When you’re looking to make a playset for your backyard, you want to make sure that you’re making it with the highest quality materials. You need it to stand up not only to the weather but to your kids.
It can be difficult to figure out which wood to use for your project. The best material really depends on what you’re building. There are three types of wood that you’ll most commonly find when looking for the best swing set material.
They are cedar, redwood, and pressure-treated wood. While all three kinds of wood ensure durability, quality, and safety, we’ll go over what is best for your specific outdoor project.
This is the most common type of wood used for swing sets. It’s a soft wood which means it’s lighter than most other options, making it the best choice for a one-person project. This doesn’t mean that it won’t stand the test of time. Cedar is incredibly durable while being cost-effective.
Cedar contains natural preservatives, which means that it will hold up longer than most other woods. It’s also moisture resistant. This means that cedar won’t rot or swell based on the changing weather. It’s excellent for playsets that will bear the brunt of all four seasons.
The wood’s natural moisture resistance also ensures that you won’t have to worry about mold or mildew. You can let your kids or grandkids play after any weather without worrying about what they’re being exposed to.
Another huge perk is that the distinct smell of cedar keeps pests away. While most people find the scent of cedar pleasant, you won’t have any problems with termites or other bugs. This is why many homes have “cedar closets” for linens and blankets to keep safe from bugs and moths. This maintains the structural integrity of the playset even after years of use.
The most practical reason to use cedar is that it dries quickly after rain or snow. We all know that our kids want to run out and play on that first sunny day. If you use cedar to build your swing set, you won’t have to worry about it staying wet after harsh weather.
One of the biggest perks for parents is that cedar is very low maintenance. Cedar doesn’t require sealing, and since it’s resistant to rot, the only cleaning you’ll have to do is the occasional hose down.
Cedar is also an environmentally friendly material. Since there is no need to treat it for pests, you avoid putting any kind of chemicals on your swing set and near your kids.
It’s worth a warning: not all cedar is created equal. Some of the cheaper swing sets built overseas are actually made of a wood commonly referred to as Chinese cedar, but is a fir tree in actuality.
Chinese cedar wood is plentiful and close to most of the manufacturers in China, but has been shown to be less durable than the Redwood Cedar or Northern White Cedar of America. Most Chinese cedar is slightly smaller than the nominal dimensions – a 1” board thickness is actually ¾” thick – which is a quick way to identify the wood in front of you. The most basic plus is that cedar is a beautiful wood. Your swing set will be an impressive addition to your backyard and can easily blend into an outdoor entertaining area. With cedar’s longevity, you could even be able to pass it down to your kids or sell it to someone who will continue to enjoy it.
Top-of-the-line swing sets will generally be made from redwood. Playsets are usually made from California-grown redwood trees, but other options are available.
Like cedar, redwood is resistant to rot and decay. This is because it contains a natural chemical that is harmless to humans but is toxic to fungi. You can be sure that your playset will stay in great shape regardless of the weather conditions.
Redwood has a unique grain that makes it less likely to warp. This resistance to warping or swelling makes it the most durable material available for your swing set. However, some argue that the quality of redwood has fallen over the years and put it right next to the strength of cedar.
What redwood is most well known for is being the most attractive wood for playsets. Its distinct reddish-brown color makes it a standout against the others. However, you have to make sure to maintain your swing set to keep that unique coloring.
Redwood is also the most expensive material you’re going to come across when looking to build your playset. Since it’s a little higher quality and less easily produced, you’ll notice the premium cost difference between it and cedar.
The perks of redwood are that it is guaranteed to last for as long as you need it with proper use and maintenance. A swing set made out of redwood can easily stand up to many years of play in all types of weather. When taken care of, this is a tough wood that will continue to look great and function well.
Pressure Treated Wood
Pressure-treated wood is the most affordable and widely available option. It’s commonly used among the DIY crowd and might be a material you’re already familiar with or have used before.
Some people are worried about the chemicals used on pressure-treated wood. Since your children are climbing on it, you want it to be as safe as possible. Big strides have been made over the years with the chemicals used to treat the wood, so while pressure-treated wood may not have the natural resistance that cedar and redwood do, at this time there seems to be nothing dangerous about it.
Traditionally, pressure treated wood used chromated arsenicals (yes, you see arsenic in there), along with a few other chemicals. Over time, the older chemicals have been cycled out and updated for much safer options. You can see more about the EPA’s rundown of those chemicals here and better understand what is used these days for treating wood.
You need to remember, there are plenty of totally acceptable public uses of pressure treated wood by companies and governments (utility poles, fencing, railroad ties) – it isn’t hard to see that this is an acceptable route for backyard playsets to the best of our knowledge.
That said, we thought the same thing about formerly used products. It wasn’t until a few decades ago that we understood the danger of previously used pressure-treated wood. New information is always coming out, and we may find out further information about pressure-treated wood.
Many people think that pressure-treated wood is not as durable as cedar or redwood, but actually, the bonus of altering wood is to increase its strength. This material might not stand up to decades, but you can be sure that it will last well into the future.
Pressure-treated wood will also stand up to exposure just like the other playsets. It can handle the weather and retain its shape and durability.
The bonus is that you can paint or stain your pressure-treated wood whatever color you want. You can mix and match to best suit your backyard. This ability to paint also means that your kids can leave their mark on their playset, and it can be easily repainted each Spring.
There is no way to go wrong when making your material choice for your swing set. All of these woods will be sure to last as long as your kids need them. The real bonus of cedar and redwood is that they will remain stable and good-looking well into the next generation.
If you’re looking to go for a more traditional-looking playset, then redwood is the way to go. However, make sure that you’re not being fooled by the price. Cedar offers most of the benefits that redwood has to offer without the cost.
Don’t let the myths scare you away from pressure-treated wood, either. At this time there is no conclusive evidence that it is dangerous or will cause any harm to your kids. It may not be as attractive as the other woods, but it certainly makes up for it in price, availability, and customizable options for DIY folks because of that availability.
Whatever material you choose, make sure that you are focusing on stability. Each Spring, the bolts should be checked and tightened to ensure safe play. If you leave somewhere with freezing temperatures in the winter, it is especially important to go over your swing set when it thaws. With upkeep, you’ll get years of use out of all of these woods.