There are many hand-crank washing tubs out there, but they cost money. Heck with that! I made my own Hand-Crank Wash Tub out of recycled and upcycled bits & pieces lying around my shed for FREE! The motivation behind it is that I like to do basic maintenance on my cars and motorcycles, and it always generates a lot of dirty, greasy rags.
I wouldn’t say I like to run them through my washing machine because of the risk of spreading grease to my regular laundry. Also, I’m not particularly eager to take them to the laundromat for the same reason. It’s not fair to the next customer to ruin their clothes! So, I decided to make something that would do a good job of a first wash to use my own washing machine then.
When I looked around, the cheapest ones were around fifty dollars. I looked around for plans, and the most prominent ones were basically versions of washboards or the style that uses a plunger in a lid. I didn’t want to sit around and basically “churn butter,” as agitating washers work better. So this is my version of an agitating washer!
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We had a leftover kid’s BMX bike that my husband had picked up at a used store for 8.00. He used the crankset for another project he made. The front fork set had been sitting around, so I thought I’d use it, as it has free-spinning bearings. I used a reciprocating saw with a metal-cutting blade to cut the front fork set loose from the frame behind where it was welded together.
My washtub is a leftover, heavy-duty 5-gal bucket. I happened to have an old Behr latex paint bucket that we’d used up, let dry, and then peeled out the dry latex paint remnants. The frame is made from pallet wood. To begin the frame, I started with the two 2×2 x18” pieces of wood. I placed them across the top of the bucket, side by side, and used clamps to hold them together. I marked the outside and inside diameters of the bucket with a pencil on the wood’s bottom sides. Next, I used a band saw to cut notches into the wood along the cut lines approximatively 3/8” deep. It just needs to be deep enough to create a channel so the wood frame will sit securely on top of the bucket. I used a chisel to clean up along the ends of the curves that the band saw couldn’t cut.
Find the approximate center of the two boards, and if you have them clamped tightly, you could use a hole saw to drill one hole down between the two for where it will clamp around the top tube. If not, you can use a band saw and cut the half-circles out. My cut was a little crooked, so I just notched around my bad prep job. I’d suggest you cut it more evenly, haha! Then I re-clamped the boards together and drilled two holes equidistant from the center hole. The bolts will clamp the top tube in between these two boards. Sand the boards down the way you want. They don’t have to be perfect.
I test-fitted mine, and because of the crooked frame cut, it caused it to slip a little when I tried it, so the two shorter 2×2” boards were my solution. If you cut straight, you may not need them. Repeat the whole cutting process, as these two smaller boards will squeeze tightly around the top tube, basically clamping all 4” of the top tube. I screwed these two smaller boards together and then down on top of the longer boards to anchor the tube tightly.
To make the handle, I used a pallet block. It is CRITICAL when using a lathe, or most of your saws, to remove any nails or screws. I used a circular saw to make shallow cuts around the cut flush’s nails when I dismantled pallets with a reciprocating saw. After cutting close to the nails, I made more cuts around the edge that I just sliced across so I’d be able to chisel the wood away easily to expose a bit of the nail top. Next, I chiseled the wood away, exposing about ¼” of the nail heads, and used an old pair of end-cutting pliers. The rolled cutting end does a great job of clamping onto the exposed nail and then allows you to roll the pliers over and pull the deeply-embedded nails out easily.
Identify the approximate centers of your block. Use a ruler and draw a line from one corner to the other diagonally. Do the same in the other direction. X marks the spot! Do this on both of the end-grain ends of the block and carefully center it into the lathe. I used a draw knife to round over the edges. You can use a band saw or other tools if you choose, but a draw knife is fast and convenient for me. I turned the wood into the shape of an old-style hand-crank drill. Those old handles are a good fit for my hands, and I know my husband won’t be doing it, haha! I turned it, smoothed it down, starting with 80-grit sponges, all the way down to 2000 grit paper while still on the lathe. I removed it and cut the excess wood off, then sanded the ends. Next, I turned the horizontal piece of the handle from more pallet wood – the last piece of 2x2x6” wood. Find the centers again and load it into the lathe. You could chip or sand down a dowel instead, but I didn’t have any leftover dowels. Besides, I only needed about 2-3” of round wood that’ll fit into the round-shaped clamp at the top end of the top tube – where the handlebars clamp in. I turned it down to the size I needed and then rounded over the edges just so if I hit my knuckles, it wouldn’t be too uncomfortable.
I used a drill press and a wood-boring bit to drill a centered hole through the handle knob and then through the location on the horizontal piece of wood. Cut it loose around the size of your bolt so it’ll turn freely like a drill handle.
The hardware stack up is as follows: Long machine bolt, large washer, crank knob, large washer, connecting wood piece, large washer, and either a nylock or, if you don’t have those, I just used two bolts and tightened them against themselves so that the handle could turn freely. Bolt the crank knob assembly into the handlebar grip point and secure.
To agitate the dirty rags, I had to develop something that would be a little flexible but very durable. So, I used a piece of large, black PVC pipe – I think it was leftover from when we installed a new cleanout drain on our 1920’s home. I cut a short piece off the long tube – approximately 8” with the reciprocating saw and then split it in half. I used the band saw to round over the corners and then a hand file to smooth over the edges. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just not so rough that it’ll snag and tear your terry-cloth rags.
Next, clamp them onto the forks in whatever pattern you want. You can stagger the height or change the curve directions; it’s up to you. I put mine in the same direction but staggered the height. Drill two holes through the paddles and all the way through the forks. Hardware stack up bolt, tooth-washer, paddle, fork, tooth washer, nut. Repeat for the 2nd paddle, so you’ll have four holes to drill total (or more if you make your paddles bigger).
The final assembly begins now! Install your top tube between your first two boards you cut, and secure tightly with bolts/nuts. Ensure that your tube assembly is level, or the paddles will slap up against the sides of the bucket and create drag. Put the entire assembly into the bucket and align the grooves on the two mounting boards onto the edges of the bucket. Secure with bungee cords. I did a non-permanent mounting, so if anything got tangled, I could unhook the bungees and pull it all out easily. However, you can mount the assembly any way you choose.
Now, time to give her a twirl! My assembly WORKED – other than the oops I listed above. With the extra little corrective boards I added, it stays level and slaps the dirty rags around. This probably seems like an excessively long post for such a little project, but I wanted to make this and not spend a single dime and accomplished it! Are there other ways to make hand-crank washers? Sure. But I’ve got one load of rags that have been washed already so far. :D