Introduction: Pull-up Bar for Door

Picture of Pull-up Bar for Door

My six-year-old son wanted a pull-up bar for his doorway.  Commercial ones were about $20, and that would have eaten up his savings.  So we made one out of plywood and a dowel.

Note: My son weighs 44 pounds.  If you're making one for someone significantly heavier than about 60 pounds, or for a kid who will apply significant impact to it, you'll need to use a different species and diameter of dowel.  More on that later.  It is your responsibility to engineer this with sufficient strength for your purposes.  That is why I am not going to give exact dimensions.

The project was a bit less straightforward than I expected, because after making the first version, it turned out that it was quite uncomfortable for the kids that the rod turned as they pulled up on it.  So we needed to do something to keep it from turning.

Ingredients:
1. Hardwood dowel, preferably oak, of diameter and species sufficient for the weight of the user (see next step) and width sufficient for your door frame.  
2. Plywood, 3/4" thick.  You don't need much.  About 2" x 8" will suffice if you don't need the anti-rotation attachment, and if you need that, you'll need another another 2" x 3" or so piece.  I used Baltic Birch plywood, as that's what I had lying around, but cheaper stuff may be fine.  
3. Wood screws of sufficient length, strength and quantity to anchor the plywood to the door frame.
4. Wood glue (I use Titebond II) for the optional anti-rotation attachment.

Tools:
1. A drill with a bit (Forstner, paddle or hole saw) that can cut a hole in the plywood with diameter equal to the diameter of the dowel.
2. Hand-saw, jigsaw or hacksaw.
3. Screwdriver for the wood screws.
4. Clamps for optional anti-rotation attachment.

Step 1: Choosing a Dowel

You need to choose a dowel subject to two constraints:
- Thick enough to safely support both the weight and the additional force of swinging, pulling up, etc.
- Fits in the doorway, with room for U-shaped supports (one could cut off the inner side of the U and use the central protrusion in the door frame, maybe.

I am not an engineer.  It is your responsibility to do this correctly.

With that said, here's what I did.  I'm going to do this in Imperial units.  I looked up the "bending strength" and "modulus of elasticity" of the species of dowel (e.g., here ;  n.b. "Dry: 1,580 @ 1,000 psi" seems to mean a modulus of elasticity of 1580000 psi).  For instance, red oak's bending strength is 14,050 psi.  (If you get the numbers in MPa, you may need to convert .)  Then go here and fill out the calculator in imperial units for "beam supported at both ends, load at center".  F is the weight of the user, L is the length of the bar, E is the modulus of elasticity you looked up, and y is, as far as I can tell, half of the diameter of the dowel.  You also need to calculate the moment of inertia I.  This is pi d^4/64, where d is the diameter of the dowel.  Then read off the maximum deflection--that's how far the beam can be expected to bend in the middle, and the maximum stress.  You need to compare the maximum stress to the breaking strength you looked up, but you need a large margin of error.  Not being an engineer, I don't know how much--I would probably feel good if the maximum stress was about a third or quarter of the breaking strength.

For example, for a weight of 200 lbs, red oak modulus of elasticity 2280000, a 32 inch length, and a 1.5 inch diameter, y = 0.75 and I = 0.2485, you get a deflection of 0.24" and a maximum stress of 4829 psi, which is 34% of the breaking strength of 14050 psi.  Whether that's acceptable depends on how vigorous the bar's use will be, I expect, but again I am not an engineer.  We used a dowel where the maximum stress was about a quarter or less of the breaking strength.

Once you choose the dowel, cut it to fit in the doorway with as little play as possible.

Step 2: Cutting Supports

Picture of Cutting Supports

We cut supports out of 3/4" Baltic birch.  The idea is to cut wooden strips that are about the width of the space available on the door frame, and drill a hole (we used a paddle bit and a drill press) for the dowel.  Then cut straight (as the photo shows, they needn't be all that straight) lines towards the hole to make a U shape.  I would leave about 1" of wood below the hole and about 1/3" on either side.  If your frame doesn't have room for two arms on the supports on both sides, you might be able to omit the arm on the side of the central projection of the door frame, and use that central projection.

Then, we drilled and countersunk wood screws into the door frame.  Make sure you choose wood screws that can hold the user's weight.  You might want one or two to be long enough to hit a beam in the wall--in our case, with a 44 pound user, I didn't.

Make sure both hang at the same height.  

At this point, you can try out the rod carefully, to make sure it doesn't seem to creak, flex worryingly, etc.  You might even be satisfied at this point and done with the project.

But my kids complained about the rod turning in their hands in ways that made it hard to hang on.  Hence the last step.

Step 3: Anti-rotation Attachment

Picture of Anti-rotation Attachment

I tried gluing a piece of rubber in the bottom of the U to keep the rod from rotating.  No matter what adhesive I tried (Cyanoacrylate, Gorilla Glue and Shoe Goo--the last being supposed to be a good glue for rubber), the shear forces of the rotating rod made the rubber pieces come off.  If one doesn't need to remove the rod, of course driving a screw from the side (being careful not to split the plywood) would do the job.  But I wanted a removable rod.

So, I went back to my 3/4" plywood, and near the edge drew a rectangle the same width as the diameter of the rod and a little less than twice the diameter of the rod in length.  Getting the length exactly isn't an issue.  Getting the width right is good.  I drilled a hole with the same diameter as the rod in the center.  Ideally, the hole would have been tangent to two sides of the rectangle, but I am not good at getting things just right.  

I then cut out the rectangle, which will split in half in the middle of the big hole if you got the hole in the right place (mine needed another cut) and got two two pieces, each with a semi-circular cutout.  The idea is that the pieces will be glued to the ends of the rod, thereby adding enough rectangularity to the ends to make the rod not rotate.  Make sure the pieces nicely fit in the U-shaped supports on the doorway, on top of the rod.  If not, sand or trim until they do.  

Then glue the pieces onto the ends of the rod with wood glue (I used Titebond II), making sure they are aligned well enough.  (The extra white clip in the photo is because the plies split a little and so I was also gluing them together.)  Wait for the glue to cure, and you should be done.  If the result doesn't fit in the U-shaped supports, sand as needed.

And then you're done.  Insert with the anti-rotation stops pointing upward, of course.  A little play should be harmless.  (Might even be a good thing because if someone comes through the door and doesn't notice the beam and it's at forehead level, the beam may lift up a little, moderating the force of the blow.)

Again, you're responsible for safety, supervision of users, etc.

Comments

arpruss (author)2012-06-27

I think it's a matter of what one is better at. It's easier for me to do a U cutout than a square cutout. I am good with a hole saw and Forstner bit, while I am not very good with a chisel. And squaring off the oak rod would be particularly hard for me.

Also, squaring off the rod will somewhat decrease strength.

tlov1 (author)2012-06-27

Great instructions on a very affordable and practical solution! I too wanted a doorway bar that was easy to set up and remove at will.

I have one suggestion for your anti-rotation solution. And, the more I think about it...there are more ideas brewing in my head!

Instead of creating rounded "U" cutouts in the plywood, why not squared cutouts?

Then, simply square off approximately 1" length of each end, using a chisel and a handsaw? Even easier, you only have to square off three sides of each end...since one side doesn't even engage the plywood.

Just my two cents. :)

arpruss (author)2011-05-28

It occured to me, too late, that instead of using the calculation method, you might be able to do this experimentally. Just hang three or four times your weight and see how it's holding up. Plus, this will tell you if the U-shaped supports do the job they're supposed to.

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