Please help me assemble my kids' swingset
March 22, 2010 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I just bought a wooden swingset for the kids this weekend and I'm going to be putting it together by myself. I'm looking for any helpful tips/suggestions you have regarding assembly.

I bought a wooden swingset (this one, if it matters) this weekend (got a great deal - yay!). It's being delivered to the store and I'll be able to pick it up next weekend.

I'm going to pre-assemble as much of it as I can by myself and then have a final 'assembly BBQ' w/some friends over to help fit the bigger pieces together and finish it up. I'm not an experienced carpenter (read: beginner, really) and I've accepted that it will take quite some evenings/weekends to get it done, but I want to learn, I'm ready for the challenge and I'm actually really looking forward to it! I have some specific questions and a generic one:

1) I have the tool basics - hammer, battery-operated drill/screwdriver etc. - what else do I need? (Wood and hardware are included.) I'm not averse to buying good tools for the job, provided that they're not so super-specialized that I won't ever be able to use them again (and even then I'd consider it if it will make the job exponentially easier).

2) My lawn is overall level but there are small dips/tiny mounds - I'd say no more than an inch and a half or so deep/high. Do I need to level these beforehand, or will the swingset sink into the ground (currently grass) so I won't really have to worry about it?

Have you ever put one of these wooden swingsets together? If so, what did you learn that you wish you'd known at the outset? Your tips/suggestions/advice are greatly appreciated!

(Just to head off any concerns about my kids' safety - if I realize I'm in over my head or have any worries about the stability of the swingset I will of course call in the pros.)
posted by widdershins to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
As part of my job, I have purchased heavy-duty structures and equipment and installed it in schools.

The first thing is, don't have too many people helping. Men like to feel useful, and if you have too many, you'll always get one who thinks he knows more than anyone else and will just grab a tool and use it in unhelpful ways, such as assembling something out of sequence, or just doing it WRONG because he can't stand to be standing around watching. Keep an eye on what people are doing and do not be hesitant to redirect, if necessary.

The other suggestion I have is to go to a livestock store and buy a couple of "stall pads" for under the swing. Stall pads are sheets of hardish rubber, which will provide SOME resiliency beneath the swing but will also help avoid a crater worn under the swing, which will become a lake in wet weather. One or these might do the job, depending on the size available.

The last bit of advice would be to FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. These things usually come with adequate sets of directions, and following them will make the job go longer but will avoid headaches. (One rule of thumb for spacing is that, as high as the swing bar is off the ground, allow for double that distance in either direction. i. e. if the top of the swing is 6 foot off the ground, allow 12 feet clearance in both directions of swing travel.)
posted by Danf at 8:23 AM on March 22, 2010

Levelling the ground precisely isn't important as long as you're not going to site the thing on a steep slope or anything crazy. All you need to do is check that the swingset is level, so there may be a certain amount of minor levelling at the points where it makes contact with the ground.

I'm not sure what your instructions say about anchoring your swingset. Mine (much more basic than yours) had a series of metal straps which had to be embedded in concrete - you dig a hole to the required depth, fill with a quick-setting readymixed concrete, embed the metal strip and check that it's level with the other metal strips. Then the swingset is bolted into eyes in the metal strips. I made sure my concrete ended an inch below the level of the turf to allow it to grow over. Your setup may be completely different though - but I expect there'll be some sort of anchoring involved. Might be a good idea to get that stuff sorted in advance.

Drill-wise, it's always a good idea to have a second battery if you don't already. Keep one charging while you use the other - it's really frustrating to have to pause the job when your only battery is on charge.

A socket set with a ratchet driver is much, much easier than plain spanners, and will save much exertion. And of course if friends are coming, ask them to bring their favourite tools along.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:25 AM on March 22, 2010

Piggybacking off of le morte, My childhood swingset had 2 u-shaped rods that anchored it on the swing side (the side opposite the playhouse. You poured the concrete, laid the bottom wood piece over the concrete holes, then inserted the U shaped pieces into the concrete so that the bottom wood piece was held against the ground by the bend in the U.

If you have a child that is 10-12 or older this is a cool project to have them help with.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:32 AM on March 22, 2010

Get or fashion some sort of cover for the sandbox, if it doesn't come with one. Think your neighborhood doesn't have cats? It does, and they'll use it. So will all the other little critters of nature.

We put together a set about the same size as yours and the weight of it keeps it anchored quite nicely without any help at all.

Are the pieces going to be the right size? Meaning, are you going to have to cut any pieces to the correct length? If so, you might find it worthwhile to borrow a table saw from a friend. I wouldn't say buy one, unless you're going to use this project as a jumping-off point for more woodworking. Using a hand saw will be tedious but again, a table saw is a big investment. You might even be able to rent one from Home Depot or Lowe's.
posted by cooker girl at 8:49 AM on March 22, 2010

I've been on the (blessedly small) assembly crew for large playsets like this more than once, but never the owner/operator. You're right; this can be a really fun project.

I second the basic socket set. Overkill for only one nut and bolt, but you will have at least several dozen to deal with, and the time (and knuckle-skin) savings will be worth it. A simple 40-piece English + Metric set for $25 will likely suffice and be useful in the future as well.

Two general tips for large-scale "assembly required" projects learned through both good and bad experiences:

1) Open the box, find the instructions. Go to your favorite chair, far away from the box, and read each step. Know the path before walking the path.

2) Before assembling: flip to the page in the instructions containing the hardware list and quantities. Locate the hardware packages in the box and take the time to verify you have each screw, nut, bolt, washer, etc. that is called for in the instructions. BEFORE proceeding with Step 1.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by jmcmurry at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2010

I assembled a big wooden swingset all by my lonesome. (Took three landscapers to move the pieces later, too, when we had the yard leveled. *flexes mightily*) I wish the dirt underneath had been a little flatter, but all in all it was easier than I thought. Poring over the directions a few times was a good use of time.

Consider budgeting some extra time for the actual pieces being messed up: one of mine was drilled wrong at the factory and I had to drive 50 minutes to swap it at the dealer's (versus waiting a week for UPS).

Also, don't try to start it in the garage on Friday night and then move it to the back yard alone on Saturday: even the core tower, bare of the panels, weighs more than you can imagine.

Come to think of it, beware making foolishly macho decisions like the above: too much help is a hindrance, but a cooler head might be a life-saver.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2010

One more piece of advice: you may be tempted to skip ahead on some instructions and pre-assemble bits that look like they obviously go together. This is not always a good idea. Sometimes the order of installation is important for structural reasons, and sometimes if you put something together it's going to be way too heavy to lift into place (i.e., pre-assembling a sub-structure ends up with you having to lift half the dang thing up in the air in order to attach what was just one crossbar in the original instructions).
posted by Runes at 9:08 AM on March 22, 2010

jmcmurry, my swingset came with a shrink-wrapped bundle of metal fasteners the size of a (big!) watermelon. If I had opened that and counted all those hundreds of pieces, I'd never have started on the actual work! :7) There were many smaller bags within, though, so I could at least spread them out on this nice, huge sheet of cardboard I used as a desk to make sure I wasn't missing anything obvious.

So looking over your parts is still a good suggestion.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:09 AM on March 22, 2010

Unless it says pre-cut ( and I don't see that in the description) be prepared to cut dozens of smaller pieces, and drill dozens of holes for fasteners. A frind spent a whole day just doing pre-assembly stuff.
posted by Gungho at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2010

If you really have to do it by yourself, you might want to look at the Rockwell Jawhorse, which can be very useful as a way to hold pieces in place as you fasten them (as well as many other things).
posted by underwater at 10:15 AM on March 22, 2010

Thank you so much for all the great answers so far - please keep them coming! I'll come back and mark the ones I thought were best. Thx!
posted by widdershins at 11:32 AM on March 22, 2010

I remember researching this last summer and one universal comment from user reviews at various sites was to take the time to Label Everything.

As mentioned previously, just because something looks like it will fit...It's much wiser to take the time initially to label. That will also give you an opportunity to verify holes go all the way through and a chance to find any pieces of wood that may have been damaged or just not up to snuff. Good Luck.
posted by doorsfan at 11:55 AM on March 22, 2010

From personal experience... When you're done, don't immediately turn around to go clean up. My Dad came back from the garage to find me unconscious & twitching under the zipline we had just finished building (which had, of course, failed on the second run). I went to the ER but I'm pretty sure he was 100X more traumatized.

(I'm still proud of that zipline. We figured out the design flaw at the hospital but when I got out Mom put her foot down and we never rebuilt it.)
posted by range at 2:09 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

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