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Project Information


I first saw a picture of a rope machine in a book of projects for kids. At the time I passed it over and handed the book on to my wife, who also worked with children. She purchased a rope machine at a weaving store and found that kids loved it. They were intrigued with choosing the yarn colors and then watching them blend as the rope twisted itself together. With two kids working on it, the finished rope could be cut in half, giving each child a piece to take home. After my wife's success, I began using the rope machine in my shop class. It was so popular, we wore it out and I decided to make one from the directions in the book.

The instructions were marginal and the machine never worked smoothly, so I set out to "do it right," purchasing hardwood, bronze bearings, shafts, and hooks. This time the resulting machine not only didn't work, but was so heavy only a bionic child could lift it. About this time, my brother dropped by and reminisced, "Dad made a rope machine for me when I was a kid. He used coat hangers for the hooks." This made sense. While coat hangers are strong, they are also flexible in just the right place. The following instructions detail how to build this rope machine patterned after the 1950s model built by my father for his son, in the spirit of the times, from materials around the house.

Rope made from yarn

This rope machine works on the same principle as rope walks of Tall shop days. It's a good activity to go along with boat building at boat shows, as well as for home, scouts, schools, and children's museums. Everyone will be amazed as the rope winds itself together. Third graders can learn to make rope by themselves. Younger kids will need more supervision. The hardest part of making rope is keeping the yarn from getting tangled or untangling it after it's tangled.

Here is the rope machine set up and ready to make rope.

For materials you basically need three feet of 1 X 2 and a coat hanger plus some big nails and a scrap of wood for the "anchor".


The rope machine is made up of a handle (the long piece), a crank (the short piece) and three wire hooks. The crank turns the three wire hooks. Each hook twists a separate bundle of yarns. After the bundles are tightly twisted, they're drawn through two nails (the anchor) and allowed to unwind. As they unwind, the separate bundles twist together and make one strand of rope.

1. Make the handle about 26" long. Round edges and corners with Surform and sand.

2. Make the crank about 10" long. If you have 5/4" for this it will be a little easier to hold.
3. Lay out the location of the three holes in the handle. The holes should start about 5" from the end, and be 4" apart.

4. Drill the holes using an 1/8" bit. Make sure the holes are drilled as straight as possible.
5. The holes in the crank are next. They must exactly match the holes in the handle. Place the crank on the handle. Center it over the holes, and clamp it in place. Mark the hole positions in the crank by poking a nail through the already drilled holes (in the handle) and tapping it a couple times. Separate the crank and handle and drill the holes.
6. Cut three 8" wires for the hook/turning mechanisms. Smooth the jagged ends with a file.

7. Make a jig to insure the bends in three wires come out with the same dimensions. The jig is just three nails set in three corners of a 2" square. On a piece of scrap.

8. Bend the wire. I usually do the first wire, and let kids do the others. Lay the 8" wire in the jig as shown in (above). The top end of the wire should start near the top edge of the board. Then make the first and second bends sharply around the nails. Remove the wire from the jig, and gently correct the bends to a 90 degree angle.
9. Assemble the crank, the handle, and the wires (below).

Install the long end of one wire into each hole on the handle. Slide the crank over the shorter end of the wires. Before bending the hooks and stops, (the next step) hold the handle and turn the crank. It should rotate smoothly. The flexibility of the wire should compensate for the holes being a bit off or the wires not being quite the same. If the handle doesn't rotate freely, go back and figure out why. Is one of the holes at a weird angle? Is one of the wires noticeably different from the others? Are the distances between the holes different? Once the crank will turn freely, go on to the next step.

10. Bend the wires so there will be hooks sticking out of the handle and stops on the back of the crank to keep it from falling off. The stop on the back of the crank has two 90 degree bends. The hook on the handle side is a 45 degree

bend and then a series of short bends to make something resembling a hook. I use two pair of pliers. Again, I'll demonstrate how to do the first wire and let the student try the other two.

11. Use two nails of the bending jig for the "anchor". The purpose of the anchor is to hold the other end of the yarn as it is being twisted by the rope machine.


Making rope takes two people. One cranks the rope machine and the other pulls the rope out after the yarn is twisted. When making rope for the first time, an adult will probably need to string the machine and demonstrate how to pull the completed rope through the anchor.


You'll need 3 balls or skeins of medium weight yarn. The more color choices you have the more interesting and varied the rope will be. Children love variegated yarn and bright colors.


1. Clamp the anchor to a tabletop. Have the kids choose three different colored yarns. Put each skein of yarn in a different container (so they won't get tangled up) on the floor under the rope machine. Tie the three yarns together with an overhand knot.

2. Position two kids about 6 to 10 feet from the anchor. Both children can help hold the rope machine while you are stringing it up. The hooks should face the anchor.
3. Pick up the yarns (they're tied together) and tie them to the closest hook.

4. Starting from hook #1, run the yarn as indicated (below).

Have the kids keep a bit of tension on the rope machine and hold it parallel to the anchor.

5. After you have passed the yarn around hook #3, run it back around both anchor nails (as if they were one) and back to your starting point, hook #1, cut it and tie it to the hook. You are ready to make rope!


Start cranking clockwise and continue in the same direction. Keep an even tension on the yarn. As the yarn twists tighter, the operator has to move slowly toward the anchor while still keeping tension on the yarn. Once the three strands have a tight twist and before the twisted strands begin to kink, stop cranking and go on to the next step.


1. Insert your fingers behind the nails (below) and pull the rope toward you.

The rope machine

2. After you have pulled the rope out about a foot, pinch it off with your other hand just behind the nails.

3. Let go with the first hand (left hand in the drawing), and as the three strands unwind, they will twist themselves together into one piece of rope. This is the part everyone likes best. Smooth any kinks out of the newly made rope as you go along.

4. As you pull the rope out, your helper holding onto the crank must walk slowly forward, maintaining an even tension on the yarn. Kids catch on quickly with practice.

5. After all the rope has been drawn out, slip the yarn off the hooks. Tie the ends together with an overhand knot to prevent them from unraveling.

6. Cut the rope into two pieces, one for each rope maker, and again tie off the ends with an overhand knot or the rope will unravel. Find some kids and give it a try, you will be glad you did.


More complete plans are available on my website:



6,833 Posts
Neat idea and well done.

On the farm we used to make rope from used baler twine. We did have a mechanical machine that was 3 wheels geared to do the same thing that you are doing. We always had plenty of shorter ropes for the utility things around the farm.

1 Posts
I think your link to your site is wrong, is there supposed to be an 's' at the end of "woodshop4kid"?

27 Posts
Yes, there is suppose to be and 's' at the end of my link, so its:

thank you for letting me know


Premium Member
11,557 Posts
That is cool! Thanks for sharing.

88 Posts
Very Cool! Thank you for sharing this with us and passing on the tradition!