How to Build a Backyard Swing

Easy enough for a beginner, comfortable enough for a perch

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Introduction

A seat like this is usually called a "porch swing," and a porch certainly is a good location for it. But a hanging seat can go just about anywhere; unlike a chair, it doesn't require a firm, flat surface beneath it. If you don't have a suitable ceiling or tree to support a swing, go to familyhandyman.com and search for "arbor" to see other options.

Tools Required

  1. Basic hand tools
  2. Drill
  3. Jigsaw

Tools and materials

This swing design is especially forgiving. If your cuts are slightly inaccurate or not quite straight, the swing will still turn out just fine. So, although a table saw, miter saw and band saw are best for this project, you could do it all with only a jigsaw.

The swing shown here is made from cedar, but you could use treated lumber instead. Either material will contain some large knots, which can look bad and create weak spots. Avoid them when cutting parts (Photo 1). The Materials List includes 1x2s, but if you have a table saw, you’ll get better material by ripping 1x2s from wider boards. Some stores carry cedar that’s 7/8 in. thick instead of 3/4 in. If you use 7/8-in. stock, make the stretcher (E) 23-3/4 in. long instead of 24 in.

We chose heavy 5/16-in. yellow zinc-coated chain, but any chain rated for 250 lbs. or more will work. Some stores will cut chain to length for you. Two Quick Link connectors or S-hooks join the front and back chains to the upper chains—they make adjustments and removing the swing easy.

Think Ahead When Working with Cedar

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Cedar lumber usually has one smooth side and one rough side. So, when you’re making pairs of parts, it’s easy to end up with a mismatch: one part with the smooth side visible, the other with the rough.

How to Avoid a Mismatch: When using one part to mark its twin, place the smooth sides face to face.

Don’t Sweat the Curves

This swing contains eight curved parts (A, B, C, D). Curved parts always make projects a bit harder, but don’t be intimidated. The curves don’t have to be precise. As long as they’re similar to the curves detailed in Figure A, you’ll get a comfortable, attractive swing.

There are lots of ways to mark out curved cuts. A “curve ruler” ($8 online) is a good option for this project. Mark the ends and height of the curve (see Figure A). Bend the ruler so it aligns with the marks and holds that shape (Photo 2). After marking and cutting the curved parts, clamp them together for sanding (Photo 3). This ensures the parts will be identical.

Sand and Assemble

Ease the sharp edges of the parts by sanding or by using a router. A 1/4-in. round-over bit is one good option. Then sand all the parts before assembly; that’s a lot easier than sanding afterward. You can prefinish all the parts or apply a finish after assembly. Deck stain or spar urethane is a good choice for exterior wood.

Begin assembly by bolting the risers (D) to the stretcher (E). Drill 1/4-in. holes, tap the lower carriage bolts into place and secure them with washers and nuts. Install the upper carriage bolts in the same way, but run the bolt through the chain. Next, bolt the back supports (B) to the seat supports (C). Join the three assemblies by driving screws through the stretcher and into the seat supports.

Now that the frame of the swing is complete, add the slats (H). Starting at the front of the seat, screw the first slat into place. Drill pilot holes to avoid splitting the wood. Then install a slat at the back of the seat. To fill in the remaining space, continue from back to front, positioning slats with a 3/8-in.-thick spacer (Photo 4).

Before fastening the last four slats, lay them out and check the spacing. You’ll have to cut one slat to fit between the risers. You may need to increase or decrease the spacing slightly for a consistent look. Add the back slats, working up from the bottom and again adjusting the spacing of the last few slats. To complete the swing, screw the armrests (A) to the risers (D). Then, with the swing on a level surface, level and bolt on the armrests and chain (Photo 5).

Hang it Up!

If you want the seat to swing easily from side to side—not just back and forth—fasten the tops of the upper chains about 22 in. apart. If you want to reduce side-to-side movement, space the upper chains 28 in. apart or more. Be sure to leave the upper chains a little long so you can lower the swing if desired. You’ll also want to adjust the tilt of the swing for comfort; that’s as easy as moving the Quick Link connectors or S-hooks to raise or lower the back of the swing.

Figure A – Backyard Swing

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Watch the Video

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This swing was originally designed and built by April Wilkerson. To see how she made this swing and others, go to wilkerdos.com and search for “porch swing.” April also sells templates ($20) for marking the curved parts—fast, no-fuss and perfect.

Project step-by-step (5)

Step 1

Select the Best Sections

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Photo 1: Cut the large parts (A through E) from your best-looking wood and avoid large knots, which create weak spots. 

Step 2

Mark the Curves

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Photo 2: Using a bendable "curve ruler" is one good way to mark curves. Just bend the ruler, aligning it with the ends and deepest point of the curve. Cut one of each part, then use those as templates for the twin parts.

Step 3

Gang-Sand the Curves

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Photo 3: Cut the curved parts with a jigsaw or band saw, then clamp the pairs together and smooth the edges with a belt sander or random orbital sander. A sanding drum quickly smooths the drink-holder cutout.

Step 4

Assemble the Seat

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Photo 4: Assemble the seat frame as shown in Figure A. Add the seat slats, using blocks to position them. Space the back slats in the same way.

Step 5

Add the Armrests

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Photo 5: Screw the armrests to the risers. Level the armrests and drill a bolt hole through each armrest into the back supports. Feed the chain through the armrest hole and bolt it to the armrest.