Hanging a Tree Swing

One of the principles of permaculture is “care for people.” As a parent, I need to help my kids get outside to play, connect with the world around them, and keep busy while I’m in the garden. We have a stretch of grass in the backyard that is a play area for throwing a ball or running with our dog, but we tend to stay near the garage where the toys are. To pull the kids into the backyard near the trees, sticks, and grass, a backyard toy would be needed.

Our tree swing last year was fun, but rubbed off some bark from the branch.

Our tree swing last year was fun, but rubbed off some bark from the branch.

Play sets these days can easily cost thousands of dollars, but can also take up a lot of space and be outgrown within a matter of years. Why not put up a simple tree swing for much less cost?

Last year, we purchased a swing at Menard’s for about $20 on sale. We also purchased some rope and carabiners. We threw the rope over our backyard Honey Locust tree, tied a loop on one end, slipped the other end through the loop, and pulled the loop up to the branch to secure it. The tree swing was great. The kids would run straight to the swing when we went outside and it could go pretty high. However, having a rope around the tree branch wasn’t the best for the tree. The rope started to tear where it was rubbing against the branch and some bark was rubbed off the branch. We read that if you remove the bark from around a branch (girdling), it really hurts the tree.

Close-up of the bolts attached to the branch.

Close-up of the bolts attached to the branch. Above the branch are a washer and two nuts to keep it secure. We’ll be able to leave the bolts up through the winter-time and just move the swing indoors.

So, this year, we decided to put bolts through the tree branch to prevent rubbing off the bark. It sounds more harmful to the tree, but by concentrating the force at one point and protecting the bark around the branch, I believe the tree will quickly forget about the drilling.

We went to the hardware store and purchased a few supplies:
Long Drill Bit (1/2″ wide, 16″ long, spade bit) – $6.89
4 Hex Nuts (1/2″-13) – $4.76
2 Zinc-plated Fender Washers (1/2″ x 2″) – $0.78
2 Eyebolts (1/2″ x 10″) – $5.58

Close-up of the ropes attached to the swing's chain.

Close-up of the ropes attached to the swing’s chain.

My husband got up on a tall ladder and drilled vertical holes through the branch about 20 inches apart (a good width for our swing). Drilling was slow, perhaps because the drill bit wasn’t the perfect choice or because the wood had knots. Then the bolt was inserted, ring down, and a washer and nuts were placed tightly on top the bolt just above the branch.

Next, the rope was tied on to the bolts and the swing was connected to the rope. To attach the swing (which comes with short chains), I tied carabiners to the ends of the rope. This allows the swing height to be easily adjustable. When I was outside, I made up a knot that looked secure to me. Now that I’m on the internet, I see that the knot I did is similar to what would be called a “half hitch” knot (except I wound the rope around twice and also made a loose tie over the top). The knots have been very secure, and given how it tightens over time, I trust it will stay in place well. Remember to hang the swing higher than you want it, since the rope will stretch when the swing is used.

The finished tree swing

The finished tree swing

Two minor challenges came up later on. When the weather warmed up, we had some sap dripping from the holes by the bolts onto the swing, but it came off easily with a little vinegar and water. Also, the ground underneath the swing has taken a beating. First, the grass died and then the soil started to erode a little. I’m going to experiment with placing a thick, rubber doormat under the swing to help the kids remember not to drag their feet.

So far, so good. And lots of fun!

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