Introduction: Rope Made From Plastic Shopping Bags

Picture of Rope Made From Plastic Shopping Bags

When made properly the rope is about as strong as 3/8 nylon rope.

To do this tutorial you will need:

1. Plenty of plastic bags
2. A knife
3. A three strand rope making machine. You can make one out of bike parts, wood, or get an old one off ebay.
4.A paddle with three arms - a crucifix will do
5. A spinner hook
6. Two or three people. One at each end and one in the middle is best.

Step 1: Cut Your Plastic Bags and Make a Daisy Chain

Picture of Cut Your Plastic Bags and Make a Daisy Chain

It takes about 4 regular sized shopping bags to make a foot of rope.

I've scavenged most of mine from the grocery store recycle bins. choose stronger bags if you can find them. Bigger bags don't work as well with this method.
The bags I use have a seam down the sides. Lay them on a cutting board in a small pile and cut down the seam. Be careful not to cut the bottom of the bag or it will be much weaker. You should now have a peice of plastic with a loop at each end. When you have cut enough bags you can loop the handles through each other to make a daisy chain. you shouldn't have to tie any knots, but if a bag breaks for some reason it's not a big deal to tie it.

If you can't get a good supply of bags with the seams on the side try poking a hole in the side, near bottom of the bag instead of cutting them down the middle.

If you're not using your chain to make rope right away wrap in in a spool around a stick to keep it from getting tangled.

Step 2: Roll Out Your Lines of Daisy Chain Where You Are Going to Make Your Rope

Picture of Roll Out Your Lines of Daisy Chain Where You Are Going to Make Your Rope

Find a space that is a little longer as the rope you want to make.

This rope maker has three hooks, some have four or more.

Attach the rope to one of the hooks (hook A on the diagram) on your ropemaking machine and roll out a line of bags for a little farther than the rope you want to make. Try 10-15% more. Loop this first line around one arm of your paddle, which should also have three arms. Bring this line back to the rope making machine and loop it around the next hook (hook B) moving counter- clockwise (or clockwise as long as you're consistent). Bring that back to the paddle and loop it around the next arm moving clockwise. Continue going back and forth until you re-connect to the hook you started with. Tie the end of your rope to the beginning.

Once you have laid out the strands take the three loops around the paddle arms and hook them onto one hook that will spin freely.

Step 3: Start Twisting the Rope

Picture of Start Twisting the Rope

You'll have to twist the rope a lot.

All three of the hooks spin the same way. your six strands of plastic will twist into three pairs.

Pop any bubbles that form. Try to get the strands to twist with an even tension down the whole length. It's good to have enough tension in the lines to keep them off the ground, but not completely taut or they will break. At this point the lines are still weak and vulnerable to stretching.

Step 4: When the Strands Are Twisted Enough They Will Begin to Come Together in a Counter-twist

Picture of When the Strands Are Twisted Enough They Will Begin to Come Together in a Counter-twist

Use the paddle to keep the lines separated. As the rope begins to spin together you can slowly inch the paddle towards the rope making machine. Move the paddle slowly enough that the rope forms tightly, but not so slowly that the lines break.

Try to keep a steady tension on the rope between the paddle and the spinner hook as it forms. Between the paddle and the rope making machine the lines don't need as much tension. Occasionally move the ends closer together to relieve tension.

Once the paddle gets to the end you can take the lines off of the hooks. Continue to spin each line separately so that the remaining line twists into rope. This takes three people. You can then splice or burn the end to finish it off.

Step 5: Stretch Out the Rope to Set the Strands.

Picture of Stretch Out the Rope to Set the Strands.

Tie each end to a tree and lean your weight into it. Here the rope is doubled up because we didn't have enough space, but it's not necessary.

you now have rope from plastic shopping bags!


kayak_booboo (author)2017-05-10

great use of the bike parts

foobear (author)2013-12-02

Does the rope tend to unwind itself or does it stay bound together?

grut125 (author)2010-05-02

it would be really nice if youd put an instructable on how to make that three strand rope machine. i could see it looked simple but osme instructions would be nice.

thetumbleweedkid (author)grut1252012-02-12

The machine I made was created from 3 old bicycle frames that were chopped up and welded together. I don't have the means or inspiration to rebuild the machine to create a tutorial at the moment, but a google search will bring up a score of different examples. It would be fairly easy to make one from plywood and off the shelf hardware.

notjustsomeone (author)2008-04-24

Since it's just 3-strand twisted line, can you splice it like regular nylon? has anyone tried ropework with it?

yes. I joined several peices of this rope with splices

It would probably cut like twine.

scottmiller (author)2009-10-30

 Could you hook the three strands into a drill on one end and hook the paddle at the other end? If someone went along the rope to make it twist evenly, this could make the process much faster(I think.)

The three pairs of strands need to twist independently, the three strands twist together from the hook side as a counter twist from the built up tension.

That said, you could definitely attach a drill to the rope maker crank shaft instead of cranking it by hand.

stephenniall (author)scottmiller2010-01-02

Yes This is how i used to make rope using old Videotapes get a few pieces put them into two drills run them oposite ways Or just use oneside tied down to something and the other side on a drill

scottmiller (author)stephenniall2010-02-03

 cool. it's a good idea.

wanhasbulhadi (author)2010-04-26

its still a plastic doesnt matter how you adjust.

unless undergoes some process so it will be sustainable and valuable rope.

anyhow gud demo

craftjunkie (author)2008-04-09

this is a cool idea to use up bags for tie downs or misc stuff.. however here is a technique how to make a rope.. you could use this plans to make the rope & maybe it might come out stronger...

rjohs (author)2008-01-09

How about information or close up photos of the Rope Machine you used? That looks far superior to my little wooden thing.......

thetumbleweedkid (author)rjohs2008-01-20

It'll be a while before I can post any. I'm away in another city for several months.

rjohs (author)thetumbleweedkid2008-01-21

Thanks for the reply.... Your Rope Machine may deserve it's own Instructable all together.

Davenchi123 (author)2008-01-11

I think there is another way to cut the bags. if you cut from the handle down on each side you get a loop that is like 1.5 feet long and pretty tough ill put some pics on latter to show you what I mean. btw nice Instructable good detail and I would like to get a better look at your pike winder thingy and your tool that you wound the 3 twisted ropes together

If you could post photos that would be great. It really depends on the design of the bag. They put the seam in different places on different bags. By no means have I experimented with every option in this process and there could definitely be some room for improvements.

Jake-off (author)2008-01-10

hay a nice non-rope burn bondage rope

themonkeyz (author)2008-01-10

How about using it for climbing? OK forget it... I didn't say a thing...

JamesRPatrick (author)2008-01-09

I'd use a pin. Those not skilled with knives may cut your hard work.

getbusy21 (author)2008-01-09

YES! This is a very positive experience to take part of.

interestingantique (author)2008-01-09

This is amazingly strong stuff, i was able to see a sample of the rope last summer and i can easily say that you could use it as a tow rope for sticky situation to get a motor car out of a ditch.

Sypran (author)2008-01-09

ill keep this is in mind next time i make a blaista

Uru Wolf (author)2008-01-08

hehe, you should start a recycling venture. Take in old plastic bags and make them into rope. Do you know what the breaking strength of it is?

No. It's pretty strong though, we pulled an 800 lb raft out of the water with a doubled up piece. If somebody wants to do a test that'd be great. My feeling is that it can be inconsistent if it is not made skillfully. If somebody wants to mass produce that'd be great too.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-01-08

You guys are awesome! That looks incredibly long, I would love to be there. That looks like a great place in the first image, where is that? (Just wondering.)

I'm not sure how long that piece was. We found 80 ft to be the longest size that was easy to make. This photo was taken in Granville Square near the art school in Halifax, Nova Scotia after doing a workshop with a class. In the summer of 2006 John Mathews, Mike Sharpe and I (Dennis Hale) made about a 1000 feet of this rope to lash a raft together that was used to row across the harbour to George's Island and found the Utopian Territory of Sub-Scotia.

Wow... 1,000 feet. You guys rule!

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