How to Maintain and Care for Your Wooden Climbing Frame

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Child in mid-air swinging on a swing with feet pointing at the camera

The focal point of any family garden; the climbing frame is an almost mythical pillar of idealised early childhood for many of us. So many climbing frames, however, are simply not given the care and attention they deserve, particularly wooden climbing frames, which could potentially provide decades of joy, if treated with the respect they deserve.

Whilst climbing frames are typically available in metal and plastic, the most practical and attractive option is a classic wooden design. Wood is not only more affordable than most metal options but is less likely to cause injury to your children and is more aesthetically pleasing and sturdy than plastic. Wood also acts as an insulator, which means it won’t get too cold during the winter months and it won’t burn your children’s hands in the summer.

The majority of modern climbing frames will be built from pressure-treated soft pine timber. The wood’s treatment means it should be immune to rot, but that’s not to say it’ll be completely safe from the ravages of father time. Timber, you see, is a temperamental material at the best of times. Softwood naturally expands and contracts as the seasons and temperatures do likewise and these changes will result in cracks and splits. Any decent wooden climbing frame will have been designed so that these imperfections won’t have much of an impact on the structural integrity of the toy itself, but it could result in some nasty splinters!

Climbing Frame Maintenance Checklist

Before the big school holidays hit and the climbing frame starts to enjoy daily usage, you’ll want to run through this handy maintenance checklist at least once a month to keep your climbing frame safe and secure for (and from) your kids:

  • Make sure the play area is completely free of any obstructions, which includes any new features that may have been introduced to the garden.
  • Check all bolts and screws are reasonably tight, but be sure not to over-tighten, however as this can lead to cracks and splits.
  • Splinters are the bane of any wooden climbing frame owner. Before allowing your kids to run wild on it, make a thorough check for splinters. If you should find any, use a fine sandpaper (for a smoother and more durable finish) to lightly sand the area and then re-seal or re-stain as you see fit.
  • If your climbing frame has a swing set attached, check that the swing beam is level, otherwise, you could have your kids colliding into one another!
  • If you are using bark or sand as your safety surface, replace it regularly, particularly if left uncovered.
  • Make sure any swings and slides are clean. A simple washcloth and some water should work wonders.
  • Examine the fixtures and joints. With heavy use, these fittings can become loose so be sure to tighten them where necessary.
  • Swing ropes and chains need to be checked and potentially replaced if they are broken/rusted.
  • Check your hardware, screws and bolts (see more below).
  • Check that the ground and the frame is still level (see more below).
  • Check that ground anchors are secure (see more below).
  • Inspect, clean, treat and protect the timber (see more below)

Tools You’ll Need

Spirit Level – A trusty spirit level can be used to check that your climbing frame is on even ground.

Screwdriver – A decent screwdriver can generally be used to tighten most fittings on a conventional wooden climbing frame.

Socket Wrench/Spanner – Many modern climbing frames will use bolts, as well as screws, for extra reinforcement. As such, a 10mm and 8mm socket wrench might be required for tightening. A spanner might be required, meanwhile, to tighten the fittings connecting your swings to their swing beam.

Spade – In order to get to those ground anchors, you might need to do some digging!

The FUNdamentals

Here’s a handy guide to everything you’ll need to check, and how!

Check your Hardware, Screws, and Bolts

Whilst checking the wood is, of course, of vital importance; it’s just as important to make sure your fittings are still doing their jobs properly. As previously mentioned, you should regularly check all bolts and screws to make sure they are tight (but not too tight), but you should also check the swing beam, rope locks and swing chains, which might have metal components. It’s also important to check for rust. If your hardware has rusted considerably, it might need replacing, as rust can eventually lead to metal parts wearing away completely, which is particularly worrisome on swing sets, where one snapped fitting at the wrong time could see your child being flung into the neighbour’s garden!

Check That The Ground and Frame is Still Level

Over time, certain parts of the climbing frame might dig themselves into the soil, leaving it slightly uneven. If given time to adjust, it should settle evenly, but with heavy use, the level could alter drastically enough to make your climbing frame unsafe. If this is the case, you might need to get your spade out and start literally levelling the playing field.

Check Your Ground Anchors are Securely Fastened

The ground anchors are (as the name suggests) what keeps your climbing frame anchored to the ground and provide a base for the overall structure. This is perhaps one of the most vital checks you’ll need to regularly make, as if these anchors have loosened, or have been ripped from the ground entirely, you’re going to have a big problem on your hands. If the anchors refuse to sit comfortably in the soil, it could be because the soil simply isn’t compact enough. In this case, you’ll need to move the frame to an area with soil dense enough to keep your anchors in place. If this isn’t possible, you might need to take more drastic action and use concrete to keep the anchors secure.

Clean, Treat, and Protect Your Wooden Climbing Frame

When your climbing frame was first purchased, it will have been pressure-treated with a non-toxic solution to protect it from rot and insect infestation. This should last for around 10 years, but it won’t protect your timber from the elements. Sunlight and rain will rob your wood of its classic colour eventually, so you might want to treat your wood to help it keep its natural, original looks. The best treatment for wooden play equipment is generally either wood oil or a water-based varnish/stain. A good stain should also help prevent weather damage, which includes cracks and splitting.

In conclusion…

Of course, this would all be less of an issue if your typical climbing frame wasn’t being exposed to the elements 24/7, 365 days a year. But, as most undoubtedly are, it’s not hard to see why so many eventually fall into a state of disrepair. Yours needn’t follow suit as long as you follow the advice above though. All that’s required is a little care and attention and the occasional spot of TLC.

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