Project Plans: Sheltered Swing

Build a fun getaway just footsteps from your door.

Most outdoor furnishings are fair-weather friends. On a pleasant, sunny afternoon they'll tempt you away from your chores and to a quiet, relaxing place. But if the clouds open or the sun turns up the heat too far, they won't protect you. A sheltered swing, on the other hand, is a friend for all seasons. Build one in your yard and you'll have a place to relax on foul days as well as fair. You may even find that you look forward to swingin' in the rain.

You don't need to build a permanent structure to shelter a swing: Store-bought canopied gliders have become popular because they offer shelter and portability. But they require maintenance, are prone to rusting and can look and feel like a cheap swing set. A tastefully designed, well-constructed sheltered swing is low-maintenance and can easily serve as a romantic focal point in any yard or garden.

The sheltered swing we built is dedicated to the principle that exterior furnishings can appear refined without relying on complicated joinery. Both the shelter and the swing are constructed with faux mortise-and-tenon joints. The mortises are created by eliminating sections of lumber when you glue the laminated parts.

Sheltered swing design
When designing a sheltered swing, you want to make it roomy enough for two but not so big that it needs a shelter the size of a two-car garage. Begin planning with the swing. For two adults, you'll want a seating area that's at least 48 in. wide and 18 to 21 in. deep. If your swing will have armrests (I highly recommend them), make the seat at least 54 in. wide. Allow at least 6 in. of clearance between the swing ends and the shelter posts so the swing won't crash into the posts if it veers to one side.

To protect against head banging, build the shelter so the lowest horizontal elements (the roof supports in this plan) are at least as high as a standard doorway (80 in.). If you incorporate a pitched roof into the design, the height of the roof ridge will be 8 or 9 ft. To provide full protection of the swinging area, the roof should span at least 72 in. (My design has an 80-in. span.)

Aesthetically, sheltered swings conform to four primary styles: Victorian garden, Oriental, contemporary and rustic. I chose an Oriental form, although my research turned up mostly Victorian styles -- the white gingerbread look is popular. Whichever style you prefer, it's important to be consistent in the design. That doesn't mean the swing and the shelter must match exactly; you can creatively use complementary colors and forms. But try to incorporate a few common design elements to tie both components together.

Here's another design tip: Because the universe of sheltered swings is relatively small, look for inspiration from related landscape structures such as gazebos, garden benches and garden bridges.

Make the seat platform
My swing is made almost entirely out of 2x4 cedar that's trimmed and then planed to 2-3/4 in. wide after lamination. The success of the design hinges on the beefiness of the platform, which is reminiscent of a workbench top. The effect is mostly visual, but the heaviness of the platform also contributes to a rocking swing motion that's more like a pendulum than a schoolyard swing.

Prepare the seat slats for gluing by trimming off the bullnose edges of the 2x4 stock and spreading an even layer of exterior-rated wood glue onto one face in each face-glued joint.

Start by cutting 13 52-in.-long 2x4s for the seat slats. Cut the front and the side frame pieces slightly long. Using a table saw or jointer, trim 1/4 in. from each edge to reduce the width and remove the bullnose profiles. (Dimensional lumber is milled with rounded edges that won't let you create a smooth laminated surface.)

If you have access to a planer, face-glue the seat slats in sections that fit into the tool. Be sure to plan for the faux mortises when laying out lumber for gluing (see drawing in the PDF below). To join the seat slats, apply exterior-rated glue to the mating faces, reinforcing each new joint by driving a deck screw (centered top to bottom, predrilled and countersunk) every 12 in. Because of the screws, you don't need clamps.

Glue the seat platform in two sections that are narrow enough to fit in a planer; then plane the sections (and the 2x4 stock for the armrests) to final thickness.

After the glue dries, scrape off any squeeze-out with a chisel to avoid damaging the planer blades; then run both faces of each seat section through the planer to reduce the pieces to final thickness (2-3/4 in.). Also plane the 2x4 stock for the platform frame and the armrests. After planing, glue and clamp the two seat platform sections together, adding wood cauls above and below the glue-up to align the parts.

Trim the platform to 51 in. wide. Attach the frame sides and the frame front using glue and counterbored deck screws.

Attach the front and side seat frames with glue and counterbored deck screws. Cut plugs to fit the counterbores when the swing construction is completed.

Add the backrest and armrests
When paired with a flat seat, a backrest should slant backward 5 to 10 degrees. This can make for tricky joinery and compound angles. As an alternative, you can create backrest supports that form a square connection with the platform but have an integral slope. Though it meant we couldn't boast that the entire swing was built from 2x4s, we made the backrest supports from tight-grain 2x6 stock, which allowed us to cut a sloped part thick enough for good support.

Cut the back supports from 2x6 stock using a jigsaw and fit them into the faux mortises created in the back seat slat. Once they fit snugly, glue them and reinforce each joint with a deck screw.

Use the grid drawing as a guide and cut three backrest supports. Test the fit; then glue the 1-1/2 x 1-1/2-in. tenons at the bottom of each support into the mortises at the back of the seat platform. Drive a deck screw through a predrilled and counterbored pilot hole in the back slat to reinforce each support.

Install the armrest supports; then cut and attach the armrests with glue and two countersunk screws driven into the tops of the armrest supports and the outside faces of the outer backrest support. The armrests should be parallel to the seat platform and flush with the back edges of the backrest supports.

Once you've built the swing, glue wood plugs into the counterbores and trim them flush; then sand and apply finish if desired. (The swing shown was finished with medium-dark semi-opaque wood stain.)

Finally, cut and install the backrest boards. Rest the back lower edge of the bottom board on the armrests. Fill all counterbores with wood plugs, trim them flush and then sand and finish the swing.

Make the shelter parts
This swing shelter is best built in the workshop and assembled on site. The major structural parts of the shelter are made from three layers of 2x6 stock. Laminated posts and beams are straighter and stronger than dimensional 6x6 cedar.

You'll use the same basic joinery strategy as with the swing, leaving out sections of the middle 2x6 to create through-mortises for the rails that join the posts to the outrigger posts. The outriggers provide stability and visual balance - without them, the structure would be top-heavy and unstable.

The main posts are 8 ft. long; the bottom 18 in. is intended to be set in concrete below grade. The outrigger posts are designed to be 4 ft. long with 12 in. below grade so that you can cut two from 8-ft. stock.

If you go by the nominal dimensions, sandwiching three 2x6s should yield a 6x6 post. But because the actual dimensions of a 2x6 are 1-1/2 x 5-1/4 in., you'll end up with a 4-1/2 x 5-1/4-in. post. That's not necessarily a problem, but we trimmed 3/4 in. off the width of each member so the posts and beam were square. Not only do they look better this way, but squaring them gave us the flexibility to orient the edges and faces as we preferred.

Lay out and glue the post assemblies (see drawing in the PDF below), using plenty of clamps and clamping pads to protect the wood. After the glue dries, remove the clamps and run a belt sander across the glued edges. Cut the end profiles individually on the beam members. After gluing you'll probably need to smooth the profiles with a rasp or sander.

Laminate two sets of 8-ft. 2x6s to make the main posts. Use plenty of glue and clamps with clamp pads. The mortises should be about 1/8 in. longer than the width of the parts they'll house.

The roof is supported by 10 rafters cut from 45-in.-long pieces of 2x6. The rafter ends are exposed, so I gave them a curved profile that echoes the curves in the roof supports and provides relief from the mitered ends of the ridge and eave poles. The rafters also have a gentle curve that softens the roofline and provides more character than a straight slope.

Make a plywood template of the rafter shape using the drawing on p. 00 as a guide. Trace the shape onto 45-in.-long 2x6 workpieces to outline the 10 rafters.

Make a rafter template from plywood, using the drawing in the PDF below as a guide. Sand the edges smooth. Trace the template onto each piece of stock and cut out the rafters one at a time with a jigsaw. Smooth the cut edges.

Also trace an end profile onto the ends of the 2x8 roof supports. Cut one support with a jigsaw, smooth the cut and then trace it onto the other workpiece for cutting. Make 10-dergee miter cuts at the ends of the eave and ridge poles.

Cut out the rafters individually using a jigsaw; then smooth the edges. The rotary shaper drill press attachment used here minimizes dust and quickly cuts cedar quickly.

Assemble the shelter structure
You can use many strategies to assemble a large (but not too large) outdoor structure that's set in concrete. You can lay out and dig postholes, set the posts and then build the structure directly on the posts, adjusting as needed. Or you can pre-assemble the main structural elements and use the structure to establish the posthole layout.

Insert the upper and lower outrigger rails into the mortises in one main post, and insert the free ends into the mating mortises in the outrigger posts. Pin these joints temporarily with screws but do not glue them. Make both post assemblies.

Join the main posts to pairs of outrigger posts by inserting the rails through the mortises. Center the main post on the rails. Pin joints temporarily with deck screws. (Do not glue them.)

Lay each assembly on sawhorses and insert a roof support into the notch at the top of each main post. Use a framing square to make sure the post and support are perpendicular and then drill a pair of guide holes for 1/2 x 4-1/2-in. hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel carriage bolts in the center of the joint. Drill 1/2-in.-deep x 1-in.-dia. counterbores for a washer and nut to accompany each fastener.

Center a roof support in the top notch in each main post and fasten with a pair of carriage bolts. Washers and nuts should be installed in counterbored holes.

Also drill a counterbored guide hole through the center of each railing/main post joint and install carriage bolts at all locations. Secure railing joints at the outrigger posts by driving a pair of countersunk 3-1/2-in. deck screws in both sides.

Temporarily erect both post assemblies on site. (Because the main posts are 6 in. longer than the outrigger posts on the bottom, dig 6 x 6-in. holes spaced 75 in. OC for both main posts.) With helpers, position the beam on the main posts so it overhangs each post by 4-1/2 in. at the top edge. Check that the edges are flush; then tack the beam to each post.

Temporarily set up the post-and-beam structure near the installation site, tacking the joints. Square the joint on one side and install post-and-beam connectors; then square and fasten the other side.

Make sure the overhang is correct and the beam is perpendicular to the post on one of the assemblies. Secure this joint with a metal post connector. (I used Simpson Strong-Tie model R2A2Z.) Attach a connector on each side of the post; then adjust and secure the other post/beam connection. Clamp a 2x4 brace between the posts, near the bottom.

With a helper, carry the structure to the installation site and position it. Mark the locations of all six posts, and move the structure out of the way. Dig 6-in.-dia. x 16-in.-deep postholes for the outriggers and 6-in.-dia. x 22-in.-deep holes for the main posts. Carve a bell shape into the bottom of each hole and add 4 in. of gravel for drainage.

Brace the posts temporarily with a 2x4 and carry the structure to the installation site. Choose the perfect spot and then mark the post locations on the ground.

Set the structure into the postholes. Place a level on the beam. If one end is lower, drive a wood stake next to the outrigger rail on the low end, raise that end to level and screw the rail to the stake. Also check each top outrigger rail with a level. If one end is lower, raise it by hand and backfill with gravel.

Set the post-and-beam structure into the holes and adjust its position so it is level and plumb. Fill the holes with concrete, crowning the tops to prevent puddling. Let the concrete cure.

Fill the postholes with concrete. Work the concrete into each hole with a stick or shovel to eliminate voids. Crown the concrete slightly above grade to prevent water from puddling. Let the concrete set overnight.

Install the roof
Lay the ridgepole on sawhorses, and attach the rafters with deck screws driven through pilot holes. The end rafters should be 5 in. from the ends of the ridgepole (top edge). Space the three intermediate rafters evenly - the ends should align where they meet at the ridgepole. Carefully turn the rafter/pole assembly upside down and attach the eave poles so they fit into the bird's-mouths on the rafters.

Attach the rafters to the ridgeboard with deck screws driven into pilot holes. The bottoms of the rafters should be flush with the bottom of the ridgeboard.

Fit the rafter supports into the bird's-mouth cutouts, and attach the poles to the rafters with deck screws. (A wood pallet makes a perfect holder for the inverted ridgeboard.)

Next, install the roof covering. We used 8-ft. strips of beveled lap siding. Let the strips overhang the ends and eaves by 1/2 in. Starting at an eave, drive a 1-3/8-in. narrow-crown staple near the top of each strip and into each rafter. Overlap strips by 1/2 in. as you work up the roof, concealing the staples. You may need to trim the last strip to width when you reach the ridge.

Attach the shingles (in this case, narrow cedar lap siding strips) to the rafters with 1-3/8-in. narrow-crown staples. Start at the bottom and overlap to conceal the staples.

With a helper, lift the roof onto the roof supports, center it and then drive deck screws through pilot holes in the eave poles and into the roof supports. Install rafter hangers (Simpson model H2.5L) at the roof supports and each rafter. (You'll need to trim each hanger slightly with metal snips first.)

With a helper, raise the roof structure onto the post-and-beam structure, position it and then secure it with deck screws. Reinforce the connection with rafter ties at the rafter/ridgeboard joints.

Finishing up
We sanded the swing and finished it with semi-opaque deck stain in the workshop. Then we brushed a coat of lighter-tone deck stain onto the shelter structure to bring out the richness of the cedar.

You could attach stainless steel eye bolts (1/2 x 3 in.) to the swing seat for hanging, but instead I paid a visit to our local marine supply store and picked up four chromed bow eyes, along with 30 ft. of 3/8-in. braided marine rope.

Attach the eye bolts or rope guides to the side frames of the seat bench. Position them so they're aligned with the backrest supports and about 2-1/2 in. from the front of the seat platform. Install 1/2 x 8-in. eye bolts in the beam, spacing them the same distance apart as the rope guides (52 in. OC). Secure with a lock washer and nut.

Not being a particularly gifted knot tier, I was frustrated enough by trying to hang the swing with ropes that I wished I'd used chains instead. But after an hour of fumbling around with knots and rope lengths we managed to get the swing suspended sturdily at a comfortable height. And the ropes do have a softer, more natural feel that harmonizes with the rest of the project. Whether you use rope or chain, cant the swing backward slightly for ease of swinging and greater comfort.

As a final accent (and to simplify mowing), I laid down landscape fabric and a layer of washed pond gravel beneath the swing. The gravel also prevents me from getting my feet muddy when I'm swingin' in the rain.