Foolproof Rebar Pulling





Introduction: Foolproof Rebar Pulling

About: Jack of all hobbies, master of none.

Ordinary tent stakes slide right out of the dry lake bed, or playa, that people camp on at Burning Man. The time honored solution is rebar. It's cheap, easy to cut to size, and not too hard to hammer into the playa after a little practice.

But then there's pulling it back out of the ground.

You can't leave it. You can't cut it off. And gee, it appears to be a total bear to pull out of the ground...

You could hammer it sideways, bend, and twist it out, but then your rebar is all bent up and winds up left in storage, sad, unloved, while you wind up buying more because it's cheap.

You could try dumping water around it to loose the playa soil, but that 1) leaves a pit, 2) gets messy & old, fast, and 3) doesn't even work an better than bend & twist.

Fear not! A couple years back my campmate discovered a foolproof way to pull every piece of rebar you used around your camp in minutes. As in 10 seconds per stake. It's nuts!

Step 1: Find Some Lumber & Vice Grips

You'll need a 2-by-4, and a sturdy pair of vice grips.

Adjust the vice grips so you can firmly clamp the thickness of rebar you've merrily strewn all over your camp.

Lay the 2-by-4 next to the rebar, about one-third of the way up its length.

You're making a second-class lever. The pivot (fulcrum) will be the end of the lumber nearest the rebar. You'll apply upward force (effort) on the end of the lumber furthest from the rebar. The embedded rebar (load) is between the fulcrum and the effort in a second-class lever.

Step 2: Vice Them Grips

Set the vice grips down on the wide side of the 2-by-4. Clamp the rebar with the vice grips. Point the jaws of the vice grips towards the short end of the lumber (fulcrum). Point the handles toward the long end.

Grab the long end. Lift it off the ground. With your second-class lever mechanical advantage of > 1, your puny human strength is multiplied! Moreover, you can direct the force at the fulcrum straight up, without being bent over the rebar yanking it upward, towards your face-parts.

Step 3: Bask in Glory

Suddenly the most exhausting and stressful part of decamping is a breeze. With the ability to pull up rebar stakes in a few minutes, you can leave your shade structure up longer when leaving the playa. You can also be more confident in your ability to break camp when it's dark out!

Have a delightful Burn!



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    17 Discussions

    Drill a hole about a 1/4 of the way from the end of the 2X4 slightly larger than the rebar you are pulling and you may not even need the vice grips. That's how I pull rebar.

    2 replies

    realizing this is very old post, thank you! I drilled a hole in a 2" x 4" x 8' and used some timbers as a fulcrum. Sure beat digging the 4' rebar out of southern clay!


    You have reminded me, I saw a similar setup on Ask This Old House recently.

    You drill a hole (it can be wider than the rebar) several inches from the end of the lumber, and use the 2x4 to steady the rebar while driving it in.

    It's a very effective way of keeping your hands safely away from a sledgehammer-wielding maniac!

    That's a great idea!

    Here's a vice grip slide hammer project:

    I drive long rebars deep in the ground in spring time and I pull them out end of summer by use of large size pipe wrench. Grip, turn and jiggle. The rebar will enlarge the hole. Pull out, brush dirt with a wire brush, and store for next spring.

    Thanks for sharing your method.

    Nice solution, I can see myself using tis somewhere (no idea where :D)

    It also reminds me of a spiral (tent?) stake, that you screw into the ground, impossible to pull out if the soil has any consistency to it, put can be unscrewed fairly easily... was this seen on instructables perhaps? a diy/copy of commercial stuff?I can't remember, so if someone else does... please tell me!

    2 replies

    We've used those 'ground anchors' before, and found them very hard indeed to get into and out of the playa. Then again they were 24 inches or so long...

    that might have been a tiny bit on the lage side then... I've never used ground anchors before, so I don't know how they handle... maybe they're for very loose soil where stakes just pull out then

    I've put a vote in for you. This couldn't have been better timed, I'm just about to release some rebar from the ground.

    1 reply

    Nice! This might be better than the other solution of bending over the tips of your rebar at 90 degrees before installing it. The bending method also makes it a little safer (although I see that you're wisely using rebar caps) and gives you something to hook your lever under. Of course, it only works with short lengths of rebar; otherwise, you'll be holding your lever over your head.

    2 replies

    I find hammering in bent rebar to generally be a pain, especially when it has been 'candy-caned', but if you've got to bend it, 90 degrees is the way to go.

    You're quite correct that bent rebar is safer. If it's not bent, it really needs to be capped with a tennis ball or small plastic bottle, at least.

    Just reposition the vise grip down when pulling a longer rebar and start again.

    Nice work. I usually tie a piece of rope to the bar with a rolling hitch, then tie it to my lever. If the bar you're pulling is long and you need to reset, just slide the hitch down and you're good to go. Vice grips would be way quicker though.

    This is so simple but so genius!! I use a 4x4 with a hook in top and a come along when ever I need too pull something out of the ground... But it takes a long time