We have a large oak tree in our front yard, and while we have attempted to put up several different kinds of tree swings for the children over the years, this tire swing has been by far the best. The children have dubbed it the Best Tire Swing Ever.
It works best with two or three children, though one child can lay across the middle of the swing, and I have found up to five clinging to it at one time. It has become something of a magnet for neighborhood children. Constructing this tire swing was simple, and my only regret is that I didn’t put up something like this sooner.
For this tutorial, I took the pictures as I was replacing some worn-out parts on the original swing, so some of the parts will look old and others will look new. As with any outdoor play equipment, you should routinely check for wear and damage, and replace worn parts where necessary.
Constructing the Swing: From the Bottom Up
Every tire swing begins with a tire. I recommend a large tire if you can find one. A 15″ rim diameter works really well, although a 14″ is acceptable. If you don’t happen to have an old tire laying around your garage, it’s easy enough to get one. (If there is a creek nearby, there’s probably a tire or two half-submerged in it–and if your neighbors routinely refer to it as a “crik,” it definitely has tires in it.)
Once you have your tire, decide which side will be the top of the swing. Drill three 1/4″ equidistant holes in the sidewall of the tire for tie-in points. You can do some fancy geometry to locate the holes, but I just eyeballed the locations. Now flip the tire over, and in the opposite sidewall, drill six or more 1/4″ holes so that rainwater won’t collect in the tire. Spin the drill bit in each hole for a couple seconds while you move the drill up and down, just to make sure the drainage holes don’t close back up.
Now it’s time to get some hardware. At each of the three tie-in points, you need an assembly like this:
For each of your three chains, you need:
- One stainless-steel eye bolt (I used a 1/4″ diameter bolt)
- Two regular washers
- One fender washer
- One stop-nut
- One quick-link.
If you’re not familiar with these terms, the sales associate at your local hardware store can probably help you. (But for the record, a stop-nut is a regular steel nut with a nylon insert, which prevents the nut from loosening. A fender-washer is an extra-wide washer.) Although the bolt should be stainless steel, the rest of the hardware doesn’t have to be. The tire protects it from the weather–but you can get all stainless hardware if you prefer.
The eye bolt will insert into the hole in the tire. There should be one regular washer on the top of the tire. Underneath, there should be the fender washer, the regular washer, and the stop-nut. Hold the top of the eye bolt with pliers and tighten the nut with a ratchet equipped with a deep-well socket.
Next, you need the chain. For chain, we used swing-set chain with plastic coating. This keeps little fingers from getting pinched and clothes from getting caught. Each chain is about 4′ long, so you will need 12′ total. But don’t trust the hardware store’s measurement. Make sure each chain has exactly the same number of links in it, or the swing will sit crooked.
The quick-link attaches the eye-bolt to the chain. When you hang up the swing, be sure to orient the quick-link as you see above. The bolt on the link should be tightened downward, not upward. Otherwise, gravity will eventually loosen the nut and open the link. So to repeat a saying that I learned from some rock climbers, screw down so you don’t screw up.
Up at the other end of the chains, you will need to gather them into a single tie-in point. I used a device called a shackle:
Double-check that your chains are not twisted. It helps to have a helper to hold the three chains in place while you attach the shackle. Use pliers to tighten down the shackle’s bolt as much as you can.
At this point, you could tie the rope directly to the shackle and skip the next piece of hardware. However, I find it very helpful to have a quick way to take the swing down if necessary. (We always take it down when we go on vacation, for example.) Also, it’s a lot easier to tie a knot in a thick rope without the weight of the whole swing pulling down on it.
I got the biggest stainless-steel snap-link (like a carabiner) that I could find at the home center. The shackle can easily slip into the snap-link. (Or, that’s how I had originally designed the swing. But with our swing, I found that the rope I had hung was about a foot too short, so I added a short length of chain between the shackle and the snap-link.) The snap-link hangs from the rope and ties in to the shackle.
Now about the rope. The rope is probably the part of the swing most vulnerable to damage, so do not skimp on the rope. We got the thickest braided-nylon rope that our home-center carried. It think it’s about 7/8″ in diameter. I repeat, do NOT skimp on rope! Cheap, coated rope will quickly fray and break.
I can’t tell you how much to get, but I will tell you to get a couple feet more than you think you will need. Remember that the knot at the bottom could take as much as a foot and a half, and the knot at the top (plus what goes around the tree branch) could take 2′-3′, depending on the size of the branch. So measure the distance between the top of your swing chains and the branch and add 3′-4′. The rope may also stretch a bit with use, so err on hanging the swing a little high at first. I found that hanging the swing 2′ off the ground was about right.
You’ll need to tie knots in each end of the rope. (If you’re a sailor or a Boy Scout, you can ignore this section about knots.) There are a number of different knots that are appropriate for this application, but you need a knot that makes a non-tightening loop. I used a very simple “overhand knot on a bight.” It’s extremely easy to tie. YouTube is your friend. Tie the knot on both ends of the rope.
Now you need to get the rope around the overhead tree branch. Unless you have a very tall ladder, getting the rope over the branch can be… um… interesting. I ended up tying the rope to the end of a long, thin stick and throwing the stick over the branch javelin-style. It only took me four or five tries! I will not be competing in the javelin throw in any upcoming track-and-field events anytime soon, I assure you.
The good news is that you don’t have to tie the rope around the tree branch. Since you have tied your overhand-knot-on-a-bight onto the end, just get the rope up over the branch. Slip one end of the rope through the loop, and pull the rope until the rope is secure, as you see above. Not only does this save you the trouble of having to tie a knot way up in a tree, but it also won’t cut off the tree branch’s circulation.
The Right Tree
Now a word about trees and tree branches. Choosing the right location for your tire swing is important for both maximum fun AND safety. First, be sure you are hanging your tire swing from a live branch–one that has lots of healthy-looking leaves on it–not from a dead one. From the ground, it’s not always easy to spot the difference between a live and a dead branch unless you look carefully.
Second, the branch should be thick. Branches do look thinner from the ground than they actually are, but on balance, choose a very stout-looking branch. I think our swing is hanging from a branch that is over 8″ in diameter by my estimate. Finally, be sure your swing is not too close to the tree’s trunk, or to any other obstacles that the swing might hit. You can hang this kind of swing on a really high branch, so measure out your clearance around the swing. Hang the swing at least as far from the tree’s trunk (or other obstacles) as the branch is from the ground. So if the branch you’re hanging the swing from is, say, 12′ in the air, then you should hang the swing at least 12′ away from the trunk. This will allow you to give your kids monster pushes, which they will love!
In my opinion, the higher the branch from which you are swinging, the more fun you will have–to a point. If you go really high, say over 25′ in the air, the swing becomes difficult to push. Ours is hanging from a branch that is about 16′ in the air, which is just about ideal.
Now it’s time to hang up your swing.
Of course, the children will want to test it out.
Yes, this tire swing earns the Schuler Kids’ Seal of Approval!
**Disclaimer: I have done my best to ensure safety by using appropriate hardware and construction materials in this project. But because I can’t go to the hardware store with you or help you pick out a tree branch, it is your responsibility to ensure that anything you build according to these instructions is strong and safe. Test everything with your own weight before letting kids onto new equipment. Furthermore, be aware that outdoor play equipment such as a tire swing does pose inherent dangers to all users, and your kids may suffer falls, bumps, and bruises (not to mention fights over whose turn it is to ride the swing and whose turn it is to push). If you cannot accept such risks for your kids, do not put up outdoor play equipment. Risks can be reduced (though not eliminated) by supervising your kids at play, regularly inspecting the equipment for damage, and using the strongest construction materials available.
Great post! I had a small 1 person rope swing that my kids loved but had to discontinue after noticing the rope fraying and being unable to get the original rope removed from the branch (20’+ in the air) I need to revisit that, they certainly had many great memories on it.
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