Easy-Breezy Porch Swing

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This article is from Issue 34 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Duplicate parts and patterns make this project super simple to build.

Designer/Builder: Gary Carter

During the past two centuries the country has witnessed porches come and go, and return again, for reasons of nostalgia and the pure love of sitting outdoors. And while benches, rockers, and wicker chairs help you relax in the open air, nothing offers more comfort than a porch swing. Indeed, it’s as American as apple pie.

Our traditional design, made from weather-resistant cypress, features a contoured seat and wide armrests for maximum relaxation. We extended the seat support rails beyond the armrests to keep the chains out of “arms” way. The porch swing hardware in the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide provides springs that offer a cushiony ride as you glide to and fro.

Don’t have a porch? Build the simple A-frame swing support on page 35 and locate the ensemble anywhere in your yard.

Builder’s note: Our off-the-rack cypress measured .83"- (a hair over 13/16") thick. Rather than needlessly feed wood to our planer, we used the stock as is. The extra thickness gave the seat and back assembly a little more heft, even though it did throw off a few of the measurements. If you decide to build this project from a harder wood, such as white oak or mahogany, you can use ¾"-thick stock.

Start with the seat/back assemblies

1 Rip a 6'-long board to 4" wide for the seat supports (A) and a 7'-long board to 3½" for the back supports (B). Cut each board into three equal lengths. (The seat and back supports are intentionally left a little long. You’ll cut them to final length after joining the two together.) Set your tablesaw’s miter gauge to 18° and cut one end of each seat and back support piece.

2 Lay out the locations of the half-lap joints on the angled ends of the seat and back supports (A, B) where shown in the Half-lap Detail in Figure 1. To find the shoulder line, lay one piece on top of the other, so that the mitered end of the top board is flush with the edge of the other, and draw on the bottom board. Rearrange the two boards so that the bottom board is on top and mark the other shoulder. Set a marking gauge to one-half the thickness of your stock and scribe a line along the edges and ends of both pieces.

3 Outfit your tablesaw with a ¾" dado set. Adjust the height just shy of the scribed line. Using two pieces of scrap, make a test cut on the ends and check the fit. Continue raising the blade and retesting the cut until the stock faces are flush with each other and there is no offset between the two. Now cut the half-laps on the seat (A) and back (B) parts as shown in Photo A. Clean up the half-lap rabbets with a sanding block.

Cut the angled rabbets on the mating half-lap ends of the seat and back supports by first cutting along your cutline and then removing the waste.

Use a ¼" blade in your bandsaw to cut along the outside edges of the pattern cutline to remove the waste. Later, sand the edges smooth.

4 Apply exterior glue to the mating half-laps, and then clamp the pairs together to make three seat/back assemblies (A/B). Let cure.

5 Enlarge the Seat/Back Pattern on page 38 to full-size and affix it to one of the seat/back assemblies (A/B). Align the pattern’s back and bottom edges with your wood. Saw the seat/back to final shape along the front and top edges, cutting just outside the line as shown in Photo B.

6 Sand the seat/back assembly (A/B) to the line using disc and oscillating spindle sanders and then strip off the pattern. Use this assembly as a pattern for the other two.

7 Clamp the three assemblies (A/B) together and sand and file as needed to make them identical. If necessary, use a rasp or sanding block to reestablish the two flat spots for the slats at the front of the seat as indicated on the pattern.

When cutting curves in long workpieces, such as the crest rail, a jigsaw is more convenient than a bandsaw. Clamp the workpiece to a solid table.

Make the slats, arms, and rails

1 Referring to the Cut List, make 17 seat and back slats (C) and one transition slat (D). With the Hole-and-Slat Spacing Jig (opposite, above), mark the screw-hole locations. Use a combination square to mark corresponding centered holes on the transition slat. Drill the 3/8"-wide × 5/16"-deep counterbored holes in the top faces of all slats. (You’ll plug these later.)

2 Cut the crest rail (E), arms (F), arm supports (G), and arm brackets (H) to the dimensions in the Cut List. Make copies of the Crest Rail Center, Arm, and Bracket Patterns on page 39 and affix them to the corresponding parts.

3 Cut out the pattern shapes in the crest rail (E), arms (F), and the arm brackets (H) as shown in Photo C. Sand the edges to remove saw marks.

4 Selecting the straightest-grain stock, mill four pieces to 4 × 72". Glue the pieces in pairs, face to face. Once the glue dries, joint and cut the laminations to the final dimensions of 3½ × 66" for swing support rails (I). Mark the 1¾" radii at the ends and saw them to shape. Sand the parts smooth. Note: Depending on your stock, the rail’s thickness may vary by ¼". A thinner rail is more than strong enough to support the swing.

5 Round over the edges where shown in Figure 1 with a router and 3/8" round-over bit. Do not round over the part edges that join with other swing parts, such as where the edges of the seat/back assemblies (A/B) join slats (C).

Hole-and-Slat Spacing Jig

This simple nailed-together jig does double duty. To mark screw holes simply place the jig over the seat and back slats, flush the ends and one edge, and then use an awl to mark the hole locations. To ensure evenly spaced gaps on the seat and back, place the spacer between the slats during assembly.

Use the spacing jig to maintain an even ⅜" gap between slats. Attach the slats to the seat/back assembly with 2"-long stainless steel screws.
Drill countersunk pilot holes through the seat/back assemblies and into the arm supports; then drive 1½"-long stainless steel screws.

Assemble the swing

1 Set the seat/back assemblies (A/B) on the workbench, back edges down. Make a pair of scrapwood spacers so that, when clamped between the assemblies, the frame’s total length is 48" and the middle assembly is centered at 24".

2 Position the crest rail (E) at the top ends of the back supports (B), flush with the outside corners of the end cutouts. Use the rail’s holes to mark and drill pilot holes in the edges of the seat/back assemblies. Drive the screws.

3 Use the Hole-and-Slat Spacing Jig for even spacing between the crest rail (E) and topmost slat (C). Again, to avoid splitting the wood, drill pilot holes in the seat/back assemblies (A/B) before driving the screws (Photo D). Continue using the spacing jig to install the next seven slats.

4 Retrieve the arms (F), brackets (H), and arm supports (G) that you cut to shape earlier. Round over the parts where shown in Figure 1. Now, screw together two mirroring arm assemblies.

5 Set the swing assembly upright on the bench. (We rested it on a pair of straight 4×4s for ease of working.) Mark, drill, and screw the back ends of the arms (F) to the outside faces of the seat/back assemblies (A/B) where shown in Figure 1. Then, with the bottom ends of the arm supports (G) flush with the swing’s bottom edge, glue and screw the arm assemblies (F/G/H) to the seat/back assemblies as shown in Photo E.

Apply glue and then tap the tapered plugs into the counterbored holes, aligning the grain. Trim the plugs with a flush-cut saw. Level them with a block plane or sanding block.

6 Attach the slats to the seat, starting at the front bottom edge of the seat/back assemblies (A/B) and working toward the back. Position the second and third slats on the flats prepared earlier. Use the spacing jig for the next six slats. Install the transition slat (D) when turning the inside corner of the seat.

7 Using a drill press and tapered plug cutter, cut a batch of 3/8" plugs from leftover material. Apply glue to the inside walls of the counterbored screw holes using a small brush or nail head. Then tap the plugs into the holes as shown in Photo F. Trim the protruding plugs with a flush-cut saw and sanding block or block plane (Photo F, Inset).

Add the rails, hardware, and finish

1 Place the swing support rails (I) parallel to each other on your workbench or assembly table and set the swing on top. Position the front rail so that it’s directly below the arm supports (G), and the back rail flush with the corner of the seat/back assemblies (A/B). Center both rails from side to side, then make pencil lines indicating the locations of the seat/back assemblies. With a square, strike centerlines between each pair of marks across the rails.

2 Drill a pair of screw countersunk clearance holes up through the bottom face of the support rails (I) at each seat/back location.

3 Measure 2¼" in from the ends of the swing support rails (I) on the bottom faces. Strike an intersecting mark centered on the width of the rails. Using a drill press, drill 1 × 5/8"-deep counterbored recesses to conceal the eyebolt nuts and washers and 3/8" through holes through the rails for the bolt. 

4 Add nuts and washers to 3/8 × 4" eyebolts, insert the eyebolts’ threaded ends through the top faces of the rails, and secure to the rails with washers and nuts.

5 Reposition the support rails (I) to the bottom of the swing. Using the countersunk screw holes as guides, drill pilot holes centered on the bottom edges of the seat/back assemblies (A/B). Drive the screws to fasten the rails to the swing.

6 Remove the hardware and finish-sand. Apply your choice of finish with a brush or by spraying. (We used four coats of exterior water-based acrylic.)

7 Hang the swing to determine the height you want from the porch deck or ground using chain, springs, S-hooks, 3/8 × 4" eyebolts, 3/8 × 4" eyescrews (screwed into ceiling joists), and quick-links. Cut excess chain with bolt cutters or a hacksaw.

8 Reattach the hardware and go for a swing!

A-Frame Swing Support

This easy-to-build support lets you locate your porch swing to any spot in the yard where you want to capture a view. Use pressure-treated lumber and weather-resistant hardware for long-lasting results.

1 With a jointer and thickness planer, mill four 4×4 posts to make the 3×3 legs (A). Use a mitersaw to trim the bottoms and tops to 15° as indicated in Figure 2. Once cut, mark the TOP and INSIDE faces to avoid miscutting the ridge board taper or the cross-braced dadoes.

2 Lay out and cut the taper on the tops of legs (A) where shown in the Taper Detail in Figure 2 using a circular saw or bandsaw.

3 Arrange the legs (A) in pairs on the floor of your shop. Insert a 2×6 spacer between the legs at the top to represent the ridge board (D) and measure the width of the base. (The base of the legs should measure 44".) Tack a temporary cross brace across the ends of each leg pair and a gusset under the ridge board spacer to hold the frames together during assembly.

4 Mark the base line locations of the upper (B) and lower (C) cross braces where shown in the Figure 2.

5 Make the upper and lower braces (B, C). Lay them on the legs (A) and run a pencil across the top edge to obtain the dado width.

6 Rout 3/8" round-overs on the legs (A) and cross braces (B, C) where shown in Figure 2.

7 Notch the legs for the braces with a circular saw. Set the blade depth just under 3/4" deep, then make a series of cuts to nibble out the material between the pencil lines. Use a chisel to pare out the waste and smooth the bottom of the dado.

8 Drill the counterbore and through-holes in the cross braces (B, C) and legs (A) where shown and bolt the braces to the legs with 3½" carriage bolts. Bolt the leg assemblies (A/B/C) together.

9 Lay out the bolt locations at the tops of the leg assemblies (A/B/C) for the ridge board (D). Then drill the counterbores and through-holes. Remove the ridge spacers from the assemblies.

10 Cut the ridge board (D) to length. Strike a line ¾" in from each end to establish the leg (A) locations.

11 With a helper, stand the leg assemblies (A/B/C) upright and rest the ridge board (D) on top of the plywood gusset. Using the previously drilled holes as a guide, drill through the ridge board and fasten it using carriage bolts, washers, and nuts.

12 Cut the angled brace (E) as shown in the Angled Brace Detail in Figure 2.

13 Mark the centers on both upper cross braces (B) and drill 3/8" clearance holes for lag screws. Clamp the angled braces (E) between the upper cross brace and ridge board (D). Drive two screws through the cross braces into the angled braces to hold them in place.

14 Drill 3/8" pilot holes 1" into the angled braces (E) and then install the lag screws with washers and tighten. Similarly, drill up through the angled braces and 1" into the ridge board (D) and install the lag screws and washers.

15 Finish the assembled frame with wood sealer or paint, install the swing-hanging hardware, and then hang your swing. 

About Our Designer/Builder

Gary Carter of Harrisville, West Virginia, has been an ongoing contributing builder/designer for Woodcraft Magazine. His other projects include the quilt stand in the Oct/Nov 07 issue and the wall-hung coat rack in the Aug/Sept 08 issue. Gary has received accolades from several museum curators and magazines that deal with early American furniture and decorative arts. Check out his store or contact him at country-cabinetmaker.com.

How to enlarge and apply paper patterns

here save valuable shop time when building a project. Because of the sizes of the seat and back supports, crest rail, and arms, we include the patterns for these parts in reduced form. (The bracket is full sized.) To convert the reduced patterns to full size, you can go one of three ways:

• If you have access to a copy machine, copy the curved portions of the pattern, such as the back end of the arm, to 200%. Place this enlarged pattern on the copy machine and copy it again at 200%. The resulting pattern will be enlarged by 400%, just what you need. For long curves, such as the seat support, make sequential copies and tape them together. The total pattern length must equal the finished length of the part.

• Take the pattern pages shown here to a local service that prints architectural blueprints and have them make you printed copies enlarged to 400%. This is your most expensive option.

• Go to WoodcraftMagazine.com/magpatterns to download the full-sized patterns. These will print in tiles which you will need to tape together.

Regardless of your printing choice, cut the full-sized patterns to shape and spray-adhere them to the respective project parts that you have cut to the finished lengths and widths in the Cut List. Using a bandsaw or jigsaw, cut the parts to final shape, just outside the cutlines. Finish-sand to the lines to remove saw marks. Then round over only those edges indicated in the Figures.


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