Introduction: Indoor Rope Making

I have noticed that when there are rope making projects in Instructables as well as other places, usually there are setups that have to be done outside with a long space so that you can make a long rope. It often requires several people to handle all of the working parts of the setup to make the rope. For example there is the job of running the twister while someone runs a “wrench” along the rope so that the rope will twist along itself properly.

But what if you don’t have access to an open space like that or if the free time you have is different from your friends so you may not have assistants when you need them. Also once you start making rope you have to continue until you finish. There is no convenient place to stop if you have to and start again later. Thankfully there is a way to address those concerns and still make rope as long as you like. This involves using some heavy duty weighted spindles that twist the individual strands together and let the strands twist themselves into your rope. This is done a few feet at a time instead of all at once. As the second picture shows there is nothing special about the spindles. As you can see, they have a built in reel to hold the strand material and the bottom part holds the weight . As long as you stick to the basic idea of a spindle, you can use whatever you have handy to make them. They all work quite well. Since just about everybody likes to make rope out of plastic grocery bags the spindles I will show you how to make were designed with grocery bags as the rope material in mind. The spindle has to be rugged because it will be handled a lot and it will have to withstand a lot of different forces put upon it. My original spindles were made with peanut butter jars and dowel sticks with a can lid thrown in. They worked quite well and I made a 60 feet long rope with them. However plastic can deteriorate over time and I want you to have a set of spindles your children can use and pass on to their children.

Step 1: The Spindles



1 - 3 Feet by ½ inch dowel (extra 1 foot long dowel if making 4)

3 or 4 Stew cans with their lids side cut

3 or 4 lids for the single lids (side cut lids)

3 or 4 lids for the cans (standard cut lids)

Five minute epoxy glue

Hot melt glue gun and glue sticks

Several pounds of something to add weight to the spindles.

Start by using a side cutter can opener to open your stew cans. (Eat responsibly) Wash the cans thoroughly so no food residue will get in the way of the epoxy gluing them back together. Also cut out the standard cut lids, one for each side-cut lid. Take one of the standard cut lids and lightly sand the inside of the lid to remove some of the plastic liner. Use epoxy glue to glue the standard cut lid to the outside side of a side-cut lid. (I tried using hot melt glue for this but it didn’t work so well) Do the same to the other lids. It is supposed to be 5 minute epoxy but I would allow a couple of hours just in case. The reason for this is that a single lid is rather floppy and I didn't know how long the glue would last before the floppiness would work the glue loose. The double lid is much sturdier. Once the glue has set find the centers of the lids and using a step drill bit drill a ½ inch hole in the center of each lid assembly. Also drill a ½ inch hole near the edge of the lid. This hole is to fill the can with about 1 pound of sand, rocks, or whatever you have. I used BBs. Cut the 3 foot dowel into 3 1 foot lengths. Using the hot melt glue you will attach the dowels to the lids. Push one end of the dowel through a two lid assembly from the outside so that it sticks out of the inside side of the lid. (See picture) Put a good sized bead of glue around the dowel about third of an inch from the end then while it is still hot move the lid back to the bead and drag it toward the end of the dowel. This will form a glue bead that is strong. You want the dowel to be straight up with the lid so put the dowel on the edge of a counter and roll it back and forth. Adjust until the lid turns perfectly straight with no wobble. The hot glue will take a minute or so to set so you will have time for this. Add a good bead of glue to the outside as well. This part of the spindle will take a lot of lateral forces. Measure 3 inches up from the lid and mark the dowel. This is where your second lid will go. Make sure it is a side cut lid. Attach it like you did the first one. When you are done you should have a dowel with a two lid assembly at the end and a single lid 3 inches away from the first lid. Now along the edge of the single lid put some hot melt glue beads about a half inch apart. Don’t bother measuring. Eye balling is good enough. Now when you see the top end of the dowel you see a lot of hot melt glue beads. They are there to give you more grip when you turn the spindles. Use whatever pattern you like. You will note that the single lid has a hole in it near the edge. That was a mistake. It was intended to be used as an attachment point. I intended to tie the strand material to the spindle using that hole. However if you use the clips the way I will show later the holes won’t be necessary. The clips are way better for the purpose. Now sand the inside edge of the can to remove the plastic liner. Do the same to the edge of the can lid where it meets up with the can when they are together. You want the epoxy to bond metal to metal. I don’t trust the plastic liner. Mix some epoxy and glue the lid to the can. Use some clamps or weights to hold it together until it sets. Again I would suggest a couple of hours to set. Add the weight to the cans so that they weigh 1 pound each. You can experiment with greater or lesser weight later but for now 1 pound works great. The spindle assembly is done.

Step 2: The "Wrench"



A plastic bottle with a flat bottom. I used a plastic vinegar bottle.

The reason I put the “wrench” in quotes is because in a regular set up the rope wrench actually looks like a wrench. What we will use to do what a rope wrench does doesn’t look at all like a wrench but it does the job of a rope wrench so I use quotes so you will know what I am talking about. I cut off the top and bottom of a plastic white vinegar bottle and taped them together with packing tape. The three holes were spaced evenly. The sizes aren’t critical but the placement is. Just be sure that the holes are big enough for the strands and the rope that you are making. Make them as smooth as possible to avoid snagging. The “Wrench” is done.

Step 3: Starter Hook


YOU WILL NEED: 1 - 1/8 inch steel rod

Take a 1/8 inch steel rod and form it into an S shape. Or form it into whatever shape you need to hang it to a cross beam. As its name implies, the starter hook is used to start the rope but after your first couple of feet of rope are made you won’t be using it. The starter hook is done.

Step 4: Spindle Holder



3 – Cloths pins

3 – Pieces of wood about 7” long

The spindle holder as its name implies holds the spindles so that they do not unwind and holds them in place while the strands combine into the rope. Take a paint stirring stick (large 5 gallon size sticks were used but the smaller 1 gallon size will work as well) and cut it in half lengthwise and then cut those to 7 inches. One end of each stick is beveled so that when they form a triangle there is a large surface area for the hot glue to hold them together. Also put a bead of glue on the inside of the glued parts for greater strength. Lastly, hot glue the cloth pins as shown. The spindle holder is done.

You will need a place to hang the assembly and it has to hold about 5 pounds or so.

Step 5: OK. Let’s Make Some Rope.

For the first rope just to give you an idea of what to do, let’s make a 4 foot or so rope.

You will need

6 grocery bags.

Cut the bags as shown. The handles and the bottoms of the bags are cut off leaving the middle. The middle is cut in half and the resulting rings are daisy chained together. Make 3 sets of 4 each. Because the knots will show, you have to position the strands so the knots are spread evenly along the rope. That means that 2 of the strands will have to be cut to make that happen. The pictures show how to cut the strands. Then the cut ends are then attached to the other end of their strands to even out the strands. The three strands should be the same length.

While the cut ends are being attached now, in normal practice the cut ends are saved and attached just before the rope is finished during the last spin set up.

Step 6: Hang It Up

The strands are then put through the “wrench” and a knot is tied to secure the ends. It is then put on the starter hook and secured with a cloth pin. The picture shows a black clip being used but that was a mistake. I changed it to a cloth pin later. Hang the hook and then in turn start winding the strands on the spindles. Attach the strands with a clip to the single lid and then just wind on until you get to the point that the spindle will hang at its lowest point. Now those beads on the edge of the single lid come into play. They are there to prevent the strands from slipping on the smooth edge and unwinding accidentally. Secure the strand with a loop and let it hang. Make sure that the loop is just under the hot glue beads. It will make it easier to undo later. When you are done, it should look like the last picture.

You will also need a way to prevent the spindle holder and spindles from turning until you are ready. I had a handhold available but you will have to work up whatever you can. This part is very important or you will not be able to manage the combining of the strands The last picture shows the spindle holder attached to the handhold with a spare grocery bag loop

Step 7: Spin...Spin...Spin

Start with one of the spindles and start spinning it. It doesn’t matter which way you spin it. What does matter is that all 3 are spun the same direction. For “Right handed” rope spin the spindles counter-clockwise. For “Left-handed” rope spin the spindles clockwise. As you spin the strand will get shorter and you will see the creases start to form an angle. You want to spin until the creases are at a 45 degree angle. Again, eyeballing is good enough. Attach the spindle holder to the strand just above the single lid and attach one of the other cloth pins to whatever you are using to prevent the spindle holder from turning. Do the same thing to the other two spindles. When the last spindle is attached, the spindle holder assembly will hang free. You should notice that the assembly wants to turn. That is good. Make sure that the “wrench” is at its highest point possible and then let the assembly start turning. As it turns, slowly let the “wrench” come down and you will see the rope start to form. What may not be obvious is that as the assembly is turning it is also unwinding making the rope less tight. About half way down stop and give each spindle a few more turns and reattach it to the spindle holder and resume turning the assembly. Let it continue until the “wrench” is as low as it can get.

Step 8: Reset and Continue.

Unhang the assembly and set the starter hook aside. It is no longer needed. Put a small clip on the end of the new rope or wrap with tape and cut off the knot on the end. Now use your new rope to tie a clove hitch knot and set it so that the “wrench” is as high as it can get. It is now hanging from its own rope. Remove the spindle holder then unwind each spindle so that you have again the spindles hanging at their lowest point.

Now, assuming you have a lot longer strands to work with, just do what you just did again and again until you are done.

If for any reason you need to stop just put a cloth pin just above the "wrench" and that will hold everything together until you get back to it. You can now take everything down and put it away until later. Just reattach the rope making assembly with the clove hitch as before and keep on going.

Step 9: Finishing Up

When you run out of strand material your last setup will be a little different. Attach the cut ends that you saved from step 5. When you unwind the spindles for the last spin, instead of the hanging loop being just under the hot glue beads, you want the loop as far down as you can get it. After you spin the spindles and let the assembly turn, let the "spindle go down between the handles as far as it can go. You're done spinning.

Put a cloth pin right above the "wrench". Now you can undo everything below it and take everything off.

Go ahead and whip the ends and you are done with your first rope. Now you know what to do with your ever growing pile of grocery bags.

I am sure that you have noticed that the knots in the rope tend to show and that is why we took the step of spreading them apart. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could minimize those knots and make grocery bag rope look more like, well, “real” rope? Well, there are several ways to do that and they will be the topic of my next instructable. This is my second instructable so any questions, suggestions are welcome

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