Disabled Hoist Lift


Introduction: Disabled Hoist Lift

The problem

A family member suffering from Motor Neurone Disease (MND or ALS) and needing transport between two floors in a small house. The impairment is equivalent to tetraplegia (complete loss of muscular function, inability to sit upright and need for specialised hoisting) and results in the requirement to transport the individual either directly in the wheelchair or in a hoist sling.

The commercial solution on the UK market is a through-floor lift carrying the wheelchair, which causes unacceptable loss of space (a room on each floor) and interventions to the property structure. In other countries a 'ceiling lift' is sold, but cost is expected to be very high (several tens of thousand Euro).

The solution

A DIY lift construction inspired by the chairlifts of skiing resorts and made mostly out of wood.

Step 1: The Concept

The stairs to be negotiated have one 90-degree bend at the top landing and a sufficiently spacious lower landing. The ceiling height exceeds 2.3m (7ft 6in). This lends itself to constructing a rectilinear suspension track to transport the individual in the hoisting sling between two wheelchairs, one positioned at the lower landing and the other wheeled onto a simple platform at the top.

The support structure consists of five gantries attached to the floors and the stairwell (Figure 1). A winch provides both hoisting from and to the chairs and translation along the track (Figure 2 left-hand side). The critical components permitting to realise this solution with just off-the-shelf parts and wood are the trucks and wheels of a skateboard. A carriage, very much like an upside-down skateboard, runs on an L-shaped track suspended from the gantries (Figure 2 right-hand side).

The design philosophy hinged on three principles:

  1. Components choice and dimensioning were based on the mechanical properties demonstrated in other applications, eg skateboard trucks are designed to withstand shock forces far exceeding our requirements.
  2. A simple design with a minimum of components kept the system transparent and the manufacturing effort low. The design method was heuristic with many details being worked out during manufacturing.
  3. The validation approach was empirical, meaning that parts and assemblies were tested during construction with twice the expected service load (equivalent to 125 kg).

Note that a fourth critical principle is being applied: Since the device has been in service it is closely monitored and regularly inspected.

Thus the lift could be built on a 450GBP materials budget and in short time using only DIY hand tools (hand saw, jig saw, hacksaw, drill, drill press, files, wood chisel, hammer, screw driver, level and measuring tape).

Step 2: Gantries and Track

The gantries were built out of softwood (fir) beams of 38 mm X 63 mm (1.5 in X 2.5 in) cross-section and 2.4 m in length. For the transversal beams, sections with as little knots and irregularities as possible were chosen. The beams rest on the gantry posts (Figures 3 and 4), they are held in place by steel L-brackets attached with screws in pre-drilled holes and are free to bend. No other holes weaken the beams. The posts are attached to the floor and stairwell with brackets and screws (Figures 4 to 6). If no anchoring point was available, the post was stabilised with a 45 degrees support (buttress - Figure 7). If the length of the posts was insufficient, an extension was attached with linear brackets on either side (Figure 8).

The track was built out of 18mm-thick hardwood plywood board (density > 400kg/m^3), 3.5mmX30mm wood screws and wood glue. The track's profile is L-shaped and obtained by attaching the 40mm wide inner strip to the 50mm wide outer strip of plywood board with glue (applied under compression) and screws at 100mm intervals (Figure 9). The screws orientation is alternating (from inside then outside) and 3mm diameter screw holes were pre-drilled. The inner and outer board strips were staggered to provide an overlap area 150mm long between different sections of the construction.

The track is suspended to the gantry beams through partly open, C-shaped box constructions (Figures 9 to 12), which are free to slide along the beam. The suspension was obtained by directly shaping the outer board of the track to include a hanging profile (Figures 9, 11 and 12). The suspension for the middle (third) gantry differed slightly for no other reason than the practicality of cutting the board straight. An opening in the shape of the gantry beam but 6 mm larger (44 mm X 69 mm) was drilled out. The minimum width of the hanging profile around an opening was 30 mm. All corners were rounded to reduce stress concentrations. Where the track changes inclination (from flat to 50 degrees) the profile was rounded with a radius of 100 mm (Figure 9).

The track can be adjusted to accommodate the available space and other constraints (eg different wheelchairs - Figure 13). Also and quite importantly, it is worth noting that the design proved quite forgiving with respect to manufacture and measurement tolerances and (slight) errors.

The track was mounted in three sections, all previously assembled with glue and screws. These were slid on the gantry beams and then all was lifted into place and attached to the gantry posts - I somehow managed to do this on my own, so two people can easily achieve this. The different sections of the track are then joined together at the overlapping sections, which are attached using screws 50 mm apart and no glue.

Finally, the longest section of track between two gantries is 1650 mm long.

Step 3: Carriage, Winch and Platform

The carriage was made out of the same board used for the track. Two solid skateboard trucks and square-profile wheels determine the separation between the two sides of the track. With only 4 mm clearance on each side, a wheel rests on 14 mm of track. The wheel rubber helps to spread the load of the four wheels onto the track. The trucks are fastened to the board with high-tensile steel machine bolts and self-locking nuts (Figure 14). Two aluminium strips were used as washers for the 8 bolts and as reinforcement for the board (Figure 15). Four rollers on the sides of the board, two at the front and two at the back of the carriage, maintain the carriage straight within the track within a couple of millimetres of tolerance. Two looped anchor plates (from a commercial swing system - Figures 14 and 15) provide hooking points for the sling and winch cable. To ensure safe retention these are passed through slits in the board rather than being screwed onto it. An E-shaped component was fashioned out of the same plywood board to house vertical axles for two skateboard bearings (one either side) and the cutouts are designed to provide clearance whilst moving along the track. This was attached to the board with wood screws and reinforced with wooden buttresses (Figures 15 and 16). This, remember, keeps the track from opening up. The forces involved during normal operation are quite small, but because it is quite a critical component I intentionally over-dimensioned it making it no narrower than 30 mm at any one point. A retention carbine hook is attached to the rear truck with braided sailing line. A transport carbine hook is similarly attached to the bottom of the carriage. The purpose of these hooks and various pieces of line is shown in the next section.

A standard commercial hoist winch (the sort used on building sites - Figures 17 and 18) was attached to the topmost gantry on a dedicated beam as high as possible. The beam is oriented with its larger cross-sectional dimension horizontal and is anchored to the gantry posts with brackets front and back. The winch is positioned with the cable spool centred in the track and mounted with steel bolts and self-locking nuts. The winch is allowed to rotate on its support beam to accommodate the wide range of cable angles necessary for the operation. Unfortunately, the automatic mechanical stop ring of the winch had to be removed because it impeded correct operation - a custom made one could be fashioned possibly out of wood (but I just left that). The pulley provided with the winch is attached to the closest carriage ring (Figures 15 and 17).

The top platform is simply a rectangle of the trusted plywood board, hinged on a transversal beam and having a side step to stop the wheelchair from rolling off and a front lip to roll on (Figures 19 and 20).

The bill of materials for this project is attached.

Step 4: Operation

The images in this section illustrate the operation of the lift. My lovely assistant Liz aptly dressed in home attire helped modelling this section.

  1. The wheelchair is wheeled beneath the track facing the wall (Figure 21) - this allows the later removal of the chair.
  2. The sling is hooked to a spreader board, which has two loops of line of different lengths (Figure 22) - the spreader is a common part of hoist systems and keeps the sling from closing onto the individual.
  3. The shorter line loop is attached to the winch hook. The retention carbine hook is attached to a line from the lowest gantry beam (Figure 15) - this retains the carriage during the subsequent hoisting.
  4. The individual is hoisted with the winch (Figures 23 and 24). The wheelchair is removed.
  5. The transport carbine hook is attached to the longer loop (Figure 25). The winch hook is lowered (Figure 26) and detached (Figure 27). The retention carbine hook is detached.
  6. The individual is transported up the stairs (Figure 28).
  7. The retention carbine hook is attached to a line from the fourth gantry beam (Figure 29). The carriage is winched until this line is in tension. A safety hook is also attached (Figure 17) - this is to avoid any unwanted sliding down.
  8. The winch hook is lowered, attached to the shorter loop and the individual is hoisted up. The transport carbine hook is released (Figure 30).
  9. The chair is wheeled in position and the individual is hoisted down into it (Figure 31).

Transport in the opposite direction follows the inverse sequence of steps.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the structure is quite flexible and will bend during operation, a behaviour expected with the materials used and not an issue. The ride is not quite smooth on account of the abrupt function of the winch, but this has been no problem with my relative.



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    We have a be nice policy.
    Please be positive and constructive.




    What a fantastic friend you are, she is very lucky to have you. It must be such a relief to have this hoist. Good Luck

    Having had a friend and family go through something similar and pass away within 6 months of eventual diagnosis.
    I applaud your quickly coming up with an effective solution to continue helping to be able to navigate normal house on situation.

    Unlimited time and big budget can come up with 'officially' approved methods or more structurally or wear resistant parts.
    However the mental anguish of being so dependant on others and cost to family can be high to the person most effected. So glad to see your model could raise a smile during the ride and photos to demonstrate.

    You are a artist!!!

    This is an amazing piece of engineering.

    Wonder if going across stud-to-stud where possible would make the design safer. I know the chair lifts are usually mounted to metal rails (to studs) and ends bolted to the floor. Those systems are also really, really expensive. Just a thought at first site. Great for someone with need and no $$

    Well... Looking at the link' picture you can see that upward movement would not be smooth, but... But it was. )) I just don't remember the exact shape of those wheels ... or exact ratio between rollers' diameter and steps' height...

    The square wheel seems even better than triangle! )) Perhaps the round one would be the perfect choice... o_0


    Bingo! ))



    An improved variant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=ULWRV_N9ugY

    Thank you for the suggestion. I had to discount such a solution on account of the curve at the top of our stairs. Also pulling up the stairs a 60kg individual seemed a bit daunting even after trying and seeing ambulance services doing an equally shaky job of it. Consequently, I tried something different. Also, the track could be in principle operated by only one person, especially after the suggested improvements have been integrated.

    Sure I had not advice a human-powered wheelchair INSTEAD of your design, it is ridiculous. )) I just informed you about solution had impressed me once very much. You may check YouTube for ELECTRIC stair climbers. Not exactly for stairs mentioned.

    Genius ... pure genius.

    to make it stronger you could add some flat steel bar to the bottom and top, for the bottom something like 30 x 1.5 - 2mm and for the top 15 x 1.5 - 2mm or how ever wide the wood is you will just need to screw it in to the wood then put in some bolts to make it even stronger.

    for something to stop it moving just come up with something she just needs to drop.

    like using a tilt switch she can hold between her teeth open mouth it drop and kills all motion you should be able to run a looped wire along the cable.

    L@ felicito por pensar en el bien común y compartir con todos su proyecto :)


    Marco Villalta (El Salvador, Centro América)

    Wow this is really Great!!

    I wanted to do something like this for long.
    Can you upload a video ?

    I wish to share it with my family to make it understand that i can build something like this.


    Pure genius! Thanks for sharing this well-conceived and carried out project. Something like that, or an elevator, or a one-floor building would have helped immensely when I went to DMV to obtain a Handicap car placard in 1979 when our foster daughter's wheelchair was delivered. I got to the DMV office and found that I had to go down a very long, narrow flight of stairs! I asked how to get our little girl, wheelchair and all, down and then back up those stairs - no one had a clue! I finally ended up leaving the empty chair at the top of the stairs, removing Alex, and lugged her downstairs with me. They wanted me to come back later and get the blue and white card and I said, "No way!" and laid Alex on a blanket on the floor and sat down beside her. They saw I meant business and got it taken care of so they could get rid of me! No one offered to help me carry her back upstairs, either. That has all changed now, thanks to IDEA and other public laws. You've designed a marvelous home solution - my hat's off to you! We have an accessible home but I'm ear-marking this project for anyone who may need to have it. Great job!

    With the help of my son I have just installed a used Acorn stairlift in my Parents house it was a right pain to get the track exactly where you want it, this however is a brilliant idea which leaves the stairs clear for other people to use, I have been looking at this kind of automotive winch and wondering if something like this was possible for quite some time but It never entered my mind to have the hoist running overhead, you should be congratulated for your genius in designing this lift it is surely going to change peoples lives especially those that cannot afford to buy the rip off price Kit that is already on the market. well done.

    I'm impressed with the idea, how long before commercial bodies steal it. The wife is loosing use of her hips at an astounding rate and we have examined chairlifts but narrow stairs and twists make that tricky. This idea will have very low impact on space. I am intensely impressed. Well done!

    1 reply

    Hi, I'm glad you like it and that it may inspire you to solve your problem. I initially thought about handling the curve in our stairs with a single-sided track and carriage, perhaps made out of wheels for hanging garage doors. However, concerns about the complexities relating to bending the track, the double load of a single track, managing lateral swing and feeding the cable over the curve, quickly made me review my ambitions. This particular design could not handle any curves because of the small clearance between skate wheels and the outer board of the track, which could not be increased without reducing the wheel contact area.

    Hopefully, you can solve this or maybe someone else can add more helpful comments with new ideas.

    All the best to your wife and keep your chip up!