How to make pulley dumbwaiters

Updated April 17, 2017

A dumbwaiter suspended by pulleys allows for the movement of a large load of heavy or bulky goods from one area to another area without the struggle of carrying them. The simple pulley system operates on a counterweight system that allows the dumbwaiter to ascend or descend with ease. A dumbwaiter is a simple-to-create machine that can save both time and effort when frequently moving goods to different levels of the home.

Choose the location of the dumbwaiter. This will dictate to function of the dumbwaiter. The location should be somewhere easily accessible and free from wires for lighting and pipes for plumbing. If you place the dumbwaiter against an existing corner of the building you can use the house frame as a support structure for the dumbwaiter shaft and will have to erect one 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) beam to support the shaft structure on each floor the dumbwaiter will serve. If you place the dumbwaiter against an existing wall, you will need to erect two 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) support beams. A freestanding dumbwaiter requires four of these support beams to create the shaft structure.

Measure dimensions of desired dumbwaiter size -- a standard dumbwaiter is 60 cm (24 inches) wide by 50 cm (20 inches) deep and 75 cm (30 inches) in height -- and outline these dimensions on the floors that will accommodate the dumbwaiter. For a standard dumbwaiter the shaft dimensions should be at least 7.5 cm (3 inches) longer on each side than the dumbwaiter size. Dumbwaiters can either be bought or crafted out of any sturdy hard wood. If using a homemade dumbwaiter make sure to add trim around the edges to prohibit goods from sliding off.

Cut the floors with a saw to create the dumbwaiter shaft to desired dumbwaiter dimensions. If you are making a standard size dumbwaiter, this measurement will be 67.5 cm (27 inches) wide by 57.5 cm (23 inches) deep.

Secure the necessary amount of support beams to the floor and ceiling by nailing L-shaped brackets on two opposite sides of the beam to the floor, and also on two opposite sides of the beam and ceiling.

Create a shaft case for the dumb waiter using drywall or 1.2 cm (1/2-inch) plywood (whichever you aesthetically prefer). Nail the plasterboard or plywood to the dumbwaiter support structure -- either the house frame or the added 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) beams. These panels should be flush to reduce the likelihood of the dumbwaiter getting caught on the shaft.

Attach one pulley to the ceiling above the dumbwaiter shaft.

Attach the other pulley to the ground beneath the dumbwaiter shaft. This will add stability to the dumbwaiter and help to prevent it from moving side to side.

Measure and cut a length of nylon rope that is double the length the dumbwaiter will travel.

Secure the dumbwaiter to nylon rope. This can be done in a variety of ways. One method is to drill two holes in the dumbwaiter and thread the nylon rope through.

Thread the rope around each of the pulleys.

Fasten the ends of rope together around an appropriate counterweight to balance the dumbwaiter. An appropriate counterweight will be heavier than the combined weight of the dumbwaiter and the average load it is expected to carry.

Pull the nylon rope and the dumbwaiter should move up and down the shaft.


It is important to keep in mind the carpentry motto: "Measure twice and cut once."

Things You'll Need

  • 2 pulleys
  • Saw
  • Nylon rope
  • Dumbwaiter and/or sturdy hardwood with lipped trim
  • Plasterboard or 1.2 cm (1/2 inch) plywood
  • Nails or wood screws
  • Counterweight
  • 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) beams
  • L-shaped brackets -- four per 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch)
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jennifer Dick has been writing since 2008 when she began pursing a Master of Arts in religion studies from the University of Florida. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology with a minor in religion studies from the University of Florida.