CNC & Machining
The Concrete Lathe Project

The origin of mechanical precision is a classic chicken-and-egg problem: If you need a precision machine tool to make a precision machine tool, where do precision machine tools come from, in the first place? There’s the historical question—how did human beings go from sticks and stones to diamond-turning optical lathes capable of millionth-inch precision? And there’s the slightly humbler, more practical version of the same problem—if I don’t have access to a precision machine tool, for whatever reasons, how do I go about making one?

Like maker patron saint Dave Gingery, septuagenerian Palestine, Texas, resident Pat Delany has a passion for that practical problem. Inspired by a WWI-era improvement in the expedient manufacture of machine tools by Lucien Ingraham Yeomans, Pat has been working since 2002 to develop a metalworking lathe design that uses concrete parts cast in wooden molds to achieve high precision at a rock-bottom price. Like $100-$200. Generally, the method involves casting the bed with slightly oversize voids to mount the ways and other parts requiring precision alignment. The parts are then carefully aligned using screws or shims, and fixed in place by pouring low-melting type metal into the extra space.

Pat’s current design lives on Make: Projects, and you can check it out at the link below. [Thanks, Pat!]

The Multimachine – $150, 12″ Swing, Metal Lathe/Mill/Drill


14 thoughts on “The Concrete Lathe Project

  1. This sure strikes me as one of the more impressive Maker projects which could really open door for a lot of us that don’t have the disposable funds for a $5000 lathe. This guy should receive nothing but funding and encouragement; and side-support from the computer CNC wings. …more power to ‘im.

    1. You can already walk through that door. A used 9″ South Bend lathe can run you as little as $500, more typically $800-$900. These vintage machines are famed for their rock solid precision. That’s much, much more capability for considerably less money than a lot of the toy 3D printers Make is so in love with.

      1. And of course if you don’t want to spend even that much, you can get an imported 7x lathe for ~$400, but I’m not sure about the quality of those. Still far more capable than 3D printers, though. And you can convert them to CNC (or buy a CNC-capable one in the first place). And all of this for far, far less than $5000.

      2. Of course, once you’ve bought the lathe itself, you then need to acquire the tooling (unless you were lucky enough to get it with the lathe!).

        $800 will look like chicken feed after you finish buying tooling and quick-change toolposts, and such! However, a South Bend 9″ is a good thing to have in your garage if you have room and you’re a maker.

      3. The Chinese mini-lathes are just fine, and probably as good or better than this concrete job. With a bit of work they can hold tolerances just fine. While it’s easy to spend $500+ on fancy tooling, it’s by no means necessary. HSS bits cost dollars each and a few of those and a sharpening stone will get you started.

  2. The Project format does not have room to really explain things well. My big interest is designing machines that can do complex jobs without needing expensive tooling.
    My personal holy grail is the first workpiece in this video It would take a powered auxiliary spindle that could cost as little as $50. To get sufficient room for this the ways would have to be at least 12″ (15″ would be better) between centers but no storebought chucks, vices or tool holders would be needed.

    Pat Delany

  3. yes i want to build my own meatel lathe for my shop and this one looks good help me I good at bulding tools gordon

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan