What to Know About Tree Swings

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A symbol of carefree play, tree swings can be dangerous if not installed properly. Add a fun, safe tree swing in your yard with these helpful tips.

From Winnie the Pooh to Calvin and Hobbes, tree swings have long been a touchstone of childhood. Depictions of this backyard icon go as far back as ancient Greece and the basic design has changed surprisingly little over the millennia. If you’re considering installing an old-school swing under your shade tree, here’s what you need to know for maximum fun and safety.

What Is a Tree Swing?

Whether the seat is a used tire or futuristic saucer, tree swings have one thing in common: They are all hung from a sturdy branch. Traditional swing sets, backyard play structures and even tree houses can provide a secure, level beam or platform for attaching a swing’s ropes or chains.

Tree swings, however, present the challenge of uneven tree limbs that may have hidden stability issues. That said, the carefree feeling of swinging under a canopy of leaves makes installing a tree swing well worth the extra effort and attention to safety.

Tree Swing Types

There are multiple types of tree swing to choose from, ranging from single board seats to multi-person saucers. The most common include:

Plank: The most traditional tree swing is a flat wooden or plastic plank-like seat attached to the branch above with two ropes or chains.

Disk: This type of swing includes a single rope that passes through the center of a wooden or plastic disk.

Tire: A tire swing can be hung vertically with a single rope or horizontally with three ropes to keep it level.

Saucer: Hung horizontally with four ropes, saucer swings are often large enough to fit multiple children and have a nylon webbing or net center.

Bench: Much like a porch swing, bench tree swings are meant for more than one person but move in a soothing rocking motion more than an adrenaline-pumping arc.

Baby seat: Hung like a board swing with two ropes, these swings are fitted with a bucket or belted seat to provide a safe ride for infants and toddlers.

Should I Build or Buy a Tree Swing?

To build a basic tree swing, you’ll need to purchase rope, hardware and a length of 2×6 to make the plank seat. The cost of materials starts at around $40, depending on the length and quality of your rope, and you can have it built and hung in just a few hours. Go DIY if you will be hanging the swing from an especially high branch, as many kits include a limited amount of rope.

Tree swing kits can be more expensive ($40 to $100) but include a pre-sanded and varnished plank seat, rope, hardware and hanging straps to avoid damaging your tree. Assembly can take a matter of minutes. Be sure to measure the height of your tree limb to ensure the kit includes enough rope. Kits are a better option if you want something other than a classic plank, disk or tire seat.

Tips for How to Hang a Tree Swing

There are a few methods for hanging swings that are safe and limit damage to the bark and limb. Always avoid wrapping metal chains around your tree branch. Doing so will almost always harm the tree.

Rope: Tie rope around the branch with a slip knot and use a rope sleeve or piece of rubber tubing to reduce friction against the bark.

Eye bolts: Drill vertical holes through the tree limb to permanently affix the bolts. This method can harm the tree but eliminates the problem of friction.

Hanging straps: By far the safest and least damaging solution is affixing your tree swing to hanging straps, which can be purchased in kit form for less than $25.

Tree Swing Use and Safety

Make sure your tree swing is always the source of happy memories by following these tips.

Choose a suitable branch

Select a healthy, relatively horizontal branch that is at least 10 inches in diameter, no more than 15 feet off the ground and long enough to position the swing at least four to six feet from the tree trunk.

  • If you’re not sure about the stability of your tree, have it inspected by a professional landscaper or arborist.
  • Opt for mature hardwood trees, not fruit trees or evergreens that are prone to branch breakage.
  • Avoid steeply angled branches that can cause the swing to twist while in motion.
  • Keep in mind that really high branches can present a challenge when hanging the swing. Longer ropes also allow for a higher range of motion while swinging, which can be unsafe.

Choose sturdy rope

Choose a rope that is at least 1/2-in. thick and strong enough to support the weight of an adult.

  • Of synthetic ropes, braided polyester is the best option for its strength and durability. Nylon rope is strong but tends to stretch and can be slippery, while polypropylene ropes don’t hold up well against the elements.
  • Natural-fiber ropes absorb moisture and will rot over time, so should be replaced every year or two.
  • Metal chain is the strongest option but will damage your tree if wrapped around the branch. Use with heavier swings like benches, attached to hanging straps or eye bolts.

Attach a smooth seat

Whether you’ve built a classic plank seat or purchased a colorful spider web saucer, make sure there are no splinters, sharp edges, cracks or other flaws that can cause injury.

  • Install the seat so that it sits about 24 inches off the ground.

  • Make sure the ground around the swing is grass-covered and free of rocks and other debris.

Inspect the swing periodically for wear

This is especially important if your swing uses natural-fiber rope, which can break without warning if rotted. Don’t forget to check the tree limb regularly for damage or signs of disease.

Rebecca Winke
Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter took a deep dive into country living by renovating a sprawling medieval stone farmhouse and running it as a B&B for 20 years. Today, she spends her time writing about travel, culture, and food (it's Italy, after all!) for publications like The Telegraph and Italy Magazine, as well as pondering the strange winds that blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.