Recently, I found my self driving out to El Sobrante on a trip to visit my friend Sterling, a master welder. He offered to help me finish a project I’ve been idly working on for some time, building a static trapeze bar.
Several years ago I bought a 1×30″ 316 stainless rod with the intent of building one. I searched far and wide, but I was unable to find a good tutorial on the subject. Not surprising, as the market for trapeze bars is rather small. They require some specialized skills to make, most importantly, their construction is critical to the safety of the performer. Failure to get it right could result in serious injury or death. A sobering thought before one sets out to build ones own.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not the cheapest way to acquire a bar.
As most makers can attest, building things from scratch is rarely a good economic move. The cost of mistakes, tools, and time rarely adds up to savings. If you want to build one, do so because you want to learn about the process. Otherwise, hire a professional with some serious experience. I personally would recommend Bobby Bates, of Bobby’s Big Top. I have one of his bars. It’s bombproof.
The first thing I needed to finish was the bar, and this was going to require some rather tricky welding. Well above my skill level. The basic idea is that you weld a pair of rope thimbles to a bar, and then splice the rope onto the thimbles. Seems simple enough, but there are a few considerations that need to be taken first. The first is that the thimbles are going to get torqued hard when a performer loads the bar from certain moves, most notably “Coffin”. Continuous shock loading is also going to compress the thimble over time. Both of these things can be prevented with the addition of a stiffening rod welded on the inside of the thimble above bar. The stiffening rod strengthens the thimble against side loading, and at the same time prevents the thimble from compressing over time from shock loads.
Of course, welding a solid 1.0″ stainless rod to a .0188″ thick rope thimble is challenging. Unless you’ve got mad skills with the TIG welder, I recommend finding someone to do this for you.
Sterling is incredibly patient with me, he listens to my design parameters and we discuss how the bar will be loaded, and what each part is supposed to do. We check alignment, and then tack and double check it. Starting with the thimble stiffeners he starts welding. The whole process takes 3 hours. As a retired medical equipment welder, Sterling is meticulous and precise. The welds are beautiful, the bar straight and balanced. Later, a friend comments, “too bad they’re going to get covered up.”
I can’t help but agree.