I work at a school and like most schools we have lots of kids that like to play. When the kids play they inevitably launch balls over the fence and into the wild blackberry bushes that form a barrier between our school and the horses that hang out in the pasture on the other side. If anyone has experience trying to take balls out of blackberry bushes, the balls just seem to sink in every time you move them and resist coming out, the shape of the thorns probably explains this phenomenon.
So one day we had at least 6 balls in the bushes that were visible ( who knows how many had sunk beneath the surface never to rise again) and I had an idea based on the reacher/grabber that my late arthritic grandmother used to use. I scaled up the idea to get a 5 meter reach and started playing with PVC.
Step 1: Materials & Tools
I had to work with what I was able to scrounge up.
50 mm PVC pipe was in my office from a previous project of making football goals, so that was immediately thought of. I also needed string . . . so I used string I cut from a plastic bottle (here is a link of the type I used https://www.instructables.com/id/PET-Bottle-String-Maker/) I had a hack saw from the same project, a heat gun and my pocket knife.
Step 2: Shaping the Claw
I had a 70 cm section of pipe that I had split down the middle for a different project that didn't work the way I wanted so I reused it. I also had two meters of the 50 mm pipe to use as a handle, I later got another 3 meter section to be able to reach all of the balls.
With a hacksaw I cut about 50 cm down the pipe and left about 20 cm at the base to keep it attached. After cutting the pipe I heated up sections of the halves with the heat gun and shaped it by hand. PVC pipe become maleable at relatively low temps and will set into the shape you desire if you hold it in place. I recommend gloves since the pipe is much hotter that your skin likes. Fresh air is a good thing to prevent you breathing in the off gasses from heating up the pipe.
Step 3: Stringing the Claw
I used one bottle of soda and got about 7 meters of string from it, this is strong and so far has not broken in use. I drilled holes in each side of the claw with my pocketknife and attached a short piece of the string and tied the long piece to the middle and threaded it down the center of the pipe. I attached the 2 meter sections to the claw and pulled, the claw closed and could grip a ball. After experimenting I resized the opening of the claw for exactly the size of a football, it helps with gripping strength and prevents blackberry vines from getting into the claw and preventing a rescue.
I found that a weight on the end of the string helped the very light sting go down the center of the pipe. I used a few fidget spinner weights that I had in my office . . . you use what you have and I work at a school.
Step 4: Making the Extensions
After a few weeks of use I have found it nice to have different lengths available depending on the location of the ball. So I have two sections that are one meter long, and one section that is three meters. This gives me a lot of flexibility, and more than five meters is difficult to maneuver. Connecting the pipes without expensive connectors, glue and threads is actually easy, it just involves heat (again) and the same size pipe cut at an angle. I made the one in the picture for a previous project, it is about 20 cm long, angles cut on one end and flat on the other. The process is easy, Heat the pipe, insert the angled end to expand the pipe's diameter, then flip it around and put the flat end in and wait for it to cool completely. If you remove the pipe while it is still warm it will continue to shrink and you will not have the nice joint anymore, just two pieces of pipe that don't fit together.
Step 5: Other Thoughts
I was able to build all of this in about an hour with the materials and tools I had on hand, I encourage you to use what you have as well. Everybody has a different approach to getting balls back from the bushes, this is mine.