The iconic tire swing is a wonderful slice of Americana that evokes childhood memories of simpler times and a lot of backyard fun. It's just a rope and a tire, right? Well, it is and it isn't. You need to make sure you pick the proper tree, limb, rope and, of course, tire. The best choice is a hardwood tree, such as an oak or maple. A softwood tree, such as pine, isn't going to cut it because the limbs are too “springy.” Yes, I'm sure you've seen many a tire swing tied to a pine, but let's go for the best option possible here.
After you've picked the tree, let's whittle down further to the proper limb. You want one that will give you enough height to swing, but one that's not too tall with which to work. Try something that's around the 7- or 8-foot level. Now, make sure it's at least 6 inches in diameter. Not good at geometry? Measure around the limb — you're looking for 19 inches or more in circumference. Note: Make sure you have a sturdy stepladder and an assistant when tying the rope to the limb.
Select a spot for hanging the tire swing that's at least 3 feet from the trunk of the tree.
Select a rope that is at least 3/4-inch in diameter. You'll have a lot of choices from that point on, but if you're looking for a natural fiber look, something that is resistant to sunlight, heat and abrasion (you're wanting it to last, right?), then manila is your choice.
Check the label to be sure, but generally manila rope has a working load limit of 695 pounds. You can certainly find higher load limits with twisted polypropylene (1,090 pounds and about 15% more per foot), or twisted nylon and polyester (1,420 pounds about 80% more per foot), but you'll spend a good bit more and not have quite the resistance features as manila in the elements. Get plenty of rope — 15 to 20 feet — because you certainly don't want to be short any rope. A good rule of thumb is to set the bottom of the tire at least 12 to 18 inches from the ground.
If cost isn't an issue, you can simply buy a single new tire. But realistically, a used tire is what you're after. There are used tire shops that will sell you a single tire. You can also try chain tire stores to see if you can buy one. This will depend on the chain's policy. You can try junkyards or pull-a-part type places as well. And luck may have it that you spot a tire at a garage sale or flea market.
Make sure the tire is in decent shape without large fissures and cracks. Also look out for thin tread where the reinforcing wires may be revealed, a definite issue to avoid.
You can use the same knot to secure the rope to the tire and tie around the tree. There are as many opinions about which knot to use as there are knots, but there are two general types you can use: a loop or a hitch. The most simple loop knot is the bowline and probably what you picture in your head when you think of tying a knot.
Toss the rope over the limb, leaving about a foot extending past the limb on one end. Now make a loop on the longest side of the rope just below the limb.
Pass the other end of the rope through the bottom of the loop, then around the long end of the rope, then back through the loop. Pull to tighten.
A bit more complicated knot, but very powerful, is a rolling hitch. Wrap one end of the rope around the limb two times.
Cross one end over the other, make a loop and tuck the end inside the loop. Be sure to tighten the knot so that both ends of the rope are adjacent and parallel to each other.
Finish off the open ends of the rope by tying an overhand knot (just a simple loop, then feeding the end of the rope through) as a stopgap.
Be sure to tighten the knot so that both ends of the rope are adjacent and parallel to each other.
While not absolutely necessary, you can use that same knot on both the branch and the tire. Adjust the rope length and knots to set the tire swing height as desired. A good rule of thumb is to set the bottom of the tire at least 12 to 18 inches from the ground.
To avoid fraying, you can try burning the end of the rope (be careful and prepared to extinguish a flame) or wrap the ends of the rope with exterior duct tape.
After hanging the tire swing, drill drainage holes in the bottom of the tire to keep water from collecting inside the tire, creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes (and a big sloshy surprise when someone gets on the tire). Also make sure to periodically check the inside of the tire for wasp nests.