Rope swinging basics
Sometimes the simplest answers are the best. In the height of summer, people are looking for a cheap, simple, and fun way to pass the time. One of the simplest ideas is to make a swing. With a length of rope, a good tree, and the optional board to help sit or stand on, you have the makings of a fun afternoon right? Well, partially. The trick is to make that swing functional and fun but safe at the same time. Kind of like a bike or car, when it works, it can be a blast. However, when something goes wrong it can go from a minor scrape to a major problem. Making a swing safe is a lot more involved than a good knot on the rope. Instead, you need to consider location, the materials you use, and how it all works together.
Location and support
When making a rope swing, the one thing that everybody considers is where. Most want to simply make sure the swing is not near a structure or any material in range. Aside from the trunk and branches of the tree itself, the swing is generally thought safe. It is actually a bit more involved. As trees vary in species, they also vary in strength. Oak trees are well-known for their strength and durability. Many consider Oak to be the best tree to swing from for those reasons. On the other hand you have evergreens or fruit-bearing trees. They are known to split easily, making supporting a swinging person very dangerous. Not everybody has an Oak tree handy, so there are a few points to look for.
First, make sure it is a living branch. You want to find a branch that still has green leaves on it, and is free of any dried up bark, bugs, or fungus. Dead wood is nowhere near as strong wood, and decaying is definitely not safe. Insects often tunnel through wood even if they don’t eat it. A nest for ants or some other insect will significantly weaken the tree. Not to collapse per se, but definitely not something you want to depend on. Some would say that having a swing that can go as high as possible provides the most fun, but it is best to find a branch that is no more than 20 feet off the ground. Once you find a branch that is at the right height and still living, give it a good measure. You want a branch that is at least 12 inches, or about 30 centimeters in diameter. This gives the strength needed to withstand the stresses of your play. Even a mighty oak needs to be thick enough to hold a person up. As a side note, make sure the end of the swing is not too high up either. You don’t want a ladder just to get on your swing! It also is good sense, since sooner or later you have to dismount, and don’t need a long fall.
All this depends on using a tree for a swing, but that is not the only option. If in a more urban area, you can always use a metal support bar or similar location such as under a bridge. The same rules apply. Make sure you find a good solid support beam or bar that is free of rust and decay. While it does not need to be nearly as thick, don’t pick just any beam or pipe to support you as you swing through the air. If it bends under your weight mid-swing, you will drag hard on the ground. Grass and dirt are not all that soft. Whatever is supporting the metal beams is like to be even less forgiving.
Again, like a car, what it is made of matters. For the best results, you need to have a few points for your rope. First and foremost, it needs to be strong. The rope you choose needs to be able to support a few hundred pounds. Some say at least one adult should be held up without signs of strain, but two would be better. Not only because you get people wanting to swing in a group, but also to carry the extra strain of a good swing. Next, it needs to be thick enough to get a great grip on. This goes hand in hand with being strong, but just in case be ready with a rope that is at least ¾ of an inch wide. Flying through the air is not a place to lose your grip. Finally, it needs to be durable. Unless you plan on taking it down every time you are done for the day, the rope must hold a knot, and be able to withstand the elements. Fraying and rotting ropes lose their strength quickly.
Polyester is a great choice given its resistance to the elements, high strength, and minimal stretch. Nylon ropes are the strongest around, but known to stretch and can be slippery. Another option to consider is manila natural rope at least 20mm in diameter. Available on Amazon or in a hardware store for cheap, it can be a quick option. Natural or hemp ropes can be quite popular as they are relatively durable and don’t deteriorate in the sunlight. Finding a good ‘rope’ might be easier than you think. Climbing ropes are fairly easy to locate, and are specifically made to take the weight of people. Just be careful if you use them that they do not rub against any abrasive surfaces. That will wear them down fairly quickly. One rather different option is to look into towing belts. Just like before, be careful how they rub and wear down, but something designed to tow vehicles can surely hold up to swinging.