They may be for developing countries, but we want a concrete lathe

At the 2009 Ghana Maker Faire, [Pat Delany] met a young carpentry student that saved for three months to buy a cheap Chinese wood plane. He was confounded by this distribution of resources, so [Pat] created the Concrete Lathe project that aims to get useful machine tools out to where they’re needed most.

The idea for concrete machine tools came out of the US involvement in World War I. America had been staunchly isolationist before committing to the war, and production of arms did not match the needed output. A man named L.I. Yeomans came up with the idea of building concrete lathes to produce artillery shells for the war effort.

Of course, the concrete lathe project is a bit more peaceful in its intentions. The concrete lathe is meant to be a cheap machine tool for developing nations. Both the concrete lathe and the Multimachine are meant to be built cheaply using scrap materials, reduce training time for machinists, and create other machine tools in a Reprap-like biological distribution.

There’s a ton of documentation on the concrete lathe wiki like the bed instructions torn from the pages of Ikea instructions, and the thread follower. While they’re still a lot of work and testing to be done, giving some manufacturing capability to those who need it most is a pretty noble cause.

Thanks [Rob] for sending this one in.

50 thoughts on “They may be for developing countries, but we want a concrete lathe

  1. Has anyone actually built one of these? Id really be interested in seeing something like this in action.. then suggest it to my local hackspace!

    1. I don’t think anyone’s actually built one yet. None of the documents give any dimensions for the forms. They’re probably close though.

    1. It would be cool to create a CNC template for this so you could cut “precision” moulds that could be assembled, easily, on site.

  2. Going the DIY route for any project might save money on parts but how much is your time worth?

    Our generation needs doctors, engineers and chemists not 30 year old men living at home tinkering with toys. So come on, turn off your portable computer that never leaves your parents house take a shower and go outside. You might even find a gf that doesn’t deflate.

    1. Please, please, please leave and never come back. I say this with the best intentions. Your post seems so ignorant that I don’t even really want to argue with it. Our generation needs more thinkers and DIYers not “doctors, engineers, chemists” who will buy everything pre-assembled.

    2. First, every country need thinkers, or we would be stuck in time, without advancing technologically.

      Second “Our generation needs doctors, engineers”. Engineers seem likely to use tools such as these.

      Third: DIY is not only about saving money; but to learn how things can be made without depending on someone else. If you want, you can keep calling an electrician to change a light bulb, we are going to do it ourselves.

    3. Bootdisc the world has never advanced one iota without someone first saying, “Gee I wonder if I can do this? Let me try.” and that is the very ethos of the hacker. Not to be mean but if you had been around at the invention of fire you would have pissed the fire out, beat the inventor to death and then scurried back up into the trees.

    4. doctors and engineers are worthless to me… you go to a doctor with a health problem and they give you a drug to “treat the problem” only the drug creates another problem (lots of times worse than the original) to which they give you another drug. Engineers are very much the same except companys are coming to them with problems to which they have a solution that solution which creates another problem (lots of times worse than the original) to which they have another solution. so screw the doctors and the engineers unless you find a good one.

    5. Dear bootdisc,

      Your logic is faulty. You have omitted the possibility that several individuals – even those within your praised grouping of doctors, engineers and chemists – enjoy constructing projects in their leisure time.

    6. The ignorant”how much is your time worth?” question arises. No one engages in DIY activity when they are actually out earning income. In the event we can earn $20 per hour our time off the clock in also worth $20, and often more. How can it be worth more? In the event I can perform a job that will cost me $40 an hour to have someone do when I’m off earning $20, I’m ahead. A person without the same DIY capabilities will end up working 2 hours to pay that $40. So what was your practical argument against DIY, again? Oh that’s right you didn’t have one.

    7. Does appear that Concrete lathe where proven practical after the USA entered WW I. The materials needed to make the Portland cement used in concrete, if found locally available more often than iron ore is. There are similarities between casting concrete, and casting iron, but casting concrete I’m sure is more easily done. There are similarities between concrete in cast iron as well. both are strong, but can fail under hard impacts. A cast concrete machine tools will require the installation of steel products for wear surfaces that a cast iron lathe will not need. In the event that steel can’t be found locally, it’s surely cheaper to import than cast iron Beyond that both will require an equal amount of other manufactured steel parts that make up a functional lathe.

    8. Some of us here are engineers and find our professional careers unfulfilling, meaningless, and mind numbingly agonizingly painful. As far as how much my time is worth, well, I’m an engineer, so, you do the math…

  3. bootdisc, your comment disparages any and all posts on this website.

    if you are fundamentally opposed to the idea of diy, why on earth are you posting on hackaday, besides to troll?

    i thought we had comment moderation now…

  4. And a bunch of concrete mysteriously appears out of thin air does it? All these ‘help the 3rd world’ projects on here miss the point that it isn’t just specialist tools in demand, it’s everything. Being able to make things from raw materials is no use if you don’t have those materials. Shipping finished products costs less and ensures a higher quality than something homemade.

    If you want to make stuff, that’s great but if you are solving a problem you need to work from the problem to the solution, not the other way round.

    1. Concrete is much more likely to be available in a “3rd world” location than high grade steel is. Projects such as this one usually follow a thought path of “what is likely to be available there, and how can we make that into what we want.”

      Admittedly, this particular set of instructions seems to be geared more towards setting up a machine shop in a post battle or post disaster environment than to the environment of a developing country. There are a lot of places where ingredients such as “A junked hydraulic cylinder with a smooth 1.5in to 2.5in diameter piston rod at least 12in” would be difficult to acquire. But there are also a lot of places where parts such as that can be found locally.

  5. Mass and rigidity are great attributes for machine tools … brittleness is not. I would guess hope that the concrete is reinforced with fiberglass fibers or something similar. But still, even the cheapest of lathes/mills might be better and are probably being produced in said 3rd world countries.

    1. Concrete is excellent except, as you point out, when it is in tension. You can do pre-stressed concrete in cases where tension is an issue. Steel is good in tension and little else, so the two make an excellent pair when combined. Rebar and concrete go great together, and both are dirt cheap and readily available almost anywhere.

  6. I was studying a concrete build high precision CNC machine only a few days ago and the results seemed very impressive so far.

    The machine on this page has the entire base made from poured concrete/non-shrink grout. It is an awesome machine that you can adjust over time even as the concrete/grout settles(if that even happens). A lot of high precision survey equipment is calibrated using super-flat concrete. The rigidity is probably without parallel. The best part about a concrete machine is one can be assembled using only pre-made ball thread and ball thread support blocks/bearings. The rest of the material(gantry and rails) can all be scraped down to be perfectly square using only a flat granite table and measuring equipment(sliding dial indicator and micrometer).

    Another good candidate for 3rd world countries is an Epoxy composite machine. The materials can be transferred in the form of liquid.

    Lastly…. bootdisc is a tool

  7. Concrete has been used in at least one machine tool for decades. How many people here are aware that the very popular Taig Micro Lathe has an extruded alloy bed that is filled with concrete?

    1. Yeah, but that’s used primarily for weighing down the base. Concrete is not used in any way to hold tolerances or fix parts together.

  8. concrete is a bad material, but you can use epoxies. A lot of professional CNC machines are made out of Epoxy-Granite mix. You need at least 4 different grain sizes for stiffnes + vibrator to make it settle in the cast.

    just throw Epoxy-Granite in google and look at images.

    Epoxy is the ordinary stuff that is used for example to make floors. Readily available.

  9. I’m mildly to moderately disappointed with some of the comments I’ve been seeing on HAD recently. Things like, ‘Why build that when you can buy a tool to do the same thing’, ‘we don’t need tinkerers,we need more doctors and engineers’.
    ^ These sort of statements are in no way a part of the hacking ethos.
    Yes, people in the developing world need machine tools, and they need innovative solutions to get them. These sort of projects are what we are meant to be interested in as hackers. People finding solutions with whatever they can get their hands on and what places like Africa need are people with drive and a whole bag of creativity

  10. It seems to me that the expensive part isn’t the housing material, but the motors and the electronics, not to mention the gearing systems. Those would still have to be metal, right? If not, I want to see the design for a concrete PCB :P

      1. Wait, this is a manual lathe? I retract my statement then. It also makes more sense, considering developing countries don’t have very reliable power available.

  11. Bad advice IMO.
    He’s still going to need metal for the running components, unless he’s not interested in any sort of precision, in which case he probably doesn’t need a lathe altogether.

    May I suggest the same young African student save a few more months to acquire a cheap Chinese lathe made out of metal.

    1. I’m not sure you get it. This lathe can be used to create more accurate parts for itself, or for another lathe. Surely you can fathom that a passable piece of equipment is more useful than no equipment at all?

  12. I’ve been in the Philippines for a few years now and it always makes me chuckle when I see these ‘for developing country’ projects.

    While I love the ideas and the intention behind them, they’re usually trying to reinvent the wheel. What developing countries lack in availability and cash, they make up for in ingenuity and they’ve usually already done what you’re trying to do.

    1. You can use a lathe as a mill if configured properly and place an end mill or other tooling in the chuck/collet instead of the workpiece. Most people think that a lathe is only for producing round parts … not always true.

  13. If the gearing is right and you can get the rpms correct you can use the lathe as a mill. Chuck the tool in the lathe and the work piece in the tool holder. Mills are used mainly for creating perfectly flat faces, such as that found on the bottom of a plane.
    But realistically, you could make a plane by hand. All you need is a chisel and a block to hold it at an angle. Granted the mounting block has to be flat enough for your purposes, but again this can be done by hand using 2 other ‘flat’ surfaces and an appropriate abrasive. If it’s metal you need a scraper and some machinist’s dye(india ink works just as well for this). Any old leaf spring or broken file will make a chisel that beats the quality of most you will find at wal*mart.

    PS. Bootdisc: I am a chemist.

  14. The design of this lathe is terrible. Like it was designed by someone who saw pictures of lathes but never used them.

    This might be fine for a wood lathe, but as a metal lathe it will not work. The spindle design is a joke, angle iron and small pads to ride on the ways? You have go to be kidding me.

    Plus it is to darn small. A lathe for a “developing country” should be much bigger an massive. You can do little things on a big lathe buy you cant do big things on a little lathe.

    1. I believe that Macona did hit the nail on the head with this one. As I posted earlier I do have an example of a good concrete mill design, however after reading over this article I too believe that the design proposed in this idea is very poor and needs some objective thinking applied. It would only be accurate for wood and I could see a lot of the parts binding(you can’t eyeball parallelism and roundness). Basically it needs some work, however I would love to see such an example actually be built. The best part about a DIY lathe is that once you have one established it can be used to propagate more machine equipment.

  15. This is not even a new idea. Scans of popular mechanics articles from 1940 flout around the web with plans for building a “concrete lathe”.
    But I’d guess that the modern concrete mixes are btter at this.

      1. Love it! The trolls on this site were giving me fits. I thought you were one of them, but your second post made me chuckle. FTW, iHME.

  16. Forgive me for being obtuse, but if steel (or other metals) is so hard to come by, why would you need a metal cutting lathe anyway?

    1. Melting and casting scrap metal really isn’t all that difficult nor is it at all resource-intensive. A lathe allows you to finish the castings off and make machinery.

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