By Bob Greenwood and Judi Stevens – Did you ever need a rope to tie a gate, make a halter, tie down a load or make a lead rope? Why not make your own? With a few simple tools and supplies, you can make just about any size or color rope you want. Anyone with livestock usually has to feed hay and as a result will have an abundance of used twine that is usually tangled around the feet, draped over a fence or a problem to dispose of. If used twine is not available, new twine can be purchased for a small charge and in a variety of colors. The machinery for making rope can vary from the simplest to the very complex. I will deal with the basics and anyone wanting to make rope can design these rope-making machine plans to fit their purpose.
Rope-Making Machine Plans
The basic tools needed will be a drill and 3/8″ bit, hammer, adjustable wrench, hacksaw, and a torch would be helpful but not necessary. The supplies needed to execute basic rope-making machine plans are four feet of 1/4″ redi rod, 14-1/4″ nuts, 14-1/4″ washers, about 14″ of 3/8″ OD tubing, a small bolt that will fit into the bearing, leaving enough to bend a hook. A piece of 1/2″ plywood 1′ square and a board about a foot wide. The board could be a fence board or just a board that could be fastened to something. You will also need a small Y-shaped, peeled limb about 2″ x 2″ x 6″. The forks should be between 1/2″ and 3/4″ in diameter.
Now that we have the supplies, let’s get started. If you want a permanent location for the rope-making machine, plan enough room to make the length of rope that you want. A rope will usually shrink about 10 percent in the making. Clamp the plywood to the board and drill three holes in a triangle pattern about 4″ on a side. It is very important that the holes are drilled at right angles to the board. Mark the plywood and board so that the holes are always matched. The next step is to cut and bend the rods, see Figure 1. It is important to have the rods bent at exactly 90 degrees and the offsets be the same length. The torch can be helpful in this. The offsets should be about 1″ less than the distance of the holes in the plywood. The third rod is cut longer so as to make the crank. The tubing is cut into seven pieces, three pieces 1/4″ longer than the thickness of the board, three pieces 1/4″ longer than the thickness of the plywood and the last about 6″ long. The rods are assembled as shown in Figure 2 making sure that the mark on the plywood and the mark on the board are in line. It would probably be best if the holes were reamed a bit before the assembly to prevent binding due to a slight difference in length of the rod offsets and a slight difference in the hole angle. After assembly, a hook is bent on each rod. For the crank handle, you can bore a hole in a large dowel or even use a large corn cob. This takes care of one end of the rope, now for the other end.
Once you start to twist the three strands together the end of the rope must be allowed to turn. To do this insert the small bolt into the bearing and bend a hook on the hook. The large tube is flattened on one end and a hole is made in the flattened part. The bearing is then inserted into the tube so that the hook extends. The tube is then crimped so that the bearing cannot be pulled out. See Figure 3. This takes care of the equipment, now let’s set it up.
The main assembly can be tied to homestead fencing, nailed to a tree, fastened across a doorway or most any place that is about waist high and solid. The device at the other end of the rope has to be movable due to the shortening of the rope when the strands are twisted. This can be accomplished by tying it to a movable object.
You can also use two pulleys and a rope fastened to an adjustable weight, possibly a bucket of sand, Figure 4. My wife and I have made rope in a variety of places and needed something that was portable. I made a triangle device with two wheels and a drag where weight can be added. Now it’s time to make rope.
Once you determine how long you want your rope to be, set up the movable end that distance from the fixed end plus about 10 percent. Start your rope by tying one end of the twine to one of the three hooks then taking the twine around the moveable hook then back to another of the three hooks. Repeat this process until you have the number of twines in each strand that you desire. If you want to mix the colors of twine of a different size, the size of the strand is more important than the number of twines. When you have the size that you want, secure the bearing at the movable end so that it cannot turn. This can be done with a piece of wire.
Begin twisting the strands. As you twist the twines, the movable end will begin to move closer to the fixed end. The larger the rope the more weight you will need on the moveable end and experience will tell you how much. There must be enough weight to prevent the twisted strand from kinking but not too much as it will prevent the strands from twisting enough. Twist the strands until they feel tight while twisting with your fingers, and again, experience will tell you how tight to twist the strands.
Insert the forked limb between the strands at the movable end. Hold the limb and release the bearing so that it will turn freely. Have someone continue twisting the strand while you control the rate of twist with the limb keeping the twist in the individual strands constant. This will become easier with practice. When all three strands have been completely twisted together wrap the ends of the rope with twine or wire, then cut it free of the machine.
If you used plastic twine and wrapped it with wire, melt the end and slowly twist the wire off before the plastic becomes hard. Caution! Do not let the hot plastic touch your skin, it is hot and it sticks.
My wife and I enjoy experimenting with different colors of twine, you never know what you will get until you begin the final twist. Using twines of a different size can cause problems due to the difference in shrink as they twist. With experience, you will learn what twines will work together and what ones won’t.
To determine the approximate strength of your rope, multiply the number of twines in your rope by the tensile strength of the twine that you are using. Most bale twines for large round bales are about 100-pound tensile. A rope with 30 strands would have a tensile of about 3,000 pounds.
To make your rope even more useful loops can be woven into the ends. Tie a twine around the rope about 6″ from the end. Each strand is allowed to unwind but the twines are not allowed to separate. Melting can again be used. The rope is then folded back giving the size of loop desired. The separated strands are then worked under one strand and over the next in the opposite direction that the rope is twisted until completed. Ropes may be spliced in a similar manner.
Originally published in Countryside March / April 2003 and regularly vetted for accuracy.