Impressive & Comfortable Summer Classic

Handed down through generations and re-created here for the first time, this swing is the perfect companion to fresh breezes, cold drinks and the warm, starry nights of summer.  

It’s a fact: A good porch swing is one of the pure and simple pleasures of life. This particular model holds fond memories for me. My wife’s grandfather, Jake Dunlap of Jacksonburg, W.Va., built one for each of his four children. One of those four was my future mother-in-law.

When I went to visit my wife-to-be, we would while away the weekend hours talking and laughing on a swing almost exactly like this one. I remember being amazed – not that she actually liked me, but that the swing was so comfortable.

Jake was best known for his woodcarving. He had apparently gotten some hand-drawn patterns for the swing from a friend, but I made my patterns using one of his full-size swings as a reference.

I’ve made more than a dozen of these, and even sold a few. The seat and back are so ergonomic and comfortable, I even made some matching chairs and gliders.

This article shows a 6' version of the swing, but I’ve made 4' and even 7' models. This plan can easily be changed to the width you want; just adjust the length of the ribs and slats. 

The first time I built this swing, it took more than a week, because I didn’t use a nailer or a jointer, but now it can be done in a solid day or two.

Getting started

Square your lumber and plane it to a thickness of  3/4" before using the diagram and patterns to lay out the pieces. You can download full-size printable PDFs of the patterns from, or enlarge the ones provided on page 38 by 400 percent. Before cutting, become familiar with the individual components, such as the T pieces and cap pieces.

Join together two pairs of  3/4" x 8" x 24" boards edge to edge, offset about 2" to accommodate the slant in the pattern. I do this with biscuit joints, clamping the pieces together until cured and sanding the joint if necessary. Now you have large enough workpieces from which to cut your end pieces (Fig. 1).

Saw all the shapes apart and cut them out on the bandsaw. You might have to reverse the pattern on the back of some of the larger pieces to finish your cuts, depending on the throat clearance of your bandsaw. Countersink where specified and drill all holes shown on the patterns except those in the bottom and back pieces. (Some bottom and back pieces have fewer holes than others, so I’ll let you know when to drill them.) 

Now you begin the tedious process of cutting the 44 long ribs on the table saw. Take heart – your work will pay off. Because I changed the original plan to make the ribs thinner and more numerous, the smaller slats follow the curve of the bottom pieces and flex more than thicker pieces would, making for a remarkably comfortable seating surface without sacrificing strength.

Cut the full boards to exactly 6' long, rip them to about  5/8" wide and run them through a thickness planer until the pieces are a uniform  3/4" x 1/2". This procedure cleans up saw marks and eliminates a lot of sanding. As you feed the ribs through your planer, stagger them to avoid snipe on the ends (Fig. 2).

Shaping the components

Now that you’ve cut the pieces, fit your router with a 3/8"-radius cove bit. 

The T pieces are routed on the curved edges only. They are small, so you might need to clamp them for safety when routing.

The end pieces are routed on one face; do all edges except the straight edge in front and the two straight top edges. Rout each of the two pieces on a different face to create mirror images; you’ll end up with a right and a left end piece. (All references in this article to right and left are as you face the swing from the front.)

The arm pieces are routed on one surface all the way around except for the small notch at the back end. Rout the two arm pieces to create right/left mirror images. You can refer to the pattern on page 38 to see which edges to rout.

The cap pieces are routed on one surface all the way around except the short flat end at the bottom. Rout the two cap pieces to create right/left mirror images.

White oak can tear out easily when routing surfaces with a lot of end grain, so use a sharp carbide bit and make several passes to get clean cuts.  You may have to “climb cut” a few of the pieces to avoid tearout when transitioning to and from the endgrain.

Using your table saw and miter gauge, cut two 1/4" clearance slots for the hanger bolts at right angles to the bottom surface of both small bottom pieces where indicated (Fig. 3). Cut the slots on opposite sides of the two pieces to again create mirror images. Bandsaw the two angled cuts to shorten both pieces as indicated. Nail a bottom piece to each slotted piece to make mirrored bottom assemblies (Fig. 4).

Place three bottom pieces side-by-side on a flat surface with the flat, bottom edges down. Place one bottom assembly on each end, with each short bottom piece, aligning the fronts of all five bottom pieces. Use a square to make certain they are exactly parallel. 

Clamp the pieces together in front to keep them in line, and draw a line through the center of the right slot clearance hole in the front of the end assemblies and across all five pieces to the center of the left slot clearance hole. Do the same for the rear slot clearance holes.  

Turn the five pieces over, taking care to keep them aligned. Only the front clearance slot is visible. Draw a line through the center of the slot clearance holes across all five pieces. Draw two lines 13/8" from and parallel to the center line (Fig. 5). These lines will help with assembly of the bottom slats later. Unclamp and set aside the three bottom pieces.

End assemblies

Drill three 3/8" holes in the bottom end assemblies, and five 3/8" holes in two of the back pieces per the pattern. Using two 5/16" x 3" galvanized carriage bolts, flat washers and nuts, bolt the end piece (routed edge out) to the bottom end assembly through the front two holes (Fig. 6). In all cases install your bolts with the washers and nuts oriented to the inside of the swing for a smooth outside appearance. 

Position one of the drilled back pieces in the gap created between the bottom end assembly and the end. Use another 3" bolt to fasten the bottom of the back to the end assembly. Use a 2" bolt to attach the back using the final hole in the end piece (Fig. 7).

Temporarily install an arm on top of the end piece, using a 3" bolt to hold it in place.  Position a cap piece, routed side out, above the arm and fasten with a 2" bolt, washer and nut through the top hole in the back piece (Fig. 8). Remove the arm from the assembly and set aside.

Using a long 1/4" drill bit (or a regular-length bit with a spade extension), re-drill the rear slots from above in the bottom end assembly, using the slot as a guide for the proper angle (Fig. 9). Lacking a long bit or spade extension, you could draw orientation lines and disassemble the end unit in order to clamp the back and bottom end assembly in a vise and re-drill.     

Use the same method to create the other, mirror-image end assembly.

Drill three 3/8" holes in the bottom position only of the three remaining back pieces, then in the back position only of the three remaining bottom pieces. Bolt one of each together using 2" bolts, orienting so the bottom pieces are on the right and the back pieces are on the left (Fig. 10). Tighten to a snug fit so the parts stay in place but can still be moved.

Frame assembly

At this point, a helper is recommended – your swing is about to get unwieldy.

Place two bottom slats, holes up, on a sawhorse or workbench with the ends extended over the edges. Make certain the holes in the two pieces are aligned; if they don’t match, reverse one of the pieces. The end with the second set of holes 183/8" from the end should be on the left of the swing (or the right when viewed upside-down).

Hold an end assembly upside-down and align the 3/8" hole in the end of the front slat with the front clearance slot. Using two 15/16" stainless steel, exterior-grade wood screws, attach the slat to the end assembly (Fig. 11). Repeat, with the other slat aligning with the rear clearance slot. The slat should attach to the end assembly at a right angle and up against the end piece. Screw the other ends of the slats to the right-side end assembly.

 Reposition the swing on its back and center the bottom piece of a bottom-and-back assembly on the front slat (Fig. 12). Align using the previously marked outside lines and centered on the pairs of screw holes drilled in the slat. Fasten the bottom piece to the front and rear slats with 1 5/16" stainless steel, exterior grade screws. Repeat the procedure for the other two bottom-and-back assemblies.

Set the swing upright on the work surface (Fig. 13). Place the third slat in the notches in the back pieces, with the countersunk hole toward the back of the swing and lined up with the back pieces. The slat hole orientation is reversed from the bottom slats to align with the back pieces. You might have to turn it end-for-end to align it before you attach it with screws (Fig. 14).

Attaching the ribs

Position a rib piece with its  3/4" side flat on the end assembly and bottom pieces, left to right, about 1/8" from the back side of the front clearance slot on each end assembly. You can see the proper placement in Fig. 15. 

Use the front center line you drew on the bottom pieces earlier to align the rib straight across the swing. The rib should be 1/4" from the back of the line.  

Fasten the first rib in place by air-nailing one 11/4" galvanized brad on each end and one brad centered on each bottom piece where the rib intersects. Use a rib piece as a spacer by laying it 1/2"-side-down against the previously positioned and fastened rib (Fig. 15). Put a second rib  3/4"-side-down and fasten it as you did the first one.

Repeat this process across the bottom and around the front curve.

To start the rib attachment process for the back, lay a rib with its  3/4" side against the back pieces, with the 1/2" side resting on the bottom pieces where they meet the back pieces (Fig. 16). Check that the rib is straight from side to side, and fasten in place. Continue up the back and over the top, again using a loose rib as a spacer. You can turn the swing on its back or upside-down to make this easier (Fig. 17). If your ribs or the spacing between them are slightly off, you can use more or fewer of them to complete this step.  

Final assembly

Reinstall the arm pieces. Attach a T piece to the front of each end assembly, centered on the end piece and just below the arm, with 1 5/16" screws (Fig. 18). Likewise, screw the arms to the T pieces and repeat on the other end. 

Glue oak plugs into all screw hole openings. When the glue dries, cut or sand the plugs flush.

Install stainless steel eye bolts down through the arms and the clearance slots, fastening with washers and nylon insert lock nuts (Fig. 19).

Final-sand the swing up to 220 grit. Use a block of wood wrapped with a piece of sandpaper and turned so a corner drops between ribs to soften their edges (Fig. 20).

I finish my swings with General’s clear outdoor oil. I prefer it because, as it weathers, it does not peel and can easily be renewed. Marine varnish is another very good finish for a porch swing.

Jerry VanCamp

As director of purchasing for Woodcraft Supply Corp., Jerry Van Camp of Waverly, W.Va., spends his days forecasting and buying woodworking tools and supplies from around the world. He is a woodworker, a woodcarver and Autumn’s grandpa.  

Cut List

Note: all wooden parts are white oak

¾" x 8" x 8' (3)  2 cap pieces, 2 T pieces, 5 bottom pieces, 5 back pieces (see cutting diagram); 2 end pieces
¾" x 6" x 8' (11) 2 bottom pieces, 2 arm pieces (see cutting diagram); 3 slat pieces ¾" x 2¾" x 6'; 44 rib pieces 1/2" x ¾" x 6'


5/16" galvanized carriage bolts 2" long (7)
5/16" galvanized carriage bolts 3" long (8)
galvanized flat washers (15)
galvanized nuts (15)
15/16" exterior grade stainless steel
wood screws (38)
stainless steel eye bolts 16" long (4)
#20 biscuits (6)
General’s clear outdoor finish, #85F05, $11.99 (quart)
3/8" oak plugs (8), #17T71, $10.99 (pkg. of 100)
Titebond III Waterproof Glue, #145560, $3.99 (4 oz. bottle)
hardware kit (includes all metal pieces), #146170, $29.99

Source: Woodcraft Supply Corp. 
(800) 225-1153

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