A Guide to Playground Lumber: What is the Best Wood for an Outdoor Swing Set?
Having a traditional wood swing set brings a timeless charm, and fun, to any outdoor space, but how do you know which one is right for you? Choosing the right type of wood for your swing set can be overwhelming.
In this blog, we’ll help you decide what is the best wood for an outside swing set and what factors you should consider.
4 Things to Look for When Choosing Playground Lumber
When deciding what is the best wood for an outdoor swing set, there are multiple factors you should consider. Buying a swing set is a great way to elevate your backyard and encourage your kids to spend more time outdoors.
However, you want to make sure the swing set you’re purchasing is the right fit for your family and outdoor space. Below, we’ve covered the 4 main factors you should think about before making any final decisions.
Redwood trees are known for their naturally occurring complex astringent chemicals called tannins. They are concentrated mostly in the tree’s bark, protecting the living plant, and in the heartwood, the dead core of the tree. Tannins protect the tree from wood rot caused by fungi and insects.
Today, most trees harvested are “second growth” which means they have a high percentage of sapwood. Sapwood is the living ring between the core and the bark of the tree, it transports water from the roots to the leaves.
This means that while redwood swing sets are rot-resistant, you may find that some of the available lumber from these trees isn’t as resistant as you think. When purchasing it, you can specify that you want heartwood but it may be more costly.
Another important thing to know is that redwood swing sets shouldn’t be in direct contact with the ground because it can cause them to degrade and rot.
Similar to redwood, cedar wood also has tannins that protect it from wood rot. However, it should be noted that cedar wood doesn’t have as many tannins as redwood which means it won’t hold up as well over time.
Cedar wood is even more so harvested from smaller “second growth” trees which have a high percentage of sapwood. It should be noted that cedar wood swing sets shouldn’t be placed in direct contact with the ground, like redwood. Doing this may cause the wood to rot and degrade sooner, especially because it doesn’t contain as many tannins.
Pressure-Treated Pine Wood
In many cases, pressure-treated pine wood is known as the most rot-resistant wood. Pressure-treated pine is chemically treated to resist rot. The boards go through a process where they’re placed in pressurized tanks. In these tanks, preserving chemicals are forced into the wood’s fibers.
Pressure-treated lumber typically comes in two grades: above-ground and ground contact. The main difference between the grades is that ground contact lumber retains more chemical treatment, making it able to be placed in direct contact with the ground.
If you do choose above-ground grade lumber for your pressure-treated pine wood swing set, you shouldn’t place it in direct contact with the ground, similar to redwood and cedar wood.
Note: To avoid placing your swing set directly on the ground, consider using alternative materials such as artificial grass, sand, wood chips, or rubber mulch.
Redwood & Cedar Wood
When it comes to insect-resistant wood, redwood and cedar wood swing sets have the same properties and characteristics.
While the tannins in these types work to naturally repel termites, they can still eat through the wood, and even the heartwood, if they have no other alternatives. This is rare but should be taken into consideration.
Carpenter bees and carpenter ants can pose an issue because they aren’t deterred by tannins and don’t eat the wood they nest in. Since redwood and cedar wood are both softer woods, it makes it easier for these insects to dig into the wood and build tunnels or nests.
Pressure-Treated Pine Wood
Pressure-treated pine works very well to repel termites because the chemicals used to treat the wood are deadly to them if ingested. Similar to redwood and cedar wood, pressure-treated pine wood swing sets do not deter carpenter ants and bees.
While pressure-treated wood doesn’t have tannins, the chemicals in the treated wood don’t kill the insects either because they don’t eat the wood they nest in.
People tend to be attracted to redwood because of its unique color. If you’re purchasing heartwood, you’ll typically be choosing colors ranging from pinkish-brown to a deeper reddish-brown. If you opt for the sapwood you’ll be choosing colors that range from pale white to yellow.
However, it’s important to remember that whether you choose heartwood or sapwood, some maintenance is required to keep your redwood swing set’s color. Without the proper upkeep, it will likely turn to a silverish-gray.
Cedar wood is also known for its range in color. Certain cedar wood swing sets have a deep reddish-brown color, similar to redwood. However, you’ll find that most cedar wood options have a yellowish tone.
If you plan to paint or stain your swing set, choosing a lighter yellow shade of wood is your best option. Keep in mind, just like redwood, cedar wood swing sets will lose their color if not taken care of properly.
Pressure-Treated Pine Wood
Pressure-treated pine may not be as popular for its color, compared to redwood and cedar wood, but it’s still appealing to many homeowners. The heartwood options are light brown while sapwoods range from yellow to off-white.
One thing to remember is that the process of pressure-treated pine leaves the wood wet, making it difficult to paint. If you decide you want to paint your pressure-treated pine wood swing set, you’ll need to ensure it dries completely before doing so.
4. Maintenance & Upkeep
Swing set maintenance is important, not only for your structure’s appearance but also to ensure anyone using it is safe. If you’ve ever had to restore your outdoor furniture, you’ll find that swing set upkeep is very similar.
When cleaning and/or removing mildew, you can use a stiff-bristled brush. If you’re only cleaning your swing set, feel free to use soap and warm water. However, if there’s stubborn mildew you may want to consider using a stronger cleaning solution.
After some time, you may want to restore the swing set’s color. For redwood swing sets, you can clean the set (using the instructions above) and then apply a solution consisting of 4 ounces of oxalic acid crystals and warm water. Once the wood is dried thoroughly, rinse the solution with warm water.
If you have a cedar wood swing set, the process is fairly similar. However, instead of using the solution mentioned above, you can use a heavy-duty cleaner/stripper to remove any stains or discolored spots. Again, after the wood is dried thoroughly, rinse the solution off with warm water.
Restoring color to pressure-treated pine wood swing sets is even simpler. Instead of using a cleaner/stripper or homemade solution, you can use liquid dishwashing soap. Apply the soap and water to the wood and let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing it off.
It’s also recommended that you use wood sealers on your swing sets annually. When you’re doing this, you should also check for any wood rot, cracks, or splinters. Rot will be most common where the swing set meets the ground.
When deciding what is the best wood for an outdoor swing set, it’s important you take into account your personal preferences. Each type of swing set wood has its advantages and disadvantages, it comes down to what you believe would be the best investment for your home.