So you want to build your own reformer

As of this writing, I’ve now assisted my partner John in building three pieces of equipment: a reformer, a Pedi-pole, and a Cadillac. (Shout out to his mom, Linda, who has been the true helper ) I chose to go the DIY route in part because of the high price of large apparatus. Since John has taken on these projects for free, I’ve just been paying for materials. I’ve come away with some insights about the process. I will always be an advocate for DIY. When it comes to Pilates equipment, here are three things I think you should consider before giving it a go.

1. I recommend having previous experience with woodworking or carpentry. So far, none of the projects my partner and I have attempted are beginner pieces. Even the Pedi-pole was deceptively tricky; while not an advanced project, I would say it required an intermediate skill level. A Cadillac might look simple, but building a structurally sound piece that can handle weight from a variety of bodies is a challenge that requires prior knowledge. And while I’ve found a number of intrepid DIY equipment builders that post instructions, the issue I’ve found over and over is that they make assumptions and skip steps. (No shame on them, though . . . writing technical instructions is a specialized skill as well!) That doesn’t mean they’re unusable, but it does mean you’ll have to rely on prior experience to fill in the gaps. (Confession: I have none of these skills. It’s all John. I get to do basic sawing, drilling, and finishing.) If you don’t have any experience, you’ll want to work with someone who does. (Though they might not be able to help you for free.)

2. I recommend having access to workshop space with a variety of tools. John doesn’t have his basement workshop set up yet (in part because he’s been too busy building out my studio), so he’s had to drive out to his mom’s farm, where there’s plenty of space and a variety of hand and power tools. Whether you have a tricked-out garage (or a friend does), or you have access to a maker space, you’re going to need room to work, and you’re going to need tools. Don’t be surprised if you end up having to buy some new pieces. When building my Pedi-pole, John couldn’t find pre-threaded pipe at the correct height, so he ordered a thread cutter to do it himself. Fortunately, the world we live in makes it pretty easy to buy what you need, but the costs can add up. 

3. Recognize it will take time (and probably longer than you think). You do save money when you build your own equipment . . . but what you’re really spending is time. For some people, the trade-off is totally worth it: it’s the only way they could afford equipment, and/or they genuinely enjoy the work itself. John spent probably 100 hours building my Cadillac, when all was said and done. (Though part of that did include driving to five different Lowe’s locations in three different counties because the conduit we wanted was out of stock.) There will be setbacks, there will be supply chain issues, and there will be mistakes. You might have to do things over. You might break something and need to repair it. I don’t say this to deter you. I love the DIY route, and I’m grateful I was able to take this path. I do want people to understand the challenge that comes with it. 

For the final installment of this series, I’ll be publishing an interview with John about his experiences as my equipment maker. If you have a specific question for him, drop it in the comments! 

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