How to Build the Perfect DIY Gantry Crane

Everything You Need to Know to About Building A Custom DIY Gantry Crane

How to Build a DIY Gantry Crane That Fits Your Needs

If you’re used to doing things on your own, whether it’s full-time for your job or as a DIY weekend warrior, you’ve probably found yourself needing to lift something really heavy. How did you solve that problem? Did you call your friends, hoping they were free to come give you a hand? Did you have to spend a few hundred dollars renting a forklift to get the job done? What if you could lift and move your heaviest objects on your own, without pestering your friends or wasting money on equipment rental? You can check all those boxes with a gantry crane.

Large Gantry Crane at a Lumber Yard

What is a Gantry Crane?

A gantry crane is an overhead crane used for lifting objects too heavy to be moved manually. They use a single I-beam girder with freestanding support legs. The hoist and crane are mobile or stationary, as can the crane itself. It does not need to be attached to a building for support, making a gantry crane an ideal way to move any number of weighty objects up, down, side to side, or back and forth.

You might have seen large-scale industrial gantry cranes moving containers in a shipping yard. You can actually re-create that powerful force on a smaller scale, perfect for your personal workshop. Gantry cranes can be purchased pre-made, but it’s impossible to get a truly personalized gantry crane design buying off the shelf. They also can be significantly more expensive than customized versions you create on your own. Instead, in the true self-reliant fashion that fits a DIY-er like yourself, you can build your own homemade gantry crane that suits your needs.

A lot of workshop owners find gantry cranes useful for many purposes. Whether they are lifting engines or other automotive parts, lifting boulders or carpentry equipment into trucks for transportation to job sites, a homemade gantry crane can be like having an employee who works for free. They can offer more lifting power than several men and are always available to work.

diy gantry crane made of metal and painted blue
There are lots of ways to go about building a gantry crane to fit your workshop. Gantry crane design options are as unlimited as the ways to use them. In this article we’ll go over your DIY gantry crane style and material choices, the basic components of a homemade gantry crane, some usage cautions, and important safety tips.

Cost Concerns: A New Gantry Crane vs. a DIY Gantry Crane

Before deciding on building a gantry crane from scratch, consider whether or not simply buying a gantry crane may be the right choice for you. If you have less experience, limited need to customize and a bigger budget, a pre-fabricated crane could be just what you need. There are a number of different sizes and styles of pre-engineered gantry cranes on the market. If you’re looking for a custom fit for your unique workshop needs, you’ll have a great appreciation for building a gantry crane from scratch using a customizable set of professionally engineered gantry crane plans.

As with any project, you’ll want to make sure the gantry crane you want is going to fit your budget as well as your garage or fabrication shop. Let’s take a look at estimated costs for purchasing new and from-scratch gantry crane plan designs.

standard blue residential gantry crane

Purchasing New

When it comes to buying a pre-fabricated gantry crane new, the sky’s the limit as far as cost. Smaller cranes can be purchased for around five hundred dollars, with larger, more heavy-duty cranes climbing up into the tens of thousands. A 2-ton capacity crane can easily run anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 or more. Keep in mind that the price of the frame often does not include the hoist assembly, as they are generally sold separately. Your desired lift capacity will impact cost as well, with higher capacity leading to a bigger price tag. When your new crane arrives, it will still need to be assembled.

Large gantry crane and auto crane working at construction site

Building a DIY Gantry Crane Following Homemade Gantry Crane Plans

When you build your own crane with the help of a professional set of homemade crane plans, you can save a significant amount of money. By sourcing your components locally, you can save on shipping charges. You can keep your eyes open for sales on various components, buy quality used parts, and re- purpose any existing equipment you may already have on hand to get the job done. Junk yards and metal recyclers, industrial steel suppliers or auctions can be gold mines when sourcing materials and parts on a budget.

When you are building a homemade gantry crane yourself, you have freedom in both time and resources. It allows you to keep your costs down and get creative. At the same time, you are still benefitting from expert guidance via the use of tried and true gantry crane plans. If you’re sold on a DIY gantry crane, keep reading as we discuss the different types of cranes, materials and additional considerations.

Explore Professionally Designed Gantry Crane Plans

DIY Gantry Crane Plans and Purposes

Your homemade gantry crane design begins with understanding your purpose. Think long and hard about how you plan to use your new piece of equipment, and where it will be located. These factors will determine the type of crane you choose, the material you use to build it, whether or not it needs to be mobile, and more.

You want to be sure your gantry crane design is going to fit your needs before getting started. Underestimating the weight you need to move could result in, at best, your hard work going to waste, and at worst a dangerous accident. When dealing with a heavy load bearing tool like a homemade gantry crane, it’s best to err on the side of caution. If your DIY gantry crane will be located outdoors, you’ll also want to consider protecting it with a weather-proofing paint.

You’ve probably already got several jobs in mind for your DIY gantry crane, so let’s get into the specifics. First, we’ll go over lifting capacity and the three basic types of gantry crane design so you can start thinking about which one will best fit your needs. Next, we’ll discuss the different components you’ll need to build your own gantry crane as well as the different types of plans available.

Load Capacity: How Much Do You Need to Lift?

Homemade gantry crane design plans cover loads from as little as 500 pounds on up to over two tons. Cranes lifting lighter loads of up to 500 pounds can be made of wood, while those being tasked with heavier loads will need to be made from steel. Think about the heaviest item youneed to lift and start your plan there.

Load capacities usually fall into four different categories: up to 500 pounds, up to 1,000 pounds, from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds, and a full two tons plus. Generally, the higher the load capacity, the higher the price tag of building a gantry crane, so keep that in mind when balancing your lifting needs and your budget. Above all, you’ll need to keep safety in mind and make sure you don’t build yourself a crane with too little capacity.

The Three Types of Gantry Crane Design

When it comes to building a homemade gantry crane, you have three basic options: fixed, adjustable and telescoping. Let’s dig into what each type is, how they are best used, and the pros and cons of each.

Fixed Gantry Crane Design

A fixed design refers to the height of the crane. The beam height is not adjustable in this type of crane. If you plan to move the same type of load over and over or don’t need much variance here, this may be the right style for you. Smaller shops often find a fixed crane to be just what they need.

A fixed height gantry crane design is easier to build, is less expensive, and still offers the benefits of mobility. It does, however, lack the versatility found in adjustable or telescoping designs. Its cost-effective nature often makes it ideal for infrequent or repetitive lifts. You can find gantry crane plans created by industry professionals for this type of design here.

Adjustable Gantry Crane Design

The beam on an adjustable crane can be moved up and down based on the needs of the job. While slightly more complex than the fixed crane, an adjustable crane is still a relatively simple construction project and less expensive than the telescoping option. The beam cannot be moved while lifting an object.

This style crane is ideal for engine lifting for both cars and trucks, and loading or unloading varying sizes of truck beds and trailers. Adjustable gantry cranes are often used in welding or fabrication shops to lift parts and equipment. You can build an adjustable DIY gantry crane from scratch using these professional plans.

Telescoping Gantry Crane Design

The final and most versatile style is the telescoping gantry crane. Capable of handling up to two full tons of load, telescoping cranes are an excellent choice for commercial garages and workshops. The major benefit of the telescoping design is the ease of raising and lowering the beam. You can also achieve a level working area on uneven terrain with a telescoping crane because you can raise one end of the beam higher than the other. There is a risk of the item moving while on the beam if the cylinders fail. However, with appropriate maintenance this risk is minimal.

Due to its versatility and heavier weight capacity, telescoping cranes are also more complicated to build. They have additional expenses due to the parts that other cranes do not have, including two ram hydraulic jacks or cable winches. However, you can save on expenses by following a set of professional blueprints and building a gantry crane with a telescoping function yourself.

Jib Crane Designs vs. Gantry Crane Design

As you research the right crane for your workshop or job, you may come across jib crane designs. Like gantry cranes, jib cranes lift heavy objects using a hoist with a chain or cable, but they have a single leg with a boom, or arm, to which the hoist is attached. Jib crane designs differ from gantry cranes design in that they are completely stationary, being secured to the floor using bolts or embedded using cement. They may also be adhered to a wall. These cranes are capable of lifting extremely heavy payloads, with larger jib crane designs able to lift up to 15 tons. They are only made from steel and are well suited for stationary work spaces.

Jib crane designs range from fairly simple to more complex. They do require a concrete foundation depending on the weight needing to be lifted. Jib crane designs are customizable based on lifting capability, area of rotation, crane height, and more. If your work involves lifting high weight items in the same place again and again with no need for mobility, you may consider jib crane designs instead. Some situations may benefit from a setup involving a combination of a jib crane and a gantry crane.

Rolling Gantry Crane vs. Overhead Shop Crane

While most DIY gantry crane plans are for a crane on wheels, your shop needs may not require a mobile heavy lifter. For these situations a stationary overhead shop crane may be just what you need. These cranes are similar to gantry cranes but instead of the hoist moving between two legs, it is on a beam called the bridge, which is perpendicular to two more beams, called runways. The runways are attached to four columns, two on each side. The trolly can move side to side across the bridge, and the bridge can move forward and backward along the runways.

These overhead cranes are ideal for lifting bulkier loads, such as car engines, and are great for loading and unloading trucks and trailers. They can easily be operated by a single user and offer very efficient use of space in your garage or shop. These types of shop cranes can be purchased in kits that you assemble yourself, easily running many thousands of dollars for a 2,000 pound capacity crane. A more budget-friendly option is to build a custom one-ton overhead shop crane yourself following a set of professional plans. These plans include complete blueprints for building your shop crane, as well as material and fabrication details.

Components of a Homemade Gantry Crane

Each crane is a bit different depending on the type and intended function. However, there are three very basic parts you’ll find on any gantry crane design: the frame, the wheels and the hoist assembly. As we’ll see, there are many options and varieties when it comes to these different components.

Frame Options

The frame consists of two legs on each side, generally using an A frame design. Homemade Gantry Crane frames can be made from wood, steel or aluminum. Each material has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Wood

Wooden gantry cranes tend to be less expensive and are capable of holding less weight, but depending on what you need it for, a wooden DIY gantry crane may be all you need. Keep in mind that wood reacts to time and weather changes leading to damage, wear and tear of the structure, and gradual loss of balance and strength.

Wood also can expand and contract in the rain making it difficult for you to calibrate the load well. It’s also more difficult to create a mobile trolley on a wooden beam, so a DIY gantry made from wood is more of a fixed structure both in mobility and lifting capabilities.

Steel

Steel gantry cranes are the most common, and most gantry crane plans are for steel cranes. If you plan on lifting 500 pounds or more, you’ll want to find a steel DIY gantry crane design. Building a gantry crane from steel is more expensive than wood, but it can bear a much heavier load while still being relatively easy to build.

Steel, since it is an alloy, corrodes or rusts at a slower speed than pure metals. Steel cranes will not deteriorate or warp the way wooden cranes will, but they do require painting or protection from the elements if they will be kept outside. It’s also much easier to install a mobile trolly for shifting your payload from side to side on a steel beam.

Most small workshops get a greater overall benefit from a steel DIY gantry crane over a wooden one, or even jib crane designs which are fixed in a single spot. Steel gantry crane plans easily give the average garage the biggest bang for their buck.

Aluminum

Finally, some gantry cranes are constructed from aluminum. Aluminum cranes are lightweight, making them highly mobile. However, it’s challenging to make a structurally sound gantry crane from aluminum. It’s generally not recommended as a DIY project for the average garage or shop owner.

Aluminum does not rust like iron, but it does react to natural forces and corrodes slowly because of oxidation, so painting and other precautions need to be taken to protect it. Another problem with aluminum is that it fuses with dissimilar metals if it is not treated well, like in the case of having steel bolts with aluminum framing. However, if your situation calls for a lightweight, mobile crane to move from place to place, you can still get what you need. If aluminum is really what your job calls for, purchasing a crane is going to be your best bet over building it yourself. Be prepared to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 or more for an aluminum crane you’ll assemble yourself.

Which Type of Gantry Crane is Best For You?

Completing the Frame: Girders, Casters and Hoists

The frame is completed when the two legs are attached by a beam across the top. Depending on the type of crane you’re building, the beam may be movable or static.

Single or double girder

Single or double girder The beam consists of a single or double girder along which the hoist assembly trolley travels to move the payload from side to side. A single girder is less complicated and less expensive. It is easier to install and maintain, making it a good option for most small to medium sized workshops and garages.

A double girder gantry crane design is more powerful. It has a higher capacity rating and offers more hook height than a single girder. It can also accommodate special features such as service walks and lights which can be a challenge on single girder designs. Double girders are designed for frequently lifting heavy loads and are often found in industrial settings.

Hoist and Trolley

Finally, the hoist assembly and a chain or cable is attached to the beam. For most homemade crane plans, there are three gantry crane hoist options: manual chain hoist, electric chain hoist and electric cable hoist.

Manual chain hoists are very common in DIY gantry crane plans. They are relatively inexpensive and are capable of performing many different lifting tasks, but require more physical effort. Electric chain hoists perform the same tasks as the manual chain hoist, but can do them at a faster pace. They are also quite durable, but cost more. Electric cable hoists are extremely convenient. They do most of the work for you and are capable of lifting as much as your frame can handle, depending on the model.

Although it can be fixed, having the hoist on a trolley is very handy. It allows you to move the load from side to side, making position adjustments much easier. They may be manual or electric. Trollies are sold both individually and in conjunction with a chain or cable and hook.

Caster Wheels


Most DIY gantry crane plans call for the crane to be mobile, so the frame will include a set of caster wheels. The wheels may be made from steel, cast iron, phenolic resin, hard rubber, or polyurethane. Forged steel and cast iron wheels are both generally easier to roll, but may damage flooring and are noisy when being moved. Phenolic resin wheels are temperature resistant up to 300 degrees, don’t become “flat spotted” when left loaded, and are resistant to oil, gas and grease. Mold on rubber casters, while perfect for a slick work area and gentle on your flooring, have a reduced weight capacity and tend to leave marks. Polyurethane wheels are easier to move, quieter, and gentle on flooring, making them the most common wheel in industrial settings.

Caster wheels are either rigid or swivel. Rigid casters have a rigid yoke and wheel assembly and do not rotate. If you’re looking for your homemade gantry crane to move forward and backward without rotating, rigid is for you. However, if you need your crane to be more agile, you’ll want to look at swivel casters.

Swivel caster wheels have a swivel yoke and wheel assembly connected to the crane legs using a top plate. The legs containing the caster wheels are attached to the bottom of the yoke. They allow the crane to move in any direction, including rotating completely around. This makes maneuvering around in a smaller space much easier, as well as improving general mobility. Mobile gantry cranes often have two rigid casters and two swivel casters. If you expect to be using your crane in a very tight spot, you’ll want to consider making all four wheels swivel casters for maximum maneuverability.v

Whatever type you choose, it’s imperative to ensure the casters are strong enough to handle the weight of your homemade crane and the load you’re lifting. Light duty casters can only handle 400 to 500 pounds, making them too weak to handle most cranes. Medium duty casters can support up to 1,500 pounds, and heavy duty all the way up to 25 tons. When choosing a caster remember to include the weight of your crane in addition to your payload. You’ll also want to make sure you have a way to lock your wheels in place so the crane doesn’t shift while lifting its load.

Both rigid and swivel casters come with brakes or locks. One handy type is a passive swivel lock, which is a full range swivel caster that can lock fully but also allows for straight forward and backward movement with a special locking mechanism. Caster wheel swivel locks can actually be custom designed for special applications, but for most purposes you can find off-the-shelf versions that will meet your needs.

Using Your Homemade Gantry Crane: Common Pitfalls

Building a homemade gantry crane can be a risky task, and so is operating one. Heavy- duty weightlifting can go awry at any moment if you are not paying attention. When crane accidents happen, they tend to be severe, and sometimes fatal. Keep yourself and your shop all in one piece by consistently following safety protocols.

Once your DIY gantry crane is built, pay close attention to your processes and avoid distractions while using it. Here are some specific points to keep in mind.

Load limits

Be sure to learn how to work within all the specified load limits. Your crane is only as strong as its weakest link, so be aware of what that pointis, how much it can safely handle, and stay within that weight.

Lifting mechanisms

In addition to crane capacity, the next most important factor is lifting mechanisms. In a gantry crane, the failure of the trolley can spell disaster. Make sure all components are well-maintained.

Height adjustments

The height and the width of the crane affect the crane capacity. Be sure to plan in ahead of your lift and adjust it accordingly before you begin operation.

Keeping it level

While lifting the load, make sure that the legs are nice and level without any height variance. The crane being out of level can affect the lifting mechanism and the weight capacity of the crane, as well as leading to accidents.

Nature of the load

Rolling and dynamic loads need to be handled carefully as they tend to swing or bounce when lifted by the crane. Be patient while handling such loads as they can get out of control and cause mishaps.

Hanging chains and tools

While you are operating your crane, be aware of any overhanging chains, tools, loads, and other hazards. Be certain these bump hazards are either out of your way or well-marked for you to avoid them easily. The same goes for any trip hazards that may be on the ground.

Falling loads and user errors

Crane accidents often involve falling materials, including negligence and user error. Visual impairment, payload slippage, two-blocking (when the hook assembly contacts the tip of the boom) and mechanical failure all often play a part in accidents.

Overloading

Overloading can lead to excessive stress being placed on the crane’s structure, which can cause permanent damage to your crane. Overloading doesn’t only happen due to an error in judgement or a weight miscalculation. It can also happen if the load begins to swing or is dragged, defective components, or side-loading a boom.

Not paying close enough attention to any of these factors can result in serious damage to property, injury, or even death. To avoid these accidents, the tools and materials should be secured properly on the worksite, proper safety gear should be worn, and all the safety protocols must be strictly followed to keep yourself and your DIY gantry crane safe.

Using Your Homemade Gantry Crane: General Safety Dos and Don’ts

Safety should always be a top priority when using any large piece of equipment, and your homemade gantry crane is no different. Here are some general safety tips and advice to keep both your crane and your body intact before, during, and after use.

DO always check and recheck the travel, lift, and capacity of the gantry crane for the load you plan to lift.

DO ensure that the crane is free of any damage or excess wear before you lift. Make sure that all its operations are fully functional.

DO use softeners for sharp corners to keep the slings from tearing if using slings or ropes, and check them for any damage or stretching before use.

DO store crane components like slings and ropes in a cool, dry place where they are not exposed to moisture.

DO keep the area clear, especially when loading and unloading. Make sure thatanyone in the area is aware that the crane is in use, and to steer clear if they aren’t part of the job.

DON’T go into the lift with a team without a chain of command. Make sure you are in clear communication with anyone else using the crane with you so each person knows their job ahead of time.

DON’T use your crane too close to electrical power sources. 50% of gantry crane accidents happen when the machinery comes into contact with electricity while operating.

DON’T rush. All your lifting tasks should be done with patience and care to avoid swinging of the load.

DON’T lift the load beyond the height that is required for moving it.

DON’T leave a raised load unattended on the gantry crane.

Your Homemade Gantry Crane Starts with a Quality DIY Gantry Crane Design

You’ve considered your needs, you’ve done your research, and you’ve decided what type of crane you want. But before you jump into building a gantry crane, you’ll want a quality set of gantry crane plans. Professionally engineered homemade crane plans will guide you through the whole process, tell you exactly what tools and materials you’ll need and still give you the freedom to customize your crane for your needs.

As with any heavy-duty DIY project, you do assume a risk of damage or injury when building a gantry crane and using it. While Gizmo plans provides top-quality, tested, and re-tested DIY gantry crane plans, we cannot account for the endless variables that go into creating a homemade gantry crane, the environment it will be built in, the materials used, or how it is used. Please review our disclaimer of warranties and be sure to build your DIY gantry crane with your personal safety and security in mind.

Building a gantry crane from scratch is not just a budget-friendly option, it’s a great way to add functionality, safety, and capability to your workshop in a manner befitting a self-reliant, DIY individual. Visit our crane plan shop and find the right set of DIY gantry crane plans, jib crane designs, or shop crane plans for your new heavy-lifting partner.

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