Perhaps our biggest challenge is in the area of consumer education. We see many families that will spend $30,000 or $40,000 on a new car that will last them just a few short years. But they have a hard time spending even 10% of that on a quality playset or swing set that will last their children for many more years than the family car, and even last through the grandchildren. The playset is used as often, and sometimes more than the family car.
People buy for the appearance and the amenities rather than for quality, safety, and durability. The latter is harder to see. We see this in all areas of consumer spending whether it be a car, a house, clothes, etc. Appearance and amenities sell.
The majority of what I refer to as “playsets-in-box” come from China. They are shipped here by the thousands on large container ships every year. They are mass marketed online and through stores like Cosco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Toy-R-Us, BJ’s, Home Depot, and many others.
They are sold under the brand name of Backyard Discovery, LeisureTime Products, Backyard Adventure, Cedar Summit, Big Backyard, and many others.
The problem with the vast majority of these “playsets-in-a-box” from China is that they are of poor quality, they are very difficult to assemble, the wood is thin, and the wood is brittle. It’s important that our children are safe.
What is often touted as cedar is not real cedar at all. It is sometimes called “Chinese Cedar” and often “Chinese Fir” by the lumber industry. In truth, it is actually a Cypress (Cunninghamia Lanceolata) See CHINESE CEDAR • FAQ
There is no mistaking this wood to the trained nose. As soon as that cardboard box is opened there is a sweet, pungent smell of the Chinese Cypress. This is a very fast growing softwood, and a major export of China. While it does have some similar pest and rot resistant characteristics of cedar, it is in my experience a much more brittle wood that is very susceptible to splitting, breaking, and warping.
It is very important when using this wood that the thinner boards are pre-drilled for screws, bolts, and other fasteners to prevent the wood from splitting.
Another major complaint of mine is that the sets are too lightweight and tend to be less sturdy. The deck boards are too thin in my opinion. The one company that has overcome these issues very well and makes a very sturdy set is Gorilla Playsets, which is one of the main “playsets-in-a-box” that I recommend.
The hardware such as the bolts and screws that come with the majority of these sets is a soft steel. If using an impact driver or wrench, you need to carefully start all bolts by hand into the T-nuts, barrel bolts, etc. to prevent stripping them. Be careful not to over tighten or they may break. Personally, I would replace everything with quality stainless steel screws, bolts, nuts, and washers. However, the truth be told I fear that most of our hardware being sold in our hardware stores here is the U.S now comes from China.
If I could give any advice for anyone purchasing a playset with the thought of assembling it themselves. For the average person . . . DON’T DO IT! I cannot begin to tell you how overwhelming it will be when you open those large boxes sitting in your driveway or garage and look upon the mountain of boards, fasteners, and hardware.
I have many families that call me throughout the season to come and bail them out. Sometimes they call as soon as the open everything up and realize this is just too much for them. Sometimes they begin and get part way, only to give up in frustration. We often need to undo and fix many errors. The bottom line is that it often costs as much as it would have had we done the entire project, and sometimes more. This is due to not being able to find parts that were misplaced, or having to take apart and re-assemble components that were assembled wrong.
My recommendation is that if you want the best combination of a quality, safety, nice appearance, as well as an affordable price: 1.) Shop the discount stores for the best price on the Gorilla Playsets model that you like. 2.) Hire an experienced professional to assemble and install it properly for you. It will save you many hours and days of frustration, and you end up with a good quality set that will last.
There are a lot of individuals and companies out there that will assemble your playset or swing set for you. My recommendation is to hire a local individual or company that has a lot of experience, and good references. Do not hire a so-called “National Company”. These tend to sub-contract people off a Craigslist with little or no experience every season. Their experience often comes from making mistakes on your playset.
Finally, you should be prepared to re-stain and seal your playset the very first year. The finish on ALL of these playsets is poor, will not last, and do little to protect the wood. They look nice when first assembled, but as the children use them you will see the finish deteriorate very quickly.
Once you redo this with a quality solid stain/sealer you will only need to do it once every three to five years, with the exception of an occasional touch-up. This will help your playset last for many years to come.
You can do this yourself using a quality solid stain/sealer, or you can hire a professional. We offer this service towards the end of the summer once the assembly season slows down.
New England Playset Assembly