Recently we tackled the construction of a DIY Balance Beam for my daughter’s 9th birthday.
Purple, no less 🙂
Following is a detailed step-by-step guide as to how we went about building it.
**Note: This project does involve cutting and welding steel. If you have a husband who loves to build things, that’s also a plus:)
Here are the materials we used:
(3) 2′ x 6′ x 10′ (cut down to 4 1/2″ width to make slightly wider than Olympic width of 4″)
(1) 5′ length 1″ steel square tubing cut into (4) 22″ lengths. All ends cut at 22 degree angle.
(1) 5′ length 2 1/2″ wide steel flatbar (1’4″ – 3/8″ thick). We used 3/8″ thick.
From this flatbar, we cut two cradles to hold the wooden beam. Each cradle had a bed 4 1/2″ wide, with side arms 2 7/8″ high.
We also cut the four rectangular “feet” from this same flatbar, each foot being 2 1/2″ x 4″.
(2) 6″ carriage bolts to secure cradles to wooden beam
3″ 16 penny nails for nailing boards together
Staples (we used a special kind called Cable Staples used for electrical wiring. These have a broader top to avoid stapling through your material.)
Foam (we used the kind of foam used under carpet installs, available in various sizes at Lowe’s)
Fabric of your choice (we used an ultra-suede from Joanne Fabric)
Here’s what we did:
First, we trimmed the 3 boards down to the 4 1/2″ width since our budding gymnast is still learning and we wanted to give her a little extra room.
We secured the first two boards together, first by applying wood glue in between and then nailing with 3″ nails.
After cutting and welding the steel cradles (dimensions listed above), we notched the two glued/nailed boards approximately 15″ from each end to “fit” the cradles. We used a Skilsaw set at 3/8″ depth to do this.
The cradles were secured with 6″ carriage bolts, the heads ground down with a bench grinder so they would lay flush in the hole you see above. We didn’t want carriage bolt heads sticking out through our foam and fabric, and possibly scratching a leg or arm.
The third board was then secured with wood glue and more 3″ nails.
Our “beam” portion was complete!
(As you can see in above picture, we sanded the ends of the top board slightly to soften the corners a bit.)
Next, we welded four flatstock feet to the 22″ legs. These feet measure 2 1/2″ x 4″.
Next we welded them (don’t you love how I keep saying “we” when ya’ll know who did most of this!?) onto the bottom of the cradles holding the beam.
The following picture shows the legs attached best, although I’m jumping ahead of myself with the foam you see.
You can also see in this picture we painted the steel legs Krylon’s Oil-Rubbed bronze for a more finished look.
FINALLY, it was time to do the frilly part: Attaching the foam and fabric!
Thankfully we happened to have this leftover carpet foam from an old rug we no longer used in our family room. Because the carpet foam was wider than it was long, I cut two 16.5″ wide x approximately 6′ long sections to cover the entire beam. Remember, our beam is 10′ long but I wanted the foam to wrap around the ends, too.
After spraying adhesive over the beam and also the foam, we carefully set the foam onto the beam and pressed the two glued sides together. We left the foam mesh side up because we reasoned the mesh would help aid longevity of the foam underlay.
Because one very real concern we both had was the beam’s foam/fabric shifting while someone was doing tricks or exercises, resulting in injury or worse, we secured the foam even further by hammering in Cable Staples. Designed to be nailed in, these staples work great because of the wider head; they won’t go through your material as narrower staples have a tendency to do.
Here’s how we cut the ends to fit.
Here’s a shot of the almost-complete balance beam, all adhesived, stapled, and as secure as these two novices knew how to make it.
Next, we cut our purple, suede-like fabric 19″ wide so it would cover the stapled foam substantially. We’d purchased enough yardage to easily cover the 10′ plus length needed to wrap the beam (don’t you love how I said “we” when ya’ll KNOW who selected and purchased this fabric?!)
Again, we sprayed adhesive in sections as we carefully laid the fabric over the foam. Because the fabric was fairly thin and prone to wrinkling, especially with the stickiness of the adhesive, this process was definitely a two-person job with one of us stretching and pulling the fabric tightly while the other was underneath stapling, this time with a pneumatic stapler underneath the beam so the staples remained unseen.
A few final staples, and TA-DA! Here is the finished Balance Beam in all its purple glory.
These days, if our little one disappears, chances are she’s downstairs working on a new routine to show the family.
And she’s not the only one.
Happy Birthday, precious girl.