There are several methods to make a gymnastics balance beam for home use. They can run the gamut from the most basic wooden beam to one covered with carpet. Or you can make a more elaborate balance beam padded and wrapped in synthetic suede. However you decide, this project isn't too difficult and can save you money. Most supplies you need can be found at a local home improvement store.
First a little background. All competitive gymnasts are required to perform on the balance beam apparatus. Beams used in international gymnastics competitions must conform to the strict guidelines and specifications set forth by the International Gymnastics Federation Apparatus Norms. Originally, the balance beam surface was polished wood. Since the 1980s, beams have been covered in synthetic suede. Today's competition beams are also sprung to accommodate the stress of high-difficulty tumbling and dance skills. This is why gymnasts who are competing can be very particular about the apparatus they use at the gym vs the apparatus you might make at home. Therefore, it is always a good idea to consider the level of the gymnast when deciding to start this project
The regulation length for a competition balance beam is 16 ft 5 inches. Many homeowners can not accommodate an apparatus of this size in the home, therefore decide to make a shorter one. Many home-made balance beams range from 8 to 12 feet in length, however, all are a standard 4 inches in width. The height of the beam will depend on where it is used. We do not recommend using balance beams outdoors as it can be difficult to get a stable surface to prevent wobbling. Your apparatus should always be used on a flat surface.
For beginners age 3-6 a basic wooden beam will provide a great introduction to the sport. As the gymnast gets older this same apparatus can be wrapped in carpet to provide a bit of padding or you can choose to wrap it in synthetic suede to give it the realistic look and feel of a standard balance beam.
(6) 1 x 6 lumber 8 ft. long (or any desired length)
(2) 2 x 4 lumber 20" long for the legs
Wood Glue (such as Elmer's Carpenters wood Glue)
3M Spray Adhesive
3" wood screws
Suede Topper for carpet beam (option for carpet beam)
4 inch adhesive loop strip (option for padding)
Synthetic Suede Fabric (cover option)
Iron leg brace option
Glue the six 8-foot pieces of 1-by-6 inch pine lumber together so that their sides are fully contacting one another. This will create a block of wood that is 8 feet long with a side of about 4.5 inches.
Glue liberally between the boards and use clamps to make sure that the glue fastens itself to the wood. Let dry overnight. Using a Belt Sander go over entire beam and sand to smooth finish. If staining your beam you can use finer grade sandpaper with an Orbital Sander to create a smooth finish. If covering the beam with carpet or Suede this step may be omitted.
For a stained wooden beam. After sanding to smooth finish, apply stain to your beam.
To make a carpet covered beam you will use heavy-duty staples and wrap the beam with the carpet. Start by stapling carpet to bottom side of the balance beam and tightly wrap carpet around beam and staple underside of beam only. You may also use spray adhesive to further secure the carpet to the beam.
For a synthetic suede covered beam you will want to pad the beam first using a neoprene strip. It can be difficult to find 4 inch wide neoprene which is used on professional beams therefore many home-made beams use yoga mats to pad the beam. You do not want the beam to be too soft so minimal padding is needed. Do not staple padding. Use glue only as staples will cause dimples. You can also use 4 inch wide adhesive peel and stick loop to create padding as well. Continue attaching the suede to the beam by applying spray adhesive to the top and sides of the balance beam. Working from the bottom of the beam, staple the Suede along the bottom. This is a 2 person project as one needs to tightly pull the Suede around the beam evenly while it is being secured with the adhesive. Make sure your balance beam is completely dry before use.
For a basic beam you will screw the (2) 20 inch 2 x 4 wood braces to each end. Place each brace at a 90 degree angle to the beam 12 inches from each end.
Alternatively, you can purchase iron manufactured balance beam braces you simply screw into the bottom of your beam. These braces come in a variety of heights and can even make your beam adjustable. It is possible to convert your basic beam to metal braces later on. One advantage to metal braces is they are tall enough to allow a mat to slide under the balance beam while the gymnast is using it.
Use home-made balance beams at your own discretion. As your beam is not a professionally made piece of equipment it is only as strong as your craftsmanship. Use with supervision as gymnastics is a sport with inherent risk of possible injury.