DEAR TIM: I just received a splendid hammock as a gift and now I need to hang it. What is the best way to hang the hammock? What is the minimum and maximum distance trees can be apart from one another to make a hammock work? If my trees won't work, what are my alternatives? Allen W., Cheyboygan, MI
DEAR ALLEN: Just thinking about hammocks makes me sleepy. When the soft cotton ropes of my hammock gently cradle me on a summer afternoon, my troubles fade away as fast as a shooting star steaks across the night sky. I can't think of a more comfortable way to relax than in a hammock that is suspended properly and securely.
I still have the first hammock my wife and I purchased over 15 years ago at a small shop in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. While at the shop, I knew I had a great location to hang it, but I was unsure if it would work. Hammocks come in several sizes and the size you have controls, to a large degree, how it is hung. Since my hammock was a deluxe or two person size, I needed 15-feet of space between the two trees where I wanted to hang it. Believe it or not, when I arrived back home, the spacing was 14 feet 11 inches.
If you have a smaller one-person hammock, you probably can get away with a distance of 12-feet between trees. The way to check is to simply lay the hammock on a clean flat surface. Unfold the hammock on the ground as it will be suspended in the air. Measure the distance end to end from the circular suspension rings where the cotton cords are strung. The spacing between the trees should be about one foot more than the total length of the hammock. Once hung, the hammock develops a slight sag. This works to your advantage as you need some space for the hardware that is used to connect the hammock to the trees, wood posts or metal frame.
I prefer to use one half inch diameter eye bolts as the primary connector. Do not confuse these with eye screws. An eye bolt has a circular closed end loop at its end and fine machine threads that accept a standard bolt and washer. You drill a hole completely through the tree five to six feet above the ground. The threaded shaft of the eye bolt should be two inches longer than the diameter of the tree where you drilled the hole. Insert the eye bolt through the tree so that you can attach a washer and a nut to secure the bolt to the tree. If you have trees that are spaced farther apart than 15 feet or so, the eye bolts need to placed higher off the ground to account for the inevitable sag that will result when you suspend and lay in the hammock.
I feel it is very dangerous to use an eye screw. This hardware item has coarse threads and no nut or washer. An eye screw fastens into the tree as you would turn any screw into a piece of wood. Eye screws can strip and can pull out of the tree with little or no notice. If your hammock suddenly crashes to the ground with you or someone else in it, serious permanent back and neck injuries are a distinct possibility.
The hammock is attached to the eye bolt with a connecting-link chain connector. This connector allows you to safely connect the rounded loop of the hammock to the eye bolt. If the trees are too far apart or you want the hammock closer to the ground, you simply purchase some 3/16 or 1/4 inch sized chain and use it in between the eye bolt and the hammock loop. If you use chain, you will need two chain link connectors at each end of the hammock. Wooden six inch by six inch posts can substitute for trees if your trees are too far apart or too close together. These posts need to be placed in the ground and surrounded by at least eight inches of concrete. The post should extend a minimum of 24 inches into the ground. Be sure that the bottom of the hole is wider than the top diameter. This bell-shaped design prevents frost heaving from pushing your pole out of the ground over time if you live in a colder climate.
If you want to avoid the hassle of trees, hardware, posts and concrete simply purchase a hammock stand. These are made from tubular steel and fit most common hammocks. They assemble in less than one hour and are very sturdy. You can set them up anywhere and move them about in your yard as the sun creates new areas of shade during the day.