Most people don't need to make their own rope, but doing so is fun, extremely satisfying, and should be done at least once by anyone who has ever put a knot in a line. To that aim I present a simple two-piece rope-maker that delivers a finished piece of rope in less than 10 minutes from items you already have around the house.
This Instructable results in a kit that I will use repeatedly at scouting events. The average Instructable reader need not go that far. The fabrication and use of the rope-maker is the aim, the kit is for others out there like me that will end up using it a lot.
Ropes and cordage are an essential part of scouting. Not only is it useful knowledge, but we use it as a way to teach young people to teach and communicate with others. To earn the very first rank, "Scout," a youth must demonstrate how to tie a square knot, two half-hitches, and a taught-line. They must also show how to whip and fuse the ends of a rope. More difficult knots and lashings are added as they continue through the ranks. Several Merit Badges add on addition knots and the Pioneering Merit Badge (one that I teach) even has them making their own rope. Nothing is cooler than teaching kids how to tie knots in a rope that they made themselves!
In the past I've put together a rather complicated rig that took up a lot of space, had lots of separate parts, and took a while to set up. It worked fine once it was up and running, but in the end, I don't think the kids realized it was something they could do themselves without the fancy machine. They didn't own the creation process. This kit changes all that. It's compact, ultra-portable and the mechanism that enables the product only has two parts, a stick and a smaller stick. The best part is that it can be made for free from junk lying around your work space.
After we've assembled the kit I'll show you how to use it. You can make a three foot length of rope with whipped ends in 5 - 10 minutes.
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Step 1: Supplies
The basic idea for this rope-maker is to tie a twisted cord to a cylinder that spins around another, smaller cylinder. Some of you will be uncomfortable with this instructable. I'm not going to give exact measurements or diagrams. The idea here is that almost ANYTHING will work. Be creative. Look around your work area and see what fits the bill. For this project I found a broken hatchet handle, a dowel rod, and a ping pong paddle for the larger cylinder. The part of the smaller cylinder, or axle, will be played by carriage bolts.
For the kit, you'll need to decide on what kind of container you'll be housing everything in. This will determine the length of your rope-maker. I came across a deep Plano organizer, an ammo can, and a little red tool box. The ammo can was my first choice, but it was a little shorter than I would have liked. Ultimately I picked the tool box because it was light, had a removable tray for accessories and had a handle. I had to cut down the dowel rod a bit to fit.
Use whatever you have lying around (that's the point!). Just make sure that it's not too light, not too heavy, and won't hurt anyone.
Step 2: Drill a Hole
Drill a hole slightly larger than your axle. You can play with the positioning, but I find that a quarter of the entire length from the end works well. You can see where I placed the hole in the ping pong paddles. I felt that was the strongest part of the paddle and still left it off centered enough to spin well.
Insert your axle, and your rope-maker is complete!
(Now if you are the Yankee Workshop type, feel free to embellish this however you like. Screw your bolt into another dowel rod for a handle, varnish it, route groves in it to better hold the string.... actually that's a good idea. If only I had a router!)
If not making a kit, grab some string and skip to Step 4
Step 3: Complete Your Kit
You'll need some twisted cordage to start with. Natural fibers work best. Try having your scout do this with their trusty braided paracord and then explain to you why it doesn't work. A good example of failure as instructor. Twisted poly might work, but I haven't tried it. Experiment!
I've used jute, cotton, and sisal to make ropes using this method and that is my order of preference. The method is the same for all of them with slight variations based on material. The jute and sisal will need the stray fibers singed off at the end. The sisal will break if you twist it too much in the first stage, but is cheaper than the others. Cotton is quite stretchy so requires a lot more twisting, but ends in a lovely rope. Jute is a good compromise in quality and price. Plus, jute rope looks rustic enough that kids will believe that you made it, but impressive enough that you could use it just as well as store bought rope.
The smaller rolls should fit in your kit, but if you get a large spool like the one pictured, it might have to travel separately..
To finish out your kit, you'll need also need:
- 1 carabiner per rope-maker
- scissors (safer than a pocket knife)
- masking tape
- dental floss (that's right, dental floss)
I ended up with four rope-makers and added enough supplies to have four kids making their own rope at the same time. Pack it all in how you like and you are ready to make some rope anywhere and anytime!
Step 4: How to Make Rope: Set Up
Attach a carabiner to something. Here I've used a basketball goal post. Tie it on there using a bit of your cordage or a previously made rope.
Tie one end of your cordage to the carabiner. I prefer two-half hitches.
Your cordage will need to be a little more than three times the desired length of the finished rope. Cut it there and tie it to the short end of the rope maker using the previously mentioned two half-hitches.
Step 5: How to Make Rope: Stage 1
Spin your rope maker. Make sure the direction you are spinning makes the cord tighter along the way the cord is already laid. For the cotton, this was clockwise. A simple way to check this is to grip the cord a few inches away from the rope-maker. Give it a spin and check to see if you are winding or unwinding the cord. You want to go in the direction that winds it tighter.
How long to spin it? This varies. You want the cord to start to twist up on itself when you give it some slack. I made a few lengths out of each material before I found the sweet spot. Generally speaking, more than you think for cotton, less than you think for sisal.
Step 6: How to Make Rope: Stage 2
This is the tricky part. A helper would come in handy, but mine was taking pictures.
You are going to divide the rope into thirds without it twisting up on itself. This is important to a smooth final product. I step on the rope at about half of it's length. Then take the end tied to the rope-maker and clip it into your carabiner. Then pull it through until you meet the bend under your foot. Stick this over the top of the rope maker and set it directly under and touching the tied on end of the cord
You now have three tightly wound strands between your carabiner and rope-maker.
This would be easier with a shorter rope. I just thought of that after looking at all these pictures. If you start with cordage that is slightly longer than twice your arms length, you'll be able to reach the half-way point easier and not have to worry about manipulating the thing with your foot. But then your final product would be shorter. Some of the kids I'm going to have doing this don't have much of a wingspan. The rope they end up with wouldn't be long enough to manipulate into some of the knots they'll have to learn. I'll keep using the length I've started with but you do what you want. Experiment!
Step 7: How to Make Rope: Stage 3
Do you remember the direction you spun your rope-maker in Stage 1? Now you are going to spin it in to OPPOSITE direction. Keep a slight tension on it and again, your time spinning depends on the material. Once it starts to twist on itself when you give a little slack, give it a good steady pull to lock in the fibers.
Put your rope maker down, Put a little masking tape on the ends of your rope and cut it off of the rope-maker and carabiner.
Step 8: How to Make Rope: Stage 5 - Finishing Touches
Your rope won't last long if you don't secure the ends. Masking tape is not secure!
You must whip the ends.
This is where the dental floss comes in. Waxed dental floss is strong, cheap, and comes in it's own dispenser. The wax helps to hold the knot and keeps it dry. Cut off about 8 inches and get to it. I prefer a west country whipping. Here is an excellent instructable on how to do that:
You'll also need to singe off the protruding fibers if you used jute or sisal. Just hold the rope vertically and burn them off with a lighter (I don't let the scouts do this). This is pretty impressive and the jute really takes off. I flick it like a whip when it reaches the end. Not only does this look cool, it puts out any stray flames and pops off the burnt hairs.
Step 9: Conclusion
Go make some rope. after a couple of tries you should end up with rope that looks just as good as what you'd buy in a store.
This project is so easy and cheap that it allows for, and invites, lots of experimentation. Try different materials for the rope-maker and cordage. Experiment with twist tightness and cord length. Place your axle in different spots. The ultimate end of this would be to make your own cordage from natural plant fibers and a rope-maker from fallen branches.
- Spinning a tennis racket on your finger
- mini baseball bat (this would be PERFECT!)
- downed wood
- table leg
- drum stick (musical or chicken, probably not ice-cream novelty)
- animal bones
- cotton twine
- bailing twine
- plastic grocery bags
- make your rope long enough to repeat stage 2 and 3 for a thicker rope (now that sounds fun!).
Experiment - Experiment - Experiment. Translation "Play - Play - Play." I'd love to see what you end up with.
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