Once again, my inability to weld has led me to some creative solutions for making strongman equipment, and I want to share my process with you. This is a loadable circus dumbbell, so on the plus side it’s adjustable, but as a negative you will need some weight plates to make this work. The whole project will take like 30 minutes, and it’s cheap, so what have you got to lose?
For this project, I used the following materials.
-A 3’ length of 1.5” galvanized steel pipe (threaded on the ends)
-2 home depot 5 gallon buckets
-2 home depot 5 gallon bucket lids
-A 1¾ hole saw drill bit attachment
-1 roll of gorilla tape
The very first step for me was to clean out the family of black widow spiders that had been nesting inside of my steel pipe, because I’ve had it in my garage for 2 years after I had saved the 3’ of pipe left behind after having a 10’ pipe cut to 7’ to make an axle (oh hey, BTW, you should totally make an axle with your leftover pipe).
Assuming you have a less horrific starting point, the first thing you want to do is drill a hole in each bucket using your hole saw. We’re drilling a 1.75” hole instead of a 2” hole because we want a SNUG fit with the pipe. I like the home depot buckets because they have a nipple indentation on the dead center of the bottom of the bucket, which makes aligning the hole saw easy. Use that as your starting point.
Turn the bucket upside down so that you are drilling down on the outside of the bottom of the bucket. When you finish, you should have a clean hole like in the photo I’ve included.
After you’ve drilled the buckets, do the same to the bucket lids. Again, the home depot ones have an indentation on them. Use that.
PHASE II: ELBOW GREASE
Now comes the fun part: getting the buckets onto the pipe. Hopefully your pipe is threaded, because if it’s not, I don’t even know how you’re going to do this. My pipe was only threaded on one end, so I had to get extra creative.
Place the bucket upside down so that the newly drilled hole is on the top, facing you. Take the pipe and push it into the hole. You’re going to need to angle it a touch, because your goal is for the threading to grab onto the inside rim of the hole. Once it’s snag, you’re going to need to apply downward pressure and twist like a sunuvabitch.
Fair warning, this really torqued my right elbow something fierce. It’s going to be an awesome forearm workout, and you may want to chalk up first. However, this snugness is what we’re aiming for, so keep at it. Once you get past the threaded part, the bucket should be able to slide a little more smoothly up and down the pipe. Do this on both sides, so that there is a bucket on either side of the pipe.
You’re going to want the buckets to slide down enough such that there is about an inch of pipe sticking out of the bucket’s top. The goal here is to allow the pipe to pass through the hole in the lid we drilled earlier, so that the bucket is stable on the pipe, so clearance is good.
PHASE III: TAPE, PLATES, AND COLLARS
Like most of my projects, we need gorilla tape. This is going to be just like making collars on an axle: start wrapping tape where the bottom of the bucket contacts the pipe. The goal here is to prevent the buckets from sliding down the pipe toward your hand while you’re pressing the bell, so you can’t be too stingy.
Once you’ve tapped both sides, it’s time to load up your bell. The home depot buckets are the exact right diameter for 25lb plates (at least, the ones I use). It’s actually such a perfect fit that they will create something of a vacuum on their way in. It won’t actually hit the bottom of the bucket, but will instead hang out around the middle. I put 2 25lb plates per side, which created a 112.5lb bell. You’ll probably want to weigh your bell empty to figure out what you’re dealing with.
Once you’ve got the weight in, you’re going to want to secure it so that it doesn’t slide around the pipe while you are training. I used some Rogue locking collars. They kind of worked, but mine are old and toward the end of my session the plates slid a bit. My plan is to (surprise) put some gorilla tape on the other side of the pipe backing the locking collar to get things a little more secure. I could also just slap some more collars on there I’m sure.
PHASE IV: FINISHED PRODUCT AND NOTES
Once you’ve got the bell as heavy as you want, slide the bucket lids on the pipe. This should also be a snug fit, but it won’t be as terrible as before since the lids are so thin. You can pretty much just crunch them onto the pipe. Lock the lids securely onto the bucket (they snap in place). From here, you’re good to go!
-Type of lid clearance we're talking about
-This isn't actually the finished product. This is just before the taping portion. But it gives you an idea of the general size we're dealing with.
I’ve used this for 1 training session before, and managed 10 reps with no real issues. That said, here are a few thoughts regarding training with this versus a real bell.
-Be aware of if the plates have come loose on the pipe. The first few cleans, I had no issues. Once the plates got loose though, things got chaotic.
-Remember, the buckets aren’t holding the plates, the pipe is. This means you don’t really have to worry about the buckets falling apart while the bell is overhead. At the same time though, I wouldn’t drop this bell.
-This thing HURTS. The plastic isn’t smooth, nor is it really soft. Catching this thing on the shoulder is going to beat it up a bit. I suppose if you were really spiffy you could cover the bell in carpet padding and gorilla tape, much like I did with my log diameter increasing project.
Additionally, here are some ways you could improve the product if you were so inclined.
-Buy some 2” rubber stoppers and screw them onto the exposed ends of the threaded pipe. Not only will this prevent black widows from biting you while you train, but it’s another way to keep the lid secured to the bucket, and it means less chance of slicing yourself on the threading.
-Once everything is secure, just gorilla tape the crap out of the buckets. Keeps things stable, and makes it a little bit softer on your shoulders. Might even increase the structural integrity a bit.
-Put a physical barrier between the plates and the lids. I was thinking something like a pillow/packing material. Something light weight that will keep things in place.
Good luck, godspeed, and remember: I cannot be held liable if you choose to follow my terrible advice. I wish you a future of bruised shoulders and smashed PRs.