Friday, January 28, 2011


Canes are some of the easiest to make and most fun to use toys around. This post will detail how to make one out of commonly found supplies.

As I mentioned in another post rattan (the vine most commonly associated with cane construction) is kind of hard to come by in the US. It isn't impossible by any means, it just isn't as common as doweling. To that end, I have chosen to use birch doweling. It's cheap, common, and strong.

1 x 36" dowel of any diameter you want. Smaller diameter dowels sting a bit more than thicker ones.

1' "cheap" cord. Something like cloths line; this will act as part of the handle grip. You could also use some wire if you'd like something a bit heavier

5' of string

1 x can of tool dip. I was going to use a carved handle but it occurred to me that not everyone would have access to a wood shop like I do. So, tool dip from Lowes will suffice.

Step 1:
Cut your dowel to whatever length you want. I think the standard 36" size is just about right.

Step 2:
Starting with 80 grit and working up to 120 grit sandpaper, sand the dowel smooth.

Step 3:
Round the tip of the cane by rubbing the dowel back and forth, beginning with the dowel almost parallel to the  table, on some sand paper while rolling it in your fingers; slowly work the dowel more vertical until the tip is rounded. The pictures below kind of illustrate the process.

 Step 4:
Mark the dowel five inches from the un-rounded end.

 Step 5:
Take the scrap cord and use a little glue to attach it at the mark.

Step 6:
Once the glue has set wrap the cord around the shaft until it reaches the end.

 Step 7:
Once you've reached the end make a loop in the cord and wrap it around the end in such a way that the loose end becomes tucked between the rod and outside of the rope.

Pull it tight and add a bit of glue to keep it taught then remove the excess cord.

Step 8:
Begin wrapping the handle with the string by tying it in a square knot above the end of the cord.
 Work your way down until the whole of the handle is covered. Secure the end of the string with another square knot.
 Step 9:
Treat the shaft of the cane with whatever finish you want. I gave it a light brushing with polyurethane but if you wanted to be a bit more natural you could use a bit of linseed oil. Birch and other hardwoods don't splinter very easily but it's still a good idea to seal it with something. 

Step 10:
 Slowly dip the wrapped end into the tool dip and slowly bring it out. It is important to do this slowly or you'll get bubbles in the handle.

You should only need one or maybe two coats to get a good feeling handle. Tool dip builds up quick.

Let everything dry over night and you'll have your own cane!

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Setup

I'm trying to get into the habit of regular postings. To that end, I have decided to make two postings a week. On Wednesdays I will post a spiel or prototype followed by a how-to on Friday. I hope to start this practice next week. Thanks for your readership! 

Cluster Cane Prototype

After walking past the food isles of WalMart and staring inquisitively at a package of bamboo skewers I finally decided to do something with them. Cluster canes have always struck me as a fun thing to have around so putting these two curiosities together I ended up making the following.

This ended up quite well. It has pretty good balance and feel sturdy. I haven't had a chance to test it throughly
but I think it'll hold up to relatively rigorous use. The handle is a hardwood dowel with a hold drilled in the top; the skewers are hammered into the hole and the whole thing is glued together. The wrapping adds a bit of support and the whipping above the handle can be adjusted to spread or contract the canes. I think it works pretty good.

The previous stages of development were these:

The top picture is basically the final product but I didn't really have a good technique for drilling out the top so the handle cracked. The second picture is just a wrapped bundle of skewers. It works but is a little short. For a production model I think I'm going to stain the bamboo with some kind of oil, tea, or something natural then add a some kind of texture of the wrap. I think it's going to be a fun toy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rope Slapper Prototype

So, I had a few feet of 3/4in cotton rope lying around. This kind of rope isn't good for much (you can't knot it, it's not strong enough to hoist things, even if it were strong it's too wide to fit in a winch, and it's too heavy for leads or tie-downs) so I decided to make some kind of kinky craft from it. The end result turned out a lot better than I had expected.

Since there was just a little over three feet I couldn't make a whip or flogger but (since it was really heavy) I could make a slapper! After fiddling around with different kinds of wraps and handle structures I decided to go with the following:

This was made from two feet of the rope. About six inches are wrapped in cotton string to form a handle. It didn't need any stiffener since the rope was so rigid. I whipped the ends of the loop section just above the handle to add some stiffness and support to the loop. This actually turned out pretty well; there's a nice resistance gradient from the tip of the loop down towards the handle. The final result of tall this is a well balanced and wighted slapper that's a lot of fun to play with. I do, however, need to do something with the bottom. It's more or less impossible to cut this diameter rope strait without specialty equipment. I don't really want to bust out the rope cutter so I'll have to find a way to make the butt end of the toy strait. 

The above picture is what I did with the remainder of the rope. I'm not entirely sure what to call it but it's a lot of fun to play with. More than anything else it started out as an exercise in rope whipping (thick rope is easy to work with) but it turned into something fun. Who would have guessed. Anyway, for the sake of our posterity I've added it to this entry. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cane Prototype

Canes are some of the most simple and fun toys in anyone's arsenal. They can be embellished in an indescribable number of ways to suit most anyone's personal style and habits. After some time looking for a matched set of canes I decided to make my own. It's always more fun to make your own toys anyway. My first attempts didn't quite end up where I wanted them.

A lot of the canes I see online and around are made out of rattan (which is sort of like thin bamboo). Unfortunately, it's hard to come by in small quantities in the US. If you're lucky enough to find some floating around a local shop do purchase it; there's a lot of things to use it for. Instead I decided to use common birch dowels since they're cheap, easy to work with, and abundant. The only real problem with this particular material is that it doesn't take to bending very well. To get elegant with your designs you'll have to steam a good size dowel for a few hours. This isn't particularly hard to do just a bit laborious. I don't have the space to set up a proper sized steam chamber but if you've got the time they aren't hard to make. Just let the dowels sit in the steamer for a few hours then bend to your whims. Birch is a heavy, strait grained, wood; this means that it will take quite a bit of abuse before cracking, require negligible maintenance, and will hold a finish well. Its weight also feels nice in the hand.

Finishing the canes was no problem. I decided to use a simple stain and seal the shaft with matte polyurethane. This resulted in a smooth, warm colored shaft. You could, instead, role the shaft in sand or shards of something to give it a bit of texture.

The main problem I had with the prototypes was that I couldn't manage to get the handles quite right and the whole thing seems a bit unbalanced. To make them I wrapped  a few layers of cord and wire around the base of the dowel then dipped them in liquid tape (since I couldn't find any tool dip). The process was painless but like most things that aren't hard it produced sub par results. For future iterations I think a turned wooden handle will work best. They are easily found at hardware and craft stores and I think they'll look unique.

Happy Crafting!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rope Flogger

This is the how to for the previously mentioned Rope Flogger Prototype!

Step 1: Select Materials

The primary part of this project is rope. Selecting the rope is completely up to your personal preference. A braided rope will hold itself together making thicker falls while a twisted rope can be manipulated much more easily; that is, it can be worked into whatever size fall you want. Natural ropes tend to be heavier than synthetic which, I think, makes for a better experience all around. Manila and jute ropes probably won't work well due to the short nature of their fibers; cotton and nylon have long fibers so retain their strength and don't shed when the rope is unwound.   

For this project you will need: 
  • 18ft twisted cotton rope - (makes 16' falls) -  ((((fall length + handle length) * 2) * number of falls) + slack)
  • 5ft cotton string
  • 1 1.5in zinc plated steel ring
  • 5in 3/8in wooden dowel - (can be adjusted for preferred handle length)
  • Clothing dye - (optional)
Step 2: Dye Rope

 If you would like to dye your rope from its natural color you should do it now! The packaging directions should work all right however you will need about twice as much dye as recommended. You should also take this opportunity to unravel the rope into the smallest "denominator" cord. That is, most twisted cord is made up of three cords wound together; if you want to fray the whole thing the rope needs to be untwisted as much as possible. For something resembling more of a cat-o-nine tails it would only be necessary to untwist the rope to its three primary strands. If you fail to do this before you dye the rope it will look tie-dyed like the photo below. It's a neat effect if you're into that sort of thing though.

Tie a knot at each end of the rope to keep it from unraveling while you dye. It's important to keep the whole thing as taught as possible through the whole process. Let the rope soak in the dye for about half an hour turning regularly. 

Once the rope is a little darker than your ideal color take the rope out and rinse it under cold water until the water runs clean. 

Let the rope hang over night to dry. 

Step 3: Cut the rope

Cut the rope into equal lengths. They should be twice the fall length plus twice the handle length. After unraveling the cord into its 3 strands I had 15 smaller strands. This number will vary depending on how thick you want your falls.

Step 4: Thread the strands 

Pull all the strands through the ring so that the ring is in the middle of the rope.

Step 5: Begin the handle

Place the dowel in the center of one side of the rope strands. Work the dowel down so that it is tight against the ring.

Step 6: Tie off the end

Position the strands around the dowel so they are symmetrical. Using some string or a zip tie, tie off the strands just above the end of the dowel. Make the string as tight as possible, you don't want the dowel slipping around. It's also important to make the falls as tight as possible. 

Step 7: Wrap the handle

Place the string parallel to the falls with about six inches extending beyond the string holding everything together.

Begin wrapping the handle from the bottom up. Keep everything as tight as possible. It's important to keep the string even all the way around. If the string gets crossed just unwind it and wrap again.

When you reach the end of the handle tie off the working end of the string to the excess string from the beginning. A square knot can easily be tucked in behind one of the strands.

Step 8: Tie off the falls

Tie an overhand knot towards the bottom of each fall or wherever you want the rope to stop fraying.

Step 9: Fluff

Fluff your newly created whip to your hearts content. 


This technique can be used with a variety of materials and forms. Below is one more reminiscent of a cat-o-9 tails. If you're really creative you can decorate the handle with pineapple knots or braiding; but if you're like me and have no skill at that sort of thing using a whipping technique on the bottom and top of the handle with some scrap cord will work just fine. This is also a good way to eat up some leather laces if you have some scraps lying around. Happy crafting!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Word On Rope Maintenance

Excuse me for a moment while I mount my high horse. One thing I've noticed a lot of people take for granted is their rope; they assume that rope is forever. This is a fallacy. Rope wears much quicker than people think. With every knot or twist the lifespan of your rope is shortened. This was a primary message of firefighter training; in life or death situations the absolute last thing you want is for a rope to break. For bondage enthusiasts death probably won't accompany a broken rope but having a sub escape is terribly embarrassing and falling from a suspension can hurt and result in somewhat serious injury.

 Fortunately, with a little due diligence it's easy to keep your ropes in good, useful shape. The following outlines a simple maintenance procedure for common ropes. This guide certainly isn't the end all for rope care but it should be a good place to start for rope novices and aficionados. You must also remember that even with the most diligent care ropes can still break without warning. Expect and plan for it.  

Step 1: Inspect your rope
Take the rope in your right and pull it along visually inspecting for fraying, irregular bulges or depressions, cuts, or other damage. Discoloration or shine can also be an indication of wear. Make a particular effort on areas that you feel are frequently knotted. Knots are weak points; they unequally extend specific areas of the rope putting greater tension on opposing areas. They also bend rope fibers tightly; many rope fibers are brittle and continued knotting weakens them considerably. Some examples are shown below.

Image Courtesy of Rope Inc

Image Courtesy of Rope Inc
Step 2: Remove damaged rope sections
Cut off any frayed or damaged ends. If damage has occurred in the middle of the rope you will need to cut the rope into two pieces. I don't recommend splicing the two pieces back together as this will be an incredibly weak point. However, if you're just using this for land based restraint has some good instructions on how to splice. As you might expect the techniques to splice rope vary according to the type of rope used. I recommend end to end for braided cord, end to end for twisted cord, and end for end
for double braided and cored ropes.

Step 3: Treat rope ends
The ends of your rope are always the first to fray or otherwise become damaged. It is important to treat them before putting your rope into service. The simplest and least effective way to keep your rope ends nice and neat is to tape them with duct or electrical tape. This is ok for cheap ropes (e.g. clothesline and nylon) but if you're spending money on good climbing or rescue rope this is a quick way to pulverize your investment.

The next best thing is to use some heat shrink tubing available in most auto parts or electrical component stores. Simply cut about an inch of shrink tubing, slip it over the end of the rope, and heat it with a hair dryer for a minute or two. This is semi permanent and will serve most people well for most of your rope's life.

The most elegant, and my preferred, method for treating rope ends is to whip them with waxed string. The process is pretty simple but can be time consuming. For twisted ropes Animated Knots has a good example here and for braided and cored ropes here.

Step 4: Clean rope
Everything weakens your rope. Exposing it to dirt and chemicals, even latex based ones, has adverse affects on its health. That's why it's very important to clean your rope regularly. Simply put it in a bucket of warm water and some mild dish soap. Agitate with your hand for 15 to 20 minutes until it's clean. Then, let it air dry.

Step 5: Store rope
Coil your rope neatly and store it in a bag in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight.

Following these steps regularly will ensure a long, happy life for your rope and a grand old time for you.

As a final note, practice your knots. Proper knotting will greatly enhance the lifespan of your rope and make your fun times that much better. Happy tying!