How to Make a Gymnastics Balance Beam
Building a Gymnastics Balance Beam
With the increasing popularity of gymnastics, many younger children are entering the field and taking some training in the use of a balance beam. One big problem, though, is that there is seldom any chance to practice at home what they are learning in class. Practice balance beams can be purchased online but it is much cheaper to build your own and it can be fit and sized to your own needs as well; here are instructions on how make a balance beam yourself.
While a true balance beam is 16 feet long, 3.9" wide and 4.07 feet high, it would be an unusual home that could accommodate one. Practice beams, on the other hand, can be whatever size you choose. The balance beam illustrated here was made for a 9 year old girl that just got into gymnastics and was to be used indoors. Because of that the parents requested that it be only six feet long, which is a little on the short side but will serve the purpose for a year or so. Because it is only for practice, the beam will be only a few inches high, and just over 4" wide.
My personal choice for wood projects has been Elmers carpenters glue, the brown colored one. Over the years and dozens of minor and major projects it has always served well. The only caution is not to use it for outdoor projects as it is not truly waterproof.
Materials For The Balance Beam
While many practice beams are wrapped in either carpet or heavy felt, the decision was made to make this one in a pretty stained wood. If it is decided later that it is to be wrapped then that can be done easily enough, but for now some decent looking wood is necessary.
With that in mind we chose to make the beam itself from 1X4 lumber, glued together into a beam. Six pieces will make a beam 4½" wide, which is reasonable for a practice beam. Legs, such as they are, will be constructed of 20" long pieces of 2X4 lumber, sanded smooth and stained.
A good wood glue is necessary, and we have always found Elmers woodworking glue to do very well. A few long screws to screw the "legs" to the beam completes the parts list, unless it is to be wrapped in carpet.
Good clamps are a necessity; as can be seen there were several in use on this project. Either of these would make a good choice, although you will still need pipe for the bottom set.
Gluing the Beam Together
The lumber purchased was a little on the rough side and warped a little. Because of that it was decided to glue three pieces together, glue the other three together and finally glue the two beams created into one piece.
The first three pieces were covered with a zig zag pattern of glue and placed atop each other, then set into a folding workbench to make clamping easier. This was a Black and Decker Workmate bench, with a built in vise, and worked very well to not only supply some clamping force but to hold the beam in place while C-clamps were applied. One clamp was put onto one end and, aligning the boards by sheer force, additional clamps were put on one by one until the far end was reached.
After letting the mini beam dry overnight, the second set of three boards were glued together in a like manner, let dry and the two mini beams glued on the following day. It was impossible to line the warped boards up perfectly, and the final beam required a good deal of sanding with a heavy duty belt sander, but the final beam looks good and will hold together virtually forever.
After the heavy sanding, finer and finer grits of sandpaper were used on an orbital sander to achieve a surface that would look good when stained. If the beam is to be wrapped instead of stained, much of this later sanding could be eliminated as a glass smooth surface isn't required.
A piece of wood that has been sanded very smooth will have corners sharp enough to cut; the upper corners were rounded off with a router. It could also be done with sandpaper if a router is not available.
Adding Legs to the Balance Beam
While the beam should be very close to the ground for practice it still needed something to keep it upright so that it would not roll over in use. Twenty inch long 2X4's were cut and sanded smooth, one for each end. As a purely decorative touch the upper corners were routed at a 45º angle, followed by a ½" deep dado cut into the upper side to sit the beam into. This leaves the top of the beam just 4½" off the floor; you can't get much closer and still have an actual beam left.
The 2X4's were set onto the underside of the beam and locations marked for screws and then predrilled. By predrilling the holes in the 2X4, the screws will pull it tight to the beam easier. Screws were driven in just past the surface of the leg so that they cannot scratch the floor or hook a carpet. Legs were coated with wood glue and screwed onto the bottom of the balance beam itself. They are designed to be long enough that additional, vertical, legs can be added in the future if a higher beam is desired.
When it comes to stain I prefer the Minwax brand if it is available in the color I want, and with their wide range it almost always is. I have never been dissatisfied with their product and would recommend it to anyone doing woodworking.
Finishing the Balance Beam
We wanted a pretty balance beam that was also useful and decided to stain it rather than wrap it. If the decision is reversed in the future and it is decided that it would be better wrapped it will be easy enough to do then.
With that in mind a single coat of a reddish, rich looking, stain was applied. After drying for a couple of hours it needs to be sanded very lightly with very fine sandpaper and a coat of polyurethane applied. Several hours after that it again needs a very light sanding and a second coat of polyurethane put on.
The polyurethane was chosen for two reasons; as protection for the beam itself, to retain the luster (semi-gloss poly was used) of the beam and to protect the user from splinters. This was not hardwood, but soft pine, and it will splinter quite easily. Some kind of protection is need to prevent that, and a double coat of polyurethane will do the job quite nicely.
When it was all over, this gymnastics balance beam took about 4 hours to complete, plus some drying time between coats of glue and stain. It cost under $30, even though we used 1X6 lumber rather than cheaper 2X4's. No stain was purchased but that typically costs around $8 per can for the quart sized container with polyurethane a few dollars more. Although we had lots of power tools available this could all have been done with nothing but a handsaw, chisel, hammer and a screwdriver. Plus lots of elbow grease in the sanding phase.