When it gets hot, really really hot, a kid's only choice of outside play without water is to take to a swing. A gentle push rewards the swinger with a cooling breeze and a hypnotic rhythmic sway. How relaxing! Luckily for parents, installing a tree swing is the kind of project you can tackle when you don't have the energy for a Project, with a capital P. A few minutes work in the shade of a large tree can have your child jumping for joy, then swinging in contented self entertainment. Here are two basic swing installations for your own family tree.

That's a happy kid, and no electronic entertainment in sight!

Safety first

The first step is determining whether you have a suitable branch to use. Strong branches are thick and robust, come out of the tree trunk at a wide angle (closer to parallel than up and down) and on strong trees like oaks. Our personal favorite tree is an ancient crabapple. despite the messy fruit and rusty leaves that begin to fall in June. Beyond these general statements, branch approval is really a judgement call. A toddler swing is a very light load and could be hung from a smaller, seven foot high branch. The bigger the kids, the bigger branch you need to carry the load. Bigger kids also get more excitement from the longer sway of a swing on a higher branch. You'll want to do "the Dad test" no matter what. You know the one: where Dad risks his life, and the tree's limb, and puts his weight on the swing before allowing the kids to play. Finish every swing installation with an adult test to put more weight on the swing than you expect it to normally carry.

Easiest cheapest swing: Throw a rope over a branch

The simplest swing ever is a rope tied to a tree. A Tarzan (or George of the Jungle, depending on your age) rope swing is a lot of fun, and great for developing arm and back strength. The supplies are very simple. All you need are the right tree branch and a good long piece of thick (minimum half inch diameter) braided, nylon or polyester rope. I found perfect braided rope at the big hardware and home store, sold by the foot. This link shows similar rope listed at 42 cents per foot, and that company sells it cut to order, too. Remember to buy extra length for attaching to the branch and adding a few gripping knots and a foot loop at the bottom.

Use a running bowline knot to hang the Tarzan rope. To make a running bowline, make a regular bowline with a small loop (click here to see how to make a bowline knot.) Then throw the rope over the branch and insert the hanging length of the rope through the small bowline loop. The rope is now secure around the branch with a non slip knot. When the swing is hanging empty, the loop loosens and releases the tourniquet effect strangling the tree branch. Now add a few fat knots for gripping (figure eight knot works well, click here for a video) and a bowline knot loop at the bottom as a foot rest. Don't make any loops large enough to fit over a child's head.

Premade swing kit for years of fun

Make your swing fast and easy with a commercially fabricated swing seat kit, hung from steel eyes installed in the tree branch. Your giant hardware store or toy store probably sells swings or swing kits (seat plus chain), Internet shopping opens up more options, such as the swings at PlayPro, or Detailed Play Systems, or the Classic Swing Kit from Knot For Fun. To install steel eye hook screws, predrill vertically into your chosen branch and screw in a pair of (minimum) 3/8 inch by 3 inch steel eye hooks. To install super sturdy eye bolts, drill all the way through the branch vertically and use eye bolts with washers and nuts. As the branch grows it will engulf the nut and washer. Make the hanging points a few inches wider than the swing seat. That helps the swing stay in a back and forth path rather than twisting. Depending on your branch and kit, you may need extra chain or rope. The height of the seat should be where the child can just touch the ground while seated, and rigid seats should be hung level. Extra links or carabiners (spring clips)are great attachments and can be handy to make the swing height easily adjustable.

Safety check:

  • Check the weight load rating on all supplies used
  • Avoid using trees that are said to be weak wooded
  • Use closed connections, pinch closed any S hooks
  • Install over soft landing zone
  • Check for wear or rot throughout the swing's life
  • See this article for information about inspecting your trees for soundness

These are just two examples of swings to introduce some useful guidelines for hanging a tree swing. Many variations exist, both in accessories and kits and in your imagination. In my experience, any swing is worthwhile for the hours of shady self entertainment they give to kids.

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Thanks to Eagle Scout John Stewart for his helpful knot tying video series, the Figure Eight is linked in the article.

Knot For Fun is a nice down to earth website with fun activities for kids and parents. PlayPro and Detailed Play Systems showed an assortment of swings and accessories. Knot and Rope Supply has every rope I can imagine. I don't have to sell you anything; I am not particularly recommending any of these sites, just using them for examples.