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How to Build Your Own Rowing Machine

Guest Post by Harry.

For approx. $100 and few hours of time, you can build a wooden rowing machine to help strengthen your leg and arm muscles without significantly denting your pocketbook.

The rowing machine might not be the most popular or expensive exercise device out there - but it is effective as it exercises the upper body, the lower body, back muscles and the abdominals. Plus its pretty frugal. Building your own rowing machine will give you a chance to customize the look and feel of the equipment - and the bragging rights when people visit and say "Hey, what is that?!"

Plus rowing causes very little stress on the joints, so its safe to use even if you're elderly and have difficulty with your joints / arthritis.

You could go out and purchase a really nice rowing machine for $800, and it will come with a computer that counts reps / estimates speed / etc... but really, for the extra $$$ you can count reps in your head or just use the clock on the wall to track the time you've spent rowing.

You will need the following...

  • Two hook bolts
  • Two hook screws
  • Ten screw eyes
  • Four spring washers M12
  • Eight washers M12
  • Eight hexagon nuts M12
  • Threaded rod M12
  • A bunch of screws
  • One carabiner
  • Two cable clamps
  • Ten small wheels 3 cm in diameter
  • Two small wheels 4 cm in diameter
  • Wooden beams ( 4 cm x 4 cm ) approximately  10 meter total usage
  • Wooden stick 2.5 cm in diameter and approximately 60 cm long
  • Wooden board approximately 88 cm x 30 cm x 2.7 cm
  • MDF boards approximately 99 cm x 33 cm x 1.1 cm
  • Two long pieces of aluminum (140 cm x 4 cm x 3 mm)
  • Elastic straps
  • Four pulleys
  • Two bearings: outer diameter 32 mm, inner diameter 12 mm
  • Rope 2 meter, 10 mm in diameter
  • Wood glue
  • Wood wax
  • Wood paste
  • Jig saw
  • Screw driver
  • Sand paper
  • Wood clamps
  • Wood file
  • Drill
  • Drill bit  6 mm, 12 mm, 15 mm, 32 mm

Step 1 - Building the Wooden Base

Saw six pieces of 30 cm from the wooden beam. Measure a 45° angle on each piece and saw them off.
Saw six pieces of 10 cm from the wooden beam,  two pieces of 18 cm, three pieces of 40 cm, two pieces of 42 cm, two pieces of 19 cm and two pieces of 73 cm. Finally saw two lengths of 170 cm.
Saw rectangles (4 cm x 4 cm x 2 cm) out of the ends of the 170 cm lengths and the 40 cm pieces. Glue the sawed ends of the 170 cm lengths and the 40 cm pieces together in a right-angle.  Screw two pieces of 30 cm (the ones with the 45° angle sawed off) in the right-angled corners. 
On the other end of the 170 cm beams you measure 3 cm from the top and drill a 15 mm hole. On top of that hole drill a 1 cm deep hole 32 mm in diameter.
Glue a 10 cm piece between the finished right angled pieces, starting from the corner. Than glue two pieces of 10 cm at 25 cm and glue the last one at 83 cm.  
Take the last 40 cm piece, measure 11 cm from the sides from these marks draw two 4 cm by 4 cm rectangles and saw them out 2 cm deep. 
Screw the 42 cm pieces to the 73 cm pieces and drill a 12 mm hole throughout both pieces at height 20 cm.
Screw the long ends (at 120 cm) “of the so far finished base” on top of the 42 cm pieces. 
Screw a 18 cm piece on top of the long ends - between the 73 cm pieces.
Screw a 18 cm piece between the tops of the 73 cm pieces.
Screw two 19 cm pieces vertical between the two 18 cm pieces leaving a 2 cm space between them.
Screw four pieces of 30 cm (the ones with the 45° angle sawed off) in the right-angled corners on the base. 
Fill the screw holes with wood paste and sand them smooth.
The base is finished.

Step 2 - The Wooden Pulley

Draw (on the MDF board) two circles 32 cm in diameter and one circle 30 cm in diameter and jig-saw them out. Glue them together leaving the smaller one of 30 cm in the middle. Drill a 12 mm  hole in the middle of the circle. Bolt the created wheel on the drilled holes on the back of the base. (Note, you can get pre cut MDF boards.)
Put the bearings on in the drilled 32 mm holes. Use spring washers, washers, hexagon nuts and a threaded rod to connect the wooden pulley to the base. 

Step 3 - The Wooden Rolling Seat

Saw 30 cm by 30 cm of the wooden board. 
Saw two 30 cm by 8 cm pieces of the wooden board.  These will be the sides. Screw them onto the 30 cm by 30 cm piece.
Screw two rows of tree wheels on the bottom and two wheels on each side. Spread the wheels evenly.
Fill the screw holes with wood paste and sand them smooth.
Screw two pieces of aluminum 4 cm by 140 cm on top of the base.

Step 4 - The Feet Supports

Saw two 26 cm by 12 cm pieces of the wooden board
Saw two 12 cm by 6 cm pieces of the wooden board
Screw the small boards right angled on (the end of) the bigger boards.
Take the two leftover 10 cm pieces from step 1. Drill a 12 mm hole throughout the top of each piece. Screw them in the center of each 26 cm by 12 cm piece.
Bolt the feet supports on the drilled 12 mm holes on the base. Use spring washers, washers, hexagon nuts and threaded rods to connect the feet supports to the base.   
Fill the screw holes with wood paste and sand them smooth.

Step 5 - The Pulling / Resistance Mechanism

Fix two hook screws underneath the base (see picture). 
Screw four pulleys underneath the base on to the two 10 cm pieces.
Saw two pieces of the wooden stick: one 14 cm long and the other 12 cm long. Drill six holes in the long one and five holes in the short one, using the 6 mm drill bit. Spread the holes evenly. On the long piece bolt four screw eyes on the inner side and two hook bolts on the outside facing the opposite direction. On the short piece bolt five screw eyes with the middle one facing the opposite direction.
The elastic straps I used are 85 cm long.  Attach them to the screw eyes of the 14 cm long stick. Cut the hooks on the other end of the elastic straps off and pull them through the pulleys. Now reattach the hooks and fix them to the screw eyes of the 12 cm long stick.  
To make the handle saw a 30 cm piece of the wooden stick. Drill a 6 mm hole in the middle and bolt a screw eye on. Attach a carabiner to the screw eye. Put a rope through the carabiner and fasten it with a cable clamp. 
Guide the rope over the wooden pulley and underneath the base. Attach the rope to the remaining screw eye and fasten with a cable clamp.

Step 6 - The Wheels

Saw a cube of 4 cm by 4 cm, next saw this cube diagonally. Screw these pieces on the 73 cm  beams facing the wooden wheel and 2 cm off the ground. Next screw a wheel on each block.

Step 7 - Wax!

Wax all the wood with wood wax to give it a nice smooth surface. Pay extra attention to the seat and handle - for extra comfort get bicycle handle grips and slide them onto the handle.

Step 8 - Exercise!

One of the most common mistakes is to bend the lower back when going forward and backwards. Try to keep your back straight. Follow these steps if you do the exercise:
  1. Lean slightly forward with your arms straight and rounded legs
  2. Start to straighten your legs, lean a little backward and pull your arms.
  3. Stop when your legs are straight and your arms are bend while you hold the handle to your abdomen.
  4. Stretch your arms again, bend forward and bend your knees to go back.
  5. Start over!
Adjusting the Resistance

To adjust the resistance on the rowing machine, you can hook/unhook elastic straps. Many beginners make the resistance as high as possible in order to burn more calories, but then you will sooner suffer from pain in your back and aching muscles. The resistance is good if you can finish your session without feeling completely exhausted. You get a good cardio workout and develop your muscular strength and endurance.

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