Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More than just squat stands

Though these stands have been posted online before, I aim to improve upon existing internet plans to combine the squat stand and the bench press. It's more like a portable power rack at this point. Whatever it is, it's only about $50 and is strong enough to support a quarter ton, or even more.

Cost: approx. $50
Project Time: 1 day (plus drying time)
Difficulty: You have to be able to cut 2x4s, drill into 2x4s, put glue on 2x4s, drive screws into 2x4s, and mix and pour cement into a bucket containing the bottom of said 2x4s. If you can handle that, then you're good to go.

Tools Needed:
  • Drill
  • Saw (any kind that can cut a 2x4, your choice)
  • Sander (either electric or get a rubber sanding block to use by hand)
  • Trowel or small shovel of some kind to mix cement
  • Container in which to mix said cement

Materials Needed (short list):

  • 2x4 studs (you'll need about nine)
  • Box of 2 1/2 inch deck screws (I like T25 star bit)
  • 5 gallon buckets (two of them)
  • 120 lbs. of ready to use cement (Quikrete)
  • Wood Glue
  • Metal Backing Plates (more info in elaborate list below)
  • Twine (or some form of pliable strong rope/thread)
  • Sticky Foam or Cork or something similar, and Duct Tape (optional)
  • Paint / Stain (optional)
  • 2 big metal "L" brackets (optional but recommended for bench press, see video at bottom)
  • 2 bolts, washers, and nuts that fit the holes in your saw horse (optional, see video)
  • Scrap plywood or OSB (optional, see video)
  • 5 ft. length of 1 x 6 board (optional, see video)

Materials Needed (elaborate list):
  • 2 x 4 studs (8 ft. long each) - I needed nine for my build. It may vary depending on what you're doing with your second tier.
  • Box of 2.5 inch deck screws - I prefer to use deck screws with a star bit head (T-25). They won't slip around like Phillips head screws can. If you don't have a T-25 bit, pick one up at the store for about $1 when you get your screws.
  • 5 gallon buckets - You need two of these for this project.
  • 120 lbs. (dry) of ready to use cement mix (Quikrete) - My estimate is that you'll need about 120 lbs. of this stuff. They sell it in 40 lbs. bags and 80 lb. bags. I got two 80 lb bags and have a little more than half a bag leftover. Three 40 lb. bags should do if you don't want to have leftovers.
  • Metal Plates - click here to see a picture. There are a few options with this part of the project. I'm simply going to instruct you on the easiest way that requires the least amount of special tools or effort. You'll need 4 of the larger plates (approx 3" x 7") and 4 small plates (1" x 3"). You can find these near the lumbar with the rest of the decking/framing braces. I also show you a fancy upgraded version, for which you'll need 10 of the large plates. Scroll way down to see and decide which you like better.
  • Twine - In order to "stake" down our stands while the cement dries to keep it level. Just like when leveling posts for a deck or mailbox. It's doesn't have to be twine as long as it's pliable enough to tie down your stands and strong enough to not stretch so that the stand stays level.
  • Sticky foam - Like the kind you'll find in the craft section at Walmart. This is optional, and you could use duct tape as well. The purpose of this would be to avoid metal on metal contact with the bar and the backing plates. But then again most guys like metal on metal contact and the sound it makes is good because it lets you know you've hit the rack and can lower the bar. I used foam only on the small metal plates but not the large ones.
  • Paint / Stain - Completely optional as it's purely for aesthetics. If you plan on painting the bucket make sure you use a paint designed specifically for plastic use. Krylon Fusion is a common choice for plastics. However, Vinyl Dye, which can be found at auto parts stores (like Auto Zone), actually soaks into plastics so it won't chip off. It smells absolutely horrible and does so for many many days, so I'd probably avoid it for this project. The better solution would be to simply buy buckets that are already a solid pleasing color, like black. Or, like I did, you could just not give a shit what the bucket looks like.
  • Wood Glue - You may be able to argue this one as optional but it certainly doesn't hurt. Better to make things as strong as possible, especially when they are going to be load bearing. Even if it's just for psychological comfort.

The top tier is for normal humans to Squat. Also useful if Mr. Fantastic wants to Floor Press.

This is the centerpiece of your home gym. As far as I'm concerned, if you're not squatting then you better be missing a leg or recovering from surgery. There are a few different alternatives you can use in lieu of a rack or stands, such as the Steinborn lift, cleaning the weight into place, or using chairs or furniture as stands, but these are all temporary and will start to limit you on the lift when you're ready for the weight to increase, which won't take long, even if you've never lifted before. But while their name suggests their use for squats, you can use these for much more, including overhead pressing and in the case of this build, the bench press.

I did not create the idea for these "5 gallon bucket squat stands". Two people, at least, before me posted these online. However, like most projects online, they usually don't have great instructions to go off of. That's all fine and dandy for a guy like me, who has been doing this kind of stuff for 15 years. But the average person, as I've been told, will often shrug these projects off, feeling that they don't have the knowledge or skill to do it. I hope my tireless explanations of each project will help people get over that concern. If you're an adult human, you possess the motor skills to do all of this stuff. This article, will hopefully give you the knowledge you need to feel confident enough to try it.

Bottom tier is for bench press. You could also build it higher to be a second squat stand for the shawties.

The design I made has many additions or refinements or improvements to the basic design of these stands. My design, as featured in this article functions as both squat stands and a rack for the bench press. You just have to add a bench. I will be showing you the stands (including the second bench press tier - which could be raised to make a double squat stand if you want) in this project. To see how to make the bench go to the Strongest Bench You'll Never Buy project.


First thing you need to do with any project is measure, so you'll also need a tape measure and a pencil. That kind of goes without saying in any building project. In the case of these squat stands they're not adjustable so you need to know the correct height for yourself, or whoever is going to be the one using them. It's always better for the bar to sit too low than too high. If it's a little too low, even a lot too low, You can still bend your knees to get under it. If it's too high, at best you'd have to unrack it on your tippy toes. At worst you can't use the rack at all. Unracking on your toes is a bad idea when you've got several hundred lbs. on your back.  Measure it correctly, and if you're not sure, err on the side of making it shorter. If you're making a "double squat stand" that has multiple tiers for two different people of drastically different heights, start with the taller person first. If you're using the second tier for bench press, start with the squat rack first. If you're just doing a single person squat rack, then you'll just skip the part when we make the second tier altogether.

The first critical board we need to measure is the one on which the bar rests, Board B (see diagram #1). That's right, we're starting with B, because the length of all the others will be relative to this one. What I've found is that a good height for low bar squats is for the bar to be nicely nestled in your arm pit if you were to stand barefoot next to the bar on the completed rack and put your arm over it (see picture below). A bar is roughly 28 mm in diameter, which is 1.1 inches. So the measurement you want to take is from the floor to the top of your armpit when you're standing straight up. This is for low bar back squats. High bar or front squats or standing presses has the bar sitting even higher on your body so no worries there. This measurement lets you do all these things with ease. Since low bar is the lowest position you will be doing, we measure ideally for that because if that works, everything else will too.

Impaled by a barbell, or just putting my arm over it? I'll let you decide.

So, measure from floor to armpit when barefoot and subtract one inch from this (to account for the bar). You can make this measurement in shoes if you wish, but remember shoes make you taller. Err on the side of making it shorter. You may opt to lift barefoot sometime so I like to measure without shoes. If you do this, then when you do wear shoes it will just mean you'll have to bend your knees an unnoticeable tad more to unrack the bar, no big deal. Since it's not adjustable better to have it be ideal for the shortest scenario, low bar back squatting barefoot. Floor to armpit minus one inch. This is the length of your first board (board B).

The next two boards are easier. Board A is the back riser of your stands. It's the tallest board that you're going to rack the bar into. If you want to ensure perfection then stand up straight and measure from floor to the middle of your neck, while wearing your lifting shoes. This is going to be the highest point you're ever going to have a bar on you either from overhead presses or high bar squats or front squats. Take this measurement (from floor to the middle of your neck) and add about 5 inches to it to ensure that the back riser is significantly higher than the bar on any lift you may be using this rack for, whether that's front squats, overhead press, or high bar back squats. This ensures you'll be able to easily rack the bar by walking it into the risers and then down. You won't have to guess if you're over the "hooks" or not. If you get a little crazy with this and make it way too tall, no problem, you can always trim it down at any time in the future. Better too long than too short on this one.

For Board C, which is the "hook" or catch part of the stand, you don't want these to be too tall. If they are you'll hit them on your way in and out of the rack. They have to be low enough so that you can clear them on a barefoot low bar back squat, which would be the lowest point the bar will be on any of the lifts you'll use this for. You're going to want these to be at least 1 inch taller than Board B, but you don't need it to be much taller than that. I'd say 2 inches taller than Board B at the most and even that is excessive. But remember, you can always trim them down after the entire rack is complete, if you notice that they're too tall. But as long as they're 1 inch taller than board B the bar isn't going anywhere. Remember the bar itself is only about 1 inch "tall". There's no consequence to them being taller as long as you easily clear them when racking and unracking your squats.

If you just want a single squat stand, and not a double squat stand for two people of different heights or the dynamic duo squat and bench press stand, then you're ready to start cutting, Make two of each board (A, B, and C) so that you'll have a pair of stands. One won't do you any good. Since you're only making the single squat stand you can skip down to the section called "Putting it Together."


If you want to add a second squat tier for another person who is significantly shorter than you, and thus can't use the same rack as you, just repeat the process for their "board B and C". The shorter tier's back riser is the taller tier's board C, which you've already measured. See the diagram and this should make sense. If your second person is taller than you and needs a higher rack tier, you weren't paying attention. You were supposed to start with the tallest person, remember?

Now, if you wanna be cool like me, you can use the second tier of the rack for bench press instead. This is a great way to save space.  Both squats and bench press are major lifts you want to do. They're part of the big three (squat, deadlift, bench press). Might as well have these racks pull double duty. This will take your "squat stands" one step closer to full power rack function. In fact, when you add the DIY safety stands (we'll talk later) you'll have something that functions exactly like a power rack. If you just make these squat stands, how are you going to bench? Most people don't have a ton of space, and you probably work out alone so I think this is the most efficient design. It means you don't need space for a separate dedicated Bench Press station.

The back riser for the bench tier is already done, it's board C of your squat rack. So we just have to measure the board that the bar will rest on top of (board D) and the front catch for it (board E).

First is Board D. I'll be honest, I'm no Bench Press expert. In fact, I suck at it. Even so, I do know the mechanics involved and therefore what measurements we need to make a workable bench rack. Standard benches are 17 inches in height. As will everything in this project, making these too short, is better than too long. If it's too long you won't be able to unrack it. Too short would just mean you have to bend your elbows a fraction more when unracking.

If you already have a weight bench you can make the measurement by laying down on it and doing your best to get into position (shoulders back and tight, etc.) just like you were about to bench. Extend your arms as if you were at lockout position and act as though you are taking a wider grip (hands farther apart). A wider grip makes the bar height at lockout lower since your arms are angled outwards and not straight up. We plan and measure for the "worst case" scenario. You don't want Board D to be too high. If it's a little "too low" it's no big deal. Too high can make it unusable. So measure when simulating a wide grip to ensure if you did want to use a wide grip, there will be no problems racking the bar.

Have a friend measure from floor to your palm, where the bar will sit. This measurement is the highest point where the bar will be. You won't be able to raise it any higher without sacrificing form, so your catch (Board E) has to be less than this measurement (more on that later). So take this measurement (floor to palm when in position on the bench) and subtract about 3 inches. This is the length of your Board D.

If you don't have your bench then repeat the same procedure as above but do so while lying on the floor. Since a standard bench is 17 inches in height, just add 17 inches to your floor measurement. So if you're lying on the floor measure from floor to palm and add 17 inches. Then subtract 3 inches and that's the length you need for Board D.

If you don't have a friend to help you measure than you can make the measurement yourself by holding a pencil in one hand, as if it's a tiny barbell, point facing out (away from your face). Take your position, either on the bench or floor, but do so with your body right next to and parallel to a wall. This way your pencil head will be right against the wall. You can get into position and simply make a mark on the wall. Then measure from floor to this mark (add 17 inches if you are lying on the floor and not a bench) and then subtract 3 inches from this. That will be the length of Board D.

Now for the last board (board E). This is the catch to prevent the bar from falling off the front of the bench press rack. The height of this bar ideally needs to be as short as possible. Proper bench press technique requires you to tuck your shoulders back together and into the bench. As such, your arm's reach becomes effectively shorter and you somewhat "pull the bar forward more than going straight up for several inches to clear the front catch. If the catch for your rack is too high you'll need to roll your shoulders up to allow your arms to get the bar high enough to clear it. This puts you in the wrong position to press. Notice how short my Board E is (pictured left); It doesn't even cover the entire height of the bar.

There's no reason to sacrifice technique to accommodate an incorrectly built rack. Building the rack yourself means you can make any piece any length you want it. You obviously need enough height on the catch to prevent the bar from rolling forward, but you don't want much more than that. I'd say at most make board E 1 inch longer (taller) than board D. But like I said with the squat boards, you can always trim these down at any time in the future (that's what I did) so don't freak out about it. If it's too tall and you're hitting it upon racking and unracking your bench with proper form, then trim them down. But one inch taller than board D is a good standard because the bar itself is about 1 inch tall so that's enough to keep it where you want it. There's really no need to go higher than this. It's no more effective and it is just going to get in the way.


Okay, so everything is measured. If it's not cut then do so now. I'll wait. A miter saw is probably the fastest and most accurate way to easily cut 2x4s like this. But even a hand saw will suffice. We're going to build this thing like a sandwich. For condiments we're using wood glue, and instead of toothpicks we'll use deck screws. First thing to do is dry fit it all. Lay board A on the ground first. On top of that put board B, then C, then D and E if applicable to your project. Sure up the bottom ends so they're all in line. This is what the final block of wood is going to look like.

Next we want to mark where we're going to put the screws in. To do this we'll mark on the sides. We're going to screw boards together by twos. That is to say any given screw is going to go through two boards. To do more than that we'd be in the realm of using bolts, and to do that would require we have a big ass drill bit to go through 5 boards. (okay, that's not completely true, technically speaking.) But bolts that long are more costly. If you know how to do it and want to thread bolts all the way through your 2x4 sandwich, feel free to do so. But I like to use screws. This means we have to screw the boards together one by one. That means a lot of screws, so we have to make sure they don't interfere with each other.

The way we're going to plan that is shown in Diagram #2 (above). Position the boards on the ground so that Board A is on the bottom and they are stacked as shown. Mark across the side of board B and board A. As shown in the pic, this mark will cover the bottom half of board B and the top half of board A. Now move about an inch to the left. This time mark across board C and B in the same fashion, this one covering the bottom half of board C and the top half of board B. Move another inch or so to the left and mark across D and C, then move left again and mark E and D. If you're not doing a two tier design you obviously omit the steps for boards D and E. Then just repeat the whole process all the way down the board. As you get to the end don't worry too much about things being perfect. Remember the bottom foot of this thing will be in cement. Just get enough screws in there to hold it together.

Notice that there is a space of one board between marks (screws) along the same plane of height. As shown below, you will put screws directly above / below others but there will be an entire board in between in which neither screw is driven into. Think of it like stairs. Mark a line, move over and up and mark another. Repeat until you're out of boards. Then drop all the way down to the bottom boards (A and B) and mark your next set of "stairs". The first "stair" and the final "stair" in a sequence will be directly over/under each other. In other words, your mark covering Board E and D and your mark covering B and A will be directly in line. If you're not doing a two tier system then you don't have boards D and E. In which case none of your screws will be directly over each other.

If I've confused the hell out of you then just remember it's not brain surgery. We're putting screws into wood. All we need to do is hold it together and make sure the screws don't bump into each other. Whether you do it exactly as I've laid out or not it doesn't matter. Just get enough fasteners into the wood to make it solid and stable.

Now you take the boards off one another and keep them facing the same side up as they were. Go ahead and put a mark on the top so you know which side is up. We're going to pre drill holes rather than just drive the screws in. This will ensure that we don't split the wood. Find a drill bit that is smaller than the width of your screws. If you drill the holes too big the screws won't have enough wood to screw into. So pick a drill bit that you can clearly tell is smaller than your screw width (the shaft, not the head).

Take Board B and put it on top of Board A. Make sure the bottoms are lined up. You're going to drill through them both so make sure it's all square since this is going to be how they're screwed together. Look at your marks on the side of Board B. You'll have two types of markings. One that covers the top half of the side of board but not the lower half, and those that cover the lower half but not the upper half. The ones that cover the lower half will also extend onto the top half of board A. These are the marks that you're going to drill. Confused? See Diagram #4 below. Leave the other marks alone for now.

I recommend putting two holes on the face of each board, in line with each of these marks (see picture). Now your drill bit may not be long enough to go far enough into the bottom board, in this case board A. That's fine. Just make sure as you load it into your drill you keep it long enough to get a little bit into the bottom board.

Drill straight down through board B completely. You'll end up going into Board A a little bit. Repeat this procedure, putting two holes for each mark on the board. Then you'll have to take board B off of board A. There will be shallow holes through this board. All you have to do is deepen them. To know exactly how deep, put a screw against the side of two of the boards. Notice how far it goes into the bottom board. This is roughly how deep you want to drill the holes in that board. It doesn't have to be exact but that gives you an idea.

After you have all the holes drilled to connect B and A get your wood glue. We have to assemble this like a sandwich one board at at time. Slather board A with glue, then put board B on top of it. Line up the edges. Now start driving your screws through the pre-drilled holes. Everything should line up perfectly and they'll go in with ease. Drive the screws in until the heads are forced into the wood slightly. This is called counter sinking and decking screws like this will do it naturally in softer wood like 2x4 studs. Just counter sink them a bit so that the heads are not sticking out of the wood. Don't sink them too far in. We just need the board flat so it rests against the next board nicely.

You should also have a towel or something to wipe up the glue as it will get squeezed out between the boards like too much mayonnaise on a turkey sandwich. Now Boards A and B are completely secured. You're going repeat the entire process with the next board. So put board C on top of board B, line everything up. Then drill through board C according to your marks, just as you did before. Take board C off, deepen the holes on board B. Slather B with glue, put C back on and screw it down. Repeat again and again for D and E. Now you've got the wood all secured together. Repeat the entire process for the other stand. Let them dry for a few hours. If you're too impatient, it won't be the end of the world if you continue on immediately.


Once ready, it's time to mix the cement. Follow the directions on the bag. It's not rocket science. You're mixing the powder in the bags with water until it's the proper consistency, again read the label. Because you're not mixing a lot you can use a hand shovel / trowel to mix it. It may even be better to have a smaller tool to do so but I'm sure a large shovel would work just fine too. I'd recommend you put something down over the area you're going to be mixing and pouring; An old sheet or plastic drop cloth is fine. Put your 5 gallon buckets and mixing container on the sheet. I'm assuming you're doing this on a surface like your garage.

Stand your wooden posts up in the buckets and center them. Now start shoveling your cement into the buckets. Fill the buckets up. Leave an inch or two at the top. Like I said, this is going to take about 120 lbs. of dry mix, maybe a little less. The wood studs sit directly on the bottom of the bucket which sits on the ground. Since gravity pulls straight down, the force it transmitted from the barbell through the wood, to the ground. The main job of the cement is to hold the studs upright and make them bottom heavy so they won't tip. In other words, the cement isn't actually load bearing, its function is in stabilization.

The way you'd typically brace a post in cement like this would be to put stakes in the ground and tie ropes to the post on each of the four sides ensuring that it cannot move. But to do that here you'd have to find a pretty flat level spot to put the bucket in your yard.

If you have enough heavy weights or other heavy objects you could do the same in your garage. But rather than using stakes in the ground, tie the rope to the weight plates instead. Tie a heavy plate to each side of the stand, (4 sides 4 plates) pull them tight and adjust them until the stand is level both front to back, and side to side.

After you get them level, just let the cement dry for a few days. Resist the urge to use them as soon as you think you can get away with it. Let it sit for 48 hours. Now that the cement is dry the stands are usable. However there are a few more alterations we can make to improve the function of our stands.


First is to round the inside edges of the bar catches, that is the stud that sits in front of the bar to prevent it rolling forward (Boards C and E). You don't have to do this but it does open up a little more room when lowering the bar back onto the rack. It also encourages the bar to roll into the rack if you happened to put it down on the front wood catch. There's plenty of room to rack and unrack the bar and I've yet to have any trouble but nevertheless there's no reason not to do this, is there? To get the curve you could use a router but really all you have to do is cut the corner straight off. Any kind of hand saw will do.

Of course this will not leave you with a rounded edge. To remedy that use a sander with a heavier grit paper. You can do this by hand as well if you have a rubber block. You may have to do it by hand unless you have an electric sander small enough to get in there. Just work the edges until it's rounded nicely to your liking.

Rounding the tops of your front catch pieces functions better and looks prettier.

Since we've got the sand paper out, might as well clean up all the edges to take off any sharp corners and splinters. It doesn't have to be a perfect finish job, unless you want it to be. Just make it safe by eliminating any rough edges.

Now is the best time to pretty it up and paint it if you choose. Any kind of paint will do. If you're buying paint specifically for this don't get too much. A quart is typically the smallest size in which you can really get paint, and even that will be more than you need even if you give it several coats. If you plan to stain it then a small pint can should be enough. If you did paint it, let it dry fully. If you stained it, it will be dry enough to continue in much less time since stain soaks into the wood you can continue even when it's not completely cured.


The next alteration is to put metal plates where the bar is going to contact the wood. If you don't do this the bar will eventually wear away at the wood. I'm not saying it will get so bad as to compromise the integrity of your stand but with a simple metal plate you can remove the issue entirely. There are many ways to accomplish the task. Most involve cutting and/or bending metal. It's not such a big deal but when choosing which to include in this article I opted to keep things simple.

If you choose the simple version (left) put the plate all the way down, unlike shown in the picture.

The simple version is to merely take the store bought metal plates, put them against the wood (Boards A and C) and slide it all the way down so that its bottom edge is in the corner between back riser and where the bar sits on top of Boards B and D. If you leave a space of open wood below the metal plate (like shown in the picture), the bar will eventually wear away at it. Then either put in small screws or nails through the holes in the metal plate to secure it. One in each corner is enough

If you choose the fancier version, as shown above (right), you have some work to do. You have to bend your big metal pieces into three sided brackets as shown in the picture to the right. You can accomplish this by measuring your plate against a 2x4. By bracing it against a block of wood (2x4) you can start to bend it mostly by hand.  But you'll have to use either Vice Grips, a hammer, or both to really finish it off and get a sharp 90 degree bend.

For the squat risers, the sides of these brackets will be too long and hang off the 2x4. It would not be a big deal but the corners of these things are not exactly made of cotton balls. To ensure you don't scrape yourself on them, use your hammer to bend them around the back of your risers. This eliminates the need to cut the brackets to perfect size, which can be a time consuming event. You don't have to worry about this for the second tier, for obvious reasons.

The picture to the left isn't an exact step by step process but gives you an idea of the technique involved. With these " [ " shaped brackets you can stack them one above the other to cover the entire height of your back risers. You can now also fasten them with screws from the side. The benefit of this is that the screws are not ever going to touch the bar and potentially scratch it.  This is the version I use on my stands at home.

Another way to accomplish this is to use metal "flashing" This is thinner metal that you can cut with tin snips or even garden sheers. Bending it is also easier. You'll still use the block of wood technique where you use the wood as your shape and your hands and hammer to shape it to the block. With flashing you'll be able to use a single piece to span the entire height of your riser. And you'll be able to drill and screw through the sides to keep your front piece completely clear. I haven't priced flashing so I don't know which of these ways is the cheapest. But I figured that this idea bears mentioning as well. As I said, there are many ways to go about this. You can choose whichever you fancy most. I used the "simple" version for 6 months and saw no issues with it.

Now for the bottom plates. Take your small (1 x 3") metal plates. Put them onto the top of Boards B and D). Drive two screws into them, diagonal from each other, as shown below. Now you can cut out a piece of craft sticky foam and stick it on top of the plate. This design does a few things: First, the metal plate protects the top of the wood so it doesn't get smashed and splintered. The position of the screws acts to help keep the bar centered. The foam protects the bar from metal on metal contact with the screws and it also furthers the centering of the bar as over time the bar creates a groove by smashing down the foam.

However, I have noticed after years of use that this design can scratch your bar. To prevent this see some suggestions below.

With this design the bar will find it's groove and stay in the center of the "hook."
Another option is to use cork instead of foam. Creating a ring of double sided tape via duct tape and sticking it to the back of a piece of cork, also works. This is much thicker and doesn't crush like the foam. You could also buy a longer piece of metal (perhaps flashing material) and bend it down the sides and mount it via screws from the side.


There you have it, a pair of squat / bench press stands. Each one will weigh in the neighborhood of 80 lbs. You can move these relatively easily, especially after you begin using them to develop your strength. When you're squatting and deadlifit hundreds of lbs. 80 lb. stands are not a big deal. So you can move them out of the way when not in use, if you don't have a dedicated space to keep them out. They are completely bottom heavy and therefore won't tip over or slide when you rack and unrack the bar. The amount of tilt you have to get before these things will fall is enormous. It will never happen by accident and you'd be hard pressed to do it on purpose, if you have a loaded bar on your back.

I have, as of yet, tested these with a load of 450 lbs. They handled it with ease. The compression strength of the materials , given the way gravity will put the force, can handle more than a, literal, ton; a weight that you'll never squat. And if you're ever squatting even near half that, say 1000 lbs. I think you could probably swing to buy a high quality commercial setup; which is not to say that you would have to. Wood is strong. Your house is likely made of it, as is your deck. And a well put together wood product is better than a flimsy cheap metal commercial product. It's a cheap material that's easy to work with and in the right configuration is strong as all hell.

Here's a video with a few upgrades. I've used these stands for about 2.5 years with no problems but here are two things I recommend you do from the start.

This was a long post. I hope I've covered everything. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer them.

- Carl


  1. cant understand why theres no comments, anyway, hats off to you, going to build my self this, many thanks for sharing

  2. Looking to follow this guide and build myself all the different items you have posted guides for. I'm a total DIY beginner, so this question might be irrelevant but would it be possible for you to to post the metric system equillivant for the stud sizes and other measures?
    I've tried googling it, but came to no definite answer so I thought I would ask here or otherwise just follow common sense

  3. Yes, I'll go back through all the projects and add the metric measurements. I've also just put up a new page, "Materials Dictionary" which covers this topic as well.

  4. Are these stable enough for re-racking, they won't tip over?
    Definiteley going to build this since I live in an apartment

  5. The stands were designed to prevent them from falling over. The physics involved in tipping these stands over is something that could never be caused by a human BY ACCIDENT. You literally have to tip the top of these stands back two feet before they would fall, and there's no way you'll get more than a few inches of deflection when re-racking a heavy bar.

    The only way you'll tip these over is if you're trying to do it on purpose. And if put them less than 24" from a wall they won't have the space to tip even if you ran into them like an NFL linebacker.

    Also, if you don't want them to be able to rock at all, you could screw a length of 2x4 (2 feet long or w/e you want) to the side of each stand and put the ends of those flush against a wall. I see no need to do this for myself, though.

    1. I want to clarify that the above post was referring to the unloaded stands. They are bottom heavy and thus stable and hard to tip. One potential danger is if you re-rack the weight by walking into the uprights and slightly tip the stands back as a result. That alone is fine as long as you let the stands come back BEFORE you set the bar down on them. But if you tip them back and drop the bar on them while they are still tipped that could be an issue depending on how much weight is on the bar.

      So always control the bar when re-racking. Make sure everything is solid before you release the bar from your back. Alternatively, you could brace the stands against a wall with a simple frame (I'll do an update about that soon) and then they won't be able to tip at all. I still recommend being safe in any case. If the weight is so heavy you can't control it, and you are basically falling into the rack when re-racking perhaps it's too heavy to be squatting at home alone out of homemade stands.

  6. First of all, great blog man. This stuff is genius. I'm going to do this and the bench for sure, I just have one question:

    Could you put some long screws in through the bottom of the bucket to hold the wood in place, or do you think this could potentially lead to the wet cement leaking?

    Thanks in advance, and keep up the good work!

  7. You might get minimal leakage but it wouldn't be a big deal. You'll probably make a bigger mess just shoveling the cement into the bucket in the first place.

    However, what is your purpose for this idea? By "hold the wood in place" do you mean while the cement is setting? Screws alone won't keep the wood level so you'll still need to "stake" it down.

    If you mean after the cement is set, well the cement itself holds the wood in place. If you clarify your exact concern I could more specifically address it.

  8. I meant to keep it level during wet cement phase. I was thinking 2 in the front and 2 in the back (of the bottom of the bucket) would keep it flush to the bottom while it dries.

  9. 1. the posts will naturally sit flush to the bottom of the bucket. Their weight keeps them there. Pouring in cement around them will not change that. You don't need screws to do that.

    2. Screwing the posts to the bottom of the bucket will ensure that you cannot adjust them.

    3. If your posts, by some chance, happen to sit perfectly level naturally, then you wouldn't need the screws (though they wouldn't do harm either).

    4. If your posts, most likely, do not sit perfectly level naturally then screwing them to the bucket will mean you can't fix them.

    Is there a reason that you can't use the string and heavy object technique described in the article? It's surely not the only way to accomplish this but it is the easiest and it is the standard way to level a post in cement.

    All the screws are going to do is lock you in to however your post naturally sits, and most likely that will not be as level as you want it / can get it.

  10. Thanks for the insight. I've never used cement so I was trying to ensure that I don't mess that part up! Staking shouldn't be an issue.

  11. Ah, no worries then. You may have been thinking your post would float in the cement or something. That is not the case. It will stay on the bottom of the bucket.

  12. Hey man,

    Just wanted to let you know I built these without a hitch. Thanks for the instructions! And I had to be very disciplined not to use them after 24h, when the cement looked dry.

    Also, I modified my cheap metal bench by attaching a mini "wall" frame to the head end of it with the leftover scrap that I had, making it considerably more sturdy/solid!

    Thanks for the blog, this is something I've dreamt about doing for a while, but didn't know where to start.

  13. This is an excellent idea! It's just what I've been looking for. Great blog Carl!

  14. This is beautiful, man. Thank you.

    I already have a homemade squat rack, but I will soon be moving to a place where a full rack is not possible to keep. So these stands will have to be built and housed in the garage. I cannot wait to take this project and make it rock and roll.

  15. Just got to say this is an excellent project; simple and straightforward with clear instructions. Now going to make one of these and the bench for me and my son.

    Thanks Carl!

  16. Cool complicated though

  17. cool thanks man gonna start mine very soon!

  18. Very nice, I just built a pair for my garage, and they tuck to the side nicely so I can still park in the same space.

  19. About how much do they weigh a piece, 70-80 lbs? I'm trying to figure out if I could lug them up the stairs at my apartment without too much of a struggle

    1. Mine weigh 75 lbs. each. I just picked one up and walked up and down the basement stairs. It's not much of a hassle (and I'm not all that strong by lifter standards). You'll have to hold it from the bottom of the bucket since that's where all the weight is, and the bottom has a bit of a lip on it which digs into your hands. So I recommend either wearing gloves or putting a towel under it to pad your hands.

  20. Thanks!! Great idea! Cheap, sturdy and a space saver compared to a full bench and/or squat stand. Just what I was looking for. I'm making some tomorrow!

  21. Greetings Carl, great work with the detail. Just wondering, i'm from australia are 2x4 studs a common term if i went to a hardware store to get some? Also what are the dimensions? does it matter what type of wood i use?

    1. From what I gather you guys call them "90 x 45mm F5 Pine". F5 is the structural grade. That seems to be what you guys use to frame houses and such over there. You also seem to use 90 x 35mm studs. Assuming price is comparable the 45 is probably better as it would give you not only more strength but more room for your barbell.

      For what it's worth, a "2x4" is actually 89mm wide x 38mm thick. But what research I can do from here suggests you use the above comparable timber, and you do not seem to call it "2 by fours".

      If you are unsure ask an employee to help. What you want is studs to frame a house, which I'm now reasonably sure you guys call "90 x 45mm" and I think you even call them "studs".

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Hey Carl thanks for the help with the studs, i've put together the wood, and now i'm up setting it into concrete. We don't have 5 gallon buckets in Australia, but we do have 20 litre buckets only thing is, it isn't as wide as the gallon buckets in America. I'm just wondering, my stands are 23cm wide and my bucket at the base is 24 cm wide, is that going to be too small to put my stands in?

    1. Officially I would say you should try to find a bigger bucket. With only 5mm of clearance on each side I would have concern about how well it would wear as the concrete and wood will both expand and contract over time. That doesn't mean it won't work. I don't really know. If you can get a wider bucket of some kind that would be ideal.

      That being said, if you can't get a wider bucket then your other option would be to rebuild the stand and make it a single squat stand (so it's only three boards thick). Or if you can find thinner studs (around 38mm) then that would also work. Five gallon buckets and 20 liter buckets are basically the same width. It's your studs that are thicker.

      But rebuilding it would suck and that would mean you waste what you've done already. And if you're going to waste it, you might as well try it out rather than just throw it away.

      Also, since the wood is rectangular and the bucket is round, and you have only a cm of clearance, does it even fit to the bottom?

    2. You could use 90*45mm for the weight bearing D and E studs and 90*35mm for the A,C,E studs

  23. cool idea i love! it I"am going to make one tomorrow!!

  24. I just got the full setup done. Pics

  25. By 2 x 4 what thus that mean?? is it 2 inches thick and 4 inches wide?

    1. Yes, 2 x 4s originally start out as 2 inches thick and 4 inches wide. They come in varying lengths, usually starting at 8 feet. But they go through processing and by the time they are in the store they are actually 1.5 inches thick and 3.5 inches wide. We still call them 2 by 4s though.

  26. I'm not sure what was used for the metal backing plates? What product is that? Thanks.

    1. I don't even know what they are called, if they even have a special name. I found them by the lumber with all the other kinds of metal brackets used to secure lumber together. But as I mentioned there are many things you can use, the point is just to cover the wood with some kind of metal so it doesn't get worn down by the bar.

  27. A Few Questions

    1. How do these hold up to the elements ? I'm working out on my roof, can I leave these in the sun ( we got a lot of sun ) and in the rain ?

    2. Could I use 1/2 a cinder block insetead of the buckets ? I've got a few 1/2 cinderblocks lying around and they would match the rest of the building, I have some tiles I can use to plug up the holes in the bottom.

    3. If we do use the bucket can we just mix the cement in the bucket ?

    1. 1. I don't suggest that these be used outside. It might be alright if you get wood made for that purpose (we call it pressure treated in the states). But still, wood exposed to the elements will more likely warp, shrink, expand, split, and wear out. I don't know how well it would hold up.

      2. I can't recommend using cinder blocks since I've never done it.

      3. You could mix it in the bucket. The trouble would be mixing the proper amount so that when you stuff the wood in there it is filled but not overflowing.

  28. Replies
    1. 180 at a bodyweight of 165 is the most I've done recently. My current estimated max is in the 190s., which sucks I know. But I've never had the affinity for the bench press that most people have. I actually haven't benched in about a year. Only a few weeks ago did I start benching again. I'm back to my old PRs and about to blast through them.

    2. That's pretty good the most I've ever done is 110 but I don't have a bench press.

  29. Excellent build you have there! I plan on getting the material this afternoon and building it over the weekend. There's just one concern in mind yet which wasn't really addressed... How much weight can be supported while using the squat rack portion? I have a smith machine, but I truly despise going heavy with squats on it, so I'd appreciate any estimation.

    1. The most I've had on there is 550 lbs. I'm surprised I didn't mention that in the article. I assumed I had. I'll have to edit it. Anyway, I don't have any more weights so I can't test it with more than that. But my opinion would be if you're squatting 500 lbs. alone in your home gym you should probably invest in something like a power rack.

      The problem won't be the strength of the stands. They can hold literal tons. The problem will eventually be that they become too top heavy and will more prone to tipping over. I'm thinking when you're re-racking a heavy ass weight (and I mean heavy in a more absolute sense not a relative strength sense) you probably want something rock solid that you can slam into and unload in a more aggressive fashion.

      Even commercial squat stands should have a bigger footprint than a 5 gallon bucket does so you just have to be careful when the weight really starts getting heavy. 200, 300, even 400 lbs. is not a big deal but 500, 600, and up starts getting heavy in the absolute sense. I personally wouldn't want to handle those kinds of weights when alone and not in a quality power rack.

      That doesn't mean this kind of setup wouldn't handle such loads, I'm sure it can, but you have to be much more careful, and perhaps more careful than you might be when exhausted with 500 lbs. on your back. So I don't necessarily endorse using these things with more than 500 lbs. At that point, you're into elite levels of strength so make a more serious investment in your hobby or sport. But 300 or 400 lbs. yeah that's no problem. Just control the weight, don't overreach your strength levels, and you'll be okay.

  30. I want to use the concrete buckets 20 litre but with metal instead of wood, something like 2 inches by 2 inches rectangular pipe driled in multiple places, can you think of any reasons why it wont work ?

    1. Metal should work fine as long as you can work with it (drill and cut) and you can get it at a cost effective price. Do you plan to use just a single pipe or are you going to build it just like I did with multiple pipes instead of multiple boards of wood? If you are going with a single pipe what's your plan for the back stop and front catch? Just curious.

  31. First of all thanks for the reply.
    Im planning a single pipe. For the back stop im thinking the pipe itself, as far as the front catch goes, not really sure yet but something o fit in the pipe holes, i would like to make it adjustable.Also if the metal thing doesnt workout, can i use narower pieces of wood like 2x3, 2x2?

    1. I don't know how well something like that would work, having never done it myself. As far as narrower pieces of wood, I wouldn't recommend that. I don't think it would be strong enough. If you're concerned about it fitting in a 20 liter bucket, you need to make sure you get wood that is 38mm thick or a little less since it's the thickness that can cause a problem, not the width.

  32. Nice stands. what about using thicker, flat pieces of wood (1 foot x 1.5 feet)as a base with brackets to keep the vertical boards in place?

    1. You could build a wooden frame instead of the buckets but you can't just use a flat piece of wood secured with a bracket. Unless that bracket is thick ass steel (nothing you'll find in a hardware store). You can't just use a normal deck framing bracket that you'd find in the lumber section. You would actually have to build a frame, with angled boards supporting the upright. People have done things similar to what you describe, the images are on google, and it scares me to think about them squatting heavy weights on those things.

      Making sure the uprights stay upright is critical. If you take away the cement bucket the stands become incredibly top heavy when the loaded bar is on them. To fix that you would need a beefy frame with a decent footprint. If I wanted to do something like that I would build a both stands together and make it a rack rather than two stands. I didn't do that because that takes up a lot of space and can't be stored away.

      In other words, if you don't know what you're doing then be very careful with something like that. You have to build a proper load bearing frame, not just bracket an upright board to a flat piece of wood at the bottom. That being said, people have made squat racks properly, the images are on google as well.

  33. Thank you so much for posting these plans, I built the bench and this rack in about five hours today and I am not the most carpentry inclined guy around. Luckily I've amassed a big tool collection so that made it easy but once again, thank you so much for your dedication.

  34. Sitting next to my new stands watching the cement dry, I can't wait! Our Lowes had Ohio State buckets which should match the house nicely. Thanks for the plans, I'm looking forward to a gym that's always open and doesn't have people cutting in on my supersets.

  35. Hi Carl!

    Great site man. Impressed with what you have built. I found your article and a number of other ones out there. Yours was the most comprehensive and thorough in my opinion.

    I finished building the squat stands last night and the concrete is setting as I type. I wanted to let you know how much it cost my wife and I to build these in Canada. We liev on the west coast out on Vancouver Island.

    Total price was $50 with taxes. However, we already had construction adhesive and screws. IF we were to buy those, it would have been about another $20.00.

    Thanks again for posting this! My next project will most likely be the deadlift platforms you have built. They are just awesome.

  36. Great site! I picked up 10 2x4x8's, just to be on the safe side. Turns out that 10 pieces gave enough wood to make the stand, bench, and risers for my saw horses.

    Along with the plywood I can now workout safely at home for ~$40. Thanks, Carl!

  37. Thanks, Carl! I just finished building my squat stands based on these instructions. I also incorporated the braces and sawhorses, and painted everything black. I used 2x6 instead of 2x4, and weather stripping foam instead of the metal backing plates.

    Here are some pics:

    1. Awesome! I always love to see pictures of the stuff you guys build.

  38. Hi Carl,

    Great post. I have the boards measured and will be working on it this weekend. I have a question. In the pictures you have a type of plywood underneath the buckets. Did you fasten the buckets to the plywood? It seems that plywood could create a bigger footprint and help stabilize the stands. Thanks.

    1. I only put the plywood down to create a more stable surface, as that basement was carpeted. I did not attach the buckets to the plywood in any way. You are free to do that if you want. If so I would let your concrete set so you don't have to worry about it leaking, then drill and screw through the bottom of the bucket into the 2x4 boards. Since the wood sits on the bottom of the bucket you won't have to go through the concrete to attach the plywood to the 2x4s.

      However, if you plan to use saw horse safety stands, and you intend to bolt them to the stands like I did in that update video at the bottom of this article, then the stands become quite stable and resistant to tipping. Attaching the plywood would not really be necessary at all. In my opinion it's not "necessary" if the floor is a hard surface. As I said, I only did it because in that location they were on a berber style carpet (flat, not shaggy or squishy).

    2. Thanks for the reply. That makes sense. I plan on doing both the metal saw horse and the wall brace. My floor is concrete at the moment so probably not necessary. Great stuff on here. Next up is the flat bench.

    3. My floor is also concrete. I had to use plywood underneath the buckets because it turns out my floor isn't level.

  39. Carl,

    I built the stands and the bench over the weekend. Everything turned out great except my bench tier is about 1.5" too high. Any idea for a fix? Should i try and adjust the bench or the bench tier?

    Thanks! Grant

    1. It depends on what tools you have. The quickest way would be a saws-all. Simply mark a line at the proper height and then cut down and curve it so that your cut ends up along the horizontal line you marked. Then you can cut the other way along the mark to finish the cut. Failing that, a drill and a jigsaw or hacksaw could do it. If you have none of this buying a coping saw would be the cheap alternative to the saws all. i would personally fix the stands instead of making the bench higher.

  40. Hi,

    Great Job on those stands, brillant idea!
    I'm looking forward to build my owns next week, but i'm kinda lost, cause i live in Europe, and our measurment units are slightly different ;) from ours.

    Can you guide me on my shopping list to build them in Meters please, or someone who could tell me.

    I appreciate in advance.

    I was also wondering, can i use something like that ( but maybe tickher (40 mm) to maintain all the piece together.

    I made a little picture to ilustrate. (

    Thanks a lot in advance, i'm really looking forward to use them ;)

  41. I'm wanting to make this stand so my husband and I can both squat and bench. That would require 7 boards x 38 mm = 266 mm. The bottom of a 5-gallon bucket is 26 cm, so it won't even fit in the bottom. I found this bucket, which says it's 13.5" diameter, presumably at the top (versus a nominal 12" diameter for a regular 5-gallon bucket at the top). If the 1.5" extra carries through to the bottom, I would still only have 3/4" room between the boards and bucket. Would that be enough?

  42. 3/4 inch is not ideal. It will almost certainly crack. However that doesn't mean it will be structurally inadequate.

    I say just build it with one squat tier and one bench tier. Make it fit the shorter person. Then tell the taller person to deal with it. If the difference between your heights is extreme it might be a problem. Otherwise it's not a big deal to unrack the bar off a lower than ideal rack.

  43. Thanks for the plans! I just made a pair of these and i am having a small issue. One of the stands has quite a bit of rock to it back and forth without much weight at all. While the other one is fine this one cant even take an empty bar without rocking back drastically. I think when the cement set in it somehow dried uneven. The rock is comparable to that of when you have a slightly offset table however it just happens to rock in the direction of the force of reracking.
    I was trying to figure out how to stabilize this and wanted your opinion. I was thinking of creating and "x" or "+" out of 2x4's and screwing them into the bottom of the buckets. Im not sure if that would work or if I will just have to use the "sugar packet" technique with some cardboard. Thank you very much.

  44. Thanks so much for these instructions! As most people (likely), I customized a bit. I also built a plate rack from some other DYI post.

  45. Thanks. Just the idea I was looking for. I do not have the space for a permanent standing power rack. Great blog.

  46. This is genius. Thanks for a great alternative for husband. This really conversed space in a garage that couldn't house a huge Rogue squat rack!

  47. A great idea. I was thinking about building these and putting them in an upstairs bedroom. There will be enough space, but I'm slightly concerned about the weight in an upstairs room. The combination of my weight plates and bar is 145KG (about 320lbs), but I will only ever lift near this when deadlifting. However, the weight of me plus a loaded bar may be a problem. Do you think this is a realistic concern? Is there anything I can do to negate this problem? maybe spread the weight using a large piece of plywood.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated

  48. Just stumbled upon your blog and I love it so far! I do have a few question however, how much weight can this rack hold? Is there any ways to strengthen it?

    1. As I mention at the end of the article the most I have put on these at the moment is 450 lbs. and it was fine. The compression strength of a single board is many thousands of lbs. Secured together as they are it would be even higher. "strength" isn't really the issue here. The greater problem would be stability. This is true of squat stands in general, but even more so with this design. The video at the end of the article gives you some ideas on how to make it more stable.

      Let's be honest here, elite powerlifters aren't building these things. The audience is clearly normal guys, particularly those new to weight training, who don't want to spend a lot of money. If you get to the point where you're squatting 500 - 600 lbs., buy a power rack. That's not to say these can't handle 600 lbs., especially if you stabilize them. I'm pretty sure you could squat 1000 lbs. off these things if you possessed the ability to do so. As I said the strength of the materials really isn't the question here. But I'm still going to unofficially rate them for 500 lbs. and tell you to buy a good power rack (or have someone make you Rip's design) when you get to that point.

  49. Hey! I just did this project! Have been working out with it for 2 weeks now and I am extremely pleased. Thanks for putting this up, I look forward to doing the bench project and the weight rack project!

  50. Carl this design is fkn bitchen. Thanks for sharing now I can hit squates 3 times a week and get rid of this gut.

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