How To Make A Swing Set More Sturdy (and family-proof!)

If you are searching for how to make a swing set more sturdy, I’m going to assume you have a swing set, and it’s starting to show a little wear and tear from use. It might be starting to wobble or rock when swinging or even develop a persistent lean. You can also use this article to learn how to stop a swing set from rocking.

To make a swing set more sturdy, ensure the posts are well anchored in the ground, add additional horizontal bracing to the A-frame, and tighten all of the bolts throughout the entire frame. It you need extra support, bolt metal right-angles to the frame, and add support lengths of wood.

If your swing set has specifically developed a lean, you might find this article on “How To Fix A Leaning Swing Set” more useful.

Otherwise, read on and we’ll get your swing set in fine condition for Mission: Backyard Adventure!

To Make a Wooden Swing Set More Sturdy And Stop It From Rocking

1. Tighten all the bolts and nuts

Over time, nuts can work themselves loose. If you have a wooden swing set, these nuts are probably countersunk, so that kids don’t get caught on them. You’ll need a socket driver, that can get into the hole where the nut is and hold it still, whilst you tighten the bolt.

When you tighten the bolts, if you notice it spinning easily in the wood, it means that the thread is gone. Get slightly wider bolts (same length) from the hardware store, and without pre-drilling, try putting these in the holes and tighten again.

If this happens regularly, try switching to Nylock nuts. These have a coating of nylon on the inside of the nut, and will ‘hold’ tight onto the bolt. It is much more difficult for the bolt to come loose.

2. Check that the anchors are holding

Anchors set into grass, dirt or artificial turf can work themselves loose over time. If the posts were set directly in the top couple of inches of ground, the anchors connect the posts to a deeper point in the ground.

Give the posts a firm shake whilst looking at the anchor. You’ll be able to see quickly enough if the anchor needs work. Replace the anchors if needed.

If the posts are set in concrete. Ideally, the wooden posts are connected to a metal bracket at the bottom. This metal bracket is then placed in concrete footings. This will last for decades if the metal is good quality.

If the wooden posts are instead set directly in the concrete, there is a good chance that the wood has started to rot. In this case, you will need to replace both the concrete and the wood posts. Depending on how many posts are gone, it may be simpler to start over with a new swing set.

3. Add bracing to the A-Frame

If you have two posts at a slight diagonal, like an upside down V-shape, you’ll probably want to add a horizontal cross-beam called bracing between the posts. This will make the “upside-down V” look like an “A”. That’s why they call it an A-frame.

Try to get the same type of wood as the swing-set is made from. Measure from the ground to the top of the post where it meets the main swing beam. Put the cross-beam around two-thirds of the way up, and attach it in place with long bolts with countersunk Nylock nuts. I’d probably use two at each attachment point, but you might be able to get away with one.

4. Add support lengths to the posts and/or the cross-beams

Sometimes the wood is too thin to begin with, other times it has been too weathered. If the wood itself seems to be warped or just weak, this can work to strengthen the structure.

If the wood has been eaten out by termites, it’s almost certainly better to start over.

To add support lengths, measure and cut the length to match the existing posts or beams. Try to make the angles at the end the same as the original lengths, as these will make it look a lot tidier.

Attach these support lengths to the outside of the existing posts or the top of the existing beams. Fix them them in place with some wood adhesive and clamps, whilst you attach countersunk bolts and Nylock nuts every foot or so to hold them in place. The wood adhesive won’t be sufficient longterm, it’s just to keep it steady whilst you finish off the bolts.

Give it a good shake, and see if it still needs work.

5. Add or replace metal brackets

These metal brackets go in between the vertical posts and the horizontal cross-beam. If the posts are perpendicular to the beam, you can use a right-angle metal bracket (sometimes known as a L-bracket) to add support to this joint. You’ll want it to extend at least 4-6 inches along each piece of wood. Secure it in place with galvanized wood screws.

If you have A-frame posts that stick out at a diagonal, you can get swing set brackets from the hardware store. These sit the posts into metal caps, and connect the cross beam to the posts. This can be a big job to replace them or add them if they weren’t there before, so you will definitely need a helper. Be sure to take the swings off first to save on weight as you lift the cross beam.

To Make A Metal Swing Set More Sturdy And Stop It From Rocking

1. Clean and paint superficial rust

First, check over the entire metal swing set. You might need to run a piece of steel wool over it to see properly if there are flaky bits. You want to see if there is any rust present. If it is surface rust, you’ll be able to rub steel wool or a stiff metal brush over it, and you can see the surface can become clean again. It still has it’s structural integrity. Clean any existing paint back and sand off the rusty bits. Then apply a metal primer followed by exterior metal paint.

If the rust is more than superficial, it may be too late. If the rust has eaten a hole in the metal structure, so that when you poke it with a gloved finger it flakes significantly or you can even push a finger through, it is too late. Unfortunately, you’ll need to start over. I would not recommend trying to replace a piece of metal. Generally, if one piece has gone, then the rest will not be far behind.

2. Check any rivets for rust

Cross beams or bracing are sometimes attached with rivets on a metal swing set. If these come loose, you can drill them out, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to replace them. This is because the metal that touched the rivet has now been exposed to the air and will likely rust itself. Depending on which area, you may be able to replace the part, but sometimes it’s a start over job. Which is a great opportunity to find the new best swing set for your kids!

3. Tighten any bolts and screws

These work their way loose over time. You’ll want a socket wrench to hold the nut whilst you tighten the bolt.

4. Check the anchor points

This is probably where you’ll get most of your rocking problems coming from. If the swing set has just been placed straight in the ground, it has probably settled over time. You’ll want to dig it out, and then put a metal plate in to support the posts. Do this one by one, and check the level on the horizontal beam before filling the posts back in. If you have taken the swings off before doing this job, it will also help to check the plumb line directly down from the cross beam to make sure there’s no significant tilt forward or back.  

In Summary

To make the swing set more sturdy, you strengthen the weak points. Starting with the bolts and anchors, and then moving to the more structural pieces.

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