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The Best Materials for Outdoor and Garden Toys

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 19 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Garden Garden Toys Large Swings Slides

There's been a great deal of innovation in the garden toy market over the last ten to twenty years with all sorts of climbing frames and other large toys that will complement a wendy house, summerhouse or other garden building. The main choice is whether to choose toys made from wood, plastic, metal or a combination.

Metal Framed Swings and Climbing Frames

There were very few large garden toys on the market originally, at least at prices that put them within reach of mere mortals. Metal swings and climbing frames were about the limit and despite being painted or plastic coated they would be rusty and unsightly after a couple of years outside.

The anchoring points were often a source of concern, with what were effectively large tent pegs driven into the soil. Anyone who was a child in the sixties or seventies will have vivid memories of swing sets tipping right over under the energetic thrusts of a five-year-old.

Plastic versus Wood.

The main change in the large garden toy market has been the use of wood and plastic. Metal is used to provide frames for swings, plastic climbing frames and slides because plastic doesn't have the strength of steel. Smaller slides and climbing frames are made purely from plastic but they are aimed at younger, smaller children.

Wood and plastic both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Plastic swings, slides and climbing frames are lightweight and durable but they can be affected by mildew and can be badly bleached by the sun. Wooden toys left outside will deteriorate faster than plastic but can at least be restored to their former glory.

Recoating the sealant or other finish every spring will help. If the wood gets too bad for that it can be sanded down and refinished to look as good as new. At the worst, most wooden climbing frames, swings and slides can be dismantled and each part restored or replaced before reassembly.

Versatility of Wood

When you start to look at larger climbing frames and playsets like forts and climbing towers, the material used is nearly exclusively wood. It is strong and warm to the touch, which makes it more attractive to children. Many climbing frames and playsets are modular so that they can be added to over time.

In fact a competent DIYer can make up extensions and join towers and forts with ladders, bridges or rope swings. Metal framed climbing frames are available but it is harder for the amateur to construct additions themselves. In order to drill holes to bolt on extensions, or to weld extra bits on, you need to cut away the plastic coating. To make it look as good as new you'd need to remove all the plastic coating and replace it. Unless you have access to a plastic coating facility large enough to accommodate the whole frame it's not likely to look good once it's finished.

Look After Your Garden Toys

Note that whether you pick wood, metal or plastic garden toys, or a combination, they will only retain their good looks if they are looked after. Although they are designed to be used outside, if you leave any large garden toys out all year round they will get dirty, sun bleached and mildewed.

Covering them up when they are not in use and storing them for the winter will help them look better for longer. And regular cleaning will help too, whatever material has been used in their construction.

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