Very early planning – Roubo Lathe Project


I have a family and a full time job and work with wood during my limited free time, so I end up with more time to think about wood than to actually work it. Most recently, my thoughts center around my need to make round things.  I don’t own a lathe, so I looked to the internet for some ideas.  A quick search showed that there’s no shortage of clever contraptions for spinning a piece of wood.  I looked into all available lathes: from electric to manual, mass produced to free-cycled, continuous rotation to reciprocating, minimal to massive. After a while of surfing, I was drawn to the version in Roubo’s works.

Roubo_lathe2       Roubo_lathe3

The images are from the toolemera press website – a very helpful place

This massive, manual machine grabbed me right away as the logical approach to turning for me.  Why use such an “ancient” design?  Let me explain my thought process.

Which lathe is right for me?

Electric vs. Manual – Manual lathes seem more fun to use, but I lean toward manually powered tools.  I’m not mass producing anything, so I don’t care if it is a little slower.  A nice plus is that manual lathes can be very inexpensive to build.

Flywheel vs Reciprocating (bungee or spring pole) – There are several great flywheel designs online, but they are more complicated than reciprocating lathes.  It’s not a huge difference, so pick your pleasure on this preference.

Robust Roubo vs Minimal Bodger – My lathe will stay in my shop, not in the woods.  If I were working in the woods I would build the version that Mike Abbott described as Spring Pole 2000 (Living Wood, a great book).  Mike’s design is super simple, lightweight, and quick to build, but it would not look right parked next to my Roubo style workbench.  Yes, I know that is a ridiculous reason.

What’s next?

I need to figure out how to build this thing.  I’m researching the technical aspects and history of the Roubo lathe design to get a better understanding.  I’m also emailing experts in the field to request a little help here and there.  As I learn important details, I’ll post them here as project updates.

Finding the right materials for a build is always a fun part of the process.  Sure, I could go to a hardwood dealer and buy 8/4 (2 inch) thick oak (and I may), but first I will watch the classifieds and keep my eyes open as I drive my normal routes.  Here In the south (USA) it is not unusual to see a pile of lumber inside a barn (visible from the road, no trespassing).  I’ve bought lumber by knocking on a door and asking a complete stranger, “I’m sorry to bother you, but is that lumber for sale?”  This works for logs, too.  You can laugh, but I have gotten a couple of truck loads of (cheap) walnut this way.

The search for materials begins now.  Does anyone have any 4 inch x 4 inch oak posts?  I prefer knot free.

Bob jones

2 thoughts on “Very early planning – Roubo Lathe Project

  1. Dave

    Just found your blog after I saw that you liked one of my posts. (Thanks by the way.) I like what you are doing with your blog. Keep with it, it is a lot of fun and as the statistics say if you make it past the first year you are in the the 10% who stick with it and run a successful blog.

    Anyways to your post about building a lathe. I built a spring pole lathe this summer and have had a lot of fun with it. I went pretty simple using re-purposed materials and only spent around $10 on it, and it works great.

    One thing to remember when building a pole lathe is that they do not need to be complicated or over built. Build with what you have and put some money into nice tools and you will be much more happy than putting more money into the lathe and less money into tools.

    A great set of tools is the set from Ashley Iles from the online store “Tools For Woodworking”. They are designed for use specifically for pole or treadle lathes and made of high carbon steel. It is a great set and I have a review of them that I plan to post before the close of the year.

    Take care and keep up the work with you blog.



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