You have several options of wood types in today’s play set market. Here’s my take on them;
White Cedar Wood – White Cedar is a beautiful, smooth and splinter free wood. The White Cedar manufacturers produce some of the most expensive and finely crafted sets on the market. White Cedar decays much more quickly than Western Red Cedar. Many of these expensive White Cedar sets wind up on Craig’s list once the kids grow up. People want the yard space back, they figure let’s get rid of this thing -it original cost a lot of money it must be worth something. The new owner buy’s the bargain, takes it apart to move it and finds out the wood is all rotten -especially at the joints so it cannot be put back together. So it served it’s purpose but at the 10 year mark it’s worthless. I see this scenario play out over and over -most recently -this week! So nice wood, but it does not last past the original family -and that is probably not a big deal to most buyers.
Redwood – High priced Redwood sets are made with cheap -non decay resistant Redwood. Long ago the Redwood manufacturers, realizing the sapwood in their lumber had no decay resistance, separated it to a grade called “con common”. This was intended for interior use such as paneling. Along come the play set makers and they start buying this wood for outdoor play sets. Every single piece of the grade they buy was kicked out of the “con heart grade” because it was no good for outdoor use. They put a stain on it which helps, but like the White Cedar it lasts for one generation of kids which works for most customers.
Treated Lumber – Treated lumber will last for a long time. It is not very dimensionally stable so as the wood expands and contracts it develops large cracks known as seasoning checks. It is also treated with chemicals which you may not want your child exposed to. Most treated sets require annual maintenance -staining to be specific.
Below is a picture of a con common Redwood swing beam I had to replace after only 1 year –in New Hampshire of all places! I was shocked when I saw it, and I stopped using Redwood immediately.