Geared Rope Making Machine




This is how you can make a geared rope making machine. You will need basic woodworking sklls. Tools required: scroll saw, hand drill, circular saw and wrench set at the minimum. A  bandsaw, table saw, drill press, circular sander all make this a lot easier. The ultimate would be a CNC router (ShopBot).

This is a fiddly project and you should be prepared to adjust and tweak as you go. I did not go into a ton of detail as this would become a 100 slide instructable. I will however add little tips that helped me.

I made it at the TechShop in San Jose CA.

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Step 1: Templates

THe heart of the rope maker is the gearset. You can do a non geared version, but it will take a lot longer to make a rope. A geared machine will give you 1:4 ratio for a faster process, basically one turn of the handle will make your hooks rotate 4 times, instead of a 1:1 ratio.

I went with a planetary gearset design. I bought the template from here:

Print out the templates and spray mount them on your 3/4 stock.

Step 2: Planet Gear

Spray mount your Planet Gear template on to your 3/4 stock. 
Cut it out with a scroll saw. Take your time and cut as accurately as possible. Poorly cut teeth will lead to meshing issues.
Drill out the center hole with a 1/4 drill bit and drill press. You can use a hand drill but make sure  you are drilling at a 90 degree angle to the gear. You do not want to drill off axis or on an angle.

TIP: Use a fine scroll saw blade 20T or higher. It will make for much smoother cuts.

Step 3: Ring Gear

Rough out the main shape with a bandsaw and smooth on the circular sander.
Then cut out your teeth on the scroll saw. After cutting cleanup your teeth with sandpaper and your dremel tool sanding drum.
Take your time and do this as precisely as possible

Your finished Ring Gear should look like this. The "bump" is where you will drll a 1/4 hole and mount your crank handle.

TIP: Cutting out gears is IMHO the perfect use of a CNC router (ShopBot) if you have access to one. The teeth will be cut perfectly and you will get the best possible mesh.

Step 4: Main Hook Guide

Cut out the Main Hook Guide with a bandsaw or jigsaw. This is the Main Hook Guide roughed out.

Drill your 1/4 inch gear shaft holes with your drlll press.

You can do fancy cutouts if you wish. I did not since my machine will be used by little children=little fingers which is a no no around spinning gears.

TIP: Drill only two gearshaft holes, drill the third one after your mount the first two planet gears so that you can adjust the gear mesh.

Step 5: Assemble Gearset

Assemble your Planet Gears onto the Main Hook Guide.

You will be using 1/4 threaded hooks and 1/4 Round Weld Nuts.
if you cannot find Weld Nuts you can use 1/4 T Nuts but you will have to break off the anti spin spikes.

Insert the hook through the front of the Main Hook Guide.
Screw on the Weld Nut with the flange facing the Planet Gear. 
Slide on the Planet Gear.
Screw on the second Weld Nut with the flange facing the Planet Gear.
Tighten down the Weld Nuts with two vise grips. Make it as tight as possible.
I added a single lock washer between one of the Weld Nuts and the Planet Gear.

TIP: The sleeve of the Weld Nut needs to go in the 1/4" holes on the Main Hook Guide and the Rear Hook Guide.
It will be a very tight fit at first. Work the sleeve in all the way and then spin the Planet Gear until the sleeve rotates freely.
Resist the urge to open the hole with a larger drill bit. This will make the for a sloppy Planet Gear fit.

Step 6: Test Fitting the Gearset

After mounting up the first two Planet Gears put the Ring Gear over them and check the gear mesh by spinning.
Position the third Planet Gear in a way that keeps the Ring Gear teeth snug against all three Planet Gears. There should only by a tiny gap between the teeth (In case the wood swells).

Now drill your 1/4 gearshaft holes for the third and last Planet Gear. Add the Weld Nuts and check the mesh.
Mount your Crank Handle on your Ring Gears with a 3/8 carriage bolt, washers and lock nut.

Now drill your gearshaft holes using the Main Hook Guide as a hole template. Attach your Rear Hook Guide.You can use wood screws or 1/4 carriage bolts with lock washers.

Don't forget your 7/8  spacer blocks between the Main Hook Gude and the Rear Hook Gude.

Assemble everything and check the gear mesh again. Everything should spin smoothly. 

Step 7: Winder

Mount your completed Winder on your winder base.
The base s basically a box with gussets for reinforcement.
Make sure you add gussets to the front of the Winder.
Sand off all the sharp edges with a hand sander. You will be sitting on the base.

TIP: You can attach the Winder with Wing Nuts so that is can be easily taken apart.

Step 8: Traveller

Now you need to build a Traveller. This is basically a sled that has a single 1/4 hook that you attach the other end of the string of the rope to. 

Build the base like a open top box. You need to have a floor since your will be adding weight to the Traveller (bricks, stones, etc.)
Fully loaded the Traveller should weigh around 25 lbs. You will need to adjust the weight based on the floor surface.

TIP: You can make the vertical panel removable, so if you make your Traveller narrow enough it can fit in the space under your Winder Base.

Step 9: Paddle/Needle

Finally you need to make a Paddle. I used 1/4 inch Alder that I laminated together to make 1/2 stock.  I did this because I could buy a small piece of Alder. I didn't want to bu a 4x8 piece of 1/2 plywood to make a little paddle.

The paddle template comes with the gear templates.

TIP: Drill your holes first then rough out the shape and cut the slots last.

Step 10: Making Rope

You're done!

There are dozens of videos on YouTube showing you how to use the Rope Maker to make rope, or in my case Jump Rope.

You will find that you will have countless helpers who volunteer to work the Crank Handle on the machine.

For Jump Ropes you will use Acrylic worsted yarn. Three strands of yarn wrapped around each winder hook three times.
150 inches between the Winder and the Follower will give you a 71/2 foot Jump Rope.

This is the type of custom Jump Rope that can be made.

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    36 Discussions


    4 years ago on Step 10

    love to see a video of this. looks wonderful

    Cool stuff! The plans for the machine are available at I wrote the plans and have made about 35 machines. Its a pretty sweet project.


    5 years ago on Step 7

    Hi. Really nice projects. Thank you.

    Quick Question: How did you mount the rear cover onto the base of the winder to keep the gears in place while allowing smooth rotation?

    Thank you.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    When I was a Boy Scout as a kid, we had a small rope making machine (a crude version of this). It was an awesome yearly event to make some of our own rope. Thanks for reminding me of that experience... I'm going to design and build something like this for my 2 year old daughter, plus it gives me another excuse to use my CNC!

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Your daughter will love it. Plus you can be the jumprope king at her next birthday party.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Your very welcome. I'm flattered by all the views and such. I didn't think folks would be this interested in a design that is:

    1. Over a 100 years old.
    2. Makes rope. Some guy on youTube commented that no children jump rope anymore unless it's on a Wii. I found that incredibly sad. But the 70+ kids who made ropes at our school fair yesterday seems to refute that comment.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    l like/love low tech, and think it is dangerous forget some of vital skills that earthlings had developed through millenniums. You can not make a computer nor a radio in a desert island, but a rope could save your life.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I agree. I never thought that woodworking machines would be be considered low tech. I still think that Norm Abram's workshop was the coolest thing ever.

    Most of the folks working in the woodshop at the TechShop appeared to be 40+. The younger members seemed to mainly huddle around PC workstations running CAD programs for 3D printing and CNC. Of course this is a gross exaggeration, but I also worry about the loss of manual skills in the future.

    My son was telling me how cool it would be to own a 3D printer/replicator. I told him that he has access to the greatest replicator in the world.

    His brain and his hands.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I once knew a guy who told his daughter that she couldn't get her drivers license until she could do the following:
    1. Change a flat tire.
    2. Check and change the oil.
    3. Tune the engine.
    He then told me that she was very skilled in those areas.

    If your son is lacking in the manual woodworking skill set, use his desire for a 3D printer to encourage him in developing those skills. That way, he will eventually have the skill set to obtain a job in both directions.

    Thinking back when I was a teen, there was one thing that was missing in those years. A father willing to guide me from the perspective of his years of wisdom and experience.

    It's not enough to just live in the house with them, if you want your kids to succeed, you need to look at them from the perspective of their interest and talents and support them in learning everthing they can. Traditional education is good to have, but nothing says I love you and motivates a child to succeed more than when parents show them with undeniable action that they support the child's dreams.

    There are stories of people overcomming bad life situations and turning out successful by themselves. But there are a multitude more stories of success that occur when a person has the support from their family and friends.

    So why not have him use his brain to design a 3D Printer, and his hands to build every part of the 3D Printer possible.

    It may be that you implied this with your statement. That however, does not mean he inferred it. To often parents expect kids to know what they mean, rather than saying what they mean. It is very, extremely rare when that actually happens.

    Sadly, the greatest skill set parents and our educational system never teach, but should from the beginning, is how to set a goal, create a plan of action for the goal, strategize, and carry out the plan to achieve the goal.

    Success is never achieved by faith or accident. Faith will give one the motivation to act, but action without careful planning is bound to fail. Action plus careful planning has a better chance at success.

    Bummer: Firefox spell checker stopped working. :-(


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who make stupid, unfounded assumptions like that. Even more unfortunate, is when policy makers use those unfounded assumptions to pass policies that end up hurting people because the premise for the policy is not true.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who make stupid, unfounded assumptions like that. Even more unfortunate, is when policy makers use those unfounded assumptions to pass policies that end up hurting people because the premise for the policy is not true.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Please excuse what will probably be an ignorant question, but after the three pieces are twisted together to form the rope, what prevents the rope from simply untwisting and turning back into the three pieces again? Friction?

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry I didn't actually answer your question lol.

    The rope is held together with the friction generated by the twisting action of the strands.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I really really like that the gears are cut by hand. Far too many laser-cut intructables for the number of people having access to them in my opinion.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Honestly producing gears with a cnc router or laser cutter (do those things work on wood?) would probably be an ideal use for them. Due to their ability to make perfect repeatable teeth.

    That said cutting the teeth by hand although tedious is also fun. And you will really learn the ins and outs of using a scroll saw. I really had no experience with one before I started cutting the gears. I feel pretty comfortable with it now. That is invaluable to me.