Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Install a Tree Swing Safely

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Child swinging on a tree swing.

Summertime is perfect for playing outdoors, and what backyard is complete without a tree swing? Tree swings can provide years of fun, but it’s important to install them in a way that guarantees both your safety as well as the health of the tree. Here are some tips for safe installation of a tree swing.

Choosing a Tree and Branch for a Swing

When hanging a tree swing, be sure to consider:

  • Tree Type: The branches of a sturdy hardwood tree are best for a tree swing – oaks are ideal. Avoid fruit trees, evergreens, or trees that split easily.
  • Branch Size: A tree swing needs a horizontal branch at least 8” in diameter that is no more than 20’ off the ground.
  • Branch Condition: The branch chosen for a tree swing must be healthy. Inspect the branch from trunk to tip, and avoid branches that show any signs of infestation, disease, splitting, or narrow connections to the main trunk. And above all, don’t use a dead branch!
  • Clearance: The branch should be large enough that the swing can hang at least 3’-5’ away from the trunk without the branch bouncing.

Tire swing attached to oak tree.

How to Attach a Swing to a Tree

There is debate about the safest way to install a tree swing, but in general there are two main approaches:


          Eye bolt

  • Eye Bolts: Carefully drill a vertical hole all the way through the center of the branch, and insert a 1/2” diameter or larger, corrosion resistant eye bolt, using washers and nuts to secure it to the tree. The tree will eventually grow around the bolts, making a permanent installation. This method eliminates friction on the bark, but it does cause damage to the tree. To make your rope last longer, attach a carabiner to the eye bolt, then tie the rope to the carabiner.
  • Rope: A tree swing can be attached to the branch using rope as long as you take steps to prevent the rope from cutting into the tree bark. If you choose to tie the rope around the tree branch, use a running bowline (or other slip knot) that will loosen when the swing is not being used, to allow to the tree to grow larger without being girdled by the rope. To protect the bark, use a rope sleeve or a piece of rubber tubing to reduce friction.

Choosing Rope for a Tree Swing

Use 1/2” diameter or thicker rope to make it easy to hold and provide enough strength. There are a number of materials used for rope, including:

  • Polyester Rope: Braided polyester rope is probably the best rope choice among the synthetic ropes for a tree swing. It holds up well to the elements, provides maximum strength, and has little stretch.
  • Tree swing
          Braided polyester rope

  • Nylon Rope: While the strongest rope, nylon is susceptible to stretching and can be slippery for little hands to grasp.
  • Polypropylene Rope: This lightweight rope is the least expensive rope available. Polypropylene rope makes a poor choice since it deteriorates rapidly in the sun’s UV rays.
  • Natural Fiber Rope: These include ropes made from natural plant materials including manila, cotton, sisal, and hemp. While popular for rustic tree swings, natural fiber ropes are not as strong as synthetic rope, will rot over time, and can break without warning. If you use a natural fiber rope on a tree swing, be sure to replace it every year or two.
  • Metal Chain: While not as attractive as rope with a tendency to pinch small fingers, corrosion resistant chain is strong and holds up well to the elements. Chain should only be used for swings installed with eye bolts, and not attached around a tree branch.

Tree Swing Safety Tips

Follow these tips to maximize the safety and enjoyment of your tree swing:

    Child on tree swing.

  • Inspect the tree branch, as well as the ropes and swing itself, regularly. Look for splitting, fraying, missing bark, or other damage, and repair right away. A properly installed swing should not cause any damage or grooves in the tree.
  • Plan on replacing the ropes every couple of years.
  • Move the swing to new eye bolts if the tree grows over the ends.
  • Make sure the rope, carabiners, and hardware are rated for the maximum weight.
  • Be sure knots are tied securely to prevent unraveling.

Further Information



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27 Comments on “How to Install a Tree Swing Safely”

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  1. Katharine Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Our neighbors have installed a chain swing on an old oak. The branch looks healthy and is at least 8 inches in diameter. The swing is installed with a bolt driven through the branch and held in place with nuts.
    My concern is that the height of this swing is at least 40 feet, it look very dangerous. The weight of the chain must be substantial if it were to break. The swing is at the top of a hill and if one were to swing to capacity I imagine that the fall would be substantial as well. Is this a safe swing? Thanks

  2. Mike Says:
    September 6th, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Probably not….

    Sounds like fun though :)

  3. Chris Francis Says:
    September 27th, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I like seeing the bolts in the trees much more than the ropes or many other items people may use. While drilling a hole in the tree is invasive; if done properly, it is minimally so. And the tree can grow around the eye bolt, however ropes and cables can girdle the tree, much like a collar on a puppy that is never loosened or replaced. Any branch used to attach a swing should be inspected initially and routinely by a qualified Certified Arborist. If the tree is a live oak (quercus virginiana), the branch is much more likely to be of structural capacity to support the swing; however many of the water oaks (Quercus nigra) and laurel oaks (Quercus hemisphaerica) are especially susceptible to decay fungi and other pest problems. But remember, not all branches are created equal: even a good tree can have a bad branch, and it doesn’t have to be rotten or hollow; I would certainly want to look at the branch attachment. If the branch attaches to the trunk with a moderate swelling (branch collar) and a “U” shape, that is a good sign as the attachment will become stronger with age. However, in the urban environment, many trees will have codominant stems which develop bark inclusions which are structural weaknesses with no collar; this looks like a “Y” or “V” and has a very tight branch angle which results in wood that actually pushes apart, becoming weaker as it matures.

    CHRIS FRANCIS
    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor

  4. sunshine Says:
    April 23rd, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    hope this swing works for me I will have my niece an nephew twins 3 years old for a whole I am trying to find things to keep them busy an I want this swing up before they get here. Your information was helpful

  5. jen Says:
    June 8th, 2012 at 9:39 am

    This is great info – thanks. We are hoping to install a porch swing hanging from our large Sycamore tree. The branches I want to use though are probably a 45% angle along the trunk of the tree. Should that be avoided? All the other criteria mentioned in your article are met. Thanks.

  6. Marie Says:
    June 10th, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Why only 20 feet high? Our oak is so old and tall, first branch may start at 40 feet. Is over a flat surface. seems would be ok to me, but wondercwhy u said 20.

  7. George Says:
    June 17th, 2012 at 8:02 am

    I installed a swing with chains and eye-bolts. It looks fine but the swing wobbles from the longer side of the chain, what’s the solution? Please!!

  8. Jim Says:
    June 23rd, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Can a swing be attached to a heavy duty cable that spans two tall mature trees? Is there a limit to the distance of the span? How do you attach the swing to the cable to avoid friction?

  9. alyvia Says:
    June 30th, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    we have a branch that is probably 15-20 ft high. and its at a perfect right angle. its just the perfect branch for a swing. its also very thick. So i was thinking about buying one of those commercial grade belt swings and doing the eye bolts and swing chains. ive wanted to do this for 2 years bt never had the time or money.
    but does this sound like a good plan?

  10. Doug Slack Says:
    September 9th, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks for suggesting the bolts. I was lucky enough to find a branch in good position and level. From past experience, it is impossible to get a 2 chain swing to swing properly from an unlevel branch. The pivot (hinge) points must be the level. Recently I placed 4″ strips of thick rubber over a branch, laying each chain over the respective strip of rubber. The rubber protected the branch from the chain but collected 4 types of insects and moisture, not good. Glad I caught it in time before the bugs and rot damaged the branch. Years ago I used bolts through two different branches that attached to a 4″ x 4″, spanning between the branches. Then the swing chains were attached to the 4 x 4. This allowed me to get the swing in a better position and spread the total weight to 2 branches. Also, if the ideal branch is not strong enough, a rope or chain can be attached to the top of the bolts in the weak branch and extended to bolts in stronger branches above. Lots of trouble and work but worth it if you are determined to have a yard/tree swing.

  11. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 10th, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Hi Doug,
    Thanks for the feedback and suggestions on hanging a tree swing!

  12. Chris Francis Says:
    September 12th, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    If the limb is too weak, don’t attach a swing or anything to it. Your kids will not appreciate being crushed. If you are unsure about the structural integrity of the tree and/or branch, be sure to have a Certified Arborist check it out. The branch you pick does not have to be perfectly level. In order to level your chains for the swing, you can use bolts between the chain links; this should give you the opportunity to move roughly 1/3 of a link at a time. Most swings will only require one adjustment bolt.

    CHRIS FRANCIS
    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor
    * Certified Landscape Professional

  13. Jordan Says:
    October 21st, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Are American Sycamores (I live in PA) strong enough to hold a rope swing? How old does the tree need to be before attaching the swing? Similarly, would a Tulip Poplar make hold a swing well?

  14. Chris Francis Says:
    October 23rd, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    i would say most any species would be fine for a rope swing, so long as the roots are in place, the tree does not have decay, and the branch attachment is good (no bark inclusions). You want a branch that has a significant collar, not one that has a tight angle of attachment. I don’t have any numbers on this, but I would think you would be looking for a tree (or branch) that is at least 1″ in diameter for every 10 pounds of weight.

    CHRIS FRANCIS
    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor
    * Certified Landscape Professional

  15. Anna Says:
    June 21st, 2013 at 9:46 am

    This sounds great, but I’ve been having a heck of a time finding the proper eyebolt. Hardware stores just don’t carry one long enough to go through the branch that is either stainless or galvanized. They only have zinc-plated, which I don’t think will hold up. Any suggestions?

  16. Chris Francis Says:
    June 21st, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    There are several online and catalog companies that stock tree and/or heavy duty hardware (Sherrill is a popular arborist supply co.). But if you want to touch before buying, find a Fastenall.

    CHRIS FRANCIS

    Chris Francis Tree Care

  17. Dennis Says:
    July 13th, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Anna,
    use axle grease. It sounds messy and is, but unless you rub it off the outside will get dirty the bolt will not get dirty or wet and no rust (and it will slide through the hole easier)

    Dennis

  18. Jessica Says:
    August 27th, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for the great info. I might try drilling the holes to hang an eye bolt in my tree. I bought a swing, and it actually came with straps to hang it and I have to admit it made the job really easy for me. Would it be better to use eye bolts? An answer would be great.

  19. Karen Kreyling Says:
    September 10th, 2013 at 6:53 am

    My granddaughter is almost 4; my daughter would like to hangna swing from one of my trees, particularly a large pear tree. A tree man told me that the pear tree was not a good tree to hang a swing from. Is this correct as I have only pear and plum trees. Thank you.

  20. Chris Francis Says:
    September 10th, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Pears are weaker wooded, but could provide enough support for a child’s swing. The issue is branch attachment. Pears (especially ‘Bradford’ callery pears) have tight branch angles with bark inclusions that tend to “split” apart. The branch attachment for the host limb should be attached at a much wider angle and should look like a “U” instead of a “V” or “Y”. The limb and surrounding tissue should also be free of any decay. Also look at the connections below the limb to be sure there are no defects in the trunk. And look at the diameter too. I won’t pretend to be a structural engineer, but it should be fairly obvious if your limb is large enough to support the weight; you could always put a little weight on it to be sure it will hold.

    CHRIS FRANCIS TREE CARE
    Daphne, AL

  21. Bill Clark Says:
    February 25th, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Great comments and helpful – I have an implementation question if anyone has thoughts. I am putting in a swing (Southern Red Oak)and have gotten OK from a local arborist to confirm the tree/branch is healthy. What I did not ask but am curios about, is given that the branch itself is 16+” in diameter, can a lag-type eyebolt be used rather than a drill thru bolt? Drilling a branch that large is a bit of a challenge and the branch is about 40′ high.

    Thanks

  22. Chris Francis Says:
    February 25th, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Lag bolt would be just fine. You still want to drill it out before screwing it in, but do not drill too large; you will want the threads to be screwing into wood in order for it to hold. ANSI Standards state that the hole shall be 1/16″ to 1/8″ smaller than the lag-thread hardware. I suggest the 1/8″ because you will have more meet to screw into. As the tree grows, it will actually strengthen. When drilling, take small bites at a time, and clean the bit regularly. Do not stop drilling while bit is in the tree. Be sure your dill has good power and a reverse. This part is not easy, but it should last forever. Hardware should be inspected every year or two, but I do not anticipate any issues.

    CHRIS FRANCIS
    • ISA Certified Arborist (#so-6157A)
    • Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgery
    – Landscape Design
    – Setting of Landscape Plants
    – Ornamental & Turf Pest Control Supervisor
    • ALNLA Certified Landscape Professional
    • AUFA Certified Urban Forester

    CHRIS FRANCIS TREE CARE

  23. Bill Clark Says:
    February 27th, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Great. Thanks for the pointers.

  24. Christianna Says:
    April 1st, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    We have a Quince tree with a branch that is (according to my husband) strong enough to hold our child. However, I am a bit skeptical. The tree is old and has a lot of moss, as well as a hollowed-out area near the base. The branch which we are hoping to hang the swing is 5″ in diameter, which is good for our daughter’s 21 lbs. However, the Y shape is perhaps a problem. My question is- what type of tree has a branch in a U shape? This seems impossible to find in our northwest tree selections. We have Cherry/Plum tree in our yard with huge sturdy branches but they are also in a Y or V shape. Perhaps I am not understanding the U shape of a branch…
    Also, is a bolt that only goes in about 3 inches strong enough?
    Thank you.

  25. mark jensen Says:
    June 17th, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    We had a swing in an old oak tree on a hill in our back yard. The branch was about 20′ up and was about 10″ in diameter. I wrapped the rope multiple times around branch so the swinging action was the rope flexing and not twisting on the bark.The big safety thing I did was to extend additional ropes from the branch up to the main trunk so the branch could never fall. The swing being on hill was great- you start with your feet touching and as you swing downhill you would rise to about 8′ off the ground. To be extra safe I added a $1,000,000 umbrella policy to my homeowners insurance!

  26. Doug Says:
    July 30th, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Planning to attempt this with a large oaks in the back yard. The concern I have is that drilling into a healthy tree may introduce a chance for disease or decay to start. Thoughts on this?

  27. Chris Francis Says:
    July 30th, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Doug,
    There is always the potential to harm the tree and cause decay to spread, but you should be fine, as long as the branch is fine. The greatest threat is drilling through decay, then that fungi has an easy path to spread. But a healthy limb will have little chance for decay as your hardware will fill the void that you create by drilling. Check the species of tree with your local extension agent to be sure there are no diseases around to worry about.

    Christianna,
    The U-shape is in the connection of the branch to the trunk. You want to avoid tight crotches or branch angle attachments, like acute triangles. I would prefer a 90-degree attachment (right angle), but will settle for less, so long as the angle is not so tight that it pushes the wood together (rather apart) as it grows. The U-shape will build wood and strength all the way around as it grows.

    CHRIS FRANCIS
    • ISA Certified Arborist (#so-6157A)
    • Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgery
    – Landscape Design
    – Setting of Landscape Plants
    – Ornamental & Turf Pest Control Supervisor
    • ALNLA Certified Landscape Professional
    • AUFA Certified Urban Forester

    CHRIS FRANCIS TREE CARE

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