Searching for the perfect playset can be a daunting task. Cedar? Redwood? Pine? Pressure treated? 5-foot or 6-foot deck? Square based or angle based?
There are tons of options to choose from. However, there aren’t many trustworthy sources to inform you on those options and help you figure out which is the best for you and why.
Let’s start simple.
I tell everyone that there are 4 things you should know about a swing set before buying one. Here they are, all with explanations.
#1 - THE TYPE OF WOOD IN A SWING SET
There are three main types of wood used in modern wooden playsets; they are Cedar, Redwood and Pine.
Here is a short version of what you need to know:
- If you are looking for overall value AND quality, go with a solid Cedar swing set. It’s an excellent, all-around wood. (There are high and low quality cedar swing sets on the market today, read on to find out about them)
- If you are looking for natural beauty and durability,go with a Redwood swing set. It will last just as long as a set made with solid Cedar wood, but it will also cost you more. Redwood sets are usually 100% farmed in America, and it’s an absolutely beautiful wood that in general comes with a lifetime warranty.
- If you are looking for the most durable wood, go with a Premium Preserved Pine swing set. Premium Preserved Pine will last longer than Cedar and Redwood without maintenance. Its price typically falls between that of Redwood and Cedar and usually comes with a lifetime warranty.
If you'd like a more in depth explanation of each wood type, read on. Otherwise you can skip to #2.
The agreed upon quality, ranging from best (5 stars) to worst (1 star), of the three woods would be as such:
Cedar - Cedar is naturally resistant to rot, decay and damage. Most cedar sets are configured in and imported from China. This affordable, but durable, wood will hold up well for years. When buying a cedar set, however, pay attention to the thickness of the cuts of wood used in a set. For example, is the frame of the set made with 2x4 pieces of cedar, or 4x4 pieces of cedar? Is the swing beam made with a 2x6 piece of cedar, or a 4x6 piece of cedar?
Redwood - There are different types of Redwood trees, however, the most common type of Redwood used in playsets these days is U.S-grown California Redwood. Redwood, like Cedar, is naturally resistant to rot, decay and damage because it contains tannin, a natural chemical harmless to humans and animals, but toxic to fungi. Fungal disease causes decay in other woods. It is also naturally immune to insect damage.
The reddish-brown color of its bark has earned Redwood (by many people's opinion) the title of the most beautiful option for playsets, and it has less volumetric and tangential shrinkage, meaning it stays flat and straight with minimal, warping, cupping, or cracking. In other words, not only is Redwood easy on the eye but it also comes with a natural resistance to wear and tear, so you can enjoy it just as you purchased it for years to come.
The quality of the Redwood more recently has come into decline. If you are in the market for a Redwood set, make sure you ask your dealer if the Redwood is from new growth or old growth Redwood trees. Also, find out if the Redwood is center cut heartwood Redwood. If you are dealing with cuts of Redwood from newer growth trees and non-centercut Redwood, the product may be inferior to older type Redwood sets. (This is very important! Make sure your dealer can answer these questions.)
Premium Preserved Pine - Contrary to popular belief, Premium Preserved Pine playsets, and NOT Redwood, are the most durable of all wood playsets used today because the pine is preshrunk and preserved. These two processes minimize shrinking, warping, cracking, cupping, and fungal decay. Pine can withstand harsh weather conditions and can hold more moisture than Redwood and Cedar, which gives preserved pine playsets a decades-long lifespan.
One thing to note: Treated woods, such as Premium Preserved Pine tend to be looked down upon by some playset dealers and manufacturers. The short reason for this is that - in the past - treated woods were treated by a chemical with trace amounts of arsenic - CCA - a chemical toxic to humans.
Playset manufacturers today that use pressure treated and preserved woods, such as Playnation, however, do NOT use chemicals containing arsenic. The new treatments are copper based, and are Greenguard Certified. They are 100% safe for playgrounds and children. Make sure if you are in the market for a Preserved Pine set that the chemicals used to preserve the wood do not contain arsenic.
#2 - THE DECK HEIGHT OF A SWING SET
The deck height is the distance, in feet, from the ground to the base of your playset's main deck. The most common deck heights on swing sets are 4-6-ft. Some companies make 7-ft mega sets, and most companies have higher end playsets that have two decks - usually one 5-ft deck and one 7-ft deck, or one 6-ft deck and one 8-ft deck. The higher decks (in the cases of the two-decked sets) are usually used for a slide or slides.
So why is deck height so important?
Deck height will determine the size of your deck, the swing arc, the footprint of the set, and ultimately, the cost of your set. In general, the higher the deck height, the larger the set. The larger the set, the more wood that is used. The more wood that is used, the more costly a set becomes.
Here is the short version:
- We recommend a playset with at least a 5-ft deck height so that your children can enjoy the set for years before outgrowing it.
- We also recommend a swing set with a 6-ft deck height if you want a larger, more spacious playset.
- The only time we'd recommend a swing set with a 4-ft deck height is if you're looking to conserve space, or if you do not need the set to accommodate children past the age of 8.
If you'd like a more in-depth explanation of deck heights, read on. Otherwise you can skip to #3.
4-ft deck heights - 4-foot deck height playsets are the most compact and economical of all playsets. Generally speaking, there are two main buyers of playsets with a 4 foot deck height: people who have very young children (ages 1-3) who want a playset for only a few years, and people who desperately want a playset but have limited space in their yard.
These sets have smaller deck sizes, smaller swing arcs, and very little room under the main deck. For these reasons, I try to recommend buying a set with at least a 5 foot deck height so that the playset can accommodate your children as they grow older.
Important Note: Many playset dealers will advertise 4-ft deck height playsets to lure customers into a store or for purchase online, as the prices are much lower and the actual size of the set is hard to gauge from a picture. But beware - customers who buy a set without actually seeing it first complain to us about it being too small as their children age.
5-ft deck heights - 5-ft deck height playsets are the most common of all playsets. They are fairly compact but also provide an enjoyable experience for both younger and older children. We recommend at least a 5-ft deck height to accommodate your children as they grow. 5-ft deck height playsets have a larger footprint, larger deck and a higher swing arc than 4-ft deck height playsets.
6-ft deck heights - 6-ft deck height playsets have an even larger footprint, larger deck and higher swing arc than 5-ft deck height playsets. These are the most common option for those who want a larger playset that everyone can have fun on. Parents have told us their children use these sets well into their teen years.
7-ft deck heights - As you can probably guess, 7-ft deck height playsets have larger footprints, larger decks, and higher swing arcs than 6-ft deck height playsets. 7-foot deck height playsets are mega-playsets for families with big yards and large budgets. It is not uncommon for parents to use these sets as well!
7-ft deck heights also exist on sets with two or more decks. These sets are usually larger in footprint, and the 7 ft deck height on the swing set is usually reserved for a slide or slides.
8 ft deck heights - 8 ft deck heights are only found on large sets with two or more decks. The 8 ft deck height is usually reserved for a slide or slides. Children are in heaven when they go down a spiral slide off an 8 ft deck on a playset!
#3- THE TYPE OF BASE ON A SWING SET
Angle based sets will have a large rockwall and room underneath the main deck for a tire swing.
If you'd like a more in-depth explanation of the types of bases, read on. Otherwise you can skip to #4.
Square Based Swing Sets - (example of a square based swing set) Square-based playsets generally have less room underneath the deck and can come with such features as picnic tables, sandboxes and clubhouses.
Angle Based Swing Sets - (example of an angle based set) Angle based playsets have more room underneath the main deck, and usually come with a larger rockwall and a tire swing underneath the main deck.
Many mega-sets can combine both types of bases, giving you the best of both worlds.
Side note: most installers Ive worked with prefer angle based for people with sloped yards. However, most experienced installers can level either type of set. If you are unsure about whether or not your yard is level enough for a swing set, consult your local swing set store or local installer.
#4- THE SAFETY FEATURES OF A SWING SET
For many parents, cost is the deciding factor in their purchase of a swing set. And I totally understand that. However, the safety features included on higher quality playsets make them well worth the extra costs. It does not pay to cut corners here.
Here is the short version.
The safest playsets feature the following:
- The frame and A-frame of the set are made with (at least) solid 4x4 beams of wood.
- The swing beam is made up of (at least) a 4x6 solid piece of wood
- The wood is pre-sanded and pre-drilled
- The playset is constructed with recessed hardwarethat doesn't "stick out"
- Commercial grade hardware is used
If you'd like a more in-depth explanation of the best safety features, read on. Otherwise you can skip to the closing paragraph.
Solid 4x4 Beams of Wood - In the safest playsets, the frame and A-frame of the set are made with solid 4x4 beams of wood, where as many poorer quality sets will be made up of 2x4’s. This is huge, so please be aware of this when buying a playset! In the picture below, take a look at the wood that supports the base, as well as the wood that makes up the A-Frame (which has been completely destroyed) – they are all 2x4 pieces of solid wood.
In any quality swing set, the wood that makes up the four corners of the base AND the A-frame are 4x4's. Take a look at the Gorilla Playsets Chateau Swing Set here: you can see the cedar beams of the base and the A-frame are made up of solid 4x4 pieces of cedar.
Solid 4x6 Wood Swing Beam - Another major feature of the safest swing sets is they have a solid 4x6 wood swing beam with holes drilled through the middle, making it virtually unbreakable. Many poorer quality sets will have multiple 2x6’s glued together as the swing beam. You can see this again in the picture to the left. The swings are held up by two 2x6 pieces of wood.
This is not nearly as strong as a 4x6...PLEASE BE CAREFUL!
The weight limit is drastically less on sets with glued 2x6’s, and I have seen these sets come apart way too many times. I would NEVER sell a set without a 4x6 SOLID wood swing beam. (nor would I ever recommend buying a set without one) See the difference in any Gorilla Playset or Superior Play Swing Set.
Pre-sanded and Pre-drilled Wood - Most playsets today come with pre-sanded and pre-drilled wood. Pre-sanded wood comes out smooth, beautiful and ready to use. It significantly reduces the possibility of your child getting a splinter.
Many do-it-yourselfers will bore holes in the wrong parts of the wood. In some cases, another hole will have to be drilled, weakening the wood. In other cases, drilling may split the wood and render it unsafe. Either way, pre-drilled wood will ensure you are getting safe and solid wood that has significantly less risk of breaking.
Recessed Hardware- Look for recessed hardware that does not "stick out." Recessed hardware keeps clothing from getting stuck on the edges which stick out.
Commercial Grade Hardware - The safest sets have oversized bolts and heavy lag screws that are electro-galvanized to prevent corrosion. Swing set decks that use commericial grade, zinc-coated screws work best. No set should ever use nails in their construction.
There is a lack of information about swingsets on the internet, which makes it much harder to get proper information before a purchase. As you can see, there is a lot more than meets the eye. I have seen too many parents come into our store claiming that they wouldn’t have bought their sets (from other dealers, of course!) had they known about some of these features in advance.
This article should serve as the beginning foundation of your research. From here, you will be able to determine which sets best fit your family.
I hope you found this article useful. If so, we’d love to hear from you either via comment below, or by liking us and leaving a note on our Facebook page.
I wish you the best on your swing set purchasing journey!