Sunday, November 15, 2009


The ancient art of rope-making is a skill that not many people possess anymore.  It’s not really hard to do though once you get your head around the principle.  First you’ll need a a rope-making machine.  Here’s how to build one.  Once you’ve you’ve got one you can whip up lots of rope from light cord to massive hawsers.  It’s actually a lot of fun, especially if you drag a couple of grandkids into it.  You’ll need three people to make a rope.

The Sleds

You are going to build two sleds as shown in the pictures to the right.  They are simple wooden sawhorse-like affairs with skids on the bottom and a seat for the rope turners who act as both rope twisters and ballast.  Build a frame on one end of the sled with a 2 foot by 2 foot flat ¾ inch plywood plate for setting the hooks and cranks.  Build both sleds alike.  One will have 3 hooks and one will only have one. Start with the 3 hook  individual strand twister.  Drill 3 holes at the corners of an equilateral triangle with 10 inch legs.  Make sure it’s centered.  You’ll need room to turn the cranks.

The Strand Twister.

You’ll need 3 steel rods about 12 inches long.  Bend them into a ‘Z’ shape with equal length sections.  The rods must be identical to crank together.  The center section must not be more than 4 inches in length in order to crank freely without bumping into each other.  Insert one end of the “Z” into the three holes in the end plate so the crank part is on the .  Allow them to hang down. 

Next you’ll need to thread about 3 inches of the crank ends so you can bolt the crank plate in place. 

Cut a triangular plywood plate about 12 inches on a side and cut 3 holes 10 inches apart.  They must match the holes in the end plate for this to work.  Thread bolts and washers over the end of the cranks and slip the crank plate over the ends.

Bolt the plate in place with a double nut so the plate will turn freely. 

Finally, you’ll need to a attach a handle to the center of the crank plate in order to turn the hooks.  When you crank the plate, the three hooks will turn together at the same speed.

Now you need to heat and bend the other end of the cranks to make 3 hooks.  These will turn when you crank the opposite end.

The Rope Twister

For this you’ll need another 3/8 in steel rod bent to an identical “Z” as on the first sled.  Drill a hole in the center of the end plate, insert the crank, thread the crank end and screw on some sort of handle.  On the opposite end, bend the rod into a hook facing away from the sled seat.  Now you have the two sleds.  You only need one more tool.


Make another ten inch equilateral plywood triangle with a notch in the center of each side. The spreader separates the strands into their individual parts. 

 Rope-Making Materials

You’ll need nylon or grass/hemp bailing twine from which to make the strands.  Tie one end of the ball to the single hook and start stringing loops back and forth to one of the three hooks.  10 strands of twine per hook is a good thickness to practice on.  It will make a thirty strand rope. 

Depending on the thickness of the rope you want, string an equal number of strands of twine between the single hook and each of the three twister hooks. Fit the spreader board between each strand and push it back next to the single hook.

Tensioning the Strands
You’ll need 3 people to make a rope - one on the 3 strand crank, one on the single hook and one on the spreader board.  Place the sleds about a third farther apart than the length of rope you want to make. Begin cranking the three hooks clockwise as you face the crank.  Continue until the strands become tight and begin to twist.

 While the person on the 3 hook sled keeps steady pressure on the crank, the person on the single hook needs to gently begin turning the single crank counterclockwise rotating toward the same direction the strands were twisted.  As he turns the single hook, the person on the spreader board moves the board toward the three hook sled allowing the rope to twist itself from the single hook end.  Both crankers should keep steady pressure on the cranks turning them so the strands lay themselves naturally and evenly. The tighter you keep the strands twisted as you you put them together, the tighter the rope will lay up and the better quality it will be.

When you’re close to the end, remove the spreader and tighten all the way down.  Wrap the ends of the rope with duct tape to keep it from unraveling or wrap fine cord around the end.  Cut the rope loose from the hooks with a sharp knife and coil it up for storage. 

Make yourself a big old hawser if you want and take it to the next family reunion for the tug of war competition.  Brag on it if you want. After all, who else do you know that can make his own rope.


  1. I made one very similar to this one about 35 years ago - It worked great!

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    Rope Making Machine