In full swing: Chris Conklin builds heirloom swings for the fun of it

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Chris Conklin’s Vintage Swings are made from double-planed white oak and hand-spliced rope. In other words, they’re handmade to last. Photo: Jen Fariello Chris Conklin’s Vintage Swings are made from double-planed white oak and hand-spliced rope. In other words, they’re handmade to last. Photo: Jen Fariello

Chris Conklin grew up in a family that liked to figure things out. He learned at an early age how to restore old cars and farmhouses, and he loved to make things from scratch. So when his photographer wife, Jen Fariello, came home one day from a photo shoot in Ivy and asked him to make her an old-fashioned swing like the wooden one she’d used as a prop at the shoot, he immediately began his research.

“I came up with my own design,” says Conklin. “I wanted nice wood and nice ropes, something that looked good and lasted a long time.” He built a swing and hung it from one of the 200-year-old oak trees in the island of their driveway, and an interesting thing happened. “Everyone who came over would gravitate toward the swing,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have a swing, and it turns out they really like the feeling.”

So Conklin, whose day job is art director at the Daily Progress, developed a prototype and made a jig, and began constructing swings in batches of a dozen. They take two to three weeks to make from start to finish (given time-consuming steps like varnishing, which takes one day per side per coat), but the end result is smooth, strong, and gorgeous. He offers single and toddler versions plus a tire swing, and sells them on his own website as well as on Etsy under the name Vintage Swings.

Photo: Jen Fariello

Conklin’s swings feature some unique elements, starting with their length. “Modern swings are very short,” he says, “but the ones I sell have really long ropes [he has had customers special-order 100-foot lengths], so you can swing high.” The wood is white oak, double-planked for strength, and the rope, which resembles old-fashioned Manila but is synthetic to resist weather and rot, is hand-spliced.

Conklin’s 9-year-old can attest to the enduring joy of a great swing. “My son loves giant pushes,” he says. “I run at top speed and time it so I can push him up over my head, and he goes so high.” Conklin and his son will never forget those moments, and neither will those Ivy homeowners, whose original swing rotted away two years after Conklin’s wife spotted it. “They called me and I made a new one for them,” he says. This time, it’ll be an heirloom.

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