Picture of DIY rowing machine

The rowing machine is one of the less familiar fitness machines for cardiovascular training. Exercisers seem more likely to opt for the famous treadmill or the exercise bike. Nevertheless the rowing machine is as well and maybe even better than other fitness machines. On a rowing machine you strengthen your arms, legs, stomach, back and other muscles. In addition a rowing machine is less stressful on the joints and it can make a welcome change in your fitness program.

The total cost of this rowing machine is around  100 dollar. I didn't make this to save money, I just like to make my own.

Note for conversion to inch visit this site: http://www.linuxfocus.org/~guido/javascript/cm-inch-conversion.html 

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Step 1: Materials and tools

Picture of Materials and tools


  • 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 2: 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 3: Wooden pulley

Picture of 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.

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 4: Rolling seat

Picture of 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 5: Feet supports

Picture of 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 6: Pulling 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 7: Transportation wheels

Picture of Transportation 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 8: Wax

Wax all the wood with wood wax.

Step 9: Start to exercise

Picture of Start to exercise

The general 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!



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.

Step 10: Optional: arm support

Picture of Optional: arm support

Train your biceps using an arm support.


Saw two pieces of  31 cm and two pieces of 23 cm. On the top of these four pieces saw an angle of 45° off.

Saw two pieces of  35 cm and one piece of 14 cm.

Saw one piece of board 30 cm by 24 cm and  two pieces of board  35  cm by 3 cm.

Glue the 35 cm by 3 cm boards to the 35 cm pieces, screw the 31 cm piece in the middle. 

Screw the 14 cm  piece between the two previous created parts.

Screw the 30 cm by 24 cm board on top of the 45° sides.

For extra support slide the two 23 cm pieces between the board and 35 cm beams. Screw them tight. 

Fill the screw hole with wood paste.

Sand and wax.

ErikS92 months ago
ErikS94 months ago
Do you have a kit instruction with materals?
alcurb6 months ago

Great workout machine. Nice. Cheap to build.

Be cool to see a free-wheeling flywheel that is impulsed by the pulley in one direction only (ratcheting action) and have that wheel rotate some magnets that would act as a generator to charge your iphone. The flywheel's side benefit is that it would offer inertial resistance when you start it spinning as if you were starting to row a real boat from a still position. The generator can also drive a meter that gives you a sense of how fast you are moving in the virtual water.

mindsystem3 years ago
Very cool. Wish I had the space in my dorm for one...
On another note, is there any possibility of getting this in some sort of CAD format?

It's seems that with a modification to the "frame", that you would be able to stand this unit up on end to save space when storing the unit..

HHarry (author)  mindsystem3 years ago
Sorry, i didn't make any drawings.
snlerling1 year ago
Just finished building your rowing machine for my wife. She is quite happy with it.
It took a little while to convert from your metric to our silly english dimensions. Your pictures and directions were very helpful. A very clever and sturdy design.

Silly English dimensions? You thick twat.

djsc1 year ago
that's a beautiful build, but this kind of rowing machine is cheap to buy. I have wanted a sesrious air-resistance maachine fora ges but can't afford a good one, and the cheaper versions just simply don't work. anyone know how an air resistance unit is made? what's in there? I am thinking that basing it around a bike wheel gives you an axle, bearings, a freewheel mechanism and opportunities to drive the wheel a bit like this project, or from a chainset. add air resistance fins and enclose in a perforated cylinder? it would take up more space than this.
Dr. Who2 years ago
great instructable! just thoght i should mention in the picture, your rowing wrong. the handle should be at the third rib from the bottom.
This is wonderful! I love rowing and was looking around for machines and none of them seemed good enough for the price they asked. This looks like a really fun project for me to bring that down, and still have a quality machine. Really appreciate the post!

And let me take this chance to introduce myself to the community - this will be my first project. Thanks to all those that make this site wonderful; it is everything I need for living on my own now :)
arivero3 years ago
Very nice. It's just what I was waiting for. I'm trying to produce a sketch (using SketchUp) before starting construction, an I got a little confused with some dimensions. Is that possible that there are some mistakes regarding the location of 10 cm pieces on the base and the location of the vertical frame (120 cm)? Thanks for your answer.
hailsteeve3 years ago
Excellent build, looks like quality work. My only recommendation would be a back stop for the seat for newer rowers. I had a problem when I started (and still sometimes do) with whenever I sat down the seat always glided to the back and it was only because of the backstop that I didn't fall off. The bungee thing is also brilliant, the sound of the fan blades spinning up was always annoying at high resistance.
10jeeeexx4 years ago
very well that's the best thing I've ever seen
splazem4 years ago
Amazing! Now we have some good competition for this contest! :) I'm sure you will win the Grand Prize, but I'm going for the first place! Great job again, and good luck!
HHarry (author)  splazem4 years ago
Good luck to you too!
splazem HHarry4 years ago
iamspock4 years ago
Very probably one of the most well written, and detailed Instructables I've seen since being exposed to the site. Fantastic work, sir! This just made it to my list of projects!
HHarry (author)  iamspock4 years ago
Thank you very much, your comment made my day.
ChrysN4 years ago
Awesome, that is a great looking machine.
HHarry (author)  ChrysN4 years ago
BeFit4 years ago
That's a great looking rowing machine, it's probably not economically convenient to make your own, but I bet it's all compensated by the satisfaction of such a beautiful DIY final result.
HHarry (author)  BeFit4 years ago
Nick.D4 years ago
Wow. really great write up and machine!
HHarry (author)  Nick.D4 years ago
Thanks, for me writing was the hardest part.
Very nice job. Another advantage of bungee-power over pneumatic resistance is that bungees are always quiet. They do not screech when they wear out and are cheap to replace. This is going on my eventual projects list - I lost my rowing machine during the last move.
HHarry (author)  CatTrampoline4 years ago
Thanks, it was pretty easy to make to. The only thing I would recommend: if you're used to exercising on a rowing machine, use thicker bungees.
This is just awesome! Very nice build.
HHarry (author)  shantinath10004 years ago
wilgubeast4 years ago
That's awesome. My back and legs are tired just looking at it. Excellent work!