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Choosing a Porch Swing

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There is a magical quality to porch swings. In his summertime classic Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury describes the "ritual of the front-porch swing."

"In the garage they found, dusted, and carried forth the howdah, as it were, for the quiet summer-night festivals, the swing chair which Grandpa chained to the porch-ceiling eyelets...they sat, smiling at each other, nodding, as they swung silently back and forth, back and forth."

Perhaps it is the soothing rhythm or the reassuring creak of the porch swing that attracts us. Perhaps it is the companionable silence or quiet conversation. Or maybe swings simply remind us of more genteel times.

Whatever style you choose, here are some things to look for:

  • Seat depths vary from 18 to 36 inches (50-100 cm). There is no one "correct" depth -- it's a matter of personal comfort.
  • Chair slats should have some curve or slant to them to make a more comfortable seat, and there should be enough space between slats to allow air to circulate.
  • Swings can hold one to three people depending on the length of the seat. Of course, the bigger the swing, the heavier the load and the sturdier the supports need to be.
  • Swings with additional length-wise supports under the chair slats will be sturdier and will swing more evenly.
  • All joints should be bolted or screwed together, not nailed. Mortise and tenon joinery is strongest.
  • Pine, maple or oak swings will not weather as well as cedar or teak, but can be painted with an exterior paint to extend their life. They also suit a sheltered porch area.
  • Wooden bench backs come in a variety of styles. Back slats can run horizontally, vertically with a topper or even vertically at differing heights to form a "round" back. Some styles will suit certain homes better than others.
  • Seat cushions, covered in durable outdoor fabrics, can adapt a swing to just about any architectural or decorating style, and also make the swing more comfortable for whiling away those summer evening.

Installation

  • Allow a 4 foot (1.2 m) arc for the swing to move freely.
  • Use galvanized or stainless steel chain or marine-grade braided nylon or polyester rope, and eye-bolts or S-hooks with 4-6 inch (10 cm-15) shafts. Using S-hooks allows easier removal of the swing for winter storage but is not as secure as using eye-bolts.
  • ALWAYS hang the swing from a roof joist, not the roofing material itself. If the joists on your porch roof are not exposed, cut away a section of roofing to find them. Otherwise, don't hang the swing from the ceiling -- use a frame instead.
  • Drill a pilot hole slightly smaller than the shaft of the eye-ring or S-ring. This will ensure a snug fit to the shaft of the ring. Tighten the ring securely, using pliers or a screw-driver for the last turn.
  • Measure the required chain. As an example, seven foot (2.1 m) chains hung from a beam 8 feet (2.4 m) above the floor will lift a swing about 18 inches (45 cm) off the ground. If you have a measurement, your hardware dealer can cut the exact length of chain you need and you won't have to cut it with a hacksaw.
  • Use four chains to hang your swing -- two chains from each hook, one to the front of the swing and one to the back. It's easier to hang swings with holes in the arms, but swings with chains attached to the seat or to the bottom supports give a more comfortable ride without as much twisting and wearing of the chains or the ropes.
  • Check your swing each spring and replace any rusted chain or bolts. Also maintain the finish of the wood because weathered wood eventually will loosen fasteners and produce splinters.

Learn About The Characteristics and Care of Porch Furniture

Materials and Construction

Although porch swings can be purchased in a wide range of materials, the most common are wicker, cedar, cypress, teak, oak, and poly lumber (recycled plastic).

Western Red Cedar is a fine grained, naturally weather resistant, and splinter free wood that resists insects, mold, mildew, and decay. It is subtly aromatic, does not warp, won't dull from the sun, and holds its appearance over time. Cedar is light weight, stable, and resists cracking. The surface color will change according to weather conditions but this does not affect the structure of the product. The color of each piece is unique and cannot be duplicated. Cedar may undergo some checking. Checking is a normal process the wood goes through. It happens as wood releases moisture and does not affect the structural performance or integrity of the wood and all log furniture is subject to it.

White Cedar is grown in moist and swampy woodlands. It absorbs and loses moisture slowly, which minimizes the dry cracking, splintering and swelling more characteristic or other woods. White Cedar's natural color is pale tan or light gold and it develops a weathered, silver grey patina in one year for most climates. Water based or oil stains will delay the weathering process. The cedar odor is a mild insect repellant.

Cypress is a beautiful, distinctive, dense, and durable softwood that has a natural preservative making it resistant to not only insects but many chemicals and decay. Depending on what part of the tree is used, the color may vary. Each year apply a natural oil based stain or preservative as needed. If painting, use an oil based primer followed by an exterior oil based paint.

Teak, a most coveted wood, has a natural repellant, making it virtually immune to rotting and warping. It is a honey brown hardwood which is stable and dense. It will last 50 years or longer. It will appear polished when first purchase which comes from the oil that occurs naturally. The oil on the surface will evaporate after a few days outdoors - it is the oil that remains below the surface that gives the wood it's durability. When left outdoors it will turn a handsome silver gray and the end result is furniture with timeless appeal. During the weathering process a slight "checking" or lifting of the grain may occur at the top edges of arms and legs. You may even see a few slight cracks which is perfectly natural as the wood expands and contracts slightly. The grain will return to the original smooth finish after the initial weathering process.

Brazilian Cherry is specifically engineered for direct outdoor use and built to impeccable standards for a carefree long life, regardless of the weather. The finish on painted Brazilian Cherry can be expected to weather over time, but can be kept nice with cleaning and touchup painting. The Linseed Oil finish is pre applied and will turn a deep red color after the initial use in the sun. An application of a high quality boiled linseed oil every 1 - 3 months will help extend the life of the color. Brazilian Cherry has weathering characteristics similar to teak and over time, if left untreated, will turn silver gray. It can be brought back to the original color with treatment.

Eucalyptus wood, a non tropical hardwood was once native only to Australia. It is as strong and durable as teak but 10 to 20% more dense. It is resistant to rot and will last decades. It is a warm unique reddish brown wood that is moderately heavy and very strong. It takes on a high polished look with a straight grain and smooth finish which offers an alternative to teak.

Recycled Plastic offers an alternative to wood but has all of the style and comfort of the natural wood products.It is a high performance lumber substitute that has been proven to be resistant to the effects of weather but with the look and feel of wood.

Care and Cleaning is often based on the climate where you live. With all woods, always consider the weather and elements exposed to. In northern climates, winter storage should be considered. A wet climate may benefit from the application of a mold inhibitor. In a sunny dry climate, a good UV protectant might be a wise choice. Always follow manufacturers directions when applying these types of products. Plan on cleaning your outdoor furniture at least once a year using a soft brush or sponge and a good wood cleaner. Rinse well and allow to dry. The more dense woods may take several days to dry thoroughly.

No porch?

Don't despair if you don't have a covered porch. Some swings come suspended in their own frames or can be installed on decks or in yards on a wooden A-frame, a beautiful arbor, or a convenient tree limb

Put one in your garden, hanging from an arbor. Train vines up the sides and soon you'll have a leafy hide-away nook. Hang a board with rope from a sturdy, level tree branch. If you need something that takes up less space, consider a glider -- a bench that gently moves forward and back on a mechanized base.

So don't just sit there this summer -- swing away and make some memories!

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