DIY Training Equipment Guide: Part 1 - Planning and Material Selection

01 Nov 2009 20:00

Recently I've been getting involved in more and more aspects of grip training and strongman training however, these endeavors require specialty equipment at times. Anyone that has ever looked at buying training equipment knows that it can get expensive in a hurry, even for a couple of seemingly small things. The shear cost of equipment, combined with the fact that shipping to Canada can be just as much money as the item you're buying, has sent me into the workshop to build my own equipment. This series of articles will serve as a general overview to building your own equipment. I'll include a basic outline of how to come up with ideas, how to build, tools that you may need, building materials, etc. and I will do my best to make it as comprehensive as possible.

I'm going to set this guide up as a series of posts for easy reference so keep an eye out for future articles. They'll be indexed on my sidebar similar to the Grip It Series.

Before I begin I want to state the most important rule. Always fabricate and use your equipment SAFELY. Safety is the biggest issue when using your equipment and always assume it can/will break! The information contained in this post and other posts of this nature are just that, information. Use this information and any manufactured equipment at your own risk. Ground Up Strength, its' owners, and I (Joe Weir) are not liable for personal or property damage due to equipment misuse, equipment failure, or the use of the information presented herein.

Let's get building!

Planning and Feasibility

I lied, we're not building yet, before we think about building anything its a good idea to sit down (or stand if you prefer) and think about what purpose or need we're trying to serve and if our plan satisfies it.

  • Will this idea work? Is it feasible?

We don't want to build something that won't work! You want an olympic barbell but they're expensive…So you replicate one using a piece of lumbar and a lathe. I've set up a table to be sort of a checklist for the equipment we're considering and I've put our wooden barbell into the table below:

Equipment Olympic Barbell
Purpose Resistance Training
Construction Material(s) Wood (preferably a hardwood)
Practicality Low
Difficulty of Construction High
Cost Quite a bit if you buy the lathe
Loading Capacity Low
Progression Capability Low
Beginning Intensity Low
Durability Low
Probability of Equipment Failure High

For your convenience a blank copy of this table can be found here.

  • Is there room for me to progress?

Suppose you want to build a military press log. You build a log that weighs 140lbs but you're not able to add any extra weight to it. You manage to perform singles with the log but in a few weeks the weight is no longer challenging. Keep the idea of progression in the design. In the case of a log, loading pins on the ends of the log allow you to add plates to the log.

  • Is this representative of the equipment I'm emulating?

This is a big one. Suppose you're building a loading pin, but when it is completed you find that it is much too tall. Its so tall that when a handle is attached you can readily grab it from a standing position, making it impossible to do any sort of deadlift style pulling. This also ties into the first point of "will it work".

  • How much will this cost? Will it cost more than just buying the item?

Usually you build something because it is too expensive to purchase. If you're building something that will cost more than just buying it, it's probably not worth it. The exception would be if you're building something because you want an improved design or an added feature that isn't part of the original equipment.

  • Is it an appropriate starting intensity?

Going back to the log example. If you can military press 140lbs but you make a log that weighs 240lbs…doesn't make much sense. Its good to have that long term goal of pressing a 240lb log but rather than start at that weight, build a log that is an appropriate intensity when unloaded but make it capable of being loaded with an extra 100lbs.

  • Can you build it?

If it you build it, they will come. No, I don't mean Kevin Costner, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the voice of Darth Vader. I mean the ambulance. If you aren't confident in the fact that you can build or have built a safe and reliable piece of equipment… DON'T BUILD IT! and if it's already built DON'T USE IT! Get a skilled worker to do the tricky stuff for you or just bite the bullet and buy the item. In the end the risk vs reward is not worth it if there is a chance for personal injury or property damage.

After we've figured out that it is feasible to make this piece of equipment and that we can in fact build it we need to think about what types of material we would like to use.

Material Selection

A few things go into material selection:

1) Is the material strong enough?

If you remember our wooden barbell example, we don't want to build with a weak material. Let me rephrase that, we don't want to try and achieve strength with a material that is not strong in that particular configuration. From a safety standpoint we want as much strength as possible. Steel is the preferable choice because of its strength.

2) Is the material an appropriate weight?

Suppose you read my post about the crosswise brick exercise and decided to give it a shot. You don't want to buy the 'brick' from IronMind because you can get the material to do it for free. In this case material strength is not as big of a factor as the weight is. A solid steel 'brick' would survive nuclear holocaust, too bad we could never lift it from the table. A steel 'brick' will definitely work but it would need to be a hollow, thin walled, piece of steel. Another solution to this problem, a much lighter solution in fact, is to use a piece of wood and some galvanized pipe similar to the photo below.

Wooden Hermann Goerner Brick with a Galvanized Pipe Loading Peg

Hermann-brick-lift.jpg

I'll explain what materials are needed and how to build this particular piece of equipment in Part 3.

3) Is the material easy to work with? Do you have the proper tools?

If you haven't got the tools, or access to them, to work with the material it doesn't make sense to try and make something with that material. Steel is an easy material to work with but not if you don't have a welder or a grinder. Threaded rods and chains can go a long way in the absence of proper metal working equipment. Going back to the idea of making a loading pin we have 2 approaches. We can use a piece of pipe and weld a base onto the pipe OR instead of a pipe you can use a large diameter threaded rod, some large washers or flat piece of steel and some fasteners. The main difference is that the first method requires a welder, the second requires a wrench.

4) Is the material durable and resilient?

Everyone loves the farmer's walk. Suppose you make a pair out of concrete (yes, I have done this). You get tons of weight and you can cast handles into the blocks of concrete and pins onto the ends. It is actually a very easy way to make some heavy farmers handles. However, if the concrete is a bit weak or you use them on a hard surface‚Ķdropping one can cause some damage…to everything. Aside from splitting in two or damaging the surface your using them on, chipping the edges or corners will change the weight of the implement. While it is an easy way to make some farmer's blocks, they're not as resilient as a pair of compressed gas cylinders (no gas of course, filled with water or sand (or both) and with pins welded to the ends).

5) How much does it cost and is it readily available?

If you want to build a log there are pretty much 2 choices, steel or wood. If you have a nice looking tree, the log cost is pretty much zero. If you can get some old compressed gas cylinder, you can make a log relatively cheaply. In this case, assuming you can work equally with both materials, material choice is dependent on what you can get your hands on for the lowest price.

Here's another example. Let's look at a pillar of pain, which is basically a pipe filled with water. My material choice would be a 6" watermain pipe. It's heavy, durable, and easy to work with. You can even make them into a log because the pipe walls are thick enough to support installing a pair of steel handles. However, not all suppliers will sell to the general public and I would not trust that thin wall ABS plastic pipe from the hardware store.

6) Does the material match the purpose?

This ties in with some of the other things I've said but consider this. We're building a hub. We have a couple of choices. We can make it from a piece of steel, copying the IronMind design, or use a hockey puck (rubber). The benefit of the hockey puck is that it is already the right dimensions and it is dirt cheap. The downside is that just about all pucks have a texture. Texture and the rubber gives you an inherent advantage over a steel hub. Steel hubs can be painted to decrease friction or even powder coated like the IronMind version. That gives steel a distinct advantage in terms of the difficulty level you can achieve.

A very good method of material selection that I did not mention is to simply copy what manufacturers use. It worked for them so it will probably work for you. The exception of course is if you can't work with the material, you can't get it, or you can't make it cost efficient by using that material.

In this post we discussed some of the planning and material selection aspects. In the next post I'll be getting into the good stuff, design and construction.

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