Introduction: Reuse Old Printer Ribbons and Video Tape to Make Rope!

Picture of Reuse Old Printer Ribbons and Video Tape to Make Rope!

Reuse old printer ribbons and video tape to make rope!
no im not talking about dot matrix ink ribbons{although they will
work it would just be messy} im referring to the
one you get from those little photo printers like the canon selphy
or the kodak printerdock also the standalone printer kiosks at walmarts
across the continent have the same system.
im going to show you how to make a machine to do this

Step 1: Parts List

material list:
section of broom handle or dowel
coat hangers
a swivel{like from a dogs chain}
some stringlike material,
printer ribbon, video tape,yarn, sphagetti{well maybe not spaghetti}

Step 2: Why

Picture of Why

why indeed.
the inspiration to make rope from printer ribbons came to me one day at work.
we had just printed a large pile of school id cards{i work in the photo industry} and had a bunch of ribbons left over that were used and therefore garbage.
one of the bosses kids came in pulled one out of the trash and proceeded to run around stringing it everywhere.
well after the little bugg...... err i mean little darling left i proceeded to tidy up.
the ribbon tape was twisted around everything and there were hundreds of feet of the stuff.
i gave up trying to roll it up and started tearing it{its normally very delicate} but wherever it was twisted it was much stronger.
it got me thinking and that gets me experimenting.
i looked up ropemaking on the net and found this site
and looking at this inspired me to make a quick and dirty rope making machine of my own.
since then i have tried many different materials
in this picture we have cotton strip cut from a t shirt{the seamless kind},
the id printer ribbon,and a larger ribbon from a kodak g3 kiosk printer{the kind you put your camera card into and get instant prints ]

Step 3: Welcome to the Machine

Picture of Welcome to the Machine

i guess i should show you folks how to make a ropemaker.
none of the measurements here are arbitrary use what you have
first you get a board between 3 and 4 inches wide.
i used plywood 3.75 inches wide.
cut 3 sections from it
1 ,13 inches long
1 ,10 inches long
and 1 , 3.75 inches square.
use a triangular section 3 inches high as a brace.(figure 1)

screw or nail the boards together as shown in (figure 2)

take the square bit and clamp it to the upright aligned to the top and sides (figure 3)

drill 3/16th holes through both pieces in a triangle spaced 2 inches a side
it is important that the blocks do not shift during this stage as perfect alignment is needed.
(figure 4) after drilling the 3 holes drill one hole {in the short block only} right in the middle of the triangle{attach the broom handle here as a crank handle}

take 3 sections of coat hanger wire 9 inches long and bend a crank shape out of them (figure 5)
first bend at 2 inches not quite 90 degrees second bend at 4 inch mark back to straight .
it is very important that all 3 wires are bent to the exact angles and distances as each other

insert the short ends of the crank wires into the 3 holes in the block .bend the ends over so the
wires cant fall out but are free to revolve.
insert the long ends into the corresponding holes in the uprights. (Fig 7)
at this point you can crank the broom handle around a few times and see that the wires dont clash with each other if they do then change the angles on the wire until they dont.

bend the long ends into hooks{bend around a section of broom handle}keeping the hooks the same size and length (fig 7)
finish the wood anyway you like.
now what you have is a set of three hooks that will all turn in the same direction at the same speed when you crank the broom handle around{like an old fashioned car starter}
the ratio is 1:1
if you use gears instead of cranks then you can make a higher speed machine but thats material for a future instructable.
now onto how to use it

Step 4: Rope Wrench

Picture of Rope Wrench

to make rope you are goning to need a rope wrench also called a separater.
its basically a triangular paddle that with the head being slightly larger than the triangle formed by the hooks on the machine.
mines made of pine the notches cut in the points are rounded well and sanded smooth so as to not abrade the strands as they twist up.
also i made another up right to hold a swivel hook you can use a dogchain swivel or a bolt hook passing through the board and the nut resting on a skateboard bearing{thats what i did}
the only thing to worry about here is that the hook can turn freeley under pressure.

Step 5: Threading Up

Picture of Threading Up

now you have made the machine its time to thread it up and get cranking.
first thing to do is clamp it to a table top and tie one end of the yarn to the hook thats farthest away from you{in this case its a continuous ribbon cut from a tube knit t shirt for visibility}.
take rope wrench and using a spring clamp as legs stand it up near the rotating hook or have your assistant hold it if your using the swivel and skipping the extra upright.
run the yarn down to the spinning hook lay the thread in the notch on the rope wrench that corresponds with the hook you tied off too.
drop the yarn over the hook and passing it through the top notch in the wrench return to the crank end loop the yarn over the top hook then return to the spinner again through the top notch.
at this point you have a single thread running on the inside track and a double on the top one{look closely at the pictures or see a better angle on it at this website .
now take the yarn after it has gone over the hook and return to the crank end passing the yarn through the front notch{closest to you}
now hook on to the last hook and return though the same notch again .
after hooking on pass the yarn through the first notch{inside}and return to the starting hook tie it off there.
if you want a thicker stronger rope repeat the process untill you have what you want.

Step 6: Its Twistin Time

Picture of Its Twistin Time

now we have a threaded machine its time to start cranking.
it does not matter which way you crank it at this point just so long as you always crank in the same direction [very important if you want to take this light rope and twist it into a heavier one}.
take hold of the broom handle and start cranking overhand away from you{see the video}.
as you see the strands will start twining around each other{keep an eye on the rope wrench to make sure it doesnt turn sideways and fall out {that will cause a huge tangle].
as you crank you will notice that the machines want to move together indeed you may lose as much as a quarter of the total length this way just keep an even strain on the strands and dont let them get slack{i tipped the machine over once in the backyard and i had to scrap 80 feet of rope:( }
keep cranking until the strands after the wrench starts to roll itself into rope
then while cranking slowly move the wrench towards the crank
the rope will lay up into a nice spiral and the hook will spin.
when you get to the cranks with the wrench carefully slide the ends off the hooks pinch tight to make sure it doesnt unravel on you.
if your any good with knots you can make an eye splice or a crown knot here to prevent unravelling
im a cheater i just tie a knot in the end or whip it with tape .
if you make you rope from printer tape or anything that melts heat it up with a lighter then pinch it with pliers to wad it together
also dipping in glue works too.
the rope i just made is very soft and stretchy and makes good decorative rope.
the yarn used here is just a half inch wide strip of cotton cut in a continuous loop from a seamless t shirt

Step 7: Now for the Printer Ribbon

Picture of Now for the Printer Ribbon

i used the cotton in the first setup so it would be easier to see
if you get some of the printer ribbons you can use them or old video tapes {god knows we all got closets full of worn out tapes that cant play anymore{just dont take the babys christening video or the wedding tape lol}
look at the pics in this step its the sam,e as the last set except using printer ribbon.

this stuff makes a very hard tough rope that stretches a bit but if you want it to be real strong best thread up at least two times. also as you crank this stuff you will notice bubbles forming get a sewing needle and prick them but be careful not to tear the ribbon.

Step 8: Alternate Materials

Picture of Alternate Materials

as you can see this machine can make rope out of a lot of things.
i have used many things to make cordage
some of the pros and cons of different materials are

printer ribbons
pros: makes a tough colorful rope
good braking strength especially from larger format printers.
cons: can be messy as some ribbons may leave ink on your hands.
will fail without warning when overstressed.
hard to get sometimes.

t shirt cotton
Pros: makes a nice soft decorative rope
easy to obtain{approx 30 feet of yarn per shirt}
cons: not very strong
a lot of scissors work cutting the ribbon
if you use a shirt with seams the strands will fail before you can finish the rope

dollar store twine
Pros: cheap
easy to use to make rope as it is rope{jute twine is most common but sisal will work too}
if enough strands are used it will yield a very strong rope that will have no more tendancy to
unravel as a store bought rope.
cons: varying quality makes this stuff hazardous for heavy loads
as most dollar store twine is probably made from old used rope from scrapped ships it may
stink badly of tar.
misrepresentation of length i have seen many 300 foot 500 foot rolls of this stuff.

video tape
pros: easy to obtain
hundreds of feet of yarn in each one
makes a strong cord if enough strands are used{at least three passes though the machine}
tom hanks should have twisted the tapes he used in castaway that way he wouldnt have lost
cons; will fail without warning dont use for heavy loads

toilet paper
Pros; yes tp not used of course
no reals pros for this except you can use to demonstrate if no other material is available
cons pluleaase

Step 9: The End

Picture of The End

anyway folks thanks for looking
but before we finish a few words of warning
do not attempt anything stupid with the ropes you make
like mountain climbing, car towing or swinging.
serious injuries ,heavy property damage or death may occur
if anyone has any questions please ask and i apologise for the huge pile of pictures in some of the steps


layasera (author)2012-09-15

This is what I've been looking for to create braided plastics from discarded shopping bags! Thank you so much for sharing!

book worm (author)2012-02-08

my local scout troop used this technique to make "toilet paper"rope then took three lengths and twisted them together.
they then pulled a car across the car park with it
toilet paper is stronger than it looks just dont get it wet lol

waynemov (author)2011-04-24

im keen to make some really strong rope for water ski line, using dyneema fishing line and many strands ( probably 100lb line and 3 sets of 3 strands wound together). Problem is i want about 25m (80ft ) in one piece if possible. have you ever made really long ropes with this method?

sharlston (author)2009-07-05

i just made some from a old casette just stretch it until it was thin then plat 3 together and more until its very strong this really helped with my school project for recycling thanks

dbade (author)2008-11-22

I have a box of old string for a rug loom of various colors. This instructable allowed me to make some great "Christmas" twine.

lennyb (author)dbade2008-11-23

im glad it was of use to you.

Braeburn (author)2008-05-23

use regular yarn

dominic.tarr (author)2007-11-26

you could also use a belt to drive the hooks, then you could drive he belt by, say, a plug in drill... another source of materials would be plastic shopping bags. you'd have to attach them togeather though. tieing them would be easy but ugly. how did the old folk get thier strings? if you twist fibers togeather in a continuious process you can make a short fibers into something as long as you like. i read a bit about this earlier... the fact that they refur to the strings as yarns suggests to me that something like a spinning wheel might be the answer...

lennyb (author)dominic.tarr2007-11-27

you have hit pretty close to the truth here . the old time rope walk had one section that spun up the yarn from jute or hemp into a long strand.{ the wheel this was done on was turned by a small boy usually}.i made a drop spindle which is a very primitive spinning wheel maybe ill make another one up and post it . a belt drive could be used but when the tension comes on it there may be too much slippage but then maybee not, ill have to try that and see. i have tried shopping bags just cut them into rings and tie them together[not very strong though} thanks for the comment :)

dominic.tarr (author)lennyb2007-11-27

cheers. yeah, i had a look into that last night, blithwrapped a drop spindle out of a beer bottle, and then a more powerfull and manly one in the end of a drill. was going to post a instructable... if you don't beat me to it, that is.

carpespasm (author)2007-03-27

any idea how much 150ft of nylon rope would make with this tool?

lennyb (author)carpespasm2007-03-28

each rope laid up this way uses 6 strands so six 25 foot strands will make approx 20 feet of rope as it loses a bit in the twisting. it takes ridiculous amounts of yarn to make heavy rope as for your other question about 2 strand. yes you could just string up two and make twine. then you could thread up again with the twine and and make even heavier rope.

carpespasm (author)lennyb2007-04-02

thanks for the reply. I tried to make a rope maker, and it worked with small twine, but when i tried it with a heavier nylon with several runs, it broke the base with the swivel, then i moved the swivel to a tree and twisted some more. After a while the base of the twister broke as well, i wound up just braiding about 10ft of rope. Lesson learned: don't use soft pine to make a rope twister, and don't skimp on screws.

lennyb (author)carpespasm2007-04-02

that looks like some nice rope. with this machine overbuild it always good policy. my next one i`m going to use welding rods for hooks or i may make a 2 part mold and cast them from zinc or aluminum. some thing i should mention also is to let the machines get closer together as it twists up expect to lose up to 1/3 the overall length in twist. that may be why your machine broke.

carpespasm (author)lennyb2007-04-02

ahh, that is very likely it, i had the twisting base C clamped to a picnic table and the swivel mounted to a tree. i used welding rods to make the twisting hooks and they held up pretty well until the tension was just too much for it. Under proper use it would probably work well though.

lennyb (author)carpespasm2007-04-04

you need to keep a steady 10 pounds or so in tension on the strands while they spin i think maybe some sort of rope and pulley system where the swivel is on the end of a rope that goes through a pulley to a weight and the tension is absorbed that way . id say make the rope 6 or seven feet long for a 25 foot rope and experiment with weights (10 - 15 pounds) i must make a diagram of this

DeadlyDad (author)lennyb2007-11-02

One simple way would be to have 2 2x4 boards with a hole on either end of both. Tie one of the boards to a tree. Take a second piece of rope about four feet long or so. Tie a knot in one end, run it through one of the holes in the free board, through a hole in the other board, through the handle of a bucket, back through the other holes, and tie another knot. Make the same thing for the other cranking end, leaving enough room to work the crank. Add as much weight to the buckets as you want. (Everything else will work the same as the instructable.) Now you can make rope wherever you can find two trees the proper distance apart!

carpespasm (author)carpespasm2007-03-27

very cool, i was also thinking that you could make a two strand twister for making cordage.

klynslis (author)2007-10-17

This is awesome. Thanks so much. Now I'll be able to complete my art project.

Dyer13 (author)2007-08-12

I took my crack at making a rope machine. I used extra gears I had laying around from a robotics project I had two years ago. The material for the maker and separator is laminated faux hardwood floors, the type that snaps together with no tools. I have yet to try it with bigger stands. eventually I want to make 1" thick rope, I may have to build a bigger/beafier version for that. I wanted to learn to make rope because I made a rope tow in my back yard last winter, to pull you up the hill, and the rope kept breaking, and its expensive.... I don't suppose you don't know how to splice rope into one continuous piece, do you?

lennyb (author)Dyer132007-08-12

very nice. you should have made an instructable about it. you could motorize that real easy too. as for continuous rope i think a splice is in order{try googling rope splicing} i dont know of any that dont leave a lump or thicker section in the rope at the join. so you would have to have a pulley system with extra wide wheels.

Dyer13 (author)lennyb2007-08-12

Thanks. I actually built it with a motor in mind. I have an old electric screwdriver/drill that I have. All I need to do is take the crank off, and attach the center bolt on the crank to the chuck on the drill. Then I just need a power supply/battery.

khaeotixs (author)2007-07-05

Great instructable. I really liked the level of detail in this, along with all the diagrams telling me how to do stuff. Congratulations on a first-rate instructable.

regomodo (author)2007-03-27

Very clear instructable. I've been to a proper rope making building in Plymouth's dockyard in England (now disused) and it's bloody huge! Can't see me doing this but always good to see something new.

lennyb (author)regomodo2007-03-27

i wish i had a large building to do this in cause the one time i tried to get a long printer ribbon rope outside the wind came up while i was stringing up and the ribbons inflated like a kite and the whole thingy tipped over what a tangle. theres a similar place in st johns newfoundland called ropewalk lane that was once a ropewalk in years gone by . no old buildings remain and now its just a street. thanks for the nice comment . you should try it though its simple to make and you never know when you may need some rope. :)

bacidath (author)2007-03-27

rock...i'm making rope next weekend

meddler (author)2007-03-23

Wow, that's neat! I was just wondering how to make rope the other day and here you are, thanks

lennyb (author)2007-03-23

i thank you all for the kind words. if any questions just ask.

HamO (author)2007-03-23

Very well done. Probably the best photgraphed Instructable yet. Thanks for sharing the machine. Nice!!

lennyb (author)HamO2007-03-23

i took 160 photos on two cameras so its taken me quite a while to lay this out . but lots of pictures are the only way to get the point across.

0.775volts (author)2007-03-23

Amazing, I remember doing this in boy scouts, and have always wanted my own jig. Great job. also, how strong is your crank? can you make heavier ropes (I have a mile spool of light nylon twine that I want to lay up two or three times.)

lennyb (author)0.775volts2007-03-23

well the rope i made there was only 6 strands of cotton and very light. the heaviest i made was 18 strands{3 passes} of jute twine and nothing bent. the 18 strand rope was 3/4 inch in diameter and very strong.

ewilhelm (author)2007-03-23

Nicely done! One of the artsy photos on the Squid Labs site is of a rope machine Dan made. I just took a few more pictures of it, and have included them here.

It's fun to imagine that there was a time when nearly everyone knew how to do this, because you couldn't just go and buy rope; you always had to make it.

lennyb (author)ewilhelm2007-03-23

ooooh i like that. makes mine look like poo lol well it did only take 20 minutes to make mine

mje (author)2007-03-23

Now that is a first-rate Instructable, as well as a great example of building a machine to do a complex task from simple materials.

rimar2000 (author)2007-03-23

Excellent. Congratulations.

About This Instructable




Bio: i am a photolab technician and an incurable packrat. i have made swords ,chainmail, crossbows.cameras,bike trailers,kayaks,guitars{slide and electric},knives,various ... More »
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