How to Make Stall Bars
About a year ago I was listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast, one of my favorites, and stumbled upon an episode with Christopher Sommer. He is a former US National Team gymnastics coach as well as the founder of GymnasticBodies, a gymnastics based training system. The podcast was one of the best I’ve heard which, just by listening to, allowed me to diagnose why I’ve been so terrible at making progress with muscle ups all these years. My interest was definitely peaked so I tried the week free trial that was offered and really liked what I saw. I was laid up for a few months with an injury and a subsequent surgery so it took me a bit to get working on it. I originally stated in my book, Ask for the Moon: Then Strive for It, that I would probably write a book on calisthenics one day. That has been scrapped due to the masterpiece that is GymnasticBodies. For stretching, mobility, and truly functional strength I don’t think it has an equal.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the start of the pandemic. I’m 7 months deep in the programming and all of the gyms have closed down, right when I’m just starting to see some great progress! A lot of the programming you can do with minimal equipment however there are a few key pieces that you need if you want to progress through all the levels, rings, dip bars, a set of stall bars, etc.
Not to be deterred I figured I’d pony up the coin, somewhere around $800, and get a set of stall bars from Rogue as they make a really nice set with metal bars, only to find them sold out, like most gym equipment, as it seems the whole country if not most of the world was in the same predicament of having to workout at home now. That being the case I looked at other options. There were many cheaper looking sets with wood crossmembers that ranged from $250-$600, but those seemed to be built for either kids or smaller adults. The really nice ones seemed to get over $1k. Being that I had some extra time on my hands as business travel had come to a halt I figured I’d go ahead and build a set, which would probably save some money and insure my 6’1”, 200lb body would not come crashing down mid reps due to a broken dowel. Also, the hardwood dowels are quite expensive and steel pipe is quite cheap in comparison and by orders of magnitude stronger. This setup without any tool cost, because I already had most of those, is around $200-250. Without further ado I’ll jump into the plan and parts list. I will include instructions and further detailed assembly tips that the video does not contain for sake of brevity.
Tools and Components
I pretty much used the bare minimum of tools. Ideally you’d probably use a drill press since it’s way easier to keep your drilled holes perpendicular to the surface of your boards, that said I didn’t have too much trouble. If you mess up the worst case scenario you're going to waste a bit of time and probably need to buy a new 2” x 8” x 8’ board or two, but that was one of the cheaper components so there’s not a huge risk. The douglas fir that I used was $8 a board, but if you can get a 16’ board that’s not warped or cracked you can get it for even cheaper.
Drill or Drill press and drill bit set.
Handsaw and Dremel Tool with ¼” routing bit or a nice router.
1 ⅜” Forstner Bit
Tape measure, ruler, and if you can get them a set of calipers. Measure twice, cut once!
A set of ratchet straps or a 6’ length of rope with a decent sized Irwin Quick Clamp. This is used to hold the uprights tight together so you can fasten your stringers to them.
Quantity 2: 2” x 8” x 8’ Douglas fir boards. You can also buy a 16’ board and have it cut in half at the store, but make sure it’s not warped first!
Quantity 2: 1” x 4” x 8’ boards. These are your stringers and will hold your uprights together and also allow you a surface to lag bolt to your studs in the wall.
Quantity 12: Schedule 40 1” Galvanized Steel Pipe cut to 40” length and threaded on one end. You can have a lot of hardware stores cut the pipe to length and thread it. That being said you can buy 4 10’ pipes and have them cut into 3 equal parts [40”]. The ends are already threaded so they will then only have to thread the center section. Buyer beware! They did not cut my pipe uniformly so I had to spend a good amount of time and elbow grease cutting 4 of my pipes a touch shorter. In case you were wondering, it takes about 800-1200 strokes of a hacksaw to cut through one of these pipes. Just make sure the pipes are the correct length before you leave the store and your threads look good, that way it’s a one trip deal.
Quantity 12: Galvanized steel floor flange. These will secure your pipe into the right upright as you face it. When you do exercises you’re likely going to put pressure on spinning the pipe towards you which will keep them tight.
Quantity 48: ¼” x 2 ½” galvanized carriage bolts with an equal amount of ¼” nuts to fasten. Tip: You may want to purchase a few more nuts as sometimes the threads aren’t great on these and it’s nice when things go together easily.
Quantity 8: ¼” x 3 ½” lag bolt to fasten your stringers to the studs in your wall. You can use more if you like but 8 is pretty secure for mine.
Quantity 1: 1lb Box of 3” wood screws. You can buy about 30 screws separately if you want but the 1lb box is cheaper and you’ll have extras.
Make sure your 8’ boards for uprights are cut square and perfectly match each other. I measured a line every 8” from the bottom of the boards the full length then used my calipers to mark a dot in the center of each line. These dots will be the center of your bar placement for the first 10 bars from the floor. If this is your first time building please note that a 2” x 8” board actually measures to 1 ½” x 7 ¼”. Annoying right?! So 7.25” divided by 2 will give you 3.625”. Set your calipers to that and then lock in place. This will make measuring your bar centers super quick.
Once you have those marked out you need to mark your top 2 bars. You will start on your right upright as you would be facing your stall bars once installed. The right upright will have all the flanges. Your 2nd bar from the top will be set back as far as you can towards the wall. So, take one of your floor flanges and set it as close to the back of the upright towards the wall as you can without it hanging over and mark that point. You will then use your ruler or caliper to measure the distance from the edge of the board to that point and mark it on the left upright. Make sure you are visualizing this correctly and don’t accidentally make your last two bars to be installed on an angle. That would be embarrassing and not very functional. Double check that you did it right by standing the boards up on their narrow end with measurements facing one another. Also, refer to the video. Next mark your top bar, but instead of being spaced up another 8”, which is the very top of the board, you will have to space it 6” up from your 2nd to last rung. The top most bar will also be as far forward as you can have it while still remaining within the edge of the board. This will give you clearance to do exercises like toes to bar later.
So you now have your bar placement marked out. You should then use your caliper and flanges to mark where your holes need to be drilled for each flange. Each flange can accept 4 ¼” bolts, hence why we have 48 of them. It’s a bit tricky to mark all these holes but the easiest way I found was to set my caliper to half the width of the flange and then center the flange on my marked line. You can then use the caliper to reference the flange is centered vertically and horizontally. Use a pencil then to mark the location of the 4 holes to be drilled for the bolts.
The last bit of measuring will be to cut out the notches on the back of your uprights where the stringers will be placed flush. Additionally, if you are installing in a room where you have trim around the floor you will need to measure that and notch the bottom of your uprights. The goal is to have your stall bars fit perfectly flush to the wall. As far as placement is concerned for your stringer notches that’s up to you, just make sure it’s not directly behind one of your bars. You will need all the clearance you can get to drill out your holes for your lag bolts. My stringers were around 27”, 51”, and 75” roughly. Note that your 1 “ x 4” stringer is actually 3/4" x 3-1/2", so measure accordingly and make sure these are even on the back of both the uprights.
Double check your measurements and make sure everything is lined up correctly. Don’t be afraid to write notes on your boards in pencil. It comes right off.
The Fun Part
Before you do anything make sure you wear safety goggles or glasses and any other necessary equipment. A mask helps when you’re routing out the notches, I just used an old scarf.
Start out by notching your stringer cuts and trim cut for your uprights. I tried using just the Dremel ¼” routing bit and it was torture. If you don’t have a real router to use the easiest way I found was to take your handsaw and make a cut evenly into your board on the edge of your measurement and then make cuts as close to that as you can within the area that needs to be cut out. It takes a little elbow grease but is super quick compared to trying to whittle away with that tiny bit. I call these relief cuts, but there is probably a more correct term. You can see this in the video if you look close. Effectively you’re creating little fins of wood that will easily break out when you use your router. Then use your router bit to smooth out the channel and check it with your 1” x 4” to make sure it fits flush. This is arguably the most annoying part of the build.
Drill out the 48 holes for your flanges with a ¼” drill bit.
Insert 48 bolts through outside of that upright board and place flanges on the inside. You can use a rubber mallet or hammer here. Not all of my holes were perfectly straight so it may take a bit of gentle coaxing with your blunt instrument. Once those are on you can turn the board back over and hit the bolts to drive them into the wood. Carriage bolts bite into the wood as you tighten the nut so that they do not rotate. Tighten the nuts but not all way down. It helps to have them about a half inch off the flange for later assembly.
Next you’ll drill out the holes for the bars on the left upright with your Forstner bit. This one is important to make it as level as possible, so take your time! Be sure to make a depth marker with a piece of tape on your bit, you can see that in the video. I marked mine at about 1.1”. I wouldn’t go any deeper as you only have about .4” of wood remaining and that seemed to work out about perfect. Make sure all your holes are as close to the same depth as possible. Really though, take your time here!
Now your uprights are ready time to assemble! Lay your uprights down facing one another. Put the non-threaded end of the pipe into the hole from your Forstner bit. Do this for all 12 pipes.
Next you're going to carefully start to thread each rung into the floor flanges by just a thread or two, being careful not to pull this away from the other upright because then your bar will fall out of the hole.
Once each bar is started in the thread you can tap on the opposing side with a rubber mallet to make sure it’s not going to fall off when you tighten the bars more.
Hand tighten each bar as much as you can.
Pick up the whole assembly so it’s on it’s side and the left upright is resting on the ground.
Tighten all the nuts onto the flanges. At this point there should be enough discrepancy in the bars so your uprights hold together pretty well.
Use a pipe wrench or a set of channel lock pliers to tighten the pipe the rest of the way.
With all the nuts and pipes tightened you need to tap on the top of it with a hammer to make sure all of your bars are seated into the Forstner holes. Now you can mark your stringers and cut them. They’ll end up being about 42” give or take a bit.
Here’s the important part. You’ll need to use some ratchet tie down straps to go all the way around your assembly so when it’s tightened it will pull both sides together and squeeze down onto your bars. I would put one ⅓ of the way up the assembly as well as ⅔ for even pressure. I didn’t think to use straps for this so I tied a 6’ piece of rope into a loop around the one side and then used an Irwin Quick Clamp to cinch it down and apply pressure via the other side. Once you have pressure on the sides, lay it down exposing the notches for your stringers.
Use the 3” screws to faster your stringers into the notches. I used 5 per side of each board. I also drilled a pilot hole because without it the stringer may split or crack.
Once your stringers are attached to the stall bar assembly you can use your lag screws to affix to your wall. Generally studs are about 12” apart. I affixed my setup at about 36” so that the lags are just inside my uprights. I used 2 on each side on the top board and then 1 on each side for the middle and lower board. Make sure these find their way into studs as drywall will not work!!! Consult a professional as I am not one and on that note you should consult a doctor before you start any workout programs!
Test your setup before use!
This project was a lot of fun and was well worth the time and investment. The bars I made are super sturdy and could probably hold well beyond my own weight. I’ve been using them for a few weeks now and I have to say they are my new favorite piece of equipment. They are so versatile and make a great addition to anyone’s home gym. As for the GymnasticBodies program you really can’t go wrong, I have found nothing that even comes close to it, so it’s highly recommended. If this project seems anything other than super simple it’s not. The most tedious part of the process was measuring. After that it’s all fun and games. I hope this helps you in your gymnastics journey and happy building!