HOW TO: Build a homebrew swing set

>> Tuesday, August 4, 2009

For our daughter's seventh birthday, we thought we'd surprise her with a swing set. So while she was away at her grandparents' for the week, we dodged summer thunderstorms and clouds of gnats to put one together.

We had a few pressure treated 4x4s left over from a temporary home-building project last year, so we put those to work as our A-frame swing set legs. We thought we were going to be able to connect the A-frame and the cross bar with joist hangers, but Lowe's didn't have anything that fit the bill. After much discussion with a Lowe's guy about how we could effectively cross two boards and still attach both a cross bar and support beams, we decided to cut notches in each of the boards, fit them together like tabs, and then bolt them together. I'm sure there's a carpentry term for this kind of joint, but it escapes me at the moment.

To begin, we laid the two boards on top of each other to mark the angle we wanted, and then we set the circular saw to a depth that would cut down exactly half-way through our 4x4. Then we cut a series of lines out in between our marks.

Using a chisel, it was a simple thing to break the sliced pieces of wood out, leaving this:

A nicely carved canyon.

Do this four times over, and you've got four boards that fit snugly into each other.

Next up, we used an auger to drill holes for the bolts that would hold the A-frames together.

Voila! We have our teepee-top for our A-frame.

Next up we cut out a channel for the cross beam to sit in, using a combination of drill, circular saw, and jigsaw.

Our cross beam is a 4x6, so while most of it will be held by our channel, some of it will stick out the top.

Into that cross beam, we bored more holes, then hammered through long, strong eye-hooks, from which the swings would eventually hang.

We added two boards to each A-frame, as you can see here, for stability. The higher of the two cross supports will eventually brace the angled supports we'll put in the corners. This is looking wobbly and tippy at this point--all we did was set the A-frame sides up and lay on the cross bar. Next we had to attach them and square everything.

We did use some minor joist joints here--angle brackets to help keep things in place. On the back side, which we apparently didn't photograph, we used a flat plate to attach the end of the cross beam to the A-frame.

Next up we cut angled beams to give the swing set some side to side support. These run from the upper A-frame cross brace to just before the swing eye hooks on the cross beam.

We had to add a second cross beam to help cover the length of the angled cut on the support beam. We also had to toe-nail the support beam into the cross bar, which is never fun.

When it was finished though, the swing set's upper corners were really sturdy!

And there you have it! A finished swing set frame.

We're in the home stretch. All we have to do is attach our swings. We used super-strength naval carabiners that hold something crazy like 1,500 pounds of weight, to which we attached a vinyl-coated chain. (Great for gripping, and doesn't get tangled up with long hair!)

The chains had to be adjusted for height by cutting away the vinyl coating.

Our seats were homemade too, although you can buy all kinds of swing set seat. This is a pressure-treated 2x6 with eye hooks in the ends, wrapped in an outdoor canvas we bought at Hancock's. Half a yard was all we needed for both swings.

And now it's play time!


tanita davis August 4, 2009 at 1:47 PM  

I think I want to be seven and live at YOUR house. Didn't Jo ask for a roommate?

DaviMack August 4, 2009 at 1:53 PM  

But wait: did you anchor it into the ground at all? Or is it too sturdy for that? And ... you're not going to paint it? ;)

Alan August 6, 2009 at 10:48 AM  

@ DaviMack -

We'll probably anchor it. I'm thinking of drilling holes through the legs and pounding rebar through into the ground. So far it hasn't been an issue, even when I'm swinging on it. The wood we used is VERY heavy. Still, I think it's going to need the anchors eventually. As for paint--probably not. It's all pressure treated wood, so it'll last. We DO plan on putting lattice up the sides though, so we can plant grapes on it! Jo likes this plan: she has it in her head that if she has more than one friend over, they can wait their turn on the swing by picking grapes off an eating them...

AdelaidesMom June 28, 2014 at 12:27 PM  

By chance you read this, so long after the original post: how is it holding up? We're wanting to build an a-frame for our 3 year old and soon to be younger sibling. What all did you do to reinforce stability?


Alan Gratz June 30, 2014 at 4:07 PM  

The swing set is still holding up, and still getting used! We never did do the rebar idea I posted about above--the swing set has never been that tippy.

Juan July 1, 2014 at 10:48 AM  

Alan, in your opinion can this swing set be made portable? We have three minor children 10,8,6 and we are also in the military which forces us to be mobile (transfers to different locations). Of all the DIY plans, I thought yours was the simplest. I too have lumber stock at my disposal so it would definitely be on the "cheap" :)

Alan Gratz July 1, 2014 at 12:10 PM  

Hey Juan -

In terms of portability, we can certainly move it around the yard, and have. As for taking it apart, moving to a new town, and then rebuilding it...I'm not sure. The bolts certainly could be undone, and the crossed bars knocked apart without too much damage. I'd worry about the nails I had to wrench out of the braces in the corners though. If you could attach all those things with bolts, rather than nails, I think it would be much easier to break down and transport! That's my only reservation. We've never taken it apart to move it though.

Hope that helps! Good luck.

Juan July 1, 2014 at 12:36 PM  

Indeed it helped tremendously especially the nuts and bolts concept.

What other projects do you have?


Alan Gratz July 1, 2014 at 1:08 PM  

Hey Juan -

Just chicken coops and giant costumes! They're all here on the website somewhere. :-)

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