It may be one of the most popular options for outdoor play equipment, but there’s no denying that a wooden climbing frame is a big investment – not just in size, but financially, too!
When you invest in a high-quality wooden climbing frame, you’ll want your children to enjoy playing on it for many years to come. This means taking good care of the structure to keep it in good condition for as long as possible.
Here’s our guide on what you should do to look after your wooden climbing frame, from regular safety inspections to cleaning and applying wood treatments.
Table of Contents
How to inspect a climbing frame
Of course, when you first set up the climbing frame, you should test every element carefully to make sure that it’s secure and safe to play on. However, you should continue doing a quick safety check every time children want to play on it before letting them on the structure.
Aside from these minor checks, you should carry out more thorough maintenance checks at least once a month or so to make sure nothing is amiss. This involves inspecting all the parts and fixtures and repairing or replacing anything there may be an issue with.
Follow the checklist below to make sure your wooden climbing frame remains safe and sturdy.
• Surface area
First, check the ground under and around the structure. This should be a shock-absorbing surface, whether you used grass, wood chips, rubber crumb, or any other safe play surface at the time of installing the climbing frame.
Make sure the surface isn’t too compressed – e.g. raking the grass or loose bark pieces – and that there are no other items on the ground. Clean away any debris, such as fallen leaves, and remove any hazards, like overhanging foliage.
• Ground anchors
Next, make sure the climbing frame is securely anchored to the ground. The structure should have come with ground anchors for safe installation, keeping the frame in place. It should be standing solid, upright, and unmoving – it should not be leaning or swaying at all.
If the anchors have become loose or the ground has shifted and is no longer level, you may need to dig out the higher area and redistribute the material to create an even surface, then concrete the anchors in place to prevent this from happening again.
• Hardware and fittings
The next step is to check the hardware holding the structure together. Fittings like nuts, bolts, and screws can gradually become loose from the pressures of the changing weather and children playing on the structure, so make sure they’re still fastened properly.
If any fittings are loose, use an appropriate tool (e.g. screwdriver or spanner) to gently tighten them again. Don’t be tempted to over-tighten them, as this can cause the wood to split and splinter.
Metal fittings can also become rusty, so you should clean and remove rust carefully. However, if the rust has worn away the metal, the piece is likely to need replacing completely.
Additionally, there should be no sharp edges or parts sticking out that could cause an accidental injury. Check that fittings are flush with the wood or have an appropriate cover.
• Timber beams
The wooden beams are the most important part of the climbing frame, as they make up the structure that children will be climbing on and swinging from. You should look over each piece of timber for possible splinters, large cracks, and signs of rot or mould.
If the wood has become rough and splintered, you can sand it back down to smoothness and reapply a protective sealant. If rot or mould is present, you may need to take extra steps to apply chemical treatments – in which case, you should keep children well away until the process is complete, including re-staining and re-sealing the wood afterwards.
It’s important to note that the colour of the natural wood fading is normal due to exposure to the sun, as are small cracks in the surface from the wood expanding and contracting due to temperature changes. This shouldn’t be a cause for concern unless the cracks are large and deep.
• Swings, slides, etc.
The wooden structure itself may be in great shape and secured firmly to the ground, but what about the other play equipment and accessories? Most climbing frames come with features like swings and slides, and these need safety testing, too.
Whether swings are attached by ropes or chains, make sure they aren’t fraying or rusty and that they can withstand you leaning your full body weight on them. Make sure any metal hooks or carabiners are securely attached, and lubricate them as needed to eliminate any squeaking noises.
Next, check the swing seats and safety bars or straps to ensure the material isn’t cracked, ripped, or mouldy. Damaged swing seats are often easy to replace if necessary.
Similarly, you should check that the slide is securely attached at the top and bottom, with no wobbling or gaps. The sliding surface should also be clean, dry, and smooth.
How to treat a wooden climbing frame
Any good-quality wooden climbing frame should already be made with pressure-treated timber. This impregnates the wood with a non-toxic preservative solution that protects it against rot, mould, and infestation. However, being exposed to the elements outdoors means it won’t last forever, so you should top up the preservative treatment every now and then.
First, sand the surface of the wood down to remove any remaining coatings, then apply a water-based wood sealant that’s approved for use both outdoors and on children’s play equipment. You should apply several coats, allowing them to dry in between – and of course, keep kids away until the final coat is completely dry.
As an additional step, if you want to change the colour of the wood, you can apply a water-based wood stain after sanding and before sealing. The stain is not a preservative itself, so the sealant is needed to protect the wood and prevent it from rotting.
You should avoid oil-based stains, sealants, and waxes, as these can make the surfaces slippery and therefore unsafe for children to climb on.
It’s best to treat a wooden climbing frame annually, often after a winter of non-use in preparation for a summer of outdoor playtime. However, you might want to treat the wood at least twice a year, to improve its protection against the harsh winter elements and to top it up again ahead of hot and dry summers.
When you treat the wood, you should do so on a day when the weather is dry and clear. Remove any loose parts and accessories before starting the process, and make sure children and animals aren’t allowed near the structure until it’s finished.
How to keep a wooden climbing frame clean
Aside from frequent general safety checks and regular maintenance checks, you should clean your wooden climbing frame whenever it gets noticeably dirty – for example, after a particularly muddy day when the kids’ shoes may have tracked dirt everywhere.
Wait until any mud or dirt has dried out, then use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrape it off the wood. To clean plastic and metal accessory parts, such as slides and swing seats, you should wipe them down using a soft cloth dipped in a mixture of warm water and soap.
Avoid using harsh chemicals that could be toxic. These could be dangerous to children and the environment, and damage the structure.
If you use a hose or pressure washer to rinse off the structure, try to avoid spraying the fittings, and don’t allow children to play on the structure until it’s fully dry.
How long does a wooden climbing frame last?
Outdoor climbing frames are made of durable materials with sturdy construction methods, ensuring the structure remains functional and safe for the majority of any kid’s childhood.
However, a wooden climbing frame might not last for ten years or more without the proper maintenance. Timber requires regular upkeep, and if you miss routine checks or forget to apply wood preserver one year, then the wood could gradually dry out and split or start rotting.
Follow the steps in this article and you should keep your wooden climbing frame in the best possible condition for much longer than if you left it unchecked and untreated – meaning your kids can continue to enjoy playing on it as they grow up.