In terms of physical length, this ought to be the longest entry so far and by far. Unfolding below is a full pictorial over how I designed and implemented a power rack and heavy-duty bench in my forest gym in Finland. The process turned into a long one and, as a result, some of this information can be found scattered over the archives. This is an attempt to pull that already told together with the final word in the hopes that it might be useful to someone somewhere sometime. Before we get on with it, let me just make it crystal clear that I am not an engineer. I did consult some people in the know about a few details, but generally speaking, this walkthru makes no pretence to be the right way. In fact, if you think I took a wrong turn somewhere your comment could save another home gym maker from following in my would-be footsteps. Let’s roll!
Built in 1996, my second wooden squat rack had served me well as a bodybuilder. Now, this focal point of Toffe’s Gym was about to be replaced by a powerlifter’s best friend, Mr. Rack, and his sidekick, Mr. Bench. For further reference, note the stone lying to the right of the rack.
You got to begin somewhere. In my case, figuring a welder can’t be too hard to find, I decided to first secure the iron. For a mere fourth of the retail price, I found everything I needed at the local junk yard. The iron was covered with a thin layer of surface rust, but my uncle, who knows about these things, assured me that it would be as good as new. After having thought over the design during a few weeks away from Toffe’s Gym (see the inspiration appendix), I returned to the junkyard with a grocery list in my pocket and our neighbor’s trailer behind my parents’s car. I knew the length of material I needed, but picked the actual dimensions on spot based on what was available. As I laid my eyes on some massive 100x150mm/3.9x5.9″ pipe, I got inspired to make a monstrous bench capable of supporting a tank or two. Another customer told me he was going to use the same thing as the main support beam of a large roof. The junk yard guy was kind enough to cut the material according to my specs. The edges basically consisted of melted iron as he used gas, but he made sure there was a reasonable safety margin on every piece.
The loot. From right to left: 100x150mm/3.9x5.9″ pipe (10mm/0.4″ wall thickness) for the main frame of the bench, several pieces of 60x60mm/2.4x2.4″ pipe (3mm/0.1″ wall thickness) for the power rack frame, two pieces of 30mm/1.2″ iron rod for the safety pins, a 60 mm/2.4″ wide strip for the rack hook, a 120mm/4.7″ wide strip for the bench legs and a piece of 80x80mm/3.2x3.2″ pipe (5mm/0.2″ wall thickness) for the rack hooks. Total price 140 euros, or 174 US dollars according to the current weak dollar rate.
One of the big question marks was what kind of flooring the rack should have. After considering everything from concrete to a strip of asphalt road, I decided to sink the sides of the rack into concrete and build a wooden floor around it. This would entail renewing the flooring every few years, hence I got treated wood to get the most out of it. I returned from the lumber yard with 155x55mm/6.1x2.2″ support beams for 3 euro per meter/3.2 feet and 97x20mm/3.8x0.8″ floor boards at a discounted price of 0.8 euro per meter/3.2 feet. Paid 40 euro for all 50 meters/164 feet of wood, but later picked up some more beams to correct a slight miscalculation on my part.
Now it was a simple matter to draw blueprints for the welder. I wanted the rack to be tall enough for standing overhead presses, deep enough to cater for more spacious movements like good mornings (but no more as to keep the rack as sturdy as possible) and completely open-base (I don’t like obnoxious racks who think they can tell me how wide I can go on squats and sumo deadlifts). In practice, this meant a height of 2.6m/8.53 feet (out of which 30cm/11.81″ would go underground) and a depth of 0.7m/27.6″ between the uprights. The number of holes in the drawing is not accurate, but a note was made that they should be drilled every 3cm/1.2″ beginning at 50cm from the bottom (note that the drawing says 60cm, but I changed this later) to about 30cm from the top. To keep rain out, the welder was asked to cover the open ends with pieces of the 60mm wide strips. Contrary to the blueprint, the final diameter of the support pin holes was 31mm/1.2″; a perfect fit for the 30mm/1.1″ pins.
The blueprint of the rack hooks that left Einstein speechless… If you look past all the nitty-gritties, the concept is simple: one side of a 80x80mm/3.2x3.2″ pipe is sawed off with a piece of 60mm metal welded on the inside to make for a snug fit around the uprights, a hook of 60mm strip is welded to it and a final hole drilled through it to accommodate for the pin that locks it to the rack. Then make another one for it takes two to tango.
The bench was a straightforward affair: the main frame is made of 100x150mm/3.9x5.9″ pipe, the horizontal support from the 120mm/4.7″ wide strip and the extensions for bolting the padding to the bench of the 60mm wide strip. The length of the bench frame is 1.2m/47.3″ and the height 42cm/16.6″. At the bottom of the blueprint, the welder is also asked to saw the thick rods into two 95cm/37.4″ pieces (for the safety pins) and two 15cm/5.9″ pieces (for the rack hooks) with a 6cm long piece of some appropriate piece welded on each at one of the ends to keep the rods from sliding through.
Material and blueprints don’t make a rack any more than they make chili con carne. Perhaps it was a bit haphazard to purchase the material before getting a welder to agree to the job, but at least I didn’t risk becoming totally rackless by tearing down the old squat rack before I had my man. I first discussed the welding with my uncle and cousin, both of whom can weld well, but they agreed that this was a job best done by a professional armed with a MIG welder. As I was contemplating where I could find me a welder who would agree to drag both himself and his equipment out to the island, I learned that our new cottage neighbor had his own construction company. My dad had contracted him to replace the windows on the main house and, as it turned out, he readily agreed to have one of his welders come over to weld the rack and bench. Not much later the old squat rack went down.
The vengeance of the Ice Age made sure I wasn’t bored while waiting for the welder to show up. A small rock next to the deceased squat rack was lying in the way of the rack floor and had to go. Did some digging around it, a task made tedious by the unfortunate amount of surface roots. Then dug some more. And some more. After a lot of work a huge boulder was finally uncovered. Talk about the tip of an iceberg! After briefly considering various options for chopping off the obnoxious tip of the rock (including dynamite as I have a demolition license), I decided to apply plain old brute force. I managed to budge it a bit with an iron bar and a lever, but it took a winch fastened to a nearby tree and the help of my dad to get it out of the hole. The benching chains came in handy here, but several ropes snapped as soon as we got the boulder going. Decided to leave it belly up close to the rack-to-be as a table and landmark.
To say that I dug up lots of rock while preparing the ground for the rack is a crass understatement. This was also as far as I got during the summer of 2004. No welder showed up despite promises for late autumn and Toffe’s Gym was left to hibernate without a rack. As summer came around again the following year, I was determined to get this project moving again. The neighbor confirmed that he was unable to get a welder for me as the original one had been fired and he had found no replacement. The local yellow pages turned up no local hits for welders, but my friend Måns found me a number via Mr. Google. The welder was cautiously optimistic over the phone and asked about the working conditions out on the island. I drove over the next day with the blueprints. He didn’t have to give it more than a quick glance to conclude that it was not worth dragging a lot of heavy equipment out by boat. The thought of dragging all the iron back to the mainland was not fun, but a couple of days later I dumped it at his door step. We agreed that the cross beams of the rack would be bolted instead of welded to allow for easier transport back to the island. Words cannot describe how pleased I was.
A few days before the promised deadline of two weeks, I called the welder to inquire about the status. Yes, the rack and bench had been finished late at night the day before. He also told me that the time needed for the project had been catastrophically underestimated from the original 3-4 hours. The large number of holes, 108 in the rack uprights alone, turned out to be the achilles heel. The large diameter had forced them to use three separate drills of increasing size. When it finally dawned on them how many holes they had to do work was already well underway. While he went off to do the math, I braced myself for financial disaster. He called me back and actually asked if I was sitting. Twenty hours of work at 43 euros/hour, or 860 euros/1044 US dollars! He proceeded to say that he realizes that this is a far shot from what we agreed on and that he would be willing to give me a 50% discount. I thanked him profusely for his kindness and then booked myself a trailer from the nearest gas station. By this time, I had changed my mind about the flooring. The base would be totally made of concrete and then covered with a layer of wood to keep it from chipping. Thus took a detour via K-Rauta, a large hardware store, to pick up twenty-five 25 kg bags of ready-mixed concrete, half of which got to accompany the rack and bench out to the island. The last thing I wanted was for my rack to go submarine due to having overloaded the boat.
All the pieces of the rack immortalized at the end of a very long day. Note how the upper cross-beams have been joined to pieces of 50x50mm/2x2″ pipe that were to be inserted into the side frames and secured by bolting. It was a joy to see how shiny the formerly rusty iron had become thanks to sand blasting.
The next day I went shopping for paint. It was not easy to decide what color I wanted, but finally settled for grey over green. Bought 1 liter of metal primer (to protect against rust) and metal paint each. With no rain in sight, I started the time consuming work of applying metal primer to all parts. Before long, rack pieces were stacked up against rocks, my old Weider bench, even hung from trees, to dry. I also painted a piece of plywood I had bought for the bench with some old white wood primer I found in our shed (right). Note the stack of concrete in the background (left corner).
Close-up of the untreated plywood on top of the partially painted bench. The plywood is 12mm/0.5″ thick, nine layered birch. I had to cough up 50 euros for it, since they would not sell smaller pieces than 1220x2440mm/48x96″. On the bright side, I had them cut out several 1200x300mm/47.2x11.8″ pieces for use as spare parts. I could have gotten 12mm/0.5″ thick five-layered pine at half the price, but that didn’t appear sturdy enough. After all, the plywood needs not only to support whatever loads the lifter is using but must also be sturdy enough to allow the bench to be lifted from it. When the bench weighs at least 50kg/111 lbs, you don’t want pine.
One of the most important things when concreting is to have a solid frame that delimits the area precisely. With a level frame around the rack, it is a simple matter to even out the concrete by pulling a board across the frame. The floor originally built for my younger brother’s table tennis needs was a good place to bang the frame together out of some scrap wood.
Getting both the concreting frame and the now assembled rack to be perfectly level in all directions took almost a whole day of minor adjusting. A spirit level is essential in this line of business. To save concrete, part of the massive amount of rocks and stones went in, but I made sure that they weren’t anywhere close to what would be the top of the floor to ensure a thick layer of concrete all over.
Nearly a week after the welded rack arrived by boat to Toffe’s Gym, it was finally time for the concrete. Once again, I was very thankful that dad had time to join in on the fun. Since we didn’t have a concrete mixer, we mixed all twenty-five bags by shovel. Well-mixed concrete, in this case 2.8 liters of water to every 25 kg/55 lbs of ready-mixed concrete, carries an uncanny resemblance to fresh dung… 625 kg/1381 lbs of concrete and about two hours later, we were only about half way there. The next day, I went back for 20 sacks more for 4 euros/4.9 dollars a pop. Without a trailer, I had to grab 10 sacks at a time in the trunk. I was pretty beat in the evening, but the show had to go on. Come nightfall the rack was fully surrounded by concrete.
Special forces commando in full gear. You only need to look at the clothes to realize why it is important to protect the eyes and mouth when pouring dry concrete for mixing.
Concrete usually needs three days to settle during which time it should covered to prevent premature moisture loss. Luckily, this coincided with a short trip back to Helsinki. As soon as I returned to the scene of the concrete, I removed the plastic and concreting frame. Voilà!
After having applied the second layer of paint, a tad darker grey than the primer, I levelled the ground to fill all gaps between the concrete base and its surroundings and built a wooden floor on top of it all. I ended up attaching the boards to each other both by nailing them together and by placing cross-boards under each side. Nice n’ level.
The only thing that now stood between me and a full-blown bench workout in my new rack was the half-finished bench. Here it is with the final layer of paint.
For the actual padding I bought two 12mm/0.5″ thick closed-cell foam camping mats, which I’ve heard that others have used with good success. After having painted the plywood with the same second layer paint as the bench itself and bolted it to the bench, the first layer of padding was secured with flat-headed nails. A layer of strong glue would probably not have been a bad idea either.
To give a bit of padding to the sides and to avoid nails directly under the lifter, the second layer was allowed to go over the sides. I’m not sure padding on the side is necessary, but it doesn’t seem to hurt either. 12mm/0.5″ of plywood on top of the 42cm/16.6″ high bench frame followed by 24mm/1″ of padding makes the final bench 45.6cm/17.9″ high, 32.4cm/12.8″ wide and 1.2m/47.3″ long.
I opted to drape the bench in artificial leather, which is very commonly used on benches. The vendor told me that it is also used, among other things, on the seat of jet skis and should thus be somewhat rain resistant. That said, I’ll prefer to cover the bench. I paid 18 euro for a piece that was about double the amount I needed.
After having cut out a suitable piece, I fastened the leather to the underside of the bench with flat-headed nails. I also loosened the bolts temporarily so that I could get the leather in between the frame and the plywood at the ends of the bench. Done. Happy. Finally!
The pride of Toffe’s Gym (sans one board at the back of the floor that was added later).
Rufus was as happy as his dad to see the project finished. Was it because he has already been bitten by the iron bug at the tender age of 5 months, or because dad would now have more time to play with him again…? The future will tell, but in the meantime I would like to thank my half-wife (aka fiancée) Sanna for supporting me throughout this project, my dad for helping me with many aspects of the project, my mom for feeding and encouraging me, the welder for being both proficient and a very good sport, and finally, all the people on the internet who have bothered to publish information on their own rack/bench projects. If this lengthy pictorial helps or inspires anyone, it shall be worth the hours it took to compile it. I love you all, good night and so on and so on.
Cost of project:
Below is the total hardware cost of the rack and bench. Note that there was some surplus material left, such as 8 bags of concrete and the beams I originally wanted for the wooden floor. On the other hand, nails, tools, wood primer, scrap wood and such were available at the summer cottage, so they are not included in the total cost. Also, Finland is not a particularly cheap country and you are liable to find that you can get it done cheaper in other parts of the world such as the United States. The moral of the story is that you should consult carefully with the welder, especially in regard to drilling costs. At least in this situation, the number of holes in the rack (27 in each upright) was the factor that determined price the most. Also, if you are going to build a rack for inside use you can deduct the concrete, the metal primer and the wood, which will put the price of the rack and bench at approximately 690 euros/838 US dollars given an identical price level. Much money can also be saved on the bench if it is built from smaller pipe. Compared with the rack/bench combo I was considering as an alternative to building my own, I saved about 300 euros plus shipping, but also got a much sturdier bench and an open base rack designed to be placed in concrete instead of bolted to the floor. Even if there wouldn’t have been a negligible price difference, the joy of having designed and implemented my own rack and bench from scratch would have made it worth it anyway.
45 bags or 1125 kg/2486 lbs
|Iron from junk yard
|Nine-layered 12mm/0.5″ birch plywood,
|Bolts, washers, nuts
|2 closed-cell foam camping mats
||17.00 (30% off)
||430 (50% off)
|Primer and paint,
2 liters total
||TOTAL: 930.55 euros/1,130.39 US dollars
Adminin projekti: This thread over at Westsidebar details the journey towards a self-made fully equipped powerlifting gym that goes all the way to pulleys. Even if you don’t read Finnish, you should be able to locate the pictures fairly easily. Here’s one of the painted rack and bench and one of the unpainted plate loaded pulley. This thread was very influential in how I designed the bench.
Kuntolaite kotiin: A discussion over at the leading Finnish bodybuilding board Pakkotoisto with a good basic rack blueprint that served me well as a starting point from which to adjust the dimensions up. One reader welded his own according to the blueprint (but with 60x60mm pipe instead of the 47.5x47.5mm) and posted this picture.
NAP Powerlifting rules: Decided to build my bench according to this federation’s legal specs, mainly because they provided such a good drawing of it. FWIW, besides certain manufacturer requirements, these measurements are also legal within the IPF (length not less than 1.22m, width 29-32cm, height 42-45cm).
Snapped a bunch of pictures of the custom-made Kraftwerk equipment at Mayor’s, the gym I trained at last year. This equipment, formerly part of Gold’s Gym Helsinki, is from the overkill sturdy end of the spectrum. Pictures: the most massive rack I’ve ever seen, close-up of the rack hooks, heavy duty bench press and regular movable bench.
How to Build Your Own Power Rack: I wouldn’t consider a non-welded rack, but this detailed page is well worth a look for any rack constructor.
New York Barbells’ Racks and Gyms: Before finally settling for a full rack, I took a close look at alternative smaller designs such as the power cage and the mini portable power rack.