Building my own espresso machine

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Postby ferrum » Mar 31, 2009, 10:27 am

I'm a machinist (and bladesmith) by trade... so my daily business besides sipping coffee :mrgreen: is to make stuff on my mill, lathe and whatever else.

Ever since I got hooked on good coffee machines (Dalla Corte and Olympia are my sweet machines) the idea to build my own did "bother" me once in a while.

At the moment I don't really have the time, but I though I could start sourcing materials and stuff, getting ideas and things.... so that when there will be a few weeks without much work I can get it started.

What I would like of you:
- What type of machine would make the most sense (Group head, steam pressure, pump,... hand lever,...)
- What are "modern must have features" in your opinion.
- Are there any guys (or girls) out there who have made such a thing - professionally or "amateurish"...
- Does Faema supply individual group heads
- how about frothing "wands" (the stainless part without tip)....
- How fancy to go with the internal plumbing..
- anything else...

My idea is "simple":
Create a good looking (milled aluminium, Titanium, Steel, whatever... SOLID)... sturdy and most importantly CAPABLE Dual Boiler Machine (separate Steam & Coffee...) with a hot water port too.
- PID Controlled temperature (PID should be FULLY INTEGRATED (no external boxes or such).
- "Old School" Manual Controls (levers, gauges, wheels...)
- Standard Fit for 58mm Portafilters (San Marco / Cimballi)... I want to be able to use off-the-shelve baskets & portafilters).

any ideas, inputs, hints, tips, ... VERY WELCOME.

again - long term project... but I plan to get it done before 2010.
if it's a success another custom job or project might be available for the public...


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Postby bsafnuk » Mar 31, 2009, 11:30 am

My first question to you would be "Why bother?"

I don't mean to be flippant, but most people who try to build their own machine are motivated by either lack of funds or some perceived weakness in the class of machine they can afford to buy.

Since you already have one of the best home machines money can buy, I guess I am wondering what you hope to gain from building your own machine. I doubt very much that anything you build will be better than your current machine - I don't mean to insult your skills (certainly being a machinist gives you a much better chance of pulling it off than most people), but there are many technical challenges to overcome.

Anyways, with the above caveats in mind, it definitely is possible, though it will probably cost much more and take more time than even your most pessimistic estimates.

I built a machine which worked (quite well, I think), but have since disassembled it and am in the process of building a version 2. For me, I lucked upon a huge 2 group commercial machine and wanted to have a much smaller form factor. I had boilers fabricated out of stainless (basically square tubing with ends welded on, and necessary plumbing fitting welded in place) and used the group head, steam valves, pump, etc. from the commercial machine.

If you have any specific questions, let me know and I will try to help as best I can.

Good luck! It would probably be a fun project.


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Postby ferrum » Mar 31, 2009, 11:59 am


First, to make this clear:
I am not looking to top a Top-of-the-line machine, such as my dall corte mini ;)

My sole motivation is to MAKE my OWN machine... it's neither cost factor, nor the lack of funds which is driving me... (although after buying the dalla corte my coffee-equipment-funds are "limited")...

But I love to make my own equipment,... simply for the challenge of trying something new once in a while.
maybe just for the thrill of doing something, on a professional level, which not many have done.

After all the years at a machine shop I have a good idea of how long & how much it would take to make something like this... I've built more complex machines from ground up before...
as mentioned earlier, this will be a spare time shop time project...
I mean look at a Keith van der Westen... I mean the whole design is just AWESOME (especially some of their "one of a kind" machines).
I simply consider it cool to build something which serves a purpose... coffee serving that be ;)

About the cost factor... besides the parts I gonna need to buy (well it doesn't make much sense to make the heating unit myself... raw material cost isn't much higher than a good off-shelve model).
but for example the stainless boiler, etc.. I can make on my own, easily...
so besides the parts I have to buy, there is not much more cost involved (materials...)... the rest is "TIME"... and as this is a spare-time project, time doesn't cost anything....

I believe it'll be a fun thing.
Matter of fact, I greatly enjoy my work ;) (otherwise I wouldn't be doing it).

thanks for the offer regarding me asking questions, I sure will do so when the time is right...



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Postby Bluecold » Mar 31, 2009, 1:22 pm

It is possible* to buy a single group from a mfg. But it's probably not going to be cheap (there is a german guy on ebay selling a standalone E61 grouphead for 200E).
But if you want a double boiler lever machine you have to build the levergroup yourself. No machines are currently in production with 2 boilers and a lever.

*Kees (not Keith) van der Westen did it with his one of a kind machines, check the descriptions.
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Postby akallio » Mar 31, 2009, 1:47 pm

ferrum wrote:- What are "modern must have features" in your opinion.

I would add the ability to switch between plumb-in and reservoir. It would be easier to show off by taking your machine with you to all gatherings... .)

ferrum wrote:- Are there any guys (or girls) out there who have made such a thing - professionally or "amateurish"...

You probably already noticed the one by "toots" in the Post a pic of your home espresso setup -thread?

ferrum wrote:- Does Faema supply individual group heads

Yes, you can find them from web shops that sell spare parts. Though quite pricey...

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Postby acquavivaespresso » Mar 31, 2009, 5:09 pm

La Marzocco was kept pretty busy by Starbucks opening up shops faster than they could build machines, so an american subsidiary was created; Starbucks went for fully automatics so the american branch was closed. The guy who was basically running the branch had fallen in love with espresso and "instead of going back to make fishing game" he eventually formed Synesso, and what a great machine they make, even though you could say that it is a great clone of LM: Now two other guys involved with either the American branch or Synesso, are coming out with Slayer espresso machine which promises to be even better, although looking at it you could say: here's another clone : but they are not because they "seem" to be better, and making things better is the goal of our lives. Now why am I telling you that ? those guys KNEW what they wanted to make and actually made it and made it working and delivering a "better ?" espresso, they developed the machines under close contact with commercial customers who knew what was needed in a modern machine : not trying to put you off but I would have preferred you stated that you were going to make a car that runs on distilled water ....rather than asking the forum people for general advise.
Don't let me put you off, when you seriously decide to start working on the project I will give you a couple of addresses where you can buy every single piece that is needed to make an espresso machine : you just have to know what machine you are going to make, how it looks like, have complete drawings of it, etc., just do not expect that components are easily interchangeable, just because every company has a standard (although clones are easily available) : many companies started that way buying components AND EVEN TODAY THAT IS THE STRENGTH OF ITALIAN MANUFACTURERS being horizontal and not vertical companies, concentrating on development and technological advancement rather than wasting time making non vital components that are easily found and gotten from the market

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Postby gyro » Mar 31, 2009, 7:25 pm for all sorts of parts.

I think its a great idea and I can totally understand the motivation. I am jealous that I don't possess the skills to try it myself...

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Postby nonopz » Mar 31, 2009, 10:00 pm

Why do you climb a mountain? Because it's there. Build that machine for the rest of us :)

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Postby djmonkeyhater » Mar 31, 2009, 11:24 pm

Have you been deep inside or rebuilt a machine before?

If you haven't, it might be helpful to buy a ratty commercial machine from ebay or a repair place and tear it all of the way apart. I'd say to buy a home one but they are nearly impossible to find. Although I had a good understanding of how they worked before, it helped a lot to tear apart all of the water pipes to see where the expansion valves sat in relation to the check valves and the solenoid valves and so on. It's more complicated than I had initially expected. You also can take some of the parts from that machine and use them if they're not too beat or use them for component templates during the design phase. Or if you spent a little more money on the tear-apart machine, you could even get a grouphead, portafilters, solenoids and some other parts that you might use. I've seen inexpensive machines listed in Belgium and Germany and 300 euros of machine may get you 1000's in education.

Anyway, you could go really crazy and machine something that looks like a valve body from an automatic transmission for the water circuitry. Then cover it in Lexan and use some LED lights to show the active circuits during brewing.....

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Postby roastaroma » Apr 01, 2009, 12:49 am

Ciao Daniel,

Building your own macchina sounds like a great idea! Lino Verna, who's known here for his superb bottomless PFs, is another talented man with a machine shop and a vision:


Now that I use a spring lever (Lusso), my inclination is towards keeping it simple. One configuration I have not yet seen is a double-boiler spring lever w/58mm PF and thermosyphon group head.

Buona Fortuna,
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