How to Build a Tree Swing

How to make an old-fashioned rope swing, with instructions for parents and kids

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

All kids want to fly, and every time they ride on a swing they get closer to that Peter Pan moment. But you don't need a whole playground to feel the spring breezes swoosh by. All you need is a seat, a rope, and a sturdy tree.

Making this swing requires few tools, and all the hardware needed to hang it can be found at your local home center. The seat is inexpensive—you can even make it out of scrap wood. Quality hardware and rope increase the cost but are important for safe swinging. In one morning you can put the parts together, get the rope in place, and start your magic ride!


Steps // How to Build a Tree Swing
1 ×

Building a Tree Swing

 
Step One // How to Build a Tree Swing

Building a Tree Swing

diagram of steps and materials needed to build a tree swing
Illustration by Carl Wiens

This swing is made from a single hardwood board and comes together quickly. Two pieces cut from a 18 board form one broad, 14½-inch-wide seat. A third piece, glued and screwed across the seam of the seat, supports it from underneath.

The whole assembly hangs from one rope tied around a tear-shaped metal holder called a thimble. The thimble keeps the rope from fraying as it swings on a carabiner, or spring clip, hooked through an eyebolt, which is threaded through a strong tree limb.

It's important that the limb the eyebolt goes through is at least 8 inches thick and very healthy so that there is no chance it will break under the weight of a child swinging. It also has to be big enough to hold the bolt several feet from the tree trunk, to keep the seat swinging freely.

 
2 ×

Lay out and cut the parts

 
Step Two // How to Build a Tree Swing

Lay out and cut the parts

cutting wood to the sizes needed to build a tree swing
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a tape measure and a combination square, measure out the three pieces of the swing on the 1x8 board: two 14½-inch-long sections for the seat and one 12-inch-long support brace that goes underneath.

Clamp the wood tightly to a worktable. Using a jigsaw, cut the three pieces from the board.

To parents: A jigsaw can send dust and splinters flying. Be sure you and your children wear safety glasses. The helper should be sure to catch the wood, not lift it, so that the saw blade is not pinched.

 
3 ×

Glue the seat together

 
Step Three // How to Build a Tree Swing

Glue the seat together

beginning assembly of the tree swing seat
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Run a thin bead of wood glue on the long edge of one 14½-inch wood piece. Fit it side by side to the other 14½-inch piece, then clamp them together tightly with bar clamps. This is your seat.

Allow the glue to dry.

 
4 ×

Attach the seat support

 
Step Four // How to Build a Tree Swing

Attach the seat support

using power tools to build a tree swing
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Glue the 12-inch support board across the seam in the middle of the seat bottom, with the long edges of the board perpendicular to the seam. Clamp the pieces together. Drill eight pilot holes through the support with a 3/16-inch bit. Each long side of the support should have four evenly spaced holes, two on each side of the seam. Attach it to the seat with 1¼-inch screws.

 
5 ×

Drill a hole for the rope

 
Step Five // How to Build a Tree Swing

Drill a hole for the rope

using a drill to help assemble the tree swing seat
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Flip the seat so that it's faceup. Draw two diagonal lines from corner to corner, making an X. As if cutting a pie, draw another X over it, for eight equal slices.
Put the point of a compass at the center, then draw the largest circle that will fit on the seat.

Clamp the seat to the worktable. Using a drill/driver fitted with a 1-inch spade bit, drill a hole for the rope at the center of the seat.

Hey, Kids! This is a great way to learn about circles, squares, and diameters.

 
6 ×

Cut out the seat

 
Step Six // How to Build a Tree Swing

Cut out the seat

cutting the tree swing to shape
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a jigsaw, cut out the seat shape. Halfway through the cut, you'll need to unclamp the seat, turn it around, and clamp it again before you finish making the whole circle.

If you want your seat to look like a flower, like this one, make a mark ½ inch on either side of each radiating line along the circle's edge. Then mark each line ½ inch from the edge. Using a jigsaw, cut between these points to shape the curved edges of the petals.

Using a random-orbit sander, smooth away splinters, and round over any sharp edges.

 
7 ×

Paint the design

 
Step Seven // How to Build a Tree Swing

Paint the design

decorate the tree swing seat
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using exterior latex paint, brush the background color onto the seat. Coat the entire surface—top, bottom, and edges—to seal the wood. Allow the paint to dry.

Draw the flower or other pattern in pencil on the background color. Use artist's brushes to fill in the design with more exterior paint.

 
8 ×

Drill Through the Tree Limb

 
Step Eight // How to Build a Tree Swing

Drill Through the Tree Limb

drilling a hole in the tree branch to protect the tree
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Pick out a tree with a healthy limb that's parallel to the ground and at least 8 inches thick. Make sure there's room for the seat to swing freely without hitting the tree trunk.

Using a long ⅝-inch spade bit, drill a hole vertically through the center of the limb.

To parents: Be sure the tree limb you choose is alive and healthy so that it won't break under a child's weight.

 
9 ×

Attach the eyebolt

 
Step Nine // How to Build a Tree Swing

Attach the eyebolt

installing the eye bolt to attach the tree swing rope
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Thread an eyebolt through the hole so that the eye faces down. Slip on a washer, then two nuts, one after the other. Use a wrench to tighten the two nuts as you hold the loop of the bolt steady with a screwdriver.

 
10 ×

Hang the swing with rope

 
Step Ten // How to Build a Tree Swing

Hang the swing with rope

tying a secure knot to attach the rope that will hold up the swing
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Tie one end of a long rope into a bowline knot around a thimble. Connect the thimble to the eyebolt with a carabiner. Slip the dangling end of the rope through the hole in the seat. Tie a figure-eight knot under the seat so that it sits at a comfortable height for the kids. Now you're ready to fly!

Hey, kids! What are some other knots you can tie a rope into?

 
 
 

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