Updated: Dec 16, 2022
After using the wall and a crowded fireplace mantle as a ballet barre for months, I finally decided to look up tutorials and make my own barre. Here's how I made mine, as well as my thoughts on how it turned out.
The materials you use--wood, metal, or PVC--all depend on what you want from your barre. Most tutorials I found are for a 100% PVC barre. However, PVC is lightweight, and I didn't want the barre tipping over, so I decided to do a metal base. I would have done metal legs and a wood handrail as well, but the hardware store didn't have wooden dowels thick enough, and metal is really expensive, not to mention heavy. Since the point of building my own barre versus buying one was cost-effectiveness, I settled for PVC.
Before heading out to buy supplies, I looked up suggested dimensions for a typical freestanding barre and made a drawing, including dimensions, to show the helpful guys at the hardware store. I highly recommend bringing a drawing. Once the guy had the dimensions, he was able to pick out all the pieces for me within minutes, hassle-free.
Materials & Assembly
Here are the pieces I ended up with:
2 36" PVC pipes, 1 1/4" diameter (legs)--longer, if you want a taller barre.
1 60" PVC pipe, 1 1/4" diameter (handrail)
2 PVC 90-degree elbow pipe fittings, 1 1/4" diameter (handrail-to-leg joints)
2 steel T pipe fittings, 1" diameter (leg-to-feet joints)
The hardware store didn't have a T fitting that would convert from 1" to 1 1/4", so I had to go the roundabout way. I ended up with a threaded steel connector thingy to screw into the top hole of the T, which in turn connects to a straight PVC connector that does convert from 1" to 1 1/4". If this is the route you have to go, keep in mind the additional parts will add several inches to the height of the barre. If you're lucky to get a T fitting that accommodates different pipe widths, that's a few inches you'll need to add onto the length of your 36" PVC pipes.
4 12" steel pipes, 1" wide (feet)
4 steel elbow fittings, 1" wide (feet)
When looking for PVC pipe, choose the sturdiest option available. It should have very little give if you push down on it. That said, PVC is still plastic. It's not as strong as wood or metal, and will have some give.
The typical height for a ballet barre can vary from 42-46 inches. Since I'm short (5'2", for your own comparison purposes), I went with 42". To measure the perfect barre height, take some measuring tape, hold an arm out to 2nd with the end of the tape in your fingers, and measure the distance from your hand to the floor (make sure the tape is as straight as possible).
Helpful Hardware Store Employee measured the parts that would make up the feet of the barre to be around 8" in height when assembled. That meant I needed 36" PVC pipes for the legs. That's only three feet--it came up to waist height on me--and I was worried the barre would end up way too short. However, once I assembled the barre, it was the perfect height.
Once you get all your materials, it's time to play LEGOS.
Weirdly, this was the hardest part.
The metal pieces for the feet of my barre would not cooperate. You need to twist the parts tightly together while also making sure all the pipe fittings end up in the correct orientation. My problem was, if everything was screwed as tight as I could get it, the elbow fittings were pointing in different directions rather than sitting flat on the floor. Or the top of the T fitting wasn't pointing straight up. If I unscrewed things to get the feet to lay flat, the connection was too loose and the barre would collapse. I finally got it to work, but it took hours.
PVC, fortunately, is easier to fit together. Once I got the feet done, I put the rest of the barre together in under 5 minutes.
(My assembled barre)
You'll definitely want to glue the PVC joints. Otherwise, it WILL fall apart. At the very least, it'll be really wobbly. You can use PVC cement, or, since the PVC joints don't have to be watertight or anything, superglue works, too. Just make sure whatever glue you use will work on PVC. Test it on some spare pipe first.
Since I didn't want to buy a big can of PVC cement I'll only use once, I went with superglue. E6000, specifically, since I had some handy. It held pretty well--much better than expected.
If you use superglue, clean the PVC pipe with some acetone to help the glue adhere to the pipe better. If you're using E6000, be sure to wipe the acetone off because acetone will dissolve your glue.
I wanted to be able to take the barre apart if needed, so I didn't glue every joint. I only glued the joints between the barre legs and feet and the elbow fitting/handrail joints.
I built the whole barre for $105. I hear that's pretty expensive for a homemade barre, but it's still way cheaper than buying a pre-made barre. What made it pricey was all the steel parts, and I find the sturdiness of the metal worth the extra cost.
Weighty base. I can do pirouettes and stuff without the barre dragging across the floor too much or threatening to tip.
Because I didn't glue every joint, I'll be able to take it apart for easy storage and transport.
Lightweight. I estimate the whole barre weighs around 15lbs. 20lbs, max.
It's kinda wobbly, though I think making a wider base would fix that. I saw a tutorial that had these metal disks attached to the elbow joints at the feet, which I think is an excellent idea.
Still pretty pricey for a barre made almost entirely of PVC.
The metal fittings were incredibly hard to work with.
The handrail bends under significant weight, so I hesitate to use it to stretch. That's fine by me. A barre isn't necessary to stretch.