June 17, 2010

Tree Swing DIY

Part One:
How To Prepare Your Chair To Become An Outdoor Swing
Look for Part Two: How To Hang Your Swing early next week

Step One:
Find your chair or bench
This is an example of what NOT to do.
(I wish I had more pictures. I didn't prepare for a DIY tutorial when we were making the swing.)

When searching for the perfect chair or bench to turn into a swing you want to look for solid wood construction with little or no upholstery.  We choose this chair because of it's shape, construction and because it was in the 'trash' bin at our local thrift shop!  $8!!
I love chairs and I've collected too many.  This chair needed a new function.

Step Two:
Prep your wood and weatherproof your upholstery
Prep your wood for painting by cleaning and lightly sanding it.  Repair any problem areas and make sure all nails and screws are tight.

Weatherproofing this upholstered seat was easy.  I removed the seat from the chair by unfastening the screws that held it in place.  Then began removing the layers of upholstery.  The second layer I found was this lovely vintage checker pattern in practically perfect condition.  I wanted to keep it. 

In order to protect it from water damage, melted popsicles and other messes, I simply placed a layer of plastic between the cushion and the fabric.  To do this, I removed the original upholstery from the cushion and then stapled it back in place with the layer of heavy duty plastic underneath it.  Simple!

By wrapping the cushion in a layer of plastic before the upholstery you accomplish two things.

1. Rain and water wont seep into the cushion and create a breeding ground for mildew and mold.
2. You make your cushion washable. My kids love this swing and have already spilled on it. I can simply hose the cushion off, let it sit in the sun for a hour and then put it back on the swing.
To complete the weatherproofing, we used a waterproofing spray.  You can use a scotch guard or similar product but on this particular chair we used some left over Nikwax Waterproofing spray which is usually used for outdoor camping gear like tents and jackets.  You can find Scotch Guard at any home goods store and Nikwax at most sporting goods stores.  I prefer Nikwax over most other products because it's heavy duty and also protects from the sun.  In Arizona it's not the rain we have to worry about, it's the damage from the sun.

Step Three:
Paint the chair and weatherproof the wood.

Since this swing was intended to be outside among the elements we used an exterior paint with a self primer.  We applied 3 fairly thin layers of paint making sure to cover all the seams and especially around the caning on the chair.  The chair dried thoroughly before we applied 2 polyurethane coats to protect it from the sun and rain.  This is the product we used.


Tip: When using products that layer on each other like paint and polyurethane always use water-based paint with water-based polyurethane and oil-based paint with oil-based polyurethane.

Step Three: 
Drill your holes and tie your knots

When you hang your swing you want it to tilt backwards slightly to create a comfortable place to sit.  Think about this concept when you drill the holes for you rope.  We drilled 6 holes.  Two in the front and four in the back.

The holes in the front look like this:

The holes drilled on the backside of the chair look like this:
On the backside of your chair or bench you will want to drill two holes on each side.  This will help stabilize your swing so it doesn't tip back all the way and dump you out on the grass!  Notice how we drilled the holes so when we put the rope through it's on a diagonal.  This adds extra support and strength.

Once you've drilled your holes, string your rope through the holes.  If you haven't gone to Harbor Freight yet, you should.  We bought about 75 feet of braided poly rope for less than $5.  It's perfect. It's heavy duty, mildew and rot resistant, will stretch a little and hold a capacity of about 250lbs. 

Next, it's time to tie your knots.  I'm not exactly sure what this knot is called (maybe a half-hitch) but I like it for two reasons.
1.  It's the kind of knot that when you put pressure and weight on it, it tightens it's grip.  So it will never come undone and risk dumping you out of your swing.
2.  It looks like a pretty braid when your finished.

Step 1: String your rope through your holes leaving 1-2 feet of rope to work with.
Step 2: Wrap the loose end of the rope around the back of the rope that will be hanging from your tree or porch.  Then pull the end underneath itself.  See step 3 for more details on this.
Step 3:  # 1 Pull the rope up. #2 Pull the rope behind the other piece. #3 Pull the end underneath itself.
This action is also known as "the rabbit (the end piece of your rope) goes around the tree (#2) and then into the hole (#3)"
Step 4: Pull tightly and you will create your first knot.
Step 5:  Do it again.  The rabbit goes around the tree (#2) and through the hole (#3).
Step 6: Then pull tightly.
Take the rabbit around the tree and through the hole as many times as you like.  When your finished, burn the end of your rope to keep it from fraying.
And that's it!  Complete the other sides of your chair and soon you'll be ready to hang up your swing.

I hope you didn't cut the legs of your chair off yet!  They'll be helpful in hanging your swing. 
Hanging the swing in your tree can be tricky.  Tune in next week for Part 2: How To Hang Your Tree Swing.  We found a method that is simple and works well.  Your swing will hang evenly and it also allows for you to easily remove your swing from the tree.  This is especially helpful for winter storage or if you live in the Southwest like me, storage from monsoon season! 

So that's Part One! 
As always if you have any specific questions please email me here.


  1. Your chair/swing was a huge hit on my fan page!! I'm going to post the link to your blog so those who want to do it can follow the steps!! ;)

  2. so cute. and functional. love.


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