diy barbell and plates

DIY: Training Bar and Plates

You should be able to slide that sleeve over the 1” PVC on the black iron pipe for a smooth fit, and it will spin freely but without much slop. This was a total and absolute accident in the design, but when I discovered that it spun freely I was WAY too excited, and I knew I had to incorporate it into the final design.

DIY Training Bar and Plates

By: Matt Moore, BLOC Staff Coach

As a coach, I have always wanted a lightweight training bar to have in the gym “just in case” I get someone who can’t press/bench with a standard 45lb bar. For the same reason I’ve also wanted some training plates for those who can’t start their Deadlifts or cleans with 135 using standard plates. I also have a rule: Don’t buy things that you won’t have a reason to use or a client to use it with. Since I and a coach, some 10lb or 25lb bumper plates is probably a reasonable purchase, but since I don’t coach full time and I personally wouldn’t use them, I kept putting it off. A buddy of mine convinced his wife to come out to the garage so I could walk her through some lifts and even get into some power cleans, so now that I had the excuse I could either buy the right equipment or attempt to make it myself for pennies on the dollar. I chose the latter. For those of you out there like me who like to DIY, are a little more budget-conscious, are a coach looking for a cheap training bar, or you want something for your kids to play with in the gym with you, this article is for you!

The design can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be depending on how fancy you want to get with it. The design I went with utilizes construction similar to an older York split sleeve barbell and the PVC sleeves actually SPIN which is a pretty cool design feature. All of these items can be bought at your local home center for $50 or less—especially if you already have some of this stuff lying around as scrap. You’ll end up with a Barbell that weighs about 9lbs and two training plates weighing 4.5lbs each. That means you can be cleaning or deadlifting from the floor with as little as 18lbs!!!

Tools List:

          Hacksaw/jigsaw/Oscillating Multi-tool or something to cut PVC down its length

          Drill with 1/8” drill bit and driver set

          2” hole saw or Forstner bit

          Screwdriver

          Mallet (optional, but helpful)

          Welder (100% optional depending on sleeve collar construction)

Barbell Parts list:

          1 – 72” length of ¾” black “iron” pipe (galvanized could probably work too)

          1 – 24” length of 1” PVC

          1 – 24” length of 1-¼” PVC

          1 – 24” length of 1- ½” PVC

          1 – 24” length of 2” PVC (You really only need 2” of this but they sell it in 24” lengths)

          2 – 1” Steel Washers (optional, these are options for the inner collars)

          PVC cement or epoxy (Optional)

          #8 ¾” Sheet metal screws (you’ll need eight at most)

Training plates Parts list:

          2 –  17-¾“ Pine Rounds (You can find these in the wood section back by the dowels and hardwoods in most home centers, I got mine from Home Depot)

 Training Plates (4.5lbs each):

The training plates are the easiest to make BY FAR. Find the center of the pine rounds and drill a 2” hole in the center. That’s pretty much it. If you felt fancy, you could sand them down and stain/paint them but I just left it as is. The Forstner bit I used leaves a pretty clean hole(and some sweet wood shavings), but if you want to use a hole saw instead, I would suggest going about halfway through, then flipping the circle over and finishing the cut that way to get a clean hole. 

The hardest part of this project is finding the absolute center of the circle. You can use a jig called a “center finder” for smaller circles, but unless you take the time to make one for much bigger circles, it’s faster and easier to use a simple geometric proof to your advantage (Didn’t think you’d ever use math again, huh?). Without beating you all over the head with a geometry proof, trust me when I say a perpendicular line drawn from the midpoint of a cord will pass through the center of a circle. So all you need to do to find the center of a circle is to make two of those lines and find out where they intersect (See image). I showed three just to prove my point, but you only need two. On my Pine Rounds I used a carpenter’s square to make 10” cords and also marked 5” for the midpoint. Then, I used the square to draw a perpendicular line from the midpoint on two separate cords to find the center.

 

Training Barbell (9lbs):

Step 1: Clean up the pipe

Start off by cleaning the black crud off of the “black iron” pipe (It’s actually steel). I used Mineral Spirits and a rag which worked okay, it took off most of the greasy stuff that’d get on your hands but still left the bar black. Acetone works a bit better for this application. You can also get it all off with an angle grinder and a wire wheel attachment if you have one. A galvanized pipe would solve this problem, I think, but the black pipe is a little cheaper, and I like the look of raw steel over galvanized pipe.

Step 2: Cut the PVC

Cut down each length of PVC (except the 2” pipe) into two 10” lengths. Cut two 1” wide sections out of the 2” PVC. These parts will make up the sleeves and collars on either side of the barbell. The 10” sleeve lengths will put 52” between the collars (same as my Ohio Power Bar), so you can rack it in a power rack. Then, cut each length of 1” and 1-½” pipe down its length so you can sleeve it over the other pipes later. Leave the 1-¼” pipe alone, though. You won’t need to cut it. There are a few ways you can do this part, but be safe about it. I used a bench vise and a hacksaw to cut mine, and it worked out well. I’ve seen folks use a table saw by clamping a board to the top of the table and feeding the PVC through it, but the pipe has a tendency to pinch together as its cut which is a bad scene on the table saw if the blade gets pinched and the pipe isn’t properly supported.

Once you get the PVC cut, you may want to take some sandpaper to knock down the rough edges of the cuts, but it’s not required.

Step 3: Dry fit the sleeves

The secret sauce of this build is to sleeve the metal pipe with successively larger PVC pipes to get closer to the 50mm (~2”) diameter of an Olympic barbell. The outer and inner diameter of the Black pipe and 1” PVC pipe don’t quite line up perfectly, which is why you cut it in the previous step. Push the end of the pipe in a section of 1” PVC and use a mallet to pound it on flush. 

Repeat on the other side. If you decide to use the steel washers for your inner collars (More on that later), you will want to slide those on before you get both ends on.

Next, use a flathead screwdriver or something to help pry open the cut piece of 1-½” PVC over the 1-¼” PVC and pound it flush with a mallet. 

You should be able to slide that sleeve over the 1” PVC on the black iron pipe for a smooth fit, and it will spin freely but without much slop. This was a total and absolute accident in the design, but when I discovered that it spun freely, I was WAY too excited, and I knew I had to incorporate it into the final design. You don’t have to go through the extra work of the next step, but it’s not that much extra work, and it’s way cooler.

Step 4: Attach sleeves to the shaft

 Option 1 – Fixed sleeves

The easiest solution is to just make the sleeves fixed. If I had to make a bunch of these, it’s probably the way I would go. Take the 1” rings of 2” PVC you cut in step 2 and remove about ¼” of material from the ring so you can clamp it tightly around the sleeve.  You can use PVC cement here, but it’s not needed. Drill 2 to 3 pilot holes through the collar and pipe with the 1/8” drill bit and drive sheet metal screws through to hold it in place.

Option 2 – Rotating sleeves. 

If you’ve ever taken apart a “split sleeve” style York barbell, that’s the inspiration for this design. There’s a “donut” on each end of the bar sleeves that allows it to rotate freely on the bar, and that’s what we will make in this step.

I used 1” steel washers welded to the bar for the innermost collars, but you could easily make these innermost donuts the same way as I made the far ends on mine, it’s just an extra step. 

Drill two 1/8” pilot holes on opposite sides of the pipe. Countersink the hole with a bigger bit so the head of the screw will be just below flush, and hold it into place with sheet metal screws. Mark the orientation of the PVC sleeves with a sharpie, back out the screws, and take the sleeve off. At this point, I recommend putting the screws back in the outer sleeve just to make sure nothing comes apart when you cut it. I used a band saw at this step so I could get a smooth square cut, but you can use a hacksaw for this part too. Just take your time. Cut just enough off the end so there’s enough material to hold the screw in place but small enough to maximize the area of the spinning section of the bar. Before putting the rotating sleeve back onto the bar, use PVC cement or Epoxy to fix a “shoulder” onto the sleeve with some thinner sections of 2” PVC. You can see in the photo below how the final product resembles a York split sleeve bar.


Matt Moore trains and coaches out of his garage gym at his home in Virginia, where he lives with his wife and two dogs. He graduated from Old Dominion University in 2014 with a BS in Applied Mathematics. Matt’s competitive interests are currently with Strongman and Strengthlifting, but he has previous athletic interests in Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, and Football. When he’s not training or coaching, he likes to serve in his local church, and is always busy with one of his many hobbies: anything DIY, woodworking, anything firearm-related, outdoor activities, hunting, skeet/trap shooting, and backpacking.
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For training or more DIY info contact Matt at mmoore@barbell-logic.com

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