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My daughter is a gymnast. She seems to have a passion for gymnastics and it basically is the only thing she wants to do all day long. Last year for Christmas Santa brought her a Jr. Kip Bar and she LOVES it! Surprisingly, so do my three boys. Her birthday is just a few days after Christmas and my dad and I built a balance beam for her using a design that we modified from this blog. At the time, we were living in a small town without a gymnastics gym, so we drove her an hour to attend a tumbling gym once a week. That town did not offer gymnastics, only tumbling (I had no idea there was a difference until we got into it, but in tumbling they do not do beam, vault, or bars.) She loved her gym and loved tumbling, but she still wanted to try out the other apparatuses. So when she got the beam and the bar last year, she was thrilled! She watched YouTube videos to learn how to do skills and she actually got pretty good at those skills considering she didn’t have a coach. Fast forward a year, and we now live in a bigger town that has a gymnastics facility. She started gymnastics in September and in her first meet in October she won first place (granted, it was only against the other girls in her gym). Even though she had only been coached on the beam and bars for two months, she picked everything up so fast because she had been practicing at home.
Having a bar and a beam does take up a lot of space, but we have luckily always been able to find the space and make it work. The design we use for our beam is nice because the legs are easily removed so it makes it easy to store. Our basement now includes an 8 foot beam, a bar, a treadmill, and an arcade basketball hoop! It’s gotten a little out of hand…
This year around Christmas I wanted to make some extra money and I had the idea to build balance beams and sell them. We have loved having ours and it has held up and is in excellent condition after a year, so I felt like the model we used was a good one and that other people would like it too. I posted some pictures on Facebook and sold 5 beams. I charged $85, which is a steal when compared with similar beams online and asked for half the money upfront so they were committed and that helped pay for supplies. I made one extra beam and this time took pictures (although I missed a couple steps) so that I can record a tutorial. So here it is… a DIY balance beam!
3-2x4x8 pine boards
1-2x6x8 pine boards
2-2x4x7.5″ pine board (I just had scraps of 2×4 that worked for this and I’m sure that if you as the lumber yard they would just give you two 7-8″ scraps)
1- 4 1/2″ x 8′ board (this can be any variety of board. I have used plywood and also a type of snap together plank and I just cut the tongue in grove part off. I was always able to get this for free by rummaging through their scrap wood. You just don’t want it much thicker than an inch and remember that if it’s too wide you can use your skill saw to cut it to 4.5″)
1-package of 4 Corner Braces
Carpet padding or a yoga mat
2 1/2 yards of Suede upholstery fabric. I bought mine at Joann’s when it was half off. I have used both the thinner suede and the upholstery suede and I highly recommend using the upholstery/thicker material. I wanted to try thisfrom Amazon, but the shipping was going to take longer than I wanted to wait.
Drill (I have a cheaper Black and Decker drill and it worked ok, but for part of the beams I borrowed my dad’s drill like this and it was AMAZING!)
Staple gun (I bought this tool especially for this project and it was absolutely worth the money! I love this little gun!
extra staples (I only used 5/16 sized staples and it worked fine, but I did wish I had bigger ones when I stapled the carpet padding on, so a variety pack like this would be nice.)
Clamp (I used just 2 clamps, but if you have more you can use them.)
2 Saw horse (This one is not absolutely necessary, but I found it extremely helpful.
Building the Beam
The number one thing I learned is to make sure the wood you buy is straight!! There were several times that I had to return to the lumber yard to exchange wood that at first looked straight, but I later realized it was not.
The second thing I learned is to make sure you put the beam together using a flat surface. Saw horses worked best for me, but you could also use two Rubbermaid tubs that are the same size or two chairs, or whatever else you have around your house that would be sturdy and equal in height.
Your first cut will be on one of the 2×4’s to cut two different 12″ pieces. The 12″ pieces are for the legs, and the remaining 6′ 2×4 is the middle board on your beam. Make sure you use your carpenter square to mark your cutting line and try to cut as straight as possible with the skil saw.
Lay the 6′ piece on top of one of the 8′ pieces right in the middle. Measure each end to make sure there is about a foot on each side of the 6′ piece. Draw a line on the 8′ board to mark where the 6′ board goes to be centered. Then take your 12″ leg and put it perpendicular (make a T with the leg and the longer boards) to the 6′ board and mark where that leg ends but make that line generous so that the leg will slide into that gap easily. Now measure the remaining wood you have from the mark from the leg to the end of the 8′ board. Mine were usually 7 1/4 or so. Cut your scrap 2×4 that you either dug out from your own scrap wood pile or got from the scraps at the lumber yard to the measurement from the end of the leg to the end of the beam. (I’m sorry, I didn’t start taking pictures until I already had the boards put together, so hopefully the pictures I do have can help explain this process)
Now you have one 8′ board laying flat and the 6′ board centered on that and gaps for the leg holes (once you mark on the 8′ board where the leg goes you can remove it) and the two 7″ end pieces in their place. Now you can add the other 8′ board on top of middle pieces and clamp them all together. and turn them on their 2″ side. Now check to make sure there are not major gaps between the boards and that at least one side where the three boards meet is flush. I usually propped them up on the saw horses and used a level to see how flush one side is. This is where you find out if you have straight boards or not. Do not move forward until you have a mostly flush side.
Now that you have a flush side you can turn the boards back onto their 4″ side and remove the clamps. Carefully remove the top 2x4x8 and set it one one side of the beam. Then move the middle 2×4 pieces on top of that board. You should have all the places for the 6′ board and the two 7″ pieces marked so that you will know where to put them back.
Squeeze wood glue onto the 8′ board in the places that you will add the middle boards. Do NOT add glue in the gaps for the leg. Place the three middle boards back into their places on top of the glue. Note: if you only have two clamps you will have to do the 6′ middle board and then the two end pieces separately so that you can clamp them down good.
Once they are clamped, turn the board over so that they 8′ board is now on top. This will be the outside edge of your beam, so this is where you will screw the boards together. Use the 2 1/2″ screws and screw the boards together. I alternated mine high and low on the 2×4 and spaced them about every 4-5″. Screw together the 6′ middle board and the two end boards in the same way. DO NOT screw them in from the middle pieces, it must be done on the outside board.
Have the beam with the middle side facing up and place your last 8′ board on top and again, just double check with your hand that one side will be flush. Then remove that board, add glue to the middle pieces and place the 8′ board on top and clamp it down. Note: always check that the boards are still flush after you clamp it. Sometimes you need to adjust it. Once you have it good and level then screw it together on the 8′ side repeating the same method and spacing.
The beam portion is almost finished! Now you just need to add a board to the top so it is level and smooth!
Once you have cut your top piece to 8’x4.5″ (remember the thickness of this piece can vary, but not larger than 1″) you are ready to add it to the beam. Stand your beam up on the 2″ side of the 2×4’s. Place the top piece on top of it and check to make sure it is cut to the correct size and use a level to make sure it is mostly level down the length of the beam.
After it meets your approval, remove the top piece, add wood glue and then replace it onto the beam. Now you can screw the top piece into the 2×4’s. It is OK to have screws on top of the beam. You will add enough padding that they won’t be noticed. I did always screw them in until they sunk below the wood though, just to help it feel smooth.
Ta Da! The beam part is finished!
Building the Legs
Start by cutting the 2″x6″x8′ board into 2′ sections. If you are only making one beam then you will only need 2- 2′ pieces.
Now you should have the 2-2″x4″x12″ legs from your first cut and the 2-2″x6″x2′ base pieces. Start by drawing a line down the center of the 2×6 at the 1′ mark. Use your carpenter’s square to draw a straight line down on both sides of this board. Also, using your square mark 1″ in from the end of the board on your line This will let you know where the leg is going to stand so that it is centered on the 2×6.
Place the leg in the center of the 2×6 where you marked it and turn it over so it is standing like a T. Using the line on the 2×6 that shows you the center of the board, screw the leg onto the base. This step is easiest with two people just to help make sure the leg does not twist while you are screwing on the base. Turn it over and it should look like an upside down T. Repeat this for the other leg.
Screw the corner brackets onto the leg and base to help support the legs and make it sturdy. I did one bracket on each side of the leg on opposite ends (if you are looking at the 4″ part of the leg, I have a bracket on the left side. Then if you turn the leg around to look at the other 4″ part of the leg I have that bracket also on the left side, which make them support each side.) Repeat with the other leg.
(Can you tell that the bracket on the left is close to us and the bracket on the right is further away?)
If you want to paint your legs this is a good time to do that. Just mark where the leg slides into the beam and don’t paint that part. I found out the hard way that it make the beam very squeaky when the paint from the leg rubs on the beam. But if you want to paint the part of the leg that shows, I think it makes it look nice. I just painted right over the corner brackets, but don’t worry about painting the base. That part will be covered.
Your legs are now built!
Now for the big test…
Put the legs into the holes of the beam. The easiest way to do this is to turn the beam upside down on the floor or saw horses and insert the legs. If your leg gap is small, it will take a lot of muscle and possibly a bar of soap rubbed on the leg to get it to go in. Then turn the beam over and stand it up on it’s legs. You may need to stand on the beam to push the legs on all the way. And test it out! Walk on it, wiggle it, and jump on it. If it is not sturdy at this point do not move forward! You may need to do some problem solving on what is making it wobbly. This is when I have discovered that I didn’t use straight boards and I’ve had to take it apart and start over (I did actually have to do this once, only it was after I had the padding and material on it! So I (or I should say, my wonderful husband) took out a gazillion staples and chiseled the 2×4’s apart and we discovered how twisted the boards were. We literally started over. So make sure it is stable and good at this point! I’ve noticed at this point that it was wobbly and finally discovered the 2×6 bases I used were slightly warped, so I had to get different 2×6’s and redo that part. Again, use straight wood!!!
Adding the Padding
The beam that I made my daughter last year has a yoga mat as padding and it works very well. However, it was not a good business plan to buy a yoga mat for every beam I built, so I then discovered carpet padding and it has been awesome! A friend of mine had just replaced her carpet, so I asked to buy her old carpet padding for $15 and it will be enough to make several beams!
Cut the padding into
1- 107″x12″ long piece for to cover the beam. It is OK if you need to do this in smaller sections if you don’t have a piece that is 107″.
2- 14″x8″ pieces for the legs. You will need to then find the center of this piece and cut out a 2″x4″ hole to slide the leg through.
This is where you get to use your fun new staple gun! If you bought the variety pack of staples, I would recommend a larger staple than 5/16, but I used 5/16 and it was good enough. I just had to work hard to make sure they stayed in.
For the beam: lay the beam (without legs) on the floor and lay the carpet padding on top. I did it with the mesh netting facing up. And just start folding over the padding on each side of the beam and staple it on the side, never on top.
For the end pieces I had the padding extend past the end and cut the corners out of each side so it left a flap to fold down and cover the end.
Once you are finished stapling the whole thing you can turn it over and cut off any extra padding that might be hanging down past the side of the beam.
For the legs: Put the padding over the legs and start stapling the padding to the side of the base. I always started in the center right by the leg and I alternated which sides so that one side did not pull the other side too short. I cut the corners for the end flaps just like I did to cover the beam.
Covering everything with material
Lay out your 1 1/2 yard piece of fabric on the floor and cut it into 2-54ish”x17″ pieces. These will be sewn together to cover the beam. To sew them, put the two “good sides” together and pin it. I just used a straight stitch on my sewing machine, but I did two lines close together just to back it up.
For the legs, cut the remaining material (after cutting the two 17″ pieces) in half. Just fold it over and cut it in half. It should be roughly 14.5″x8.5″ Then you will need to find the center of the material and draw and cut a hole for the 2×4 leg, just like you did for the padding. I found it easiest to make a template out of paper and use that to draw my rectangle that needed cut out. Instead of cutting out the rectangle I just cut a slit from the center of that rectangle to each of the four corners.
To cover the legs, I slid the material over the leg and then folded the flaps inside. I found it easiest to hold the leg upside down on my lap and pulled the fabric tight and started stapling it. For the ends, it really just takes some playing with the corners to figure out how to fold them and get them to lay nicely. I usually did it similar to wrapping a present. I like to fold the edges of the material down, just to prevent it from fraying.
To cover the beam, I laid the material good side down on the floor and then laid the beam upside down in the center of the material.
It is very important to pull the material tight throughout this process to prevent wrinkles. Also, make sure that the seam where you sewed the two pieces together is laying flat.
You can either start stapling on one end or you can start in the middle by the seam and work your way back and forth down the beam.
I found that for these ends, it was easier to work with if I cut the corners off of the material just so there wasn’t as much bulk.
Once I got my corners looking good I folded over the material nice and tight and stapled it down good. Again, all along the beam, I folded the edges of the material over before I stapled it so that strings would not hang down.
Now assemble your beam and let the fun begin! Whew!
I know it sounds like a lot of work and fairly complicated, but it really wasn’t. The beam was usually built in a couple hours (If I was lucky to have minimal distractions) and once the padding and material are cut and sewn together, covering the beam really goes fast too. Two hours tops for covering it with padding and material.
I would love to know if you give this a try and how it goes!
This has made my kids nice and happy and me too (as long as my boards were straight!).