Derby Makers

The heart of Derby's Maker community



The idea for the Ropemaker wasn’t mine, I saw one that someone else had made at a Cub Scout event I was supporting with Rolls-Royce. I was impressed with how well everyone (adults as well as children) was engaging with this, everyone wanted a go and everyone wanted their own piece of rope, even if they had no idea what they would use it for. Simple instructions for how to make your own Ropemaker were being handed out so I took a copy :

Ropemaker Build Instructions

Ropemaker Build Instructions

I decided to have a go at making one for myself, naively thinking it might take half a day or so. In fact it took nearly all of a long weekend to get the main pieces measured, cut out and fitted together, and even then it didn’t work very well, and took quite a lot more fettling to get the mechanism running smoothly. And then a lot more time playing with it, working out how to get good results. It’s been a lot of fun getting it working, but it’s been even more fun taking it to events (Scouts, Derby Makers, various Silk Mill events including the Maker Faire) and seeing people react to it. Hopefully if we can get more Ropemakers out there even more people will be able to enjoy this.


In terms of making rope, apart from the basics on the original instructions sheet (above), the key things we’ve learned are :

  1. Wind clockwise to match the twist of the wool/string/fibres.
  2. Maintain a steady tension in the strands as they’re wound.
  3. As the strands twist together they shorten and pull the person holding the end towards the Ropemaker.
  4. The maximum number of winds is until the twisted strands are just about to “bobble”. Once it’s bobbled it’s almost impossible to unbobble without unwinding, so you’ll end up with lumps in your rope.
  5. Winding as much as this gives a really dense rope. For a softer, more tactile rope, don’t wind as much.
  6. Once winding is complete and you’re about to start drawing the twisted strands into rope, attach a separate piece of string to the end knot (using a hook on the end of this secondary string makes this easy) and take up the tension at the far end of the secondary string. As you draw the paddle towards the Ropemaker and the strands twist themselves into rope, the end knot can rotate freely giving a really uniform consistency of twist.
  7. Keep winding the handle to put more twist in the rope as the paddle is being drawn along.
  8. Don’t draw the paddle along too quickly or else the rope will be loose wound; ideally you should feel the paddle being pushed along by the twist in the strands.
  9. When you’ve drawn the paddle right up to the Ropemaker, remember to hold the end of the rope as you’re cutting off the strands from the hooks, and to tie a knot in the end straight away.
  10. Once you have your rope with a knot at each end, Whipping Twine can be used to put a neat detail on each end.

If you build your own Ropemaker, I hope you have as much fun with it as I continue to have with mine.







Bill of Materials

  • This is what I used to build mine, an infinity of other choices are possible!

Frame :

  • Base : Wood, 350 x 300 x 15 mm (1 off)
  • Front : Wood, 320 x 320 x 15 mm (1 off)
  • Sides :   Wood, 320 x 300 x 15 mm (2 off)
  • Brackets : Steel Angle, 50 x 22 x 22 (10 off, cut from slotted steel angle strip)
  • Bolts : 25 mm M5 slotted head screws (30 off)
  • Nuts : M5 plain nuts (30 off)
  • Washers : OD 12 mm, ID 6 mm (60 off)

Mechanism :

  • Shafts : Medium tent pegs (3 off)
  • Handle Base :  Wood, 200 x 200 x 15 mm (1 off)
  • Handle Arm : Wood dowel, 12 mm (diameter) (1 off)
  • Blocks : Wood, 100 x 50 x 12 mm (6 off)
  • Bolts :  45 mm M5 slotted head screws (6 off)
  • Nuts :  M5 plain nuts (6 off)
  • Washers :  Steel, OD 12 mm, ID 6 mm (12 off)
  • Washers :  Nylon, OD 19 mm, ID 6mm (6 off)
  • Jubilee Clips :  Small, to suit Shaft diameter (6 off)

+ Various small screws, scraps of wood, short strips of rubber etc

+ Strip Wood for Paddle

+ Small clamp to attach machine to work surface


Thoughts :

  • If the Shafts are installed through plain holes in the Front and then bent into shape, much of the mechanism isn’t needed; however, if the Shafts are pre-bent, to ensure consistency, then slots will be needed in the Front, hence the need for the Blocks etc, to provide round holes for the Shafts to rotate in
  • The Front width needs to be sized so that the Handle Base is free to rotate through 360o so choosing the size of the Handle Base sets the size of all other components
  • I think the small retaining Jubilee Clips on each end of each Shaft are a poor solution, but they work just well enough that I haven’t needed to find an alternative but I’d love to hear of one!
  • The Handle Arm tends to come off, but I quite like this; it’s better for storage, and adds an element of surprise for a first time user!
  • It would be great to put in an electric motor rather than a manual handle (I have thought about a cordless drill or screw driver linked via a pulley/belt drive to the 3 cranks – I just need to make the time to try it!)

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