Tear Down a Chimney With a Rope and a Honda?

About: I live in Davis, CA, USA. It's very flat here, so we ride bikes a lot and make our own fun.

We needed to demolish a chimney.

The cinder block chimney was built in 1950 from low quality materials and was falling apart. Officially condemned. Not usable. Fire hazard. Chunks of it were falling off onto the ground. The chimney had to go.

The cabin with the chimney is located in South Lake Tahoe and was built in 1927. More info on the cabin is here.

I like dangerous instructables that are bigger than me. That's why I posted this one.

So... should we try and yank down the chimney ourselves?

Step 1: Risks of DIY: Don't Get Crushed!

"Just stand far away, so you don't get crushed!" was not good enough for us. There were other risks besides getting crushed.

We decided on using a cost/benefit analysis.

Potential Costs:
1. Personal harm by crushing (easily contained by standing far away)
2. Damage to car
3. Creating a large, expensive hole in side of cabin
4. Destroying the really cool, historic, river rock fireplace inside the cabin (pictured)

1. Remove useless, ugly, cinder block chimney
2. Save money by doing it ourselves
3. Have fun tearing down a chimney with our car!
4. Install fireproof shingles and save historic cabin from forest fire

The cost/benefit analysis showed equal costs (4) and equal benefits (4). But the forest fire concern was more important than the other points.

We needed to reroof with new fireproof asphalt shingles. The old wood shake shingles were an extreme fire hazard. When there was a forest fire (guaranteed at some future point), the firefighters would flag the cabin as "do not protect" because of the wood shake shingles. It would be a lost cause.

The roofer said if we removed the chimney he would patch the resulting hole at no extra cost. (?!)

Step 2: Ask the Neighbors What to Do

One way to make a decision is to ask around. We asked around in the neighborhood.

"You need a front-loader [bulldozer] and a chain", said our neighbor. He had done it before and I believed him. He keeps a front-loader parked in front of his house and uses dynamite at his job. His name is X-ray.

"We did it with a Ford F-250 pickup and a steel cable", said another neighbor. I didn't see the actual demolition, but I had inspected the result and saw it cleanly pulled the masonry away from the 80 year old cabin with no damage to the cabin! We were impressed that you could just yank a chimney down and not damage anything (except the chimney).

Are you surprised that two neighbors have experience tearing down chimneys? We were, too.

But we didn't have a front-loader, and no chain, no steel cable, and no big pickup truck. So we got an estimate from a contractor. The contractor wanted to erect scaffolding and chop the chimney apart bit by bit, for almost $5,000! He was afraid of damaging the cabin by just yanking the chimney off. We were afraid, too.

Of course I also searched instructables for other "chimney yanking" projects before posting this instructable. I found one! It didn't seem related to my project even though I liked it a lot. They built a chimney instead of pulling one down.

We decided to just yank the chimney off ourselves, using a rope and my 2001 Honda CRV.

Step 3: Find a Strong Rope

We used a a 15 year old 90 foot double braid nylon boat anchor line from New England Ropes. We already had it so it was easy to find.

The rope is a 'dynamic' line, meaning that it stretches a lot when loaded. A steel cable or 'static' line does not stretch (unlike the dynamic rope we used). The anchor line we used has a very similar load and stretch specifications to a climbing rope. In fact we used that same rope for rock climbing many years ago when we couldn't afford a proper climbing rope. I think it was $40 from West Marine around 1994. I'm not sure of the size, but you can see the pictures. It is easy to tie good knots with this rope.

Knots are important, but are an ancient tool and not the focus of this instructable, so they are not explained here. Besides, any knot will probably work as long as it does not come undone and you don't want to untie it later.

Another rope you might be able to use is the ubiquitous yellow plastic three-strand polypropylene rope. This is a very common, strong, and cheap rope that you have probably seen before. I opened my closet and took a picture of a length of 3/8th inch wide rope, which I happen to have. We didn't use this rope. I think it would work too, though, if you doubled it up. It is a static line and does not stretch much, so you might risk tearing the bumper off your car? I would have risked it anyway, if I had needed to, and just drove very slowly. Of note, it is hard to tie good knots with this type of rope, but its super cheap. I got mine free somewhere so I don't know how much it costs.

Make sure the rope is long enough so that the chimney does not fall onto your car when you pull it down. If you decide to use a rope that is too short, please make sure you record it to video and post it on instructables!

Step 4: Remove Metal Flashing With Claw of Hammer

Peel back the flashing and tar of the cricket.

Step 5: Tie the Rope to Your Car

We wrapped the rope high on the chimney. We were worried that the sharp corners of the cinder block might cut the rope (not a problem). The knot we used was a figure-eight on a bight at the end of the rope to make a loop. Then we fed the entire length of the rope through the loop to make a modified girth hitch around the top of the chimney.

We used a bowline to tie off to the Honda.

Step 6: Drive Away With Rope Attached to Chimney

I drove slowly into the woods behind the cabin to tension the rope, only 2 or 3 mph. I stopped when I felt the rope pull tight. I didn't want to destroy the cabin, or my car! The rope was now quite taught.

I began revving the engine over and over, driving forward a few feet, and pulling the rope even more taught each time. When I released the gas pedal, the springiness of the rope pulled my car backward to its original position. I did this 10 times or so, giving a little more gas each time.

A dynamic rope is quite stretchy, like a rubber band. Although my car was only ever in the forward driving gear, every time I let off the gas my car would go backward about 2 or 3 feet. Back and forth the car rocked, like trying to get a car un-stuck from mud or snow.

Step 7: Timberrr!!!

There was a loud 'crack-bang' sound, so I stopped the car. I got out and we inspected. Nothing visually had changed. In retrospect, all the steel reinforcing bar (rebar) in the chimney had broken and made the bang noise, but the chimney hadn't fallen down yet.

I got back in the car and tried a few more revs and the chimney finally popped off cleanly. No damage to the cabin, except for hole left behind by the missing chimney!

It cost $200 to have the debris hauled away. We theoretically saved $4,800 over the cost of the contractor, and had some excitement. I think the demolition hammer rental was $60, but we didn't even need that.

Amazingly, we were able to untie the bowline knot in a few minutes of struggling. I never got the figure-8 on a bight untied, but we continued using the rope for other projects anyway.

Step 8: More Info About the Chimney Demolition Project

In the end, it felt a lot better tearing the chimney down with an old rope and a honda, rather than pay a contractor $5,000. Maybe we were lucky that it all turned out OK. The main thing is to not get hurt, and no one did, so it was a success!

Before trying to yank the chimney off, we spent a few hours chipping away at the spot where we thought the chimney would crack off. We even rented a demolition hammer, which is like a mini electric jackhammer. DO NOT BOTHER WITH PRELIMINARY MASONRY DEMOLITION. When we pulled the chimney down, it cracked off in a completely different spot than we had planned.



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    15 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 8

    I just want the kids at home to know that the most dangerous part of this process was the rope. An elastic rope like nylon will store a huge amount of energy which, if the rope parts, can recoil with an unbelievable amount of force, seriously injuring bystanders and damaging property.

    Kudos on saving the money on the demolition, though. I know the fun of tearing down a big chunk of masonry. Glad it all worked out!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    How much "Greenhouse Gas" are you loosing through the sides of that muffler into the CRV?

    I hope you have replaced it by now after 3 more years.

    BTW: That "Tow Hook" is not for towing, it is for tying your CRV down to the Autotransporter used to deliver it to your dealer.
    They sure make a mess if the hook or tiedown cable breaks going down the road and they bounce off of the transporter, you will find them on the front and rear of all toy cars sold since the 70's they use to just wrap the axels or frame on AMERICAN built cars before that.

    Nice job on tearing down the chimney though.

    Kut Korners

    10 years ago on Introduction

    I would like to add that we were listening to CLASSIC ROCK the entire time we did this project. In fact, the same seven classic rock songs all weekend long. And we probably ate some frozen burritos and drank beer. These are important details to include if you want to do this activity.

    2 replies

    9 years ago on Introduction

     Great, I wish I had pictures when I removed
    rotten trees close to a Cabin In Prescott.
     Rope is one of are first tool we used and
    still use it today.

     I would stick to the Nylon Yacht braid and avoid polypro line:
    elongation elasticity      Nylon     Polypro

                                                  1.0       .80
     The yacht braid elongate's more the the poly pro,
    In my Experience with polypro, when it fails it snaps
    violently,  When Yacht braid parts it is still dangerous
    but it fails and relaxes.

     Great  instructable The bike helmet hard had was great!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I know you've already done this, but I notice that you have a lot of well-rooted trees around. You could have tied the rope to the chimney and a tree, then winched it down.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    We talked about a winch, but we didn't have one. A winch would have have been different, though, giving a steady, incrementally stronger pull with each crank. Different than the bouncing and jerky of my car going back and forth. We didn't consider the "z-rig" described in your second post below, I guess we thought it wouldn't generate enough force?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    He was afraid of damaging the cabin by just yanking the chimney off. We were afraid, too.

    We decided to just yank the chimney off ourselves, using a rope and my 2001 Honda CRV.

    Can I ask, how on earth did you jump from being scared of the contractor "yanking" it off, then deciding to "yank" it off yourselves?

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Good question! Five friends own this cabin together, so there was a bit of discussion about this. Farker1 sums it up, though. For a business person (the contractor) to take on the risk it would cost $5,000. For us to take the risk, it would be free, unless something bad happened. Also, the neighbor with the truck and steel cable, his chimney popped off cleanly, and it was similar to ours. Since there was almost no risk of personal physical harm, we couldn't resist. Another factor was the story telling potential. It would have been much much better if we had somehow damaged the cabin. Of course I'm very happy how things turned out. (We really did talk about the benefits of a better story.) In the video, about 3 or 4 seconds before the chimney topples, you can hear one of my friends saying wishfully, "Don't take out the whole cabin!"