Like many others, once the pandemic hit and all of the gyms closed we were searching for options to keep up our healthy lifestyle.
At first, we ran around the block a few times like many others. We noticed we had a kettlebell and a few light dumbbells which also helped for a little while.
…but then the pandemic didn’t end.
The runs around the block were getting old and I was getting tired of doing bicep curls with the 5 pound pink weights.
So we had to do something.
At this same time Brittney was pregnant with our little boy, so we would be spending a lot more time around the house.
We needed a plan.
(I talk through the build in a video at the end of the blog)
Watch the video below to see it in action!
We didn’t have a garage to throw a bunch of mismatched equipment in and some of the nice equipment is pretty expensive. So the next best option was to see what we could build.
We wanted something which had some storage options and was flexible for the type of workouts I like to do (squats, pull-ups, bench press, etc.)
So my core request was that it was functional.
Brittney’s core request was that it be pretty and safe.
This led us both down the Pinterest rabbit hole.
I was looking up swinging squat racks while Brittney was looking up dainty shelves.
It took us more than a couple of weeks to even be on the same page for overall use.
That’s when I found an option. I think they’re called stall bars or I’ve even seen them called a Swedish Ladder. Either way, I saw someone put an attachment on the bars and was using them as a dip station.
This got me thinking. If the bars could hold someone doing dips, it could hold a barbell or someone doing pull-ups. The only change that is needed is the attachment.
So I started doing some research on the strength of the wooden dowels and found some interesting research from Purdue University (just so happens to be my alma mater) about wooden dowels. The research gave some statistics around the max load of certain dowels and that was all I needed to really start my design.
The rest of the design largely was revised as we built it.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t have a lot of faith it was going to look that great and that’s why I didn’t plan too far ahead.
Brittney had the same level of confidence.
Let’s start with the support. The overall structure is 8’ x 8’, so I toggle bolted 4 horizontal 2x8s to the load-bearing wall. I then added the 1x8 around the 2x8s to create the overall base cabinet. Since the overall structure is 8’x8’ you’ll have to subtract the thickness of the wood for a final dimension of 8’x 8’.
We only used the 8’x8’ dimension because that is what worked best for our wall. There is no magic reason it needs to be that size. If you are building this for yourself, you can make it any dimension you’d like.
The First Cabinet
Since we had 8’ of space horizontally I had to figure out how to break up the cabinet. In a perfect world, everything would have been symmetrical. The problem was that with a symmetrical cabinet I wouldn’t have had enough room for the width I needed for a squat rack. It would’ve been too narrow. The arms would’ve been in the way when I wanted to set the bar down. In addition, the area where the weights would be placed would’ve only allowed a few dumbbells or kettlebells. Not ideal for either cabinet so I decided to make two three-foot wide cabinets and one cabinet two feet wide. With that arrangement, I felt I could get everything I wanted in the space.
To build this cabinet I knew I had to build from one direction to the other since the cabinets provide support for each other.
… just like life…we all need some support from each other… awwwhhhh
The first cabinet would be where we would hold our shelves for the dumbbells, kettlebells and yoga mats. The yoga mats are a fixed length so this factored into the width of the cabinets.
To ensure the shelves had the support they needed to hold the load they would carry I added some scrap wood to the wall studs for additional support. The lower support would hold the shelves and the upper support would hold small dowels to hold the mats (see picture above).
Once the support was in and I wrote their location down somewhere (a mistake I’ve made 100 times). I put up the thin piece of plywood for the back of the cabinet. I used wood glue and small screws to secure the plywood in place.
Once the back was on and secure, the shelving part was easy. I used some 1x2 strips of wood to create a cleat for the 1x6 shelves to sit on. I secured those in place with some screws and wood glue as well. I used a ¾” paddle bit to create the holes for the dowels and glued those in place.
The angle on the shelves is actually two pieces of wood. One is the shelf and one is the angle. I ended up cutting a 2x4 at the angle I needed and just set the angled shelf on top of it just in case we wanted a flat shelf in the future.
The first cabinet is pretty much done.
So as mentioned before the sides are only 1” thick. I didn’t feel confident a 1” thick board was going to be able to hold all of the weight we were going to put on it so I doubled up the sides of the second cabinet. This was plenty enough strength to hold the dowels. I decided to use 1.5” dowels based on the research from Purdue. #BoilerUp
I glued and screwed two 1” thick boards together and then drilled out a 1.5” hole every 8”. I did this for both the left and right sides of the stall bar cabinet.
Pro tip…I don’t know why I said “pro tip” I’m not a pro. This is just a tip based on errors I’ve made in the past.
Our holes for the dowels weren’t exactly in the center of the 8” board. We did this so the stall bars weren't set back too far which again would’ve restricted our ability to squat or utilize the bars. If you do this, just make sure you match the two sides up.
This center cabinet was actually pretty easy since it’s basically just two sides and a lot of bars that just slide right into the holes.
As you see in the below picture the right upright isn’t secure yet. We couldn’t secure this side until we knew exactly what we were going to do on the right cabinet. Fortunately, the design for the right cabinet and build for the right cabinet was pretty easy.
The last or furthest right cabinet was there just to hold our barbells and weight plates. Since our weights get smaller as they get lighter I wanted to incorporate a design that would utilize the changing dimension. So I measured all of the plates and made sure the left side aligned while the right side inched closer to the upright. I think it was a nice add. Behind each of the dowels, we did the same things we did on the first cabinet. We added 2x4s or larger supports to hold the weight of whatever was going to be in the cabinet.
After putting on the back piece of plywood, the only thing which remained was to reinforce the support pieces. You may not see it in any of the pictures but there are light steel angles that are attached to the vertical supports and are secured back to the horizontal support 2x8’s behind the cabinet. I also added a shelf at the bottom of each cabinet to hold the uprights in place.
This cabinet isn’t going anywhere.
The last part is the boring part for me. I like the woodworking aspect of these builds but the addition of putty on screw holes and painting is a chore.
We used normal wood putty to smooth out some of the holes and blemishes and then painted the cabinet a charcoal color. Brittney picked out the color and she did an awesome job with it. I love how it’s a statement piece while also not highlighting that there are a ton of weights in it.
I made the arm attachments out of 1” thick pieces of oak. I’m 185 pounds and I’ve added a twenty-pound weight vest to do a pull-up work out and the structure didn’t budge.
There is a little give when pressure is put in the center of the dowels, but weight should never really be placed there anyway so we’ve never been worried about it.
This is how it turned out for us and we’re pretty happy with it.
Follow the video below for the video walkthrough.
The whole project took us about a week or so since I had to do it while still working my 9-5 job. The overall cost was probably over $1000 but some of that may have been due to inflation in lumber prices and me buying tools that we really didn’t need (I can never have enough tools).
We’ve used this room for a ton of workouts over the last few months and it works perfectly for everything we need. I even bought a cable to attach to the stall bars/pull-up bars for additional use.
Hopefully, this was helpful, and let us know how your home gym turns out.