How to Restore an Old Wooden Playset | Swing Set Restoration
So you're swing set isn't looking it's best and the kids are scared to play on it because they're getting splinters, it's time to do something about it. Swing sets are not only expensive, but they're a lot of work to set up and even more work to get rid of. Buying a new swing set, for kids that aren't using the old one, and are getting a bit older themselves, just doesn't make sense.
If your jungle gym is dried out and splintering you don't need to burn it down or condemn it and the rest of your garden to barren wasteland, you can fix it. The good news is that fixing it is a nice, easy and fun project that can be done with your kids over a couple of weekends. It doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg either.
The main things that will need attention are the splintering wood, the rusty metal pieces and the worn out plastics.
Slides and other plastic
Years of screeching kids and their sliding butts have probably worn off paint and plastic itself, giving everyone electric shocks or worse. Worn out slides just look awful, so let's give them a fresh new life with paint that is designed to last through years of impact and abuse. Durabak.
First you'll need to clean all the plastic you intend on painting thoroughly. In fact, best is to take a pressure washer and make every inch of that swing set sparkle. Be sure to remove any mud and dirt, grime and even the chips and ketchup that was dripped 5 years ago! You can go further with Spic and Span to make sure you clear out any potential contaminants that might prevent product bonding properly.
Once clean and fully dry you'll use an orbital sander and scuff all the plastic to 60 grit. Get a good rough surface all over so that the Durabak can make a firm mechanical bond to the surface and not peel, ever. Be sure to get all the shiny clear coat off the paint, you'll know it's good when everything is dull and white with scratches.
When you're done scuffing it's time to prep. Prep. is simple, just wipe all the surfaces you want to paint with Solvide or Xylene. Use t-shirt material and keep rubbing until the cloth comes out clean. As soon as the Solvide is dry you're ready for Durabak. Yeah!
Durabak comes in many styles. You'll definitely want to use Durabak 18 outdoor on the whole swingset, Durabak 18 is rated for UV resistance and will resist fading in the Sun. You can pick from bright colors like Red, Yellow, Blue and White or go for more subtle tones like grey, brown, tan, sand and greens.
Go for Smooth Durabak on the surfaces that are supposed to be slippery, like the slide, and where grip is important use Textured Durabak. Textured Durabak has granules of crumb rubber mixed into it, they give plenty of grip but they're also bouncy and soft enough to be child friendly. If you want grip that will be comfortable for you little ones' bare feet you can go for a base coat of textured and a top coat of smooth.
You can also create patterns or stripes for an even cooler look. Durabak can be applied on vertical surfaces, just lay it on thin and you can even create a design with 3M blue tape to separate the colors. Durabak can be applied by brush, sprayer or roller so you've got lots of options.
Rolling is by far the easiest approach, it's easy to work with and comes out surprisingly well. If you need to coat a larger surface and have experience spraying paint and have all the right equipment you can spray it on and get a completely professional finish. Brushing is only really worthwhile when trying to reach those nooks and crannies that the roller won't get to.
You have to apply 2 coats of Durabak always, and if you want to go thicker you can build up as many coats as you like as soon as the last coat is touch dry.
If you've got holes are large dents to fill, don't do it with Durabak. You can fill holes with caulk or Bondo and Durabak bonds well to those. Just scuff and prep like the rest of the plastic.
Metal Chains, Stairs, Screws and Nails
It's usually not the case but sometimes you can find serious rust even on a swing set designed for the outdoors. This usually happens when someone inadvertently swaps out worn out original parts for pieces they found in the hardware store that aren't the right grade of steel. It's important to deal with rust as it can create nasty tetanus infections, especially around mud, and you want the kids to be safe.
First of all you need to do some aggressive scuffing. Go all in with 40 grit sandpaper, be sure to remove any loose corrosion and get down to the hardened on browning of the metal. Now you need to kill the rust to stop it spreading, that can be done with Rust Converter. Be sure to cover every spec of rust, this will turn it into a black compound which is no longer rust, and cannot spread.
If you want to paint the other metal you'll need to go at it with 40 grit sandpaper and scuff some scratches into it. Thinner metal should be primed with a metal etch primer like Zinc Phosphate or if you don't want to spray, you can paint or roll on metcote.
Now you can roll or spray on Durabak, in 2 coats over the metal and it should be there to stay, no matter what kind of abuse your kids give it.
One of the main hazards keeping your kids off the jungle gym is the splinters. The old dry wood is flaking and pierces child skin at every opportunity. We need to not only make the wood frame and paneling safe again, but also look great and last a lifetime.
Once again Durabak is here to save the day. Instead of requiring different products for each part of the swing set, you can rest assured that Durabak can handle it all, and better than anything else.
First we need to remove the dangers of the wood. If you have one, it's a good idea to go over all the wood with a wood plane, once, lightly in each direction. That will pick off all the more immediately dangerous splinters fairly quickly. Then we want to go at the wood with our orbital sander and 60 grit pads. The sander will remove the less obvious splinters and generally flatten out the surfaces.
You'll notice whilst doing all this sanding just how warped and distorted the wood has become over the years. Durabak will protect the wood from further degradation for many years.
Once you've got the surface to an even 60 grit and removed and flattened any splinter risks, you're ready to wipe it all down with Xylene. You'll go over everything carefully with a t-shirt material again and this time you'll find any splinters very quickly, so be careful.
As soon as it's flashed you are ready for Durabak.
As the wood is so dry, you will probably end up needing 4 coats. Once that's done it will not only strengthen the wood and add some flex and support, but it will seal the surface and create an impermeable membrane that will protect the wood for years from sun and rain and more.