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HM Corner: Is This a Yoke to You?

HM Corner features our very own fabricator and steel wizard David Harrison sharing stories while talking about past, current, and upcoming build adventures.

For this edition, we skip ahead a few chapters from concrete stone escapades in Paraguay, and turn instead to an ongoing project on the work bench. Several builds currently reside there--some fast and easy, some long and complicated. Today, let’s talk about the yoke.

All yokes aside, this process costs a lot. Every artist has a preferred medium for their creative work. For some, it’s oil or acrylic paints. For others, the stage, film, or digital media. Still others find their outlet in the kitchen, producing aesthetically-plated comestibles. Harrison-Made works largely with concrete and steel. Concrete is relatively inexpensive, but steel is not. I could mess up quite a few yolks in the kitchen in the time it would take me to pay off the bill for just one yoke.

I love to design. I got my Bachelor’s of Industrial Design at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I learned my way around a metalshop and woodshop. I started my current job at Ferrous Studios in Richmond in 2018. Then management granted me the opportunity to use the shop for my side projects, and Harrison Made was birthed from there. My first few projects were simple grip trainers, camber bar swings, and a Mjolnir or two (Thor’s Hammer). Steel is tough. It’s malleable, but requires expensive tools and time to skillfully wrangle.

Some of you have seen the combination yokes I’ve made thus far, in all their multi-functionality. They’ve appeared at TSC events in yoke form, farmers form, even sandbag-toss form. Two editions exist at this point.

The Mark 1

Like any artist, I stole the idea from--or rather, was inspired by--an existing product. In this case, the brainchild was the Texas Strength Systems 6-in-1 yoke. (Don’t come at me--very little in the world of exercise equipment is truly original, and there’s a reason for that). I decided to take what I saw and do it better. That simple idea drives much of my work. As I thought about the yoke, I asked questions. How could I make it stronger? Lighter? Faster and easier to assemble? Practical for those without the degree and skillset I possessed? No tools needed? My mind combed through all the possibilities.

I went to work in April 2020. I looked through materials available in the scrap pile, and then made a few rough drawings. The process ran into a few hiccups along the way. [Warning: technical description ahead]. I found 3”x6” tubing for the big base of the farmer’s handles (base) component, which provided a solid foundation for the yoke. I planned to use 2”x3” tubing for the uprights, but the only such tubing with the necessary quantity available had walls 25% thicker than originally desired. 25% thicker meant 25% heavier, and I wanted to keep the yoke on the lighter side. The cross frame required screws to attach to the handle components at the base, and I ended up needing to use a few clamps just to get the holes to line up. On top of that, converting between modes involved half-inch bolts, making the process a two-person job requiring tools. Even if you’re a bit lost in the details, you get the idea--it wasn’t quite where it needed to be.

Still, I count the Mark 1 as a success and a learning experience. We wanted a combination yoke, and we had one. Several strongmen and strongwomen ran with it at our Strongman Saturdays...until eventually we broke it. Rather than letting its “failure” discourage me, I took notes and went back to work. The biggest takeaway for me was that I needed to make it lighter. The Mark 1 weighed around 300lbs empty, which was too heavy for warm-ups for some of our lighter athletes. I thought about the farmers handles I’d made for Coach Beebs that summer. They were lighter, more compact, and got in the way of the legs less than some of my earlier models. So I made this design the base for the next generation of the HM multi-function yoke.

The Mark 2...and beyond!

I set out to build the Mark 2 with two goals in mind: make it lighter than the Mark 1, and make it fully functional (and convertible) without tools, so that only pins are required. The break-through came with the “saddle” system. Essentially, the uprights attach to the farmers base via a “saddle” that slides over the base posts and is secured by pins running through the holes drilled in the side. While not as tight as bolts, the pins created (in my opinion) a more ergonomic and centered yoke by adding a little give. And perhaps best of all, the Mark 2 is the first to display the HM crown logo. A friend from my days as a Rajun Cajun in LA assisted in conjuring up the design, and another friend provided input on plasma cutting such that the saddle was big enough to display the logo in graphic glory.

I had a little trouble with the cross-bars for frame mode. Unsurprisingly, the smooth test runs on the flat concrete floor of the shop were unrepeatable in the wild--that is, Lot K at Cal State East Bay. The current model is a compromise of sturdiness and buildability, employing two fixed pins and two quick pins similar to those which attach the yoke uprights to the base.

If you’re counting, and I’m sure you are, you might be thinking “But David, that’s only three modes, not six!” Very true. For the time being, I spend most of my days making fancy handrails for rich people and other such items as part of my job. Plus I have many HM orders to fulfill. Unlocking the other modes will take time. Ideas are in my head, some manifested on paper as they grow toward reality. Designs change and evolve, and unexpected costs arise. The process is no yoke, man.

One yoke I made was recently turned into a Hercules Hold apparatus by its owner in San Jose, so maybe inspiration will work its way back to me in the meantime. Mark 3? Stay tuned...


For those interested...

Evolution of frame components (top to bottom):

Evolution of the yoke "saddle" (left to right):

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