I've got to give Kami over at Get Your Mess On! total credit for inspiring this one. If you haven't already, get on over there and check out her blog. She's embraced the tinkering/maker movement robustly and has a lot to show for it.
We were planning to spend a couple days this week horsing around with pulleys, but when I saw Kami's post about building her own rope making machine, I thought it would be awfully cool to start by making our own rope, throw it over a pulley, and see if we could lift something heavy with it.
But to be honest, even after watching video of Kami making rope with her simple hand-held machine and then clicking over to the more detailed tutorial video to which she linked, I was still a little perplexed about how it worked. I started by following her instructions as best I can, making one like hers, and utterly failing to make a rope, but in that failure I learned an important lesson: how it is supposed to work. And I suppose the second thing I "learned" is that this particular style of rope making machine might be a little tricky for my younger preschoolers, so I went into research mode, watched some people in Indonesia making rope, read about a farmer who made one because he hated wasting all his bailing twine scraps, found a dozen sets of instructions, and finally got my mind around what I thought would be the best method for making rope at Woodland Park. (These are the instructions upon which I finally based my rope making machine.)
I'll admit, this one takes a little woodworking skill.
This is the "front" of the machine. I made the hooks from
a wire clothes hanger.
This is the back. One of the things I learned from my first
failure is that all three wire hooks need to be bent exactly
the same way. I did this by cutting 3 pieces of wire, putting
them side by side in a vise and bending them all together,
twice, resulting 3 identical right-angle "Z" shapes. I then
used a needle nosed plier to bend the hooks on the front
side and crimp the backs so they don't slip back
through the holes in the triangle crank.
Another thing I learned from my first failed attempt was the importance of using a "spacer." I used my jig saw to cut this one, although you could use your fingers or just about anything that can hold the 3 strands apart.
I couldn't find any twine around the house and my big ball is already at school, so I decided that my first attempt would have to be made from a plastic bag. I cut three "loops" from a grocery bag and hung them from the hooks.
I was pleased to find that the spacer tended to stay in place
without my holding it. If I was making anything longer than
this, it would be a 2-person job, but this way I could
still turn the crank with my free hand (when I wasn't taking
As you turn the crank, the individual strands twist, becoming
thinner and thinner. There is a balance between keeping too
much tension in the strands and not enough, but before long
the 3 strands start forming rope behind the spacer.
I just kept cranking and inching the spacer toward the
machine until I had a small rope (okay, more like a cord).
I tied a knot in the end I was holding, removed the spacer,
then carefully removed the 3 ends from their hooks, making
sure to not let them unwind. Tied a knot in that end and . . .
This turned out to be just the right length for a kid-sized bracelet. If that's all we make at school this week, I'll be happy with that.