16-Bobbin Rope Braiding Machine Inspired by Surplus Store Find

When the Red Bull Creation build days were past, [David] pulled us aside and asked if we wanted to see the mechanical hack he’s been working on. He built this rope braiding machine, which uses 16 bobbins, with help from his brother [Jed].

Ideas for projects always come from funny places. [David] came up with this one after finding a rope braiding machine at Ax-man Surplus. This outlet, located in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota) has been the origin for innumerable hacks. Just one that comes to mind is this electric scooter project from the ’90s.

[David] wanted to understand how the mechanism, which divides the bobbins up into groups of orbiting spools, actually works. It’s both mesmerizing and quite tough to visualize how it works without really getting in there and looking at the gearing. Thankfully you can do just that if he follows through with his plan to turn this into a kit.

In case you don’t recognize him, [David] was on the 1.21 Jigawatt’s team during this year’s Creation. We’ve also seen a couple of hacks from him in the past like this half-tone drum printer, and this bicycle frame welding jig.


  1. brownieman says:

    sweet mary! lets get those womenz out of the kitchen and building robots!

  2. strider_mt2k says:

    Oh what a tangled web we weave…

  3. zakqwy says:

    Always good to see Ax-man pop up in an article. Their stores are an absolute treasure, definitely a required stop for anyone visiting the Twin Cities.

  4. mrasmus says:

    Used to have a larger-scale one of these in my scout troop that we would take to events and have for little kids to come make rope — fixed-length at the start of construction (you ran twine back and forth and hooked it into the machine, then tied it off, IIRC), not spool-feeding like these, but you’d string it up (we usually started with a 10′ distance between the machine and the end block, held by someone to achieve manual tension) and then give the kid a little split fork thing to tighten the weave as it was constructed (pulling up at the join point — important, as it was joining the rope at a much narrower angle than this machine achieves, due to the length of the twine. It was a lot of fun, and actually made pretty great rope for campsite utility stuff (though looking back it was probably way more expensive than buying similar rope outright). Very fun, and useful even!

  5. Dzl says:

    Cool project!
    Also had a go at this some time ago. Results here:


  6. I have made rope by hand for my ballista and wondered how hard would it be to build a rope machine. I now want to make one that handle 1000′ spools of para cord.

  7. Larger Scale there’s Rope Walk museum at Chatham Dockyard in England. http://youtu.be/2M5mo2I2c0Q and this one: http://youtu.be/yjMbFFhqFDY

  8. Hirudinea says:

    Hmmmmm, wonder if you could use this to make your own network cables?

  9. vintage buff says:

    use this idea and feed a bundle of wires along with this device and make your own cloth coated cables.

    • pcf11 says:

      I’ve had a couple of cars with cloth covered wiring harnesses. They needed to be completely rewired. Needless to say I’m not a huge fan of cloth covered cabling today.

  10. kjkrum says:

    We had a large-scale version of this in our Navy/Marine avionics shop. It was meant for putting cloth or metal braids on wiring harnesses. But mostly we put people’s uniforms through it as a prank.

  11. Even more large scale are the carbon fibre braiding machines. For making large scale parts, like Formula 1 race car bodies, fighter jets, etc. http://youtu.be/VbYWd6NXAXk and this one too: http://youtu.be/zOhj7X1-x10

  12. tomh says:

    Anybody ever hear of Litz Wire? The “golden eared” audio crowd would go nuts over it.

  13. Does anyone have a schematic for this machine? i need to build a similar braiding machine for a project I’m working on. also the use of a hoop and bungie or elastic would solve most of the issues i saw in the video. I’m planning to make a version of this to harvest spider silk. please let me know if you have any useful schematics.

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