Children are programmed to develop and grow, which is why multiple challenges and risks are inherent in all Red Monkey Play equipment. As the child grows, so do the physical feats they can perform: scaling the highest heights, spinning faster than a whirlwind or sliding down from the very top. Wood is a great material to use for your playground equipment but it can start to age. Here we look at the realities of working with wood and how to tell if it’s starting to age.
Why We Use These Materials in Wooden Playground Equipment
We work only with the highest quality timber at Red Monkey Play. All of our installations come with a comprehensive guarantee on the timber, the fittings and safety of the equipment is our highest priority. We ensure that all installations meet the requirements of all current safety standards and are constructed from the highest quality play grade timber. We can also provide maintenance and safety inspections.
The reasons behind using timber beside the quality reasons are very apparent for children and their sensory development. Timbers are manufactured irregularly so that the surface is unpredictable and provides more stimulation to the fingertips. Wood is a key element, cool in summer, warm in winter, aesthetic and tactile, durable and exceptionally tough. There’s also a certain charm is its simplicity. You will find no bright primary coloured paint, just minimal preservatives and treatments.
Timber Material Lifespan
Not all playgrounds are created equally. When creating wooden playground equipment with timber you should be mindful about constricting it on exposed ground. When we create our playground equipment, we ensure there are things such as tarmac, asphalt, artificial grass and other artificial surfaces. Applecroft school is a great example of how we do this.
This and other examples of good design of play equipment helps to extend equipment life. This will be at least 10 years if treated correctly. Timber will not rot when its moisture content is below approximately 20% for most of the time. If your playground equipment isn’t in contact with the ground, that should make your playground equipment safe in the UK’s climate.
The ground is not the only threat to wooden playground equipment. Things such as gaps between components, holes for fastenings and horizontal parts where water is not easily shed can be at risk as they will maintain a higher than average moisture content. We design our equipment efficiently so that these problems don’t arise.
Water is also much more likely to get into the wood through the end grain. Exposed areas of end grain should be protected wherever possible by top covers, or sloping surfaces to drain water. You can see how we do this in our case studies, using rounded edges often to drain water effectively.
Signs Your Wooden Playground Equipment Needs Renovating
As mentioned before, even the best maintained wooden playground equipment still has a limited lifespan. Natural materials like wood offer so many benefits to children that it is essential to use them, but you pay the price of degradation. Here are some telltale signs that your wooden playground equipment could use some tender loving care.
1. Cracking in Timber
As timber is a natural material, cracking is just a reality of working with it. Cracks normally appear due to a differential rate of drying out of wet wood. If wood which has a similar moisture content to the natural surrounding is used, cracking is greatly reduced.
Timber is a hard material though and cracks don’t really affect the structural integrity. What you need to worry about is trapping kids little fingers in there. Anything over 10mm is considered dangerous for children and should be looked at.
One other problem that cracks pose is it provides another crevice for water to build up in. Like mentioned earlier, being built on the ground isn’t the only danger for the wood to begin to degrade. Areas like cracks where water can build up and just soak into the wood can drastically reduce the lifespan.
Applying preservative can greatly help this. Once it is applied they can then treat all exposed areas. However, this means that the outside of the wood has a high moisture content. If this can be allowed to dry out slowly in more controlled conditions, often taking up to three months, the end result will be a greatly reduced incidence of cracking. Equipment which is installed only a few days after pressure treatment and in hot summer conditions will invariably split and crack badly.
2. Degradation of Wood-Based Sheet Materials
Having playground material made entirely from big wooden pallets and logs would get very boring for children. You need smaller things for children to interact with and explore. This is a key part of sensory play and development.
We help achieve this with wood-based sheet materials, often made from plywood. The edges of plywood are vulnerable to wetting and edges should be treated with an appropriate edge sealant. If the edges become too damaged, this could pose a health and safety risk.
If you see this degradation of edges, then it may be time to look at replacing those components of the wooden playground equipment. We can help with this as we don’t always have to design all wooden playground equipment from scratch, we can just improve your existing infrastructure.
3. Breakdown of Metal Fixings
Metal fixings are a reality of even wooden playground equipment. If you want any moving sections (like swings etc.) then metal fixings and joints will be needed. Metal as a material is sturdy but vulnerable to some environmental conditions or other substances and can easily be corroded.
Preservatives used with the construction of wooden playground equipment may speed up any metal corrosion resulting from exposed wet metal. This means the use of either hot-dipped galvanised, or stainless steel fastenings are recommended.
If these materials have not been used, then you will clearly be able to see the damage being done. Replacing these are essential, any damage of joints would be a huge risk for kids playing on them. There are also the risks of sharp edges forming on the metal fixings due to the corrosion, making it easier for children to hurt themselves.
4. Wet and Dry Rot in Wooden Playground Equipment
Rot is the most obvious problem that outdoor wooden playground equipment faces. You should easily be able to avoid wet rot if your playground is constructed to the same standards we use (avoiding the open ground, curved wooden edges etc.). Wet rot is most likely around ground contact points, joints or in cracks.
The real risk to wooden playground equipment. This rot, strangely enough, isn’t completely dry and does need some moisture, but very little. It requires around 20%, which is common in the UK’s climate and wooden playground equipment.
Preservatives can help stop this, so rot often starts in untreated areas of wood. It is hard to detect with the naked eye and can remain invisible until it’s too late. For example, the middle can be affected and will result in a breakage. You’ll only know until someone gets hurt.
This makes it essential to inspect the wood regularly. Testing to see if there are hollow sounds in the wood when the area is tapped is a good way to test. Use a sharp pointed instrument (say a fine bladed electrician’s screwdriver) to probe the wood.
If you suspect that rot is affecting the wood gather some small splinters with a knife from the wood. If they break off with a brittle fracture, it is likely that decay is present. This is a clear and obvious sign you should give us a call.
Let Red Monkey Play Help You
We here at Red Monkey Play pride ourselves in crafting unique and engaging sensory playground equipment, climbing frames and environments for children which are vital in developing crucial skills, encouraging learning and reaching goals. With imagination at the heart of everything, we have been capturing the attention of school children for over 20 years – whilst always maintaining the use of safe and environmentally friendly playground equipment in the process.
We work with schools and nurseries across the UK to create stunning bespoke playgrounds – and we’d love to work with you too. Discover more and explore our wide range of sensory playground equipment: get in touch today to find out how we can restore the fun into your playground.
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