DIY Pulley System Clothes Line

Constructing a new clothes line has been on the to-do list for quite some time. Quite unexpectedly, that chore moved up the list, and I am now the proud owner of a much better clothes line than I previously had.

Here’s how we did it:

How to make your own strong clothes line using a pulley system.

Materials used:
  • 100′ of clothes line cable
  • An oak treeHow to make your own strong clothes line using a pulley system.
  • 6″ by 10′ green treated post (reused from an old horse pen)
  • 4 pulleys
  • 4 threaded 3″ hooks
  • 2 pieces of 4′ long 2×6 boards
  • 2 3/8″x4″ lag bolts
Tools:
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Square
  • Pencil
  • Shovel
  • Drill
  • Ratchet and sockets
  • Soldering torch
  • Solder
  • Wire strippers

 

Note:

We normally reuse items we’ve already got on the homestead for just about all of our projects.  However, we strongly felt that actual clothes line cable would last longer and work better than any rope we had.  I also really wanted the pulleys so that I could stand in place and put all the laundry up (or down), without walking to the next section of line and dragging the basket around with me.  I’d advise anyone to purchase these particular items, rather fashion something yourself.

 

To get started, measure a 24 foot distance from each pole (we used a tree), and put your second pole there.  Since we have harsh winters that get very cold (downwards toward -30 degrees F), we wanted to dig down between 3 to 4 feet. If we lived in a mild climate, 2 feet would probably have been fine.

Plant your pole at just a little bit of an angle away from the other pole, not plumb. Make sure to tamp in your dirt tight as you are planting your pole.  (You could use cement first, if you’d like.)

Now mark the centers of both of your cross-arms (2×6″ boards).  Also measure and mark 4-5″ in from each end of your cross-arms (this is where the pulleys will attach later).  Drill a hole at the center of the board at each mark using one size larger bit than the diameter of the screw corresponding with each one.  (We used 5/16″ hook and 3/8″ lags.)  Do this on both 2×6″ boards.

Determine what height you want your clothes lines themselves.  Since I will be doing all the laundry, I picked a comfortable height to have my arms up.  You’ll want to tailor this to whomever is going to be doing the laundry in your household.  Measure and mark both poles (or trees).  We didn’t care that the line is not level since we live on a slope.  You decide that part for yourself.

Attach your cross-arms (to the outside of your poles/trees) by screwing the lag bolt through the hole you drilled in the center of your cross-arm into the pole. Make sure it is level, and then tighten it.  Do not use an impact driver or you can/will either strip your hole or ruin your lag bolt.  Repeat for the other pole.

Next, insert your hooks into the ends of your cross-arms (they should face the opposing sides).  Place all four.  You just want them in enough to get the nut started on the back, but not all the way yet.

 

Take a deep breath.  Here comes the fun part.

 

On one pole, place your pulley onto your hook and run 50 feet of clothes line through.  Put the other pulley on your same line, and get both ends of the line.  At this point, hold the lines in place (up to your cross-arm) to double check your length before going any further.  It is easier to adjust/move your pole now than to make any other adjustments later.

Take your wire strippers and strip 1-2 inches of the plastic covering off of the cable.

Untwist the strands of cable, aim them at each other, slide them together until the end hits the insulation, and then twist them to each other.  The tighter–the better.  Use pliers if you need to.

 

You need someone who has welding knowledge to assist with the next part if you are unfamiliar.  This article is not designed to teach you proper technique.

How to solder a clothes line together for a pulley system. This will last a very long time and is quite strong.

Light your soldering torch.  Now, while holding your twisted ends together using both hands, you also need to hold your solder in your dominant hand using your index and thumb.

Hold your cable close enough to the flame to heat it, while at the same time touching your solder to the cables so that when the solder melts, you can remove it from the heat.  (Click the picture to enlarge.)  Continue to apply solder until your cable is completely encased.  It does not need to be the thickness of your insulation.  It just needs to be coated.

Give it a second or minute to cool.

 

Now is the fun part.  Untwist your clothes line if you need to so that you have an eliptical and your wires are not crossed.  Put your second (unattached) pulley on the hook.  The first one is easy 🙂 .

Repeat this process with your second set of pulleys and 50 feet of clothes line.  It is not as easy to get your second pulley to attach to the hook.  It took one of us pushing a cross-arm in and the other to attach the pulley to the hook.

If you have slack, you can use the nuts (that you didn’t tighten earlier) to tension your lines.  Beware that threads have a lot of pulling power (i.e. don’t get all John Wayne and snap your line).

 

You are done!

 

The Farmer was so sweet as to knock out a quick table for me to set my laundry on.  I highly advise having one (or a really big flat rock), to keep you from all the bending over.  It can really take a toll on your back over the years.  And when you’re pregnant… forget about it.

Overall, I am quite pleased with this project and know that as long as the weather permits I will be using it quite often.

 

17 Comments

  1. Very nice! A pulley system would be really handy. I always think about adding wheels to my basket so that I can slide it around more easily. I just don’t think it would work very well in the grass!

  2. Hi 🙂 I’m a new follower – came to you through Jennifer at Homesteading on Grace! I am new to the homesteading world (worked for years in a corporate environment) and am slowly learning how to make the most with what I have. It’s not easy and I freely admit I still depend on my regular clothes dryer more than I should! This clothesline looks awesome and just might be the swaying point to getting me “off the dryer” grid! 🙂

    • Can I just tell you I love your little story Jen? I grew up in Chicago, have multiple medical degrees and worked in heart surgery and trauma before jumping in head first into marrying a farmer that lives in this quite secluded life. It’s been a hard adjustment–but I’m so in love with how life is turning out. Nice to meet you!
      Clothes lines…Yes… If you’re new to the process, pulley lines will make all the difference in the world.

  3. Thanks for adding this to From The Farm…it is one of this week’s featured posts! Hope to see you again this week!

  4. This sounds great, I had one similar (without pulleys) years ago. My husband made me a trolley that had wheels and fits my washing baskets in it and it makes the basket at waist height, yay no bending. I definitely like the addition of pulleys. Thank you for sharing. Blessings

  5. This makes me wish I had a Oak tree. Very nice set up and I’m sure well worth the cost of the material.

    My clothes dryer is in the kitchen and it’s amazing how much heat it generates.
    It’s always good to be able to put the clothes out to dry!

  6. This is so cool and very similar to what my grandma had in her backyard. I connected to the house, back door near the laundry room and then went to the corner of her property line which actually hung over her garden. I remember walking underneath the clothesline as a kid while water dripped on me. Great memories. Your clothesline looks awesome! Me I just have a rope connected to two trees right now.

    • My grandmother had one of the square ones. She would pin up a side, then rotate the entire thing and do the next side. It didn’t have a lot of line, but she did small loads on the board right next to it. And it was at least a foot shorter than mine 😉 .

  7. In Australia, we usually use an outside clothes line for drying our clothes and have one of these [Sorry, Nan. Google recognized this as a “spam” link, so I have to edit it out.]
    to move the basket of clothes!

    • I love that idea Nan! (Google now recognizes any links in comments to be spam, so I had to edit it out, I’m sorry.) It looks like a shopping cart that holds your laundry basket. You can’t tell from my picture, but we live in the mountains and it’s all sloped, so I’m afraid it would roll away. But I think this could be an answer to a stationary line (although much more expensive).

  8. Just found this site through a link.
    My father made a pulley clothes line for my grandmother decades ago. It was much simpler than this one described.
    It ran from a 2nd story balcony to a cedar tree about 75 feed away. He attached one 8″ diameter pulley to the house and another to the tree. They were the type of pulleys that are open so the cable can be slipped over the wheel without having to thread the cable through the bracket. The cable ends were attached to a 12″-18″ (don’t remember exactly) turnbuckle with cable clamps. Turing the turnbuckle adjusted the tension on the cable (it will sag over time).
    It was a one-way system (out to the tree, and back again when dry) since the turnbuckle obviously wouldn’t pass around the pulleys, but avoided having to do all the soldering, and was much stronger.
    The cable insulation lasted about 15 years before having to install a new cable.

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