam. Very deep, horizontal forces, embedded in concrete, we’re the only thing I could be comfortable with.
Some people might fault me for burying the post so deep into the ground. But, ask any professional fence Installer how deep they bury the posts . They will tell you the “golden rule” that 1/3 of the total post length goes underground. The only force the fence post is fighting is with strong winds. We are talking about the forces of a child swinging at full speed. This includes vertical, lateral, horizontal, twisting forces at several g’s . Sometimes in opposite directions. To each their own. But I’ll take the concrete. If this was an A-frame swingset, I would not be as concerned with burial depth because the forces would be acting differently on the main supports. On an a-frame, while swinging forces the are the greatest, the force is still directly parallel (or closer to it) to the post In the a-frame.
In step two, you refer to the “locking piece”. Once again the strength of wood being at its greatest directly up-and-down, versus at an angle comes in to play. Instead of making the locking piece at a 45° angle, wouldn’t it be stronger to just fill in the gap between the two 4 x 4’s at the vertical post directly under the main beam? Possibly a third 4 x 4 placed in between the two vertical supports and carriage bolt it directly under the main beam?
Once again, I am not an engineer. These are just my thoughts. Maybe some other people have input to my brainstormings.
Once again, thank you so much for posting this. I think it’s overall great design. However, I just thought these couple of tweaks could have made it stronger
Thanks for leaving such a thorough response!
Regarding the concrete post base, there were several reasons why I chose NOT to do it:
The way I angled the side posts, there really aren’t side-to-side racking forces at all. I know this because I built this set back in 2013 and as of today, it is still going strong!
The “free” base also allows me to make incremental adjustments to make the main beam level without much fuss.
As far as the locking piece is concerned, the one I describe is the original one, but in my ebook (which will be available as an Amazon Kindle ebook in about a week) has a stronger, split locking design for additional durability.
Anyways, I would love to see how you make out with your project by sending us your project pictures. Maybe we can publish your project on our website?
Well, the build is done! Pictures are included at the end of this post.
One of my biggest concerns was securing the swingset to the ground since I am on a hill. I debated for a long time about whether to concrete the posts, and how deep to go with it. I believe that this design was stable, due to the original poster putting this on flat level ground without any anchoring system. What really concerned me was the weight of that 4 x 6 x 12 after I purchased it. The thought of this thing tipping over, kept me up at night. Literally!
I purchased 4x4x12 vertical supports (instead of the original 4x4x10’s) so that I could bury some of them. I also cut my lateral supports in relation to the yard slope. (Longer supports on the downhill side). I also installed my ground supports parallel with the ground, instead of plumb to the swing set. (This is why they appear to be at an angle.) The entire swingset was built “earth level” with exception to the ground supports. I wanted these on the ground for added stability.
I decided to dig 6 holes for the lateral and vertical supports. Each hole was 12-15 inches deep and concreted with no-mix concrete. I also drilled 1/2″ holes into the bottom of each post and inserted rebar for added grip in the concrete.
I will admit that I have always been under the “golden rule” of fence posts of burying 1/3 of the total above ground post height. But, that is for a free standing post without any support. Since this is a swingset with good support/stability, I elected to use the concrete more for added bottom end weight, instead of being for stability (although it helps with that too.) My only concern is with my deep frost line. However, I do not have the power equipment or ability to dig that deep. Especially through all the rock and clay that I have. I viewed the concrete more as bottom end weight (to counter this set being top heavy), and not so much as a ground anchor. Even though, I am positive there is still some anchorage to the ground.
In the bottom of my holes I put about 2 inches of pea gravel to help with drainage. After I builtthe swingset and had it in the dry holes (before adding concrete), it was VERY stable. I used a total of 10 bags of concrete.
One of my other changes is that instead of the stainless steel screws used on the ground support (as called for in the original plan, I am going to swap them for carriage bolts). I didn’t really like the fact of building the swing with carriage bolts and then screwing on the ground support. At the least, I think it would be aesthetically more pleasing.
I can say that this thing is stable as a rock. I don’t have my swings installed yet, but I swung from the top beam with my hand (gymnast/uneven bar style) and this thing didn’t move. FYI, I weigh 200lbs. After much brainstorming (as seen in my previous comment) , I ended up sticking more to the original plans than I thought I would. I originally had some concerns about the plans, but I believe this was more due to my situation , versus any fault in the plans. I just needed to make some tweaks in order for these plans to work for me.
Also, I am having some issues paying $40 a pair for swing hangers. This adds $120 for three pairs to the total cost. Anyone thought of using 1/2″x8″ galvanized eye bolts? The ones I looked at were at tractor supply and had a weight capacity of 2200lbs a piece. However, the company gave a weird warning on the packaging . It said…”Do not use for overhead lifting, support of human weight, athletic or playground equipment; inspect frequently”… What human weighs over 4400lbs?! This must be some sort of legal mumbo-jumbo. I can’t think of a physical reason why these bolts could not be used. Anyone have any ideas? I am still in a conundrum over wether to shell out $120 on swing hangers.
I have also seen the eyebolt screw in style hangers, but I am having trouble finding any that are galvanized or stainless. I also wonder if not having proper swing hangers (without the rubber bushings) would cause too much metal on metal wear or squeaking. Anyone have any thoughts?
Total build time was 13 hours. This is counting breaks. I won’t lie, it was a looonngg day. I should have done this over 2 days , and definitely could have used a hand, but managed to build it by myself.
If you are going to concrete, my number one piece of advice would be the following… Absolutely make concrete the very last step! Build the entire swingset first, and finally add concrete. That way you can adjust anything up until the very last step.
Disclaimer….I am not an engineer. This is my build. So please do not take anything I say as NASA level science.
Wow! Awesome work! I am sure your kids will love it.
Regarding the swing hangers. Obviously, the most basic choice is to use a lag screw hanger that comes with a hook and eye which attaches to the swing beam. I am not sure if this is a good choice because this setup does not get bolted through the beam. With kids loading the joint 5 or 6 times their weight, there may be a good chance that the lag screw can work itself out over time.
Second option is a basic bolt-and-nut hanger which consists of the hook and eye like the lag screw option, but it gets bolted through the beam and gets fastened with a washer and a nut. Obviously this setup is better than the lag screw setup but is not the strongest.
I have had my setup since 2013 and still can say that the best option is a ductile iron swing hanger, which is constructed from high grade iron and brass bushings. Yes it costs more money, but amortized over 4+ years of trouble-free life, I think it is worth it.
By the way, do you mind if I create a separate blog posting consisting of your responses and pictures? I think other readers may find it useful.
Again, great job!
Feel free to use my photos/comments as you like. I just would like it to be clear that I am in no way an “expert” and that my building ideas are not “time tested”.
Just built this today to hang a web swing for my 4yo. I only had 14′ horizontal space to work with, so scaled your design down with 8′ vertical supports and 8′ usable space on the 12′ beam. Took my brother and I about 4 hours start-to-finish with a pizza break included!
We hung the swing from a 360° swivel intended for rock-climbing that is quiet and insanely smooth, it will spin for a loooooooong time given a good push.
Excellent article, thank you!
Great job! Thank you for sharing your pix
I’m new to everything wood working and I was wondering if there was a 1/2″ collet for the recommended dewalt router? I purchased both at the same time and the linked dewalt router and the linked router bit don’t go together. I’ve asked around but no one seems to know what i’m talking about. Since you gave them both as examples I was wondering if you could help?
Sorry for the link error!
Rather than buying a 1/2″ collet adapter, I would just buy a different router bit with 1/4″ shaft (which is compatible with DeWalt) like this one (link). The new one still has the 1/2″ radius.
Good luck and contact me to let me know how your project turns out!
Do you recall how many hrs to fabricate and setup?
With all parts on site and prepped, it took me about 8 hours to assemble (by myself).
If you have friends help out, it will obviously go much faster.
Send me some pix once you are done building!
Do you have a link to your e-book? Our current playset was purchased by the prior home-owners and it is getting long in tooth. Given covid production delays, I want to remove the metal bracket and just go with wood. Two additional questions, how high is the 4×6 from the ground? I apologize if i missed this detail in your post. Lastly, did you let the wood dry out after you purchased? I’ve read pros/cons o doing this as the wood might warp during the drying. Any by drying i mean sit in my garage for a week. Bonus question, did you use an specific sealer or did you not bother given the wood was pressure treated?
Thanks for the detailed instructions. Be well
I will try to find that link for you… As far as your questions:
1) The set was originally designed for 5-7 year olds so I used 4 x 4 x 10ft long pieces for side support. With the angle, the mainbeam came to be about 7 1/2 ft from the ground (not too high, not too low)
2) My structure was VERY sturdy so absolutely no warp at all;
3. No sealer; looking back, I probably would have applied a nice coat of red cedar like sealer though..
I will be in touch soon!