Working Wood: Strap-on Circus Stilts

Here is how to make strap on Stilts...
Many of you will have seen my traditional stilts design, but equally, there are not many designs for circus-style strap on stilts like the professionals use. The design I use is similar to the ones used by Canberra Youth Theatre and Warehouse Circus here in Canberra.

First the disclaimer: I have no control over your construction methods or materials and take no responsibility for any injury howsoever caused in the making or use of these stilts - stilt walking is dangerous: practice with care and with a partner or spotter. And use tools safely - remember, if it has big teeth and makes lots of noise it can hurt you!


You will need the following:
saw (mitre saw is good for cutting to length, jigsaw is useful for rounding the corners of the footplates)
drill with 6.5mm drill bit
sandpaper or electric sander
varnish or paint for weather proofing
sewing machine (to attach the velcro to the straps)
phillips head screwdriver
spanner to fit bolts


2 pieces pine 35mmx35mmx500mm (1.5"x1.5"x20") for lower legs
2 pieces pine 35mmx35mmx550mm (1.5"x1.5"x22") for upper legs
4 pieces pine 35mmx35mmx150mm (1.5"x1.5"x6") for footplate supports
2 pieces pine 15mmx120mmx270mm (1⁄2"x41⁄2x10") for footplates

4 steel bolts 1⁄4" x4"
4 steel bolts 1⁄4"x3"
with nuts and washers
10 cross-head wood screws 25mm length
glue (tarzan's grip or similar to attach rubber to PVC pipe)

Other bits:
1 piece PVC drain pipe 90mm (4") diameter about 10cm (4") long. Cut this in half along its length.
2 pieces high density sponge rubber cut to fit inside the PVC pipe pieces
2 pieces of wide 50mm x 600mm nylon seatbelt webbing and a length of velcro to suit (for the calf strap)
2 pieces of narrow 25mm nylon webbing with velcro to suit (for thew toe strap)
2 pieces of narrow 25mm nylon webbing 700mm long (for the heel strap)

Copyright Jerry Everard 2004
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First drill two bolt holes near the top of each lower leg about 5cm (2") apart beginning about 4cm (11⁄2") from the top.

Now overlap the leg uppers by about 15cm (6") and drill corresponding bolt holes in the leg uppers. Do a test assembly of the upper leg to the lower leg.

With the legs assembled, lay them on their sides and lay one of the footplate support pieces across the assembly flush with the top of the lower leg. Mark out and drill two bolt holes so one bolt goes through the leg upper and the other through the lower leg. Repeat the mark out and drill for the other footplate supports, and bolt this assembly together. You can see how this should go together with the footplate in this photo:

This is the time to varnish or paint the wood with an acrylic varnish or paint to keep them weatherproof. While this is drying we should look at how we add the strapping.

First glue the rubber padding to the inside surface of the two PVC pipe halves and set aside to dry.

Once you have done both stilts like this you can tackle the foot straps. The toe strap is a similar assembly - basically just a straight loop with a fold back onto the velcro. It is attached below the footplate, so you will unscrew the front (longer overhang) two screws of the footplate and feed the webbing under and re-screw the footplate ensuring that the two screws pass through the webbing to hold it securely.

and again from a slightly different angle

Now position the footplate over the top of the lower leg so that one end overhangs the support by about 7cm (3") Yes the front overhangs a bit more and that's what we want because that way the arch of the foot will be over the lower leg which is where you want your centre of balance to be. Now drill and screw the footplates to the footplate supports. You should now have an assembly that looks like this:

You can add a rubber chair foot to the base of the stilts for added traction and weather resistance - and it makes walking quieter when you are on pavement.

And there you have it - circus style stilts. When you have mastered the art of walking, you might want to make some extra long pants so that the stilts look more like you have very looong legs!
Remember to keep the rubber side down! And good luck with your stilts - let me know if you make them, I'd love to hear from you.

Here are the timber pieces (you will need two sets of these parts)

The strapping works this way...

you need three anchor points: one to hold the upper part of the stilt to the upper calf, one to hold the heel to the footplate and one to hold the toe to the footplate.

For the heel strap, I suggest you look at how leather sandals are put together and make a similar construction, again with a fold back to secure with velcro. This strap should have one part that goes behind the heel, with another part over the ankle, anchoring to the rear part of the footplate. Again undo the two rear-most screws (the end with less overhang) from the footplate, and re-screw ensuring that the rear webbing is caught by the screws and sandwiched between the footplate and the footplate supports. The complete assembly should look a bit like the picture above.

The calf is softer than your shoe, so you need a wide strap (about 50mm/2") like good seatbelt webbing.

You will need about 600mm (2ft) per leg with a buckle ring and velcro stitched on so that when threaded through the buckle, and folded back, the velcro will then hold it securely.

Once you have the velcro attached to the webbing, you can attach it to the upper stilt.

The way to do it is to have the webbing next to the stilt upper and sandwich it between the stick and the padded PVC pipe.

Now drill and screw right through the padding, pipe and webbing to attach the whole lot securely to the stilt upper. It should look a bit like this: