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Stewert King shot this video of a talented woodworker in the streets of Marrakech using a bow lathe to turn out a chess piece. This simple hand-powered tool, in the right hands (and in this case feet), can produce intricately carved items in a matter of minutes. The show of skill and dexterity is truly mesmerizing. [via Reddit]

Adam Flaherty

I make cool stuff and write about other people making cool stuff on makezine.com. If you have something you think I should see, send me a tip.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    Blimey, that’s bloody impressive. I’ve never seen a bow lathe before, looks quite uncomfortable to use.

    However, I can’t help but think that if the chap scavenged a bicycle, he could use the pedal system to free up both hands and provide continuous rotation via his feet.

    1. kalleguld says:

      I agree, bow lathes are quite impressive (my first time seeing one, too). However, some of what makes it so awesome is its simplicity. Almost no moving parts except the bow, which is easy to replace.
      I don’t know why, but I really like tools that you can make if you became Robinson Crusoe.

      1. Kit fox says:

        I think you’re missing the significance of his left foot.  It’s not idle.  There is no mechanical stop for the tailstock. 

        Another small detail is that he never cuts the cord for the bow, the excess is just strung behind him.  If it ever breaks, he can just re-string it.

        So no, I really don’t think he’s letting ANYTHING go to waste here.  I really like it.

        I imagine he could make a hell of a lot more than chess pieces, though!

    2. LDM says:

      Pedaling while trying to use a lathe would actually be bad, as it would likely throw off your balance.  The 2 more advanced forms of lathes after this are spring pole (basically, a bow lathe where a push down on a pedal stores the energy in a pole, and a release of the pedal spins the piece in the cutting stroke http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/tools/Lathe_spring_pole.html ) or a Treadle lathe where a down stroke on a pedal powers a flywheel.  In both these, one foot is planted firmly on the ground for stability.  Treadle lathes were actually often set up so the apprentice powered the lathe while the master cut. http://rizaydog.webs.com/treadlelathebuild.htm

  2. Impressive indeed but I hope the excess wood isn’t wasted.

  3. They’ve been doing this way for atleast 1000 years now, and he seemed comfortable enough with the position. I think he’d be able to figure out a way to make a different setup if it suited his needs better or were more comfortable, and you can’t argue with the quality of the work he’s doing.  http://www.historicgames.com/lathes/ancientlathes.html

  4. Anonymous says:

    Do you realize how difficult it is to use a skew with your HANDS??

    Impressed, I am.

  5. Hank says:

    Now imagine what this guy could accomplish by adding a sewing machine style treadle to his set-up!

  6. Adam Eyring says:

    This would, even in modified form for easier setup, make a good article for Make mag! It’s simple and could be useful for those who don’t want to deal with motorized lathes or don’t need lathes often.

  7. Diego Fernetti says:

    Curiously, the tool seems to cut on bth opposed turns of the piece… that must be a very, very, very sharp chisel!

  8. adric says:

    My dad made a “Spring pole lathe”  and then did a whole chess set with it, (1.5′ tall pawns).

    http://historicgames.com/lathes/springpole.html

    Based on this type of thing.  lets you leg press the “bow”,  you have to time your cutting, with your leg. and only cut on the down stroke. 

    works really well.  perhaps i can get osme photos and post them.

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