5-Gallon Bucket Swing

So how exactly DO you make an 18-month-old girl happy? Well, it doesn’t take any money or a trip to Wal-Mart. In fact, some rope and an old 5-gallon bucket are more than enough for a fun springtime afternoon!

Last weekend, my wife, young daughter and I went over to my parent’s house. My Dad had recently been over to the store to get chicken wire for the next chicken coop he’s working on, and looked at some playground equipment while there. (They have EVERYTHING at the farm store!) He mentioned how the toddler swing-set they had seemed “too-safe”. That is that it was all blow-molded plastic, had straps and safety belts in all directions, and looked like it would take longer to get the child in and out of the swing then she would actually spend playing in it!

It seemed like it would be simpler just to build something ourselves. We had a 5-gallon bucket and some rope, along with a drill and a jig-saw. Thus, the 5-GALLON BUCKET SWING was born!

Construction was pretty simple. We just pulled off the bucket handle, and then cut two “mouse-holes” for the legs in the front of the bucket. Matching cut-outs were made in the BOTTOM of the bucket, because toddlers legs are so short. We cut down the total height of the bucket, and made it swoop very low in front, high on the two sides, low again, and then high for a back-rest. Four holes were drilled (3/4″) to pass the rope through. Rope goes down from the top, loops through the holes, then back up and out the other side. That way, we only needed one piece of rope, instead of two, and it makes it a little easier to adjust for height.

We didn’t even have a good tree to hang the swing on, but there were two great pines (which provide shade.) We ran a length of sturdy steel pipe between the trees as a cross-member to hang the swing from. Once tied in place, the swing was ready to go.

She swung on it for nearly an hour and a half – this from a little girl who usually spends no more than ten minutes on the swing at the public park. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, nor could I really document building the swing, as we were making it up as we went. However, my brother had his cell-phone camera with and grabbed a pair of photos of the first use of the swing.

Being made from plastic, the bucket swing is weather resistant and should last a long time. It wasn’t made in China. It didn’t have any packaging, and it was plenty of fun to make and use. Not bad for a weekend afternoon.

But what’s that? YOU want to make your own 5-gallon bucket swing? Sounds great! Go for it. Here’s some general directions for you.

First, get a bucket. You probably already have one around, but if not, you can buy one at the home improvement store. Better yet, just ask for one at your favorite local restaurant. Pickles and all sorts of industrial-sized food goods often come in 5-gallon buckets.

Next, remove the handle.

You don’t HAVE to take it off, but it will just get in your way otherwise while you are working on the project. Look where the handle connects to the bucket and you will be able to see which way you have to bend the handle to be able to just pull it out by hand.

Next step is to cut a pair of “mouse-holes” for the child’s legs. In these photos, I’m using a black marker to show where I’ll being cutting. When you do this, either cut around the OUTSIDE of your black markings, so there’s no marks done on your finished swing, or just eye-ball it. The leg holes are cut in both the front AND the bottom of the bucket, so the child’s thighs sit on the bottom of the bucket, but from the knee on down hangs straight downward through the bucket.

You can cut the bucket with almost anything, a handsaw, a Dremel tool, a jigsaw, or reciprocating saw. I think a jigsaw is the easiest and most straight-forward for this.

Try to make all the cuts on the project nice swooping curves. Once all the cuts are made, you can sand the edges as well.

Next thing to do is mark the lines for the main cut. Essentially, you are cutting really low across the front, above the leg holes, and then high on either side, near where the bucket handle originally connect, swoop low again for where the kid’s armpits are going to be, and high on the back for a back-rest. That may sound complicated, but a couple pictures are worth a few thousand words.

You’ll also need to drill four holes. Two are the main “hanging holes” which will be located directly below the original bailing handle connection points. The other two are roughly below where the child’s armpits will be, and allow for the rope to go through to the back of the swing, around the outside of the bucket. That way, the rope acts as part of the back-rest, and prevents backward tipping, but is not between the child and the back-rest. You probably want to drill the holes BEFORE cutting the bucket in half, as it will have more strength and is easier to handle in its original bucket form.

Once those holes are drilled, cut that swooping line to make the bucket into two halves.

Frankly, I’m not sure what to do with the top half of the bucket that got cut off. If you have a good idea of how to make use of this “waste”, please let me know!

By now, the bottom half of the bucket should be starting to look like something you might see at the park.

Next, get yourself some rope that’s at least twice as long from your favorite tree-branch to the ground. Thread one end of the rope DOWN through the outside of one of the ears, out through the next hole, around the outside of the back-rest, back IN the next hole, the up and out the other ear. Again, it makes more sense if you look at the photos.

Also, please note that on this particular bucket swing, the back-rest is a little low. It should really come up nearly as tall as the side ears. When we worked on the first one at my Dad’s the little girl was right there. She cooperated well in that she was happy to sit in the bucket while we marked the positions and distances of the various parts of the swing. (The little girl was not around while I was working on this particular bucket. I highly suggest using your toddler as a template for your project!)

Next, you just have to hang it. Tie one end of the rope to the tree branch. Make sure the swing is facing the direction you would like it to face. Slide the swing on the rope until it is at the height you would like it to be at. That’s usually between the height of an adult’s waist and knee – a good pushing height once the swing is drawn back.

Most likely, you will want to use an outdoor-rated, UV-resistant, artificial fiber rope. Otherwise, you could also chain or cable, but rope is simple, easy to work with, and doesn’t pinch little fingers.

The proof is in the pudding. After checking that the swing is tied securely, at the right height and level, put your little darling in there and give him or her a push!

If all has gone well, you have a smiling child swinging away on your aren’t-you-proud-you-made-it-yourself swing-set!

Once the tot is in there, you might want to confirm that the leg holes are the right size, and that there’s no chafing or rubbing. In the photo above, it looks like the left leg hole (her right leg) could be a little bigger.

If you, like me, enjoy irony, you might want to design your bucket so that it keeps the “THIS IS NOT A TOY” warning on the side.

Here’s a couple of views of the back. In these photos her shirt is covering part of the back-rest, but it’s still a little low. In the next bucket swing, I am going to make sure the back-rest is higher, nearly as tall as the side ears. Make sure that there are still the downward swoops for the armpit area. This allows the child to have comfortable arm position, NOT rubbing on the bucket, and still easily reaching up to grab the rope.

That’s about it! It’s a simple project, inexpensive, fun to make, and fun for the kids to use!

Here’s a video quickly showing all the steps as well!

Do you have any ideas for improving this design? Have you made one? Let me know! Leave a comment or post a photo!

One last treat for you – I created a one-page PDF file for you that has step-by-step directions for how to build the swing. Click the link , then print out the file and take it to your workshop with you!

Lastly, HAVE FUN!

{ 4 trackbacks }

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mark furst April 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm

“I highly suggest using your toddler as a template for your project!”
Just remember to remove the child when using the jigsaw:-)

2 Ben N April 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Ah, yes, I only IMPLIED that the child should be removed from the bucket before using the saw. Just to be clear now – REMOVE THE CHILD FROM THE BUCKET BEFORE USING A SAW!. Hope that’s more clear now!

3 Ben N April 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I just posted this at Instructables!


4 eliezer james June 29, 2012 at 4:05 am

A wonderful idea! I’ve been racking my brains for a toddler swing that is very simple to build and which will not hurt other children if they should collide with it or it with them.

An easier way to cut the bucket would be to use heavy-duty scissors or, better, metal shears, like those used in metal drywall framing. Definitely the edges of the cuts will be cleaner, and they are certainly safer to use than an electric jigsaw that is cutting on a round, flexible, plastic bucket.

As for using the ’scrap’, by removing the waste, the top becomes a convenient planter/isolator in a garden. It can also be used to make a small path in the garden or lawn but using a number of them and filling them with small, round stones or gravel to make an attractive path. For something a little more permanent, do the same thing, but use the tops as forms, filling with concrete and stones.

Again, thank for a great idea.
Eliezer James

5 Adrian August 8, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I’d be concerned about chaffing, and the edges cutting into my kid’s skin. Perhaps some padding is in order??? There are so many forms of textiles and foam available, I’d use high density foam, but that’s me.

Also…you can soften the edges with a heat gun, a hair dryer on full blast might also work, but be careful….a strong polishing wheel made of woven cloth would also soften the edges incredibly well, as is seen in making kydex sheaths and holsters which you can youtube search to see/understand the technique for look for key words such as kydex, sheath, holster, polishing, make your own, etc….a dremel is used in most kydex applications which are much smaller in scale, but I’d probably go with an angle grinder and a 4″ polishing wheel as there’s a lot more edge to do.

6 Ben N August 8, 2012 at 5:38 pm

The cut edges of the bucket were lightly sanded. There’s no rough edges.

7 amy January 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm

What a wonderful idea! I have twin boys, so this creative design saved us over $100, as that’s what a couple of actual bucket swings would have cost us. Our boys weigh 22 and 24 lbs and they hold with no problem. A quick sanding was all it took to smooth the edges – they’re in long pants with the winter here, but come summer I’ll put a towel in the bottom and duct tape around the leg holes. For anyone who thinks it’s tacky – go on and pay the $60 to $80 for the real thing. We’re thrilled with the cost of $6 to $8 ourselves. Thanks for sharing the idea!

8 Ben N January 26, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Glad you like it! If you have photos of the swings, send them over!

9 amy January 27, 2013 at 9:51 am

Do you an email address I could send it to?

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