So you’re stuck at home. It doesn't matter whether it’s due to crummy weather, family obligations, or a global pandemic. All you know is your trad project is calling, but so is that tub of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in the freezer. Sure, a little break from the gym might not hold you back too much, but it’s been weeks and the only exercise you’ve gotten is walking from the couch to the kitchen and back. That’s OK because you’ve had plenty of great excuses.
You can’t build a sweet 20-foot long adjusting crack machine in a tiny one bedroom apartment. Even if you could, you failed shop class a decade ago and that cool DIY forum seems to be written in another language. Plus, who has money to build a woody right now?
Requiring little space, woodworking knowledge, or money, the Ramschackle Hand Jams are here to put all of your excuses in the trash with those empty ice cream tubs. These wooden torture machines will have you jamming, pinching, and crimping your way back into shape anywhere you want to train. This guide will show you how to make a pair of your own for cheap and requires the bare minimum of tools and skill. Your homemade Ramshackle Jam Hand Jams will only cost you $25 (or less)!
I’ve been happily using mine for about three years. I first designed them to be used at work. For 56 hours a week, I was working an ambulance posted at various fire stations. Some had nice gyms, but most didn’t even have a place for a pull-up bar. To send my 5.13 trad FFA, Survived By, I had to figure out a way to give my hands and fingers a great work out no matter where I was.
- Drill (and bits)
- Tape measure
What about a saw? If you have a saw, great. If not, these days big box hardware stores have a saw in the lumber section. The staff will do a few cuts for you for 25 cents a pop. They may even do it for free if you’re nice about it.
- (1) 1 in. x 10 in. x 8 ft. common board
- (1) 2 in. x 2 in. x 8 ft. common board
- (2) .25 in. x1 in. x 4 ft. shims
- (16) 1.5 in. wood screws
- (3) 3.5 ft of cord/webbing
Pro beta for your trip to the hardware store:
- Wood measurements don’t mean what you might think. For example, you'd think that a standard 2x4 is a piece of wood that is 2 in. by 4 in., but it’s actually 1.5 in. x 3.5 in. Don’t worry about that for now. The above list is what you’ll be asking for at the store.
- Common board is the cheapest stuff on the shelves. It’ll need sanding and won’t be the prettiest, but it'll do the job. Grab oak instead if you want to get fancy.
- Alternatively, you can go mondo cheapo with clearance lumber. These are the warped, broken, or otherwise ugly boards often found in a cart in the lumber aisle. Half of the time you can even get this stuff for free!
1. Cut four 1-foot pieces out of the 1x10, 2x2, and the shims. You should have plenty of extra.
2. Sand down any splits or sharp spots. You’ll likely be sliding out of these jams. You don’t want to come out with splinters.
3. Mock-up the box like a sandwich using the 1x10 as the bread and the 2x2 and shims as your meat and cheese.
4. Measure to ensure the crack will be your desired training size. I have smaller hands that normally fit down to a wide No. 1 size, so I’m going to make my trainer about 1.75-inches wide (about the size of a perfect No. 2). Add or remove shims to fit the size you want. When in doubt, go a little tight. When finished, they’ll be smoother and therefore more difficult than any rock you’ll be jamming.
5. Drill out a hole in the bread centered about 1.25in from the top of the box. This hole should be just big enough to thread your webbing/cord through.
6. Screw the box together with four screws on either side of the bread. Flip over and repeat.
7. Thread webbing/cord and tie a knot at your desired length(s).
8. Bonus: Check out that scrap wood pile while you’re at the hardware store. Find a 1 in. x 2 in. x 10 in. rail you can add to the side for crimp training. (Not pictured.)
How to train
Hang your Ramshackle Hand Jams from a pull up bar for added difficulty while practicing lock offs and pull ups. Or add it to your hangboard routine with one hand jamming and the other crimping the life out of the small edges you couldn’t use before.
Don’t have anything to hang from? Is it too hard to hold your bodyweight while jamming slippery wood? No problem! Instead of hanging from above, tie your desired weight to the webbing and lift. This way you can work your jamming strength up from scratch without any fancy pullies or doodads. No matter what weight you choose, make sure to keep your back straight and supported—think deadlifts.
In addition to jamming, try pinching the outside with one or both hands. This wide pinch, although slippery and brutal, is another great way to strengthen your hands and forearms in preparation for long days of hard jamming.
Dakota Walz is the author of Everything I Loved More: True Tales of Rocks and Rails, and you can read a feature about his year completing a vertical mile of first ascents in an upcoming issue of Climbing Magazine.