Sunday, October 29, 2017

Designing a Hammock Stand

2017 note: This is a post I wrote in 2013 about a hammock stand I never built.  My plan was to build it first so I could add finished pictures, but I think I'm about ready to give up on my prospects of ever actually building this.

Every night I sleep on, what is essentially, a pile of garbage.  A while back, someone started a thread on reddit about sleeping in a hammock every night.  He had nothing but praise for hammocks and some research showed the internet generally agreed that hammocks were an excellent bed replacement.

I decided I would give it a try.  As I backpack too, I bought an ENO Doublenest that can be used for camping.  Although I have no real plans to do that.


Before I could plan a stand for nightly, indoor, hammock use, I had to know what kind of forces it would have to handle.

The hammock's max weight rating is 400 lbs, and since it is probably better for the hammock to fail before the stand I used that as my load.

Each end of the hammock has to support half the load, however, this is not just 200 lbs.  To find out why, and see what the actual tension is we will break the force vector into its x and y components

We don't know the x force, and are trying to find the resultant force.  We do, however, know the angle and the y force.  The y force must be equal to just half the weight supported by the hammock.  This assumes the weight won't get shifted too much to one end.

The ideal hang angle is widely reported to be 30 degrees down from a horizontal.  A preliminary test of mine showed I liked it closer to 45.  Shallower angles increase the stresses, so I planned for 30 degrees.

The forces form a right triangle with all known angles and one known side.  It's a 30-60-90 triangle and the vertical leg is 200 lbs.  This means the horizontal force is 347 lbs and the resultant force on the line is 400 lbs.  To be clear, this means that for a 30 degree hang, each line must support the full weight in the hammock.  If we let the hammock sag more to 45 degrees it reduces the tension on the line to only 283 lbs.

Hanging Possibilities

The guy in the reddit thread said he simply hung his from eye bolts in the wall studs.  I don't have wall studs in the basement, and I wouldn't trust them if I did.  I considered hanging from the 2x8 ceiling joists.  The problem was the height would mean I would need a huge span between the two hang points.  Also, I wouldn't recommend anyone hang perpendicular to the direction of the joists, as this will cause deflection.  It might not seem like it would be a big deal, but it is generally a bad idea to introduce new stresses in directions that structural members were never designed to handle, particularly when they are holding up your house.

After some debate I decided on building a stand.  Since most the force is in the horizontal direction I thought about just hanging from a 4x4 post that I would elevate off the ground with some sort of stands on the ends.  I didn't like this idea since it would be annoying to have the post above me while sleeping, and even more annoying when it failed and crashed down on my face.

In order to deal with the high horizontal load, whatever the hammock is actually hanging from would have to be angled out.  This leads to the classic hammock stand shape of angled arms.

Will 2x4s Work?

I decided to angle my arms out at 60 degrees above the horizontal.  This meant that the hammock would hang between 30 and 15 degrees above the arm (for 30 to 45 degrees below horizontal).  To calculate the stresses in the arm I rotated the axes such that the arm was now vertical.  I then calculated the x and y force vectors in this new rotated orientation.

Drawing out the forces shows the 30 degree hang produces the same force triangle as before, just flipped.  There will be 200 lbs of force perpendicular to the arm, and 347 lbs of force parallel to it.  For the 45 degree hang it shifts to 274 lbs parallel to the arm and just 74 lbs perpendicular to it.  You can see what a significant factor the hang angle is to the forces involved.  If I were actually planning on hanging at 30 degrees I'd probably adjust the arms out further to shift more of the torque to compression.

We now have two forces which means we can see what types of load they produce on the arms.  The parallel force results in a axial compressive load, ie, like a column.  This handy calculator tells me that a 2x4 can support 1000-1500 lbs of compression over 5 unbraced feet, depending on grade.  So axial load shouldn't be a limiting factor.

The perpendicular force will produce moment (torque).  The amount will depend on the arm length, which is not yet known.  An estimate of 4.5 feet gives us 340 ft lbs for the 45 degree hang, and 900 ft lbs for the 30 degree hang.  The above calculator's brother tells me that a 2x4 should be able to handle about 375 ft lbs of bending.  This roughly matches the calculations I did on paper as a sanity check.

So, we can see that for a 30 degree hang a 2x4 wouldn't be enough.  Keep in mind we started with a load of 400 lbs in the hammock, and I'd guess that calculator has a safety margin built in, so I'd guess that a 2x4 would hold, at least for a while.

My Design

I began my design with this simple design.  Reading through the comments and several other sites I changed the design significantly.  A goal of my design was ease of construction with a total lack of tools and experience (which admittedly might impair my ability to judge what is easy to build).

After some concern about the torque in the joint I decided to create something like a half lap joint.  I will layer two 2x4s to make a quasi 4x4 as my horizontal base.  First, however, I will make a 60 degree cut through one of the 2x4s at about 2 feet from the center.  I will cut the other 2x4 at 2 feet from the center in the other direction.  Thus, both 2x4s will have a 60 degree cut, 2 feet from the center, but on opposite sides of the center.  I will then gap the cut enough to fit the 2x4 for the arm in there, and cut the bottom of the arm at 60 degrees to make it flush against the floor.  This means the two arms won't be exactly in line, but rather slightly offset.  Looking at the stand head on, the left edge of one arm will be aligned with the right edge of the other.

The two 2x4s along the base will be wood glued and screwed to form a solid 4x4 like piece.  At the end of the base 4 foot long 2x4s will be screwed into the base, forming an I shape.  They will provide stability.  At this point the design looks similar to the starting design, albeit with major, if subtle, differences.  The last change would be side bracing similar to what people in the comments added.  Each side brace would be about 4 feet long and set up at a 60 degree above horizontal angle.  For no reason I decided to put each brace on opposite sides of the ground 2x4 they connect to.  That changes their length by a bit.  It took me much longer than I care to admit to calculate what that difference would be, finally resorting to just using CAD.

Here are some preliminary CAD drawings I did.  I still plan on testing the hang length a bit more before these are final.  Since I'm well aware that no one could be expected to visualize what I described, and that these drawings don't help much, I won't publish this until I'm ready to follow this post up with a construction post with actual pictures.

In lieu of finished shots I did this render in Tinkercad: