Heavy Duty Lathes, Chickens, Heavy Hoes, MicroTracs, and Soil Pulverizers

Any good village should not go without the above.

The heavy duty, 12″ chuck, 20 hp, open source lathe design is complete. Yes, 20 hp from LifeTrac. It’s $360 in parts – which is awesome because because these things sell for thousands. We’re using the PTO motor from LifeTrac as the power unit shown, so the motor cost is externalized as part of our infrastructure ecology. The lathe has a concrete bed of about 1000 lb weight:

We’re offering a workshop on April 11, 2009, in about a month – where you will learn how to build this very lathe. It’s not a toy. It’s radical – you can call it our first advanced technology workshop, in the style of tool development for local production. Effectiveness is the essence of any global village – where you change the world by seizing the power of production. You pay dear for the workshop – it’s $100 admission, but free to True Fans, so sign up to be a True Fan. The good thing is, you’ll help our budding village with the fee, and the knowledge gained is dear. You will see how we start with the concrete bed, and we’ll assemble the entire thing from parts, most of which are cut out from stock metal. Email us for more info.

So you don’t have a power unit for this lathe? No worries. We’re offering a workshop on fabricating your own walk-behind tractor, on Saturday, April 18, a 4 hour intensive workshop. Email us for more information. We will start with prepared stock metal and components, and show you how to assemble one from off-the-shelf parts and hydraulics, at a cost between $550-1000 for a super heavy duty, lifetime device. This is MicroTrac. It’s a walk-behind tractor, which can give you the hydraulic power for the lathe, among a hundred other applications. MicroTrac will be the power source for our new CEB press, and it will cover small farm work with its tiller, and mower, plus many other attachments up to a baler. It will also have its engine unit interchangeable with LifeTrac. MicroTrac design is so simple that I jump with joy. It’s a power unicycle, so to speak.

This leads to the pulverizer bucket attachment for LifeTrac. This is how we will implement the CEB press soil preparation discussed in a previous post:

The pulverizer is an addition in front of the LifeTrac loader bucket. We’ve also begun discussion on a LifeTrac microcombine, the holy grail of agricultural implements. As you see, we’re well on our way to becoming a veritable developer of open farm tech. Imagine CSAs now producing grains as part of their offering, as cost and maintenance of industrial combines is removed from the equation.

Next, we move on to low-tech agriculture. We’ve built 3 heavy hoes already.

These are Made in the USA – as Factor e Productions – blade of which I torched from flat scrap. They are the next best farm tool outside of LifeTrac or MicroTrac. We love them around here because we’ve already used our heavy-duty versions for brush clearing, stump ousting, tilling, weeding, digging, trenching, and floor leveling. That’s the most important hand tool you can have on a farm – and given the choice between this and a shovel, I’d grab the heavy hoe immediately. Greg Baka from, of Columbia, Missouri, also imports these from Brazil, but he may be getting into actual fabrication, as he is friendly to developing local productive enterprise. Greg gave us a heavy hoe when we met him at our Columbia lecture one year ago – and we immediately found the tool to be extremely useful. We broke the handle quickly, per heavy duty use and operator malfunction at Factor e Farm, and that’s why we’re making ours all out of metal, with a lifetime warranty.

We’re offering a workshop where you can learn to fabricate the heavy hoe. The workshop is free to True Fans, and $55 for others, and you can take the tool home with you. This workshop is in a little less than 2 weeks from now – Saturday, March 21, from Noon to 3 PM, so sign up now and pass this on to others. Email us for more information. A heavy hoe is for every food producer.

And a chicken is for every pot. We’re announcing our Open Chicken CSA invitation. Join the CSA for $175, and you will gain the capacity to produce your own chickens. There’s no free lunch here – you have to engage actively in the work – as you are the producer. We are offering the facilities and equipment for this. We offer 3 workshops in this fee, the fee covers all other materials, and we do the rest. This means:

  • We offer a workshop on building a 50-egg chicken incubator, where you actually build the incubator.
  • You fill it with eggs from our chickens, and you can also take the incubator home with you so you can experience the process.
  • When you come back in one month with the hatchlings, you will participate in building your own chicken tractor for growing out the hatchlings.
  • When the hatchlings are sufficiently big, you come back for the third workshop, on building a small, modular chicken coop to house the chickens at night.
  • After this point, we take care of the chickens, and you can come back in 6 months to harvest eggs or meat

You can go through as many hatching cycles as you like , so you can produce as many chickens as you like. The constaints are availability of incubator, chicken tractor, and chicken coop space, your labor, and timing in the season. The fall and winter are not times to be hatching chickens. You can do as many as 3 or so hatching cycles – where the optimal hatching time is between now and June. If you are interested, email us, and the first of the 3 workshops will be held on Staturday, April 4, 2009. You’ll be supporting our work and providing for yourself at the same time. Email us for more information.

Plus, I’ll be flying over the big pond to Oekonux 4 in Manchester, UK, later this month. I’ll be speaking about the same-old, same-old: Building the World’s First, Replicable, Open Source Global Village. During this same time, I’ll also be visiting with Chris of HydraRaptor, which to me is the most inspiring integrated technology development program next to Factor e Farm. You have to study the blog for some time to appreciate its depth. To me, it’s a school on the entire process and tools of open source product development – which provides many hints into the development of an effective, open engineering process. Such a process is one of the core contributions to humanity that we’d like to develop at Factor e Farm.

All in all, these are exciting times. Publicity efforts are paying off, as we’ve got 8 people lined up to come here by summer time, and we’re in discussion with others. If you want to join Dream Team 30 or participate in other ways, the time is now. Or, subscribe to be a True Fan, as we have only 33 subscibers to this important work as of now. This is nowhere near our goals. We have 646 days left to build a working village. The prospects are good, however, as we found someone to produce a professional PR plan. Plus, the economy is crashing, and many skilled people are becoming available – so to say, by relaxing their work schedules. Factor e Farm could be a great opportunity, and perhaps a solution.


  1. Elmo

    About the lathe:

    I want one! Any idea about sourcing here in the northern Europe (Finland). I would propably have to convert the design into metric at least partly. Have you thought about local manufacture outside the USA in general?

    And a spesific design suggestion:

    That thing would weigh half a ton, and so would be imposssible to move to/from a small basement workshop, and relocation in general would need several people or a heavy tractor maybe. So why not make the base from several pieces or make it smaller with heavy feet and the possibility to add external weights (like sacks of sand or bricks) between the feet?

  2. Jeremy

    I think there are issues with stability and rigidity that make the concrete base more widely used. You can design your own base too, read the multimachine pdf for some information on different lathe machine foundations:

    Please add some info to the OSE lathe wiki page if you come up with anything!

  3. Chad

    Great job with the rendered visuals, guys; they always say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think more “idealized” visuals would really help sell your vision to a larger audience.

    For example, on the low-cost housing front, this site offers some nifty-looking dwellings:

    Of course, I’d doubt you have time at the moment to play decorator 😉

  4. Natalya Lowther

    I feel like you have something of the same dream I’m following, but on a somewhat different slant. I don’t see descriptions or pictures of you (they maybe there, just hard to find on slow dial-up), but I’m guessing you are young, male and brawny to match your machines. And I’m guessing you have upland soil, clayey and heavy with mature trees and rocks. I’m also guessing you’re far enough from urban areas that you don’t need to be concerned with zoning regulations and building codes to the extent that I do in my location on the city limits of Lawrence, KS.

    I think sustainability must start with people thinking about the extreme diversity among both soils and human bodies, and discovering the minimum work and lightest, simplest tools needed to acheive an end that is in harmony with those starting points. Sustainability is, after all, a personal relationship between one human in one particular chunk of soil.

    We have a heavy hoe at Pinwheel Farm–a few rare people LOVE it–but for many (smaller or less hardened) folks it is not a sustainable tool for their physiology. Ditto the walk-behind tractor that we have (a BCS). And these heavy tools also aren’t needed often for our light soil. In fact, even moderate tilling ruins the structure and creates aeration, drainage and other problems. One or two inches of tillage with simple, no-impact hand tools is sufficient for a seed bed.

    When I consider if something is sustainable, my first thought is, if I do this for a lifetime, will it wear out my joints? At age 50 and 135 lbs., I look for light-weight low-impact tools/ways of doing things that don’t wear me out in the short run or put percussive stress on my joints. Joint replacement surgery is not sustainable! The best tools are time and patience and persistence.

    For fine leveling, I like a stirrup hoe best–it scrapes thin layers on the draw stroke with no impact or lifting. For rooting out stumps, shovels (sharpshooter) and saws and light axes/hatchets.

    On some soils (heavy, rocky, clay soils) heavier equipement is needed. On my light silt loam–pure Heaven on earth!–much lighter equipment can be used by lighter/younger/older people, much more sustainably. The human race needs to stop building on such soils and reserve them for agriculture!

    My blog,, includes numerous reflections on tools and tool use. We also do a lot of teaching/training/sharing of methods and wisdom, including a weekly free seminar from 5:00 – 6:00 on Thursdays. Topics vary but focus around livestock and vegetable production.


  5. Lost Chief

    So how are you going to deal with the damage from hitting rocks with the pulverizer? Seems like any decent size rock will create lots of damage. Is there a way to make guides that cut down in front of the pulverizer so you get a warning so you can stop before rocks? This pulverizer along with the CEB are the main tools that can seriously build villages fast if you can keep the soil coming.

  6. Marcin

    My experience with LifeTrac shows that safety pressure releases built into the hydraulic circuit prevent such damage. When I hit rocks with the tiller, fluid would bypass without damaging motors or blades.

  7. […] In preparation for CEB construction – and in particular for the Vault Construction Workshop introduced in the last post, here is the soil pulverizer construction and testing of our first prototype. We started on the drawing board: […]

  8. Roy

    I am afraid you will be very disappointed with that lathe. You need mass in the whole lathe not just the base, plus there is no power feed, power crossfeed, tailstock with quill or thread cutting ability. All of these are needed for general machining. You can find very good lathes that are older that will run carbide tooling at very reasonable prices or you can get a slower lathe that will run high speed tooling even cheaper, it would be less desirable but even an old flat belt drive would out perform the one you want to build. I understand you want produce all your own machines, but a lathe is the backbone of any shop and you would be at best very limited with that design. please don’t take this as a slam, I am only trying to save you time, money and disappointment.


    I looked at the idea And it needs some work on it to make it useable.
    The construction of the single way in the bearings , there is no control over motion in it.
    The carriage is going to move around and have no accuracy at all.
    There is no cross bracing in the headstock
    The idea is a poor design for a lathe.