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Natural Timber Play Equipment: Pros, Cons & Tips

Nature Play

25 Jan 2022

Using timber for playgrounds

As a building material for playgrounds, natural timber divides opinion. Landscape architects love it for its ability to create attractive, natural playground equipment and there is evidence that children respond better to playgrounds built from natural materials than those made entirely of steel, plastic, and other constructed materials. However, councils and developers tend to be cautious of these materials due to their reputation for having a shorter lifespan and higher maintenance needs. In this blog, we look at the pros and cons of using natural timber for your play equipment.

Timber school playground
Timber school playground

Benefits of timber play equipment

One of the greatest benefits of natural timber play equipment is its attractive look and feel, which can be a big plus when aesthetic considerations are important. For high-profile playgrounds, timber can offer a striking and unique visual element in settings where most materials are man-made, and in parks timber equipment can help the playground integrate into natural landscape. Using local timber can create a distinctly Australian look and is generally more eco-friendly than synthetic materials. Natural materials also connect children with nature, which is hugely beneficial for their development in an age where opportunities for connection with nature are increasingly rare, especially in urban settings.

Challenges of timber

The biggest challenge with timber play equipment is that it is more susceptible to warping and cracking than equipment made from steel, and in-ground timber is susceptible to rotting. However, these effects are often exaggerated and can be vastly reduced with adequate maintenance, such as the application of protective coating. The propensity of in-ground timber to rot also tends to be overstated – in 38 years of constructing wooden playgrounds, we have had to replace perhaps a dozen in-ground uprights out of thousands – but this can be avoided by using in-ground stirrups.

Timber community playground
Timber community playground

Our solutions for natural timber play equipment

At adventure+, we use several innovations to enhance the performance and extend the lifespan of our timber play equipment.

Correct selection of timber

We use White Cypress timber sourced from sustainable yield harvesting areas. The natural strength of White Cypress means there is no need for the kind of chemical treatment construction timbers are often subjected to. While European timber is sometimes selected for its aesthetic qualities, it is not as durable as naturally occurring species. As White Cypress occurs naturally in Australia, it is ideally suited to stand up to the extremes of our climate. It naturally weathers to a rustic silver-grey and can be enhanced and maintained using surface coatings.

Stirrups for in-ground timber

One of the biggest concerns with timber playgrounds is the rotting of timber uprights just above the undersurfacing level. While this is a valid concern, in 38 years of constructing timber playgrounds, we have had to replace very few timber uprights due to this problem. Nevertheless, stirrups attached to the underside of the timber upright can avoid the need to embed timber directly in the ground and greatly reduce the risk of rotting. While this feature does add slightly to the cost of a timber playground, it offers the peace of mind that you have minimised the risk of rotting timber.

Timber Play Equipment Blog 2022 (3)
Small community playground with stirrups

Steel uprights with timber cladding

With this method, it is also possible to retain the aesthetic appeal of timber while capitalising on the inherent strength and durability of steel. You can use steel for the structural uprights and natural timber for cladding and accents, achieving an organic look that will please council planners and ensure longevity. At adventure+, we call this system spectrum+ hybrid. By powder-coating the steel uprights in a natural colour, you can achieve the appearance of a fully timber-built playground.

Using timber look-alike composite materials

Yet another solution is to use components built from hybrid composite timber. This approach combines the appeal of natural materials with the added durability of man-made materials.

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Playground using composite material cladding

Contact adventure+ today

We have been providing high-quality play equipment to schools, councils, and private developers since 1983 and have worked hard to become a leader of the Australian play equipment industry. We work closely with you to deliver safe, exciting, high-value play equipment. To speak to one of our team members about your project, call or email adventure+ today.

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