An Elevator for My 10'x12' Storage Shed




About: Old inventor, reverted back to my 10 year-old self. A shop full of tools, a boat, race car, 3D printer and a beautiful wife who wants me to invent things for around the house... Now how cool is that?

When the town we live in told me I couldn't replace an old shed with a new, larger one because they had increased our property's setbacks to 20' along the sides and 50' from the water, I was forced to place a much smaller one, closer to our house (It's OK, since the old shed is still in place, outside the setbacks and "grandfathered" in... I'll make that bigger too... By going up... Revenge can be sweet:)

Still, I wish it had more room in the new shed.  The kind of shed I purchased was the "lofted barn" type.  It didn't take me long to change the "loft" part into a "floor" part, nearly doubling the inside storage space.

After I completed the new floor, and within an hour of struggling to get a heavy box up the ladder, I was busy designing and making an elevator... All the while nursing a sore back that lasted a week.

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Step 1: Preparation:

After drawing up a number of ideas, I settled on one that took up the least amount of space.  The ladder was already in place and I had left additional space in the overhead to fit bulky materials, so I decided that would be the best place to locate the elevator as well.

In order to keep the platform as level as possible, without having to handle multiple lifting lines, I settled on a rig that "ancient" drawing boards used.  If you went to school before the 90s, chances are you've seen one.  The drawing board rig keeps the platform perfectly level in one direction.  I could have placed another just like it facing the opposite direction, but opted instead for a simple bridle that keeps things steady as long as the load is somewhat balanced.

I purchased all the parts I needed at our local hardware store.  I chose 2 sizes of line, which is a bit of overkill.  One for the hoist, (3/4") and a lighter line for the stabilizer (5/8").  Using 5/8" for everything may have made things a bit easier and less expensive.

Step 2: Rigging the Lifting Portion:

The elevator uses 2 rigging systems.  The first is the hoist.  This is the one that lifts the platform and lets it down again.  It employs a single, 50' line and 9 pulleys.  The drawing only shows 7 of these pulleys, as the other 2 are used for my "customized" cranking system, but more on that later.

What you'll need for the basic elevator:
50' of line (you shouldn't need all 50', but it will be more that 25')
7 pulleys
5 heavy hooks
2 heavy rings
2 shackles
Screws and tools for mounting it all

Start by fitting and building the platform you'll use for your elevator.  My platform is 2' x 4'.  Every situation will be different, but suffice it to say, you'll be cutting open a section of decking in your loft or floor and will need to support it with appropriate lumber and joist hangers. I cut a 4'x4' opening, half of which is used to house the platform.  The other half holds the ladder.  The reason I opened a single large opening as opposed to 2 smaller ones is the larger opening will allow me to wrestle bulky items into and out of the "attic".

Step 3: Stabilizing Rig

This is a separate rig from the hoisting rig.  It's sole purpose is to keep the platform level as it's being raised and lowered.  Here's what you'll need:

1. Line... A 25 foot bundle should be enough.  This doesn't need to be as strong as the lifting line, so you can save some money here.
2. Pulleys... 4 of them.  The same goes for the pulleys.  You can save cash by reducing their size.  There's some stress on the line and the pulleys in this rig, but it's constant and not related to the weight of the load.

What you'll be rigging is one continuous loop, twisted in the center to form an "X"  The vertical portions of the line are fixed to the lift.  when one side is moved up or down, the line fixed to the opposite side moves in the same direction, the same amount.  Very simple and very reliable.

The negative with this rig is it's always present, whether the platform is up or down.  In my shed, I wanted this rig to be as out of the way as possible.  I mounted it next to the ladder... A good compromise in my case.  The ladder backs up to storage racks so it's underside is dead space more appropriate for storing items that won't be needed much.

When mounting the pulleys, try to get them as square as possible and as close to being in line with one of the longer sides of the lift as you are able.  Obviously, an unbroken "loop" of rope is impractical, so you'll be starting and stopping the ends of the line at one side of the platform.  The other vertical side passes the platform in the middle of the rope, so a simple clamp will keep it locked in place.

Step 4: The Hoist:

I purchased an inexpensive trailer winch off the internet, but quickly realized the winch was both too small to hold the 3/4" rope I had chosen and the gearing took the 4-to-1 ratio forever to crank.  I pulled an old bronze sailboat winch out of storage and put it back to work.  In order to line everything up, I had to add another pulley, but at the moment, all's well in my elevator equipped storage shed. :-)

Update #1:  I forgot one part: In the last photo, you'll see a 2x4 attached to the lower half of the left end of the 2x8 platform.  There's a matching piece attached to the top half of the 2x8 that defines the opening.  When these two meet, it stops the upward movement of the platform.  if I had planned right, I would have made the stops out of 1x4s at both ends, but since I was building by the seat of my pants, and didn't have any 1x4s, I screwed plywood down about 1 inch over the opening to stop the opposite end.  I'll fix this as well.

Step 5: Update:

After mulling it over, I decided to re-think my priorities and went back to my shed and eliminated a few pulleys from the system.  I managed to reduce the number of pulleys from 9 to 6, reducing the friction in the system by about 30%.

First, the bad news:  The line no longer runs through a clean system, devoid of wear points.  The 4 pulleys that changed the lines direction from left-to-right and top-to-bottom is now done with 2 pulleys.  Because the line's angle from the top pulleys to the bridle changes slightly as the platform goes up and down, the line that goes through the pulleys used to change direction moves from side to side  as well, making contact with the pulley's steel frame. contact points can be filed down, but it's not an elegant solution... But hey, it's a shed.

I also had to lower the bridle height at the eve side of my platform.  This takes a bit of stability away, but nothing I can't live with...  I'm adding a photo of how to tie a "stopper knot".  I use stopper knots to tie off the bitter ends of line that run through fairleads and eyes.  They don't add weak points to the line and are very easy to untie.  Basically, a stopper is a granny knot with an additional loop around the standing part of the line.  Some people call this a "figure 8" knot because of the way it looks when it's being tied.

Good news is, I now have 3 additional pulleys to play with and the platform goes up with less effort and comes down without any effort whatsoever.

Another area where friction can appear is in the line itself.  Braided line is smooth and runs through pulleys easier than laid line will.  If you use braided, try to find some that has colored fibers woven into it.  Besides looking pretty, the contrasting colors makes it easier to tell if the line is twisted.  The photos of the line in my system show what happens to twisted line.

It becomes distorted and "lumpy".  All these lumps trying to squeeze through the pulley blocks adds a lot of friction.  Untwist your line when you rig it, and check it once in a while to insure it isn't causing you grief.  If your system seems to be getting harder to work, check your lines for twist.

Hoe you enjoyed this... Hey!  Why not download my FREE iPhone app?  Everything you wanted to know about me... Ain't that exciting?  Here it is...

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54 Discussions


6 years ago on Introduction

Nice project. I'm thinking about adding a garage door opener to automatic it a bit. Although I'm not sure how much it can lift. Are the drawings available for down loading. That would give me a good start on a gambrel style garage.

1 reply

Reply 9 months ago

I know this is an old post, but most garage door openers can't lift much weight. That is why garage doors have springs on them. You'd be better off using a powered winch. You can get one from Harbor freight for about $50 on sale.


3 years ago

Hi. Really enjoyed your post.
I am considering using your system attached to a counterweight (instead of winch) for my son's "hanging bed".
I would install 2 H frames linked also horizontally, the counter weight hidden in one of the H frames, and a bed "floating" up and down.
Can you help give any ideas how this would work?
How would you increase safety?
My majour concern is safety: having heavy conterweights or bed above his play area isnt ideal.

1 reply

Reply 9 months ago

If using a fixed loft bed isnt possible, I would recommend adding some hefty pins to lock the bed in place while overhead to take the load off of the rope.


1 year ago

Thanks for the idea! I am planning on raising a diorama to the garage ceiling due to space limitations. Hope I can finish it before summer.


1 year ago

This is an Awesome Ideal, I have built myself a 24x36 with a 14 feet walls garage this past summer, and I was thinking of building a second story to it in the back for storage and your ideal is something I was thinking of doing to raise some heavy stuff up there. I'm going to try to build it, but not before next fall. Thanks for sharing.


3 years ago

Hi BFK, I hope that you are still around this site! As soon as I saw your pulley system elevator and that you are an engineer I thought that I might ping you for some advice! I've been looking around online for a counterweight pulley system to hoist furniture etc. (and afterwards build a dumbwaiter type system) to my newly built home office on the roof and I can't find anything that doesn't involve mechanised options. I want the counterweight to do the heavy lifting without the sound since I live in a house with neighbours right next to me and the only option I have to get everything up is the rather small internal yard - stairs are a no-go: I live in a "protected" house, in the sense that I can't replace the small spiral stone staircase, which, though a very nice feature, is useless to get anything up to the roof except a person! I can't even get a basket of washing up those stairs! So at first I settled for a luff tackle system suspended from a double pipe, which I used which the builders used to hoist cement bags etc. up by hand. It worked fine until they tried to add one extra bag of cement (around 75Kgs I think) and the pipe bowed! It did not break fortunately but after that they resorted to getting an electric winch for the stones etc. While the manual pulley is handy, it is hard work, even with the weight reduced by a mechanical advantage of 3, but there is always the risk of letting the rope go or something happens and then whatever you're hoisting crashes down into the yard and probably right into the well (which is beneath the internal yard)! So now I am thinking of getting permission from my neighbour to install a 3-H or wide flange steel beam (I think they're the same thing) from my end of the internal yard to the other end of the yard (the wall that both my neighbour and myself share) on the roof and then construct a counterweight pulley system. I was also thinking of adding an additional safety rope-type system just in case the primary system fails. The problem is that I don't know how to do this without some proper thought put into it and I have spent every penny I had in constructing the office on the roof with double-glazed sound-proof windows and extra insulation to try and reduce the amount of heat coming into the room (in summer, in Malta, where I am, it can go up to 40 degrees centigrade!).

So if you have any ideas, advice drawings, some website I can go to where I can learn about counterweight pulley systems (that aren't for theatres, which is what I found), please write back, or email me directly -

I'm going to try and add a few photos to give you an idea of the space we're talking about. The first 3 are from when the builders were using their mechanised one and the last one is the only one I found on my computer that shows my luff tackle, on the very edge of the photo! All you can see in that photo is the pipe and the top two-pulley tackle, which was originally used by the navy. You can actually see the bend in the pipe!

Thanks for any help mate!


Photo 29-06-2015 19 36 13.jpgPhoto 29-06-2015 19 38 45.jpgPhoto 17-06-2015 14 20 46.jpgPhoto 24-06-2015 14 10 07.jpg12168934_10206838190491257_1508119916_o.jpg

3 years ago

Bezvadný nápad!


3 years ago

Now this is a smart idea for a storage solution at home! I think most people would just climb a ladder and get extra hands to help bring things down, but obviously installing something like this would make the job so much easier! I'm actually surprised that no one else thought of something like this before! I imagine the moving platform must have saved you tones of backbreaking climbs already!


4 years ago on Introduction

Wow this is really great. This gives me enough detail information for my same issue only different need. I am looking to hoist a sailboat into the rafters of my carport. This season's solution put too much effort on balancing the boat. If I can hoist from a four point system it should stablize much better.


4 years ago on Introduction

An elevator seems like a good idea for the heavier things that need to be put up in storage. We're using a pulley system for an attic and it can be quite a fair bit more tedious!


5 years ago on Introduction

This is awesome! I am completing my 12 x 24 shed and have been searching for the type pulley you used and cannot find them. Can you please direct me to a source? Thanks so much!

My plan is to use a 12 volt starter motor to winch the platform up and down. What do you think?

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Hi Mac: Thank you for your nice comment.

Depending on how you rig them, any type of pulley should work, but "Wall/Ceiling" pulleys and a "Rigid Mount" pulley and shackle are what I used. I've added a couple of pictures of my setup.

An internet search of those names will get you to where you need to be. I'm in the States and every hardware store should them, but any big box store should carry a full line of pulleys as well. I opted for the stamped metal type. They cost a little more, but don't make me wonder if the casting is going to crack while I'm underneath.

I was originally planning on electrifying mine too, but was able to winch the heaviest trunk I had by hand so the added cost/space/DC source wasn't necessary. The only change I'd make to mine would be to replace the 3/4" line with 5/8". For me, the increased amount of stretch would be more desirable than the friction of the 3/4" line... Someday, maybe...

My platform only has an area of a few square feet, but a larger platform, holding more weight may benefit from power. I'd think a starter motor, if strong enough at all, would have to be geared down pretty far to overcome the forces. The lift speed would also be slowed down quite a bit.

When I was building mine, I was thinking of a powered boat winch (powered in both directions... Freewheeling on the downward cycle could prove to be exciting in a bad way:). There might even be enough cable wrapped inside to eliminate the lifting line entirely.

Good luck with yours and I hope this helps. Mine has been intermittently used for over 2 years now and still going strong.

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5 years ago on Introduction

Thank you very much. This project is still working great. 3/4" line was a bit of overkill. 1/2" would be more than strong enough and create less friction. Placing the stabilizing lines against a wall would work well in a garage. Why not motorize it?


5 years ago on Introduction

Awesome. I have a large storage area above my garage. Guess how I'll be moving heavy or awkward stuff up and down from now on? Thanks for the ideas. Nice work.


6 years ago

Hey jott 1. Thanks for the comment. The entire instructble should be available in PDF format. If it doesn't work for you, let me know and I'll pm it to you.

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I've got the pdf format. I'm looking for autocad or sketchup format.


6 years ago on Introduction

Oh... And one more thing: About the friction thing, if you can eliminate pulleys from your design, you'll be better off with the friction thing and make it easier to haul heavy loads.

On mine, I wanted to get the line over to the opposite side of the ladder, but paid for it by needing 2 additional pulleys (I've reduced it to 1 since publishing the Instructable).

The fewer pulleys, the more efficient it'll be.

Good luck and enjoy your summer.