There have been many challenges as an American in Japan in the past six years. First of all, finding my size shoes is a challenge at best, and almost impossible at worst. Finding T-shirts that don't suffocate me while not being treated in nonsensical (or at least grammatically wrong) English is another. And let's not even try to find a decent steak.
But I digress, this article is about DIY crafting equipment. I opened my own gym in my city almost a year ago and am the proud owner of one of the few Olympic-style weight sets in the whole city (including the three largest commercial gyms). However, when shopping, prices have raised their ugly heads. Weight sets that would have cost about $ 600 in the U.S. cost 100,000 yen (about $ 1,000) here in Japan – before shipping! I spent most of what I could afford and got the best set I could. Hey, heavy lifters are rare in Japan and rarer in the country. Almost everything has to be imported and the prices are high.
Fast forward to last month and I've worked on my squats. I was very happy to achieve a personal best (after ACL surgery) of 210 kilograms (about 463 pounds) when I noticed that my bar, though not failing, contained what I considered to be an excessive amount of “Flex Would designate. Since this was my only bar for the gym, it wouldn't be a good idea to shred the damn thing in half. So I went back to my weight set documentation and checked my bar capacity. Open the correct page and read "Recommended maximum weight: 200 kilograms". Ooooops. What do I do now? I want to get even heavier, but if I do that, I can just shear off the ends of my bar. It seemed time to buy a new bar.
Here the prices have raised their ugly heads again. When I checked the prices for a high-capacity bar, the cheapest one I could find was over 50,000 yen ($ 500). A good quality bar like an Ivanko bar would cost over 100,000 yen (USD 1,000). To be perfectly honest, I just couldn't afford the damn things. As a former military officer who did his fair share of “MSU Ops” (Making Sh ** Up Operations), I decided to build my new bar myself.
The most important part is of course the heart of the bar, the core bar itself. After reading a number of very informative (and often fun) articles by Dr. Ken Leistner (no stranger to the DIY iron game itself), I knew I wanted to get cold rolled steel. The helpful employees of the Osaka Stainless Steel Company in Osaka, Japan entered. In cooperation with their representatives, we finally decided on a cold-rolled hardened steel bar with a diameter of 38 mm and a length of 250 cm (about 8 feet, which is longer than your normal bar – it is the one in the photo above). And it was really a good price too, just about a hundred dollars including delivery.
I chose the rod with a larger diameter (38 mm in contrast to the standard rod with 28 mm) for several reasons. Although I knew that the bar I got was cold rolled, it was not a guarantee that it was as strong as the steel used in a high quality commercial bar. These extra millimeters of steel could be useful. Second, the additional diameter could also be useful as a grip aid. While it's not a true fat bar in the 2-inch or higher category, this extra half-inch value will still challenge grip on deadlifts and other moves.
So I had my "heart", now I needed the finishing touch. A quick trip to a local hardware store made me run the pipes over the ends of my bar, a set of 50 cm long water pipes with a diameter of 1.5 inches. With an inside diameter of 39mm and an outside diameter of 49mm, I couldn't ask for a better fit if I had ordered the damn things made to measure. Since this rod is intended for power lifts and not for Olympic lifts, I did not need bushings or bearings or the like. I was able to attach the tubes directly to the pole without the need for twisting.
Using a series of high strength epoxies, I was able to easily attach the tubes to the ends of the bar (although I would have liked to weld them on, I have neither the ability nor access to a welding set). Use an old set of screw collars to work as my inner collars and TA-DA! The animal is unleashed!
I can tell you so far this thing is a stone on my back. Pulling out on squats was like having a straight laser line over my shoulders, even when I was fully loaded, and even trying to hop the top of some squats just to see if I could bend the bar at all . As an added bonus, the extra bar width felt a little more comfortable on my shoulders and spread the weight a bit wider over the back muscles.
So don't despair if you find yourself in a similar situation. Although I doubt that few readers will be in a non-English speaking foreign country where there is no large heavy lifting community, you may find yourself in a situation where your finances are not quite up to the commercial price of the equipment available or shipping and other costs make DIY work useful and worthwhile. If you choose the DIY jump, here are some tips I want to share with you.
Shopping spree. I checked over a dozen different sources (online and over the phone) before choosing the bar that I bought. Research. Check the dimensions, thickness, and other information about the commercially available products that you are emulating or that you want to create a template from. Even if your build is unique due to your circumstances, you will find out as much information as possible. Build over. If you're not a master metalworker or fabricator, or know someone who is, your welds and materials may not be as foolproof as the commercial ones. Let's face it, York, Ivanko and the others stayed in business and did what they do because they build good things and know how to put them together. You're not (yet?) So good. So build over if you can. If the desired commercial rack has box walls with a thickness of 2 mm, get a thickness of 3 mm if you can. If you need something that can handle £ 500, build something that can handle £ 750. It could be a bit more expensive (hey, I could have built the BEAST for about three quarters of the price I would have done if I had exactly copied commercial measurements), but the added safety factor helps me sleep better at night. Try it. Put it through its paces, but do it slowly. Just because you might want to build something that can hold up to 1000 pounds, don't just hit 1000 pounds on the thing the first time. Take it in slowly and see what it can do.
In any case, I hope that this also encourages you to make your own beast mode gear for your own needs. Did you build your own equipment? What did you build and what did you learn? Please share in the comments below.