Monday, April 25, 2011

Spacer Plates: the quest for mid-shin height

Learn how to raise any bar to the proper height for pulls off the floor. This project eliminates the need to use the big plates, and thus add 90 lbs. to the bar, to achieve the correct bar height. By saving scraps from other projects, you can make these for absolutely FREE.

Cost: Free to $15 (depending on what materials you have)
Project Time:  30 minutes (depending on what tools you use)
Difficulty: You actually need to be able to work a saw and drill for this one. A step up from our previous projects but nothing that requires much skill.

Tools Needed:
  • Drill
  • Saw (jigsaw or hand saw + coping saw)
  • Hole saw (a drill attachment)

Materials Needed:
  • Sheet of plywood or MDF (you don't need the full sheet, just large scraps)

No, it's not a perfect circle. Who do I look like, Michelangelo?

Here's an easy one for you today. But before we start I have to make the point that this project is best done with leftover wood that you already have so that it would be free. If you make other projects, such as a weight bench, you will probably have leftover plywood you can use. If you don't do that, just try to keep the cost down, I'll explain why at the end of this article.

Pretty much any lift where you pull from the floor, be it deadlift, barbell rows, power cleans, or the Olympic lifts, requires that the bar be a specific height from the ground; the height that it sits with 45 lb (20 kg) plates on it; which is to say about mid-shin height. This is no issue if you're lifting at least 135 lbs. (61 kgs) since the big plates will put it at the correct height. But what if you aren't lifting that much yet, or what if we're talking about a warm up set that is lighter than 135? To do this right you'll want plates that are the same size as the 45s but that are very light. You can buy these online but they are not common or cheap. You could also buy Olympic bumper plates but they too can be expensive and they're also overkill for this purpose since they are mainly designed not as spacers but as shock absorbing plates for the Olympic lifts.

Or you could keep your money and make them out of wood. Pretty much any flat piece of wood, be it MDF or plywood, will suffice. Construction is simple. You don't even have to do any measuring. Just lay the wood flat and put a 45 lb. plate on it. Trace around the edge, and then the inner circle as well.

Now all you have to do is cut it out. If you have a jigsaw or a rotary saw, such as the Rotozip, that will obviously be the fastest and easiest way to do it. If you don't have these tools, you can do it the old fashion way. A hand saw, one made for wood. The kind that usually has a wooden handle and a "triangular" shaped big blade. Do not use hack saw. A hack saw can't cut through long lengths of wood for obvious reasons - its frame only allows it to cut about 4 inches deep, a little longer if you angle it but it won't work for this task.

However, a hand saw can't really cut curves all that well. The hand saw is to rough cut and assist. So cut the sheet of wood down to a square that barely fits the traced out circle. In other words, like an 18 x 18 inch square. Then chop off the corners to make it look more like a stop sign. Now to actually cut out the circle you're going to need something like a coping saw. This basically looks like a small hack saw with a smaller and more flexible blade. The blade can also be spun around which allows the metal frame to get out of the way as you cut around. Cut around the outer circle and you've got a plywood circle the same size as a big 45 lb plate. But this one only weighs about 2.5 lbs. if you use plywood. Don't worry if it's not a perfect circle, it will still get the job done just fine, and it's not like it's one of those "stop sign" plates at some crappy gyms.

To cut out the hole in the middle, if you have a jigsaw or Roto saw you can simply cut it out with that. In the case of the jigsaw you will need a drill with a big enough bit to make a starter hole to get the jigsaw blade in it. A saw such as a Rotozip can plunge right in, like a drill so no starter hole is needed. If you are using the hand/coping saw technique you're going to need another tool for this.

In any case, the simplest way to cut a perfect 2 inch hole in wood is to use a hole saw. This is not an actual tool itself but rather a bit that attaches to any drill. It is not a wood boring bit, that's something different. A hole saw is basically just a drill bit that has a circular metal cup with saw teeth around the edge.

You want a 2 inch hole (or larger) in the center of your plate. Using a 2 1/8 inch hole saw is perfect for the job. It's also a standard size used for door knobs and door locks. Simply line up the outer edge of the hole saw with your markings and drill until you get all the way through. A hole saw is obviously designed for this task so it's the easiest way to cut out the center hole and you'll get a perfect circle as well. If you're struggling with using a hole saw, here are some tips:
  • Don't push on it like you're drilling to the center of the Earth. If the bit isn't spinning then you're not cutting. Ease up and get it spinning and you'll wear away at the wood.
  • Charge your drill. If your drill is battery powered make sure it has enough juice left to get the job done. Cutting holes with hole saws requires more energy than drilling through drywall.
  • Adjust the torque of your drill. If you have a modern drill, particularly a cordless drill you should see a bunch of numbers around the collar. The higher you set it, the more torque the bit will spin with. You're not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. I should say. The higher you set it, the more torque with which your bit will spin. Setting it to the little picture of a drill bit is prudent for this task. The purpose of adjusting torque is so that you can lower it when using the drill as a power screwdriver. Lower torque means it won't continue to try to spin the bit when the screw is fully driven in the wood, thus stopping the risk of stripping the screw head. But we're not driving, we're cutting a hole. If you're hearing a lot of clicking and your bit isn't spinning, raise the torque.
  • Tilt your drill. If you slightly tilt your drill you end up cutting through one side of the circle while easing up on the other. Cutting through a smaller surface area causes you to cut faster. By rocking your drill side to side you can make shorter work of the task. Note, that I'm talking about very slight movements. This is something you get a feel for.

None of this is necessary if you have a beast of a drill. I have my Grandpa's old corded drill. That thing is a monster. It doesn't accept today's larger bits, which includes hole saws. So I simply filed down my hole saw bit so that it fits in the old drill. I can make short work of such projects because that old tool spins like it was made to take a straight path to China.

Getting on with it, once you cut out your center hole you've got yourself a spacer plate. Obviously you need a pair of these so cut out two plates. Depending on how thick you'd like them or how much you want them to weigh, you could cut out more and glue them together. or you could have just used a thicker piece of wood. For my purposes, I just used a standard piece of plywood (1/4 in.) and kept it single layer. As far as stability goes you're going to want to use you collars when lifting, since they are mainly used for pulling from the floor. Tighten up the collar and even a single thickness setup is solid and steady. No need to make more work for yourself doubling up for no reason. You can make a pair of these plates for only a few bucks or even for free if you have scrap wood.

Now you're at mid-shin height, and you've only added 5 extra lbs.
There are improvements you can make to these such as using thicker wood, bracing the inner hole with washers and coating the outer edge in Plasti Dip (rubber coating). But this is basically futile and here's why. You can go online to stores like rogue fitness and literally buy a pair of 10 lb. bumper plates for $30. If you want state of the art, infinitely durable, shock absorbing plates, just buy them. The purpose of this project is to make nothing more than cheap spacer plates. If you want something fancy you're better off saving the time and buying them because it's no cheaper to make a knock off. Those listed improvements would add about $15 to the cost, which means they are now the same price as bumper plates if you had to by the wood as well.

Like I already said, this project is really lucrative if you have left over wood, in which case the price becomes literally free. Just keep in mind the cost when making any project because it's only worth it to make it yourself if it fits certain criteria over commercial products: It's much cheaper, It functions better, or it's your only option. In this case nothing you make will function better than a commercial bumper plate. And with a price point of $30 you have to keep things very cheap to beat it. That's why I endorse the single layer plywood plate design because as soon as you start getting fancy, especially if you have to buy a $15 sheet of plywood to begin with, your budget goes out the window fast and at some point you just have to say that it's better to buy the damn thing and get a bumper plate instead of just a spacer plate.



  1. I made spacer plates like yours for my 1 inch bar. But I don't use or lost my collars, so I ended up making some wooden stands that lift the bar up 8 inches.

    Think of them as basically wood squat stands that are 8 inches in height, about 1 to 2 inches wide, and about a foot in length, with a wide base so it doesn't tip over. You make a pair, just like the squat stands.

    I have put as much as 200 pounds of small plates on them, because I still don't have 45 pound plates.

  2. I just made this. It is great AND it was only $10. Check out my post on

  3. Found these at HD. Just the right size:

    1. Nice find! At 5 bucks each it's worth buying even if you have scrap plywood since cutting a circle is a pain for the average person. Just find center, drill a hole, and you're done.

  4. I love that saying and that picture. I have an old wooden plate I have been wanting to makeover and this gave me a great idea!
    wooden bowl