Foot-powered lathe is a tour de force of joinery techniques


Meet [Quetico Chris]. He’s a master woodworker who likes to find his own alternatives to using power tools. Most recently, he was inspired by a fly-wheel from an old factory. He used it to build this foot powered wood lathe.

It works something like a foot powered sewing machine. There’s a lever for your foot which converts the downward force from your foot into a rotating force which drives the work piece. The mechanics of the lathe are pretty common, but we think the build techniques he uses are anything but. The video after the break shows each step [Chris] went through when crafting the human-power tool. His approach was to use wood as often as possible which includes foregoing modern fasteners for older joinery. He uses mortise and tenon, wood pinning, doweling, and a lot of puzzle-like tricks to get the job done.

We lack the skill and tools to replicate this kind of craftsmanship. We’re going to stick to letting a laser cutter form our wood connections.

[Thanks Aurel]


  1. Nathan says:

    Ridiculous Talent. Huge admiration for his ability.

  2. andarb says:

    You know… nails were in use in the Viking age, before many aspects of modern joinery were discovered, at least in Europe. And their nails were much more efficient fasteners than the wire nails we use today.

    Not gonna argue about modern screws though.

  3. flink says:

    It’s nicely done. Being a wood turner myself, I’m always interested in lathes. I’ve seen quite a few treadle, spring pole, and bow lathes made from wood and a few metal parts for wood holding. This one is pretty cool.

  4. ka1axy says:

    Wow! I love the speeded up sounds of the sawing and hammering.

  5. signal7 says:

    That must have taken a huge amount of time to build. I do some woodworking in my spare time and most projects take longer than I initially plan on. I can’t imagine doing it by hand – that would make it take 2-3 times as long. Awesome project, though.

  6. Steve Spivey says:

    Roy Underhill (The Woodwright’s Shop on PBS) has had one of these since 1979.

    • Joseph says:

      I love this show (when I can catch it) as much for the tools and techniques as the projects.

    • Rob says:

      Terrific show… would love to meet him someday!

    • Brian Neeley says:

      Roy is the man… They are in their 32nd season.

      You should check out his Wikipedia article. He has a bachlors degree in Theater. His masters degree in forestry was a multidisiplinary degree includes engineering, forestry, and history.

      One of my favorite things to do at work on Saturday (I work for a PBS station) is watch his show. Roy and Red Green are the best builders PBS has (IMHO).

      • Drew says:

        Very cool, did not know that about him. I grew up since I was little fascinated by his show, it actually was one of the reasons I got into lost technology for my career- I went to watchmaking school and am becoming a watchmaker, finally.

        I still can’t believe his show and he are still running, I’ve literally seen his show my entire life, as I’m almost 30, but he’s been doing it longer! My dream is to resurrect a watermill and have a lineshafted pulley powered workshop of multilevels, all thanks to the inspirations stemmed from one man’s TV show- Roy Underhill.

        Everything he does is wonderful. I can’t wait until finally the entire series is on DVD soon, 30 years of that show, I’d sit and watch happily everyday. I’d love to meet and talk with him, and I envy you getting to work for such an awesome employer like PBS, they are the only worthwhile thing left on TV. Thank god 32 years ago they saw fit to give Roy such a cool show, or I would never be where I am today.

        To others who like Roy’s show, The Woodrights Shop, you can watch a lot of it free online, check it out!

        • Brian Neeley says:

          The Woodwright’s School

          $145, and a trip to Pittsboro, North Carolina can help that dream come true (meeting Roy, not the watermill thing). I would like to be able to take several of these classes, but I’m not sufficently skilled as a woodworker (or blacksmith) for any of the classes to truely benefit me. Sure, it would be a LOT of fun, but I have too many other projects that I haven’t even started to take three days for a trip to South Carolina.

  7. Hack Man says:

    All that to make a handle.

  8. fartface says:

    This is a real hacker. A Uber level one at that!

  9. Andy says:

    Amazing work. A true master. That is some chisel!!!

  10. alypne says:
  11. Wolfy says:

    Epic build and sweet video! Kudos!

  12. Amazing! Piece of cake for him aparently…

  13. Jarrod says:

    Reminds me of this show:

    Giuy builds all kinds of things, using no modern power tools at all. Fascinating stuff.

  14. ColdTurkey says:

    Great work! Brilliant video! Fantastic end result!

  15. oodain says:

    absolutely wonderfull video and build.

  16. ino says:

    You, Sir, are awesome !
    The video was a delight to watch.

  17. Shady says:

    Inspiring work! The video must have taken longer to make than the lathe did. I enjoyed it.

  18. static says:

    Great build & video. “We’re going to stick to letting a laser cutter form our wood connections.” Mike is not going to be ready for that zombie Apocalypse many mention is he? Wood is going to the most readily available construction material. Need to accumulate the hand tools to work with that. Sometime ago I had to let 2 sweet post drills go to metal savage, but that was not under my control.

  19. cap'couillon says:

    Nails are much cooler if you call them “inter-fibrous friction fasteners.”

  20. echodelta says:

    He’s all ready for lights out EMP solar flare etc, not holeywood’s fantasy.

  21. You_the_man says:


  22. Al says:

    Benny Hill. Too bad the little old guy and the Hill’s Angels are not in the video.

  23. vonskippy says:

    Hopefully soon the poor guy will learn all about that thar thing called licktrickcity.

  24. Freaking Aweome … Great Job …

  25. rj says:

    Does he have random logs of purpleheart wood just lying in his lumber pile? (If not, what are those purple logs?)

  26. wardy says:

    People who can do carpentry to this level are, in my opinion, on a different plane of existence. Pure, utter brilliance.

  27. Charles says:

    Incredible talent! woodworking 11/10

  28. Gene Abshire says:

    Norm Abrams sucks this guys balls. I love watching people who are good at what they do, and love doing it. Don’t care if you are a trash collector or a master carpenter, watching someone who loves what they are doing, is nothing but fun.

  29. nebulous says:

    You don’t have the tools? The tools he used were saws, chisels and a drill (and a square, and admittedly planes and spokeshaves).

    Skills are acquired over time, and mortises aren’t that hard, as long as you’re careful.

    Mind you, he’s very good. Great to see!

  30. mevabox says:

    wow that is just beautiful

  31. Steve says:

    Congratulations, nothing more beautiful than the human expressión working with your hands.

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