How To Fix A Leaning Swing Set: great tips for fast results

Seeing your kids play on a leaning swing set can cause your heart to sit in your mouth. You’re always wondering if this is the day that the entire structure might tip over or collapse.  Many swing sets develop a lean for a variety of reasons. The most common is that the A-frame posts start to sink into the ground on one or more corners. Another reason is that the supporting frame connection at the top shifts a little and becomes unstable.

To fix a leaning swing set, the two most reliable solutions are to stop the frame from sinking into the ground with concrete, gravel or pavers; and, to add bracing struts to the frame to give extra support.

In the article below, I’ll go through these and other problems that cause leaning swing sets. Together, we’ll go through the best solutions for these problems. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we’ll be able to get your swing set back to performing as it should.

Figure Out What Is Causing Your Swing Set To Lean

Before embarking on any significant frame adjustments, it’s a good idea to see how much of a problem you have.

Check How Straight By Using A Spirit Level

The swing set can only be leaning in one or two different directions. Looking straight on at the swing set, it can be leaning left or right, or it leaning more toward the front or back. Or a combination.

It’s important to do all of these, because visually, you might be able to see the lean in the one direction. It might be masking another lean, and you don’t want to just fix one direction, only to find you need to go back and do another. It’s best to get it all done at once.

1. Top Cross Beam

Find the Problem

Grab your spirit level and lay it out on the top beam. You might need a ladder to get up here. Ideally, you’ve got a level that is around 12” long or longer. My favorite one for these jobs is around 24”.

This will tell you if one side is further down than the other. If it is, you’ll need to adjust at least one of the feet on the lower side. Keep going before you make any changes.

Most Likely Solution

Sinking posts. It’s likely that the feet of the posts are slowly sinking into the soil. A swingset that has a playhouse can weigh over 700 pounds, and that’s without kids jumping, climbing and swinging on it. Even a simple two swing wooden swingset can be over 100 pounds if it is good quality pressure treated wood.

If the swing set is sitting directly on soil, you will have to prop the feet up again. A quick pragmatic solution (eg, 2 hours before a backyard birthday party) is to put a paver under the foot to stop it sinking further.

A better and longer-term solution is to dig the feet out, and put gravel or a concrete footing underneath. Given how heavy some swing sets are, ideally, you’ll want a solution that you can do in place, without having to move the swing set.

You may be able to dig away on at least one side of the footing.  You’ll want to dig out around 20” deep in the ground. You’ll then put two pieces of 2” right angle galvanized steel against both sides of the A-frame post that are visible on one side. It needs to extend the 20” into the ground, and 20” above the ground. Once you have screwed these into position against the post, and are happy that you have corrected the lean, pour quick concrete (eg, Quickrete) into the hole. Hold the A-Frame into the right place until it sets (20-60mins).

I’ve seen people use cars to pull and hold swing sets into position, so be creative and safe.

Triple check to be sure the swing set is level before the concrete sets! And do all of the posts, not just the problem one. If the posts were put directly on the soil, it’s only a matter of time.

2. Braces On A-Frames

Find the Problem

Put your spirit level on each of the braces on the A-frame. This will tell you if the play set is leaning forward or back.

Most Likely Solution

You might find that the braces are not horizontal, then either the feet are sinking into the ground, or the frame itself is leaning. If the feet are sinking into the ground, please see above for the horizontal cross beam solution and fixing the posts.

If the frame itself is leaning, you may be able to straighten it up, and hold it straight, with additional braces on the A-Frames. Generally, there is one brace half-way down the A-Frame.

You can add an additional short brace 18” from the top, and another approx. 24” from the ground. Use long coachbolts, with a washer on each side. This should straighten up the A-Frame posts, and hold them in place relative to each other. Do both sides of the A-Frame to keep the forces equal.

3. Vertical A-Frames  

Find the Problem

If your posts at each end of the playset should be vertical, then use your level on these to see if they are true. They should be coming straight out of the ground, with no lean in towards the swings. If it is an A-Frame, the two posts should angle towards each other at the top. A builder’s square at the top between the vertical and horizontal join could also let you know if the angles are square.

Most Likely Solution

A quick fix is to drive a wedge in the outside of the ground, in between the lean of the wood and the ground. This should push the wood back into alignment. Depending on how soft your soil is, this is likely to be a quick fix only, not a lasting one, but it might be enough to keep you out of trouble for an afternoon. Test it before letting the kids back on.

A better and longer-term fix is to check the footings for stability. If they are in dirt or soil, rather concrete or gravel, you may need to re-bed them (see above in the Horizontal Cross Beam section.

Additionally, the bolts holding the A-Frames and top cross beam may have loosened or the wood may have deteriorated over time. Try tightening the bolts, but if this doesn’t work, or you can see a lot of rot, you may have to replace the deteriorated wood.

You may also need to add a diagonal brace running between one A-Frame and the horizontal cross beam, and probably one on each side. It should be at least a foot out from the intersection, and again, will use coachbolts with washers on each side to hold in place. Be sure to make the frame straight before pre-drilling the bolt holes.

4. A-Frames that are designed to lean

Find the Problem

Many swing sets have A-Frames that lean in toward the cross beam at the top, so are not designed to be truly perpendicular. This is to make them more stable from the outset.

It is possible for the swing set to lean to the side, with the cross beam at the top still being level, and the A-Frames being skewed left or right. For this, use a digital protractor to measure the angles at the top are the same. Lay it against the underside of the cross beam, and bring the other end out to lay against the A-Frame. This angle should be the same as the one on the other side.

Most Likely Solution

The posts may have sunk into the soil, so you may need to reinforce these. Look back at the Horizontal Beam solution up above in this article.

The brackets at the top may have weakened or rusted over time. You might need to replace them. If so, start by taking off all of the swings and play equipment. Then see if you can take off the bolts to remove the brackets. You can probably buy replacement brackets online.

Once you have fitted the new ones, tighten everything up. Test your weight carefully before letting the kids back on.

In summary

Most problems of a leaning swing set are caused by the feet sinking into the ground. Supporting the posts with more solid footings is generally the solution, with concrete and steel right angles being the best permanent option. Additional bracing can also help. For all of these solutions, triple check the swing set lean is gone completely before finishing off. Measure twice and cut once should be your favorite phrase.

Good luck, and Go Forth!

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