Zeola

An open source record lathe

In late 2021 I began the journey of trying to build my own record lathe to allow me to easily manufacture small runs of individual and experimental records on sustainable materials.

During the course of my build I’ve found the publicly available information on the building of record lathes rather lacking so with this project and it’s documentation I hope to be able to get some useful info out there. The end goal of this project is not just to build a working record lathe, but also to release all it’s associated design files under an open source license.

The overarching goal of the lathe itself it not to reach some form of audiophile perfection but rather to achieve a sound that is “good”.

The current working name for the lathe is “Zeola”.

I’m currently in the process of documenting the existing build which is at the point of being able to cut basic but kinda lo-fi sounding records while also trying to improve it further.

  1. First test cuts
    First test cuts
  2. Construction of the carriage
    Construction of the carriage
  3. Construction of the gantry
    Construction of the gantry
  4. Test cuts with the completed gantry
    Test cuts with the completed gantry
  5. New more powerful head
    New more powerful head
  6. Casting the platter from concrete
    Casting the platter from concrete
  7. New concrete platter
    New concrete platter
  8. The end result?!
    The end result?!

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Record Lathe, Pt.1

Wednesday September 21 2022, 1077 words — Introduction to my series on my DIY record lathe.
Filed under: Record Lathe

Hi, welcome to the first short introductory post in a series where I’m going to document my attempt at building my own record lathe!

Work on this started around a year ago, but I haven’t really gotten around to documenting any of it outside of some posts on twitter, so I felt it was time to put this project’s documentation into a less ephemeral form.

Wait, what’s a record lathe?!

Good question! You know records, right? Round, black, shiny discs that contain music in a spiral groove?

One of those!
One of those!

These mass produced records are made in a disc pressing plant which squishes pucks of PVC (aka polyvinyl chloride, aka vinyl) plastic between two metal stampers that press the groove into the surface of the record and give it it’s shape. Of course, something needs to put the groove onto those stampers in the first place and that’s where a record or disc cutting lathe comes in.

In large scale record production this happens by cutting a master on a record lathe and then electroforming a negative from the master that can be used to stamp the actual records. These master records were at first cut into wax and later on lacquer coated metal discs.

Now, this might make a record lathe seem kinda useless unless you want to start your own record pressing plant but one alternative to this process is to just cut the final record directly on a record lathe. This process is rather slow since the records are cut in real time, but when you’re only making 10 records that still might be preferable to going through the hassle and expense of making a master and stampers or having a pressing plant make 500 records for you.

Read more…

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