T Nation

DIY No Weld Loadable Circus DB


Going to do this in a series of post since I have a lot of photos to go with this.

Once again, my inability to weld has led me to some creative solutions for making strongman equipment, and I want to share my process with you. This is a loadable circus dumbbell, so on the plus side itâ??s adjustable, but as a negative you will need some weight plates to make this work. The whole project will take like 30 minutes, and it's cheap, so what have you got to lose?


For this project, I used the following materials.
-A 3' length of 1.5" galvanized steel pipe (threaded on the ends)
-2 home depot 5 gallon buckets
-2 home depot 5 gallon bucket lids
-A 1¾ hole saw drill bit attachment
-1 roll of gorilla tape

Circus Dumbbell Press Form Check
Thick Dumbell for Rows?


The very first step for me was to clean out the family of black widow spiders that had been nesting inside of my steel pipe, because I’ve had it in my garage for 2 years after I had saved the 3’ of pipe left behind after having a 10’ pipe cut to 7’ to make an axle (oh hey, BTW, you should totally make an axle with your leftover pipe).

Assuming you have a less horrific starting point, the first thing you want to do is drill a hole in each bucket using your hole saw. We’re drilling a 1.75" hole instead of a 2" hole because we want a SNUG fit with the pipe. I like the home depot buckets because they have a nipple indentation on the dead center of the bottom of the bucket, which makes aligning the hole saw easy. Use that as your starting point.

Turn the bucket upside down so that you are drilling down on the outside of the bottom of the bucket. When you finish, you should have a clean hole like in the photo I’ve included.

After you’ve drilled the buckets, do the same to the bucket lids. Again, the home depot ones have an indentation on them. Use that.



Now comes the fun part: getting the buckets onto the pipe. Hopefully your pipe is threaded, because if itâ??s not, I donâ??t even know how youâ??re going to do this. My pipe was only threaded on one end, so I had to get extra creative.

Place the bucket upside down so that the newly drilled hole is on the top, facing you. Take the pipe and push it into the hole. Youâ??re going to need to angle it a touch, because your goal is for the threading to grab onto the inside rim of the hole. Once itâ??s snag, youâ??re going to need to apply downward pressure and twist like a sunuvabitch.

Fair warning, this really torqued my right elbow something fierce. Itâ??s going to be an awesome forearm workout, and you may want to chalk up first. However, this snugness is what weâ??re aiming for, so keep at it. Once you get past the threaded part, the bucket should be able to slide a little more smoothly up and down the pipe. Do this on both sides, so that there is a bucket on either side of the pipe.

Youâ??re going to want the buckets to slide down enough such that there is about an inch of pipe sticking out of the bucketâ??s top. The goal here is to allow the pipe to pass through the hole in the lid we drilled earlier, so that the bucket is stable on the pipe, so clearance is good.



Like most of my projects, we need gorilla tape. This is going to be just like making collars on an axle: start wrapping tape where the bottom of the bucket contacts the pipe. The goal here is to prevent the buckets from sliding down the pipe toward your hand while youâ??re pressing the bell, so you canâ??t be too stingy.

Once you’ve tapped both sides, itâ??s time to load up your bell. The home depot buckets are the exact right diameter for 25lb plates (at least, the ones I use). It’s actually such a perfect fit that they will create something of a vacuum on their way in. It won’t actually hit the bottom of the bucket, but will instead hang out around the middle. I put 2 25lb plates per side, which created a 112.5lb bell. You’ll probably want to weigh your bell empty to figure out what you’re dealing with.

Once you’ve got the weight in, youâ??re going to want to secure it so that it doesnâ??t slide around the pipe while you are training. I used some Rogue locking collars. They kind of worked, but mine are old and toward the end of my session the plates slid a bit. My plan is to (surprise) put some gorilla tape on the other side of the pipe backing the locking collar to get things a little more secure. I could also just slap some more collars on there I’m sure.


A photo of the inside of the bucket with a plate and collar on it.



Once you’ve got the bell as heavy as you want, slide the bucket lids on the pipe. This should also be a snug fit, but it won’t be as terrible as before since the lids are so thin. You can pretty much just crunch them onto the pipe. Lock the lids securely onto the bucket (they snap in place). From here, you’re good to go!

I’ve used this for 1 training session before, and managed 10 reps with no real issues. That said, here are a few thoughts regarding training with this versus a real bell.

-Be aware of if the plates have come loose on the pipe. The first few cleans, I had no issues. Once the plates got loose though, things got chaotic.

-Remember, the buckets arenÃ?¢??t holding the plates, the pipe is. This means you don’t really have to worry about the buckets falling apart while the bell is overhead. At the same time though, I wouldn’t drop this bell.

-This thing HURTS. The plastic isn’t smooth, nor is it really soft. Catching this thing on the shoulder is going to beat it up a bit. I suppose if you were really spiffy you could cover the bell in carpet padding and gorilla tape, much like I did with my log diameter increasing project.

Additionally, here are some ways you could improve the product if you were so inclined.

-Buy some 2" rubber stoppers and screw them onto the exposed ends of the threaded pipe. Not only will this prevent black widows from biting you while you train, but it’s another way to keep the lid secured to the bucket, and it means less chance of slicing yourself on the threading.

-Once everything is secure, just gorilla tape the crap out of the buckets. Keeps things stable, and makes it a little bit softer on your shoulders. Might even increase the structural integrity a bit.

-Put a physical barrier between the plates and the lids. I was thinking something like a pillow/packing material. Something light weight that will keep things in place.

Good luck, godspeed, and remember: I cannot be held liable if you choose to follow my terrible advice. I wish you a future of bruised shoulders and smashed PRs.


Wrong photo on the last post, meant to have this one to show the lid.


This isn’t the finished product (this is right after the buckets are installed but before taping starts), but it gives you an idea of the size/shape.


Im impressed with your tenacity.


[quote]Aero51 wrote:
Im impressed with your tenacity. [/quote]

When you don’t have good looks or athleticism, you have to have a lot of this instead, haha. Thanks for that.


Very cool. An interesting variant of this could be filling the buckets with concrete. It might make it less cumbersome, but at the same time I bet it’d be awkward as fuck just pouring that in for each side.


[quote]strongmanvinny wrote:
Very cool. An interesting variant of this could be filling the buckets with concrete. It might make it less cumbersome, but at the same time I bet it’d be awkward as fuck just pouring that in for each side. [/quote]

I’ve seen a concrete DB before done in that style. It’s definitely viable. Probably want to cut the buckets down to size a touch.

I actually saw one someone made using that rubber stuff you see in a drainage ditch. Cut it down to size and left the rubber/plastic coating on. Has the nice benefit of a LITTLE bit of protection between your bell and the floor if/when you drop it.

I haven’t ruled out either of those ideas for a future approach. This is working at the moment, but when it fails, just means more options.

Thanks for the input.


Actually, I just noticed this. Isnt the 1.5" too thin for a circus dumbbell? The ones we have at my gym get over 2", we have an Inch dumbbell that is 150lb and 3" thick! I cant even get that one off the ground with one hand.


[quote]Aero51 wrote:
Actually, I just noticed this. Isnt the 1.5" too thin for a circus dumbbell? The ones we have at my gym get over 2", we have an Inch dumbbell that is 150lb and 3" thick! I cant even get that one off the ground with one hand. [/quote]

With plumbing pipes, the measurement refers to inner diameter vs outer, so even though it’s a “1.5” pipe", it’ll be a total of 2" in diameter.

This confused the crap out of me, so the first time I went to buy a pipe to make an axle, I actually brought a 2.5lb plate with me and just bought the largest pipe I could that could still fit inside the plate.

That said, if you wanted to make a monster thick handle, what you could do is get a 2.5"(so 3" real diameter) pipe nipple at 12" in length and then buy a 2.5" to 1.5" reducer and 2 1’ long 1.5" pipe nipples. Make the 2.5" nipple the handle, connect the reducers on either side, and install the 1.5" nipples on either side to hold plates. The reducers would actually have the added bonus of securing the buckets onto the pipe nipple from the inside as well, which would be cool.

You could also do a similar process, going from 1.5" to 3/4" if you wanted to load standard plates instead of Olympic plates inside the bucket.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for DIY projects. I’ve finished a lot of projects through nothing but YouTube and trial and error. That being said, when it comes to strongman equipment that I know I’m going to beat the heck out of, I’d rather buy something that’s quality once.


I know some great places to buy gear, but if I can make it for $10 and save up for a car deadlift frame, it’s what I will do. I had fun making this for sure.


I hear ya. I’m not above figuring things out myself. I’ve made my own sandbags, built a variety of blocks and platforms for lifting, and pick up used tires for free. Our stones and kegs are all homemade as well.

I think it’s only my second time mentioning Holland Strength. Sorry if I’m beating a dead horse.


Ah ok, what you are referring to is NPS (nominal pipe size or in earlier texts, national pipe size), the NPS is the ID and the OD is defined by the schedule. See


Sounds reasonable. I just know it’s what the price tag says, haha.


Just giving you that info because I work with that stuff all the time at my job (fluid systems engineer) and we do welding and the like frequently. Have you thought about building a similar system that uses lead shot or BBs for weight instead? You can pick up a carton of a few thousand BBs (get the zinc plated because they don’t corrode) for like $5. Id imagine that would really make the load difficult if it were sloshing around in a container.

The schedule is important because it determines the wall thickness. The thicker the wall the more resistant to bending the pipe will be. Keep in mind pipe is not designed to be loaded in bending or in torsion so you need to get the highest schedule or most ductile material (with a high yield strength) possible. What will happen if you drop the weight is the pipe will crack and that will be the end of it.