Picture of 100% Homemade Lathe
Although I know other people have built lathes themselves, after an enormous amount of looking on Google, I saw most homemade lathes involve casting and milling, as well as using off the shelf components like chucks and tapers. Being only a high school student, I wanted to experiment with a lathe without having to spend hundreds of dollars that I don't have. I ended up using almost all scrap materials from my basement, so there is no need to follow my materials choices. Because your design choices will vary, this article is more of a record of how I built this one, rather than a manual for building yours.

I managed to build this lathe in about a week, with not much more than a cordless drill, a drill press, a jigsaw, and assorted hand tools. I hope that I have documented my project here in an understandable way.

Warning: This is a powerful device designed to spin stuff quickly. I take no responsibility for anything you do. Don't try this unless you have at least a little bit of experience with tools. And wear safety glasses when using it because particles fly around.
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Step 1: Decisions

So, if you are reading this, you must be interested in building a homemade lathe. First, I would advise you to look at the diagram in the [ Wikipedia article] to learn the basic parts of a lathe.

The first thing you have to decide is what kind of lathe you want. Either to work with metal or wood. A wood lathe requires a less powerful motor and not as close tolerances. Also a wood lathe does not need the complicated tool rest that a metal lathe has. For the first version of my lathe, I decided to just stick with wood and see if I could come up with something that actually worked.

The next thing to decide is size. I would highly recommend not going too overboard... tree size logs on a wood lathe and 50 pound steel bars on a metal lathe are best left to professionals I think. I decided to try to make a wood lathe for pieces up to 4 inches in diameter and about 30 inches long, although I will not be trying something that big until I get more practice with small items, like tops, chess pieces, other little toys. But I figured that I had a pretty powerful motor sitting around, so I might as well make it big enough to handle large salt shakers and chair legs so in the future I could do large things.
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This is one of the best instructibles i've seen so far, and it's very impressive that you made all your own parts/tools from scratch as well. being in high school on top of that shows that you really paid a great deal of attention in school. way to go!!! i love the lathe and the items you made with it and i plan to build one myself soon using something very close to your design.

Thanks for the great details and pics you provided with this!
I don't think this kid's ability to build this has anything to do with him paying attention in school. No American school teaches kids how to be creative and capable of building something like this. This kid has this ability regardless of school.

Google is the best school !!! + Google Translate for other languages 8-)

Well, as this shows, it's secondary school pupils who cana create some of the coolest projects...
catwood (author)  NightCrawler6264 years ago
No problem. I am glad that I could provide some inspiration for you!
You did all this, and your still in high school? You give me hope for the future. Well done!
Iron_Anvil5 days ago
Excellent Instructable and might I add you are an inspiration to me sir!
DmitryP21 month ago

Spindle looks unacceptable rigid, why not to use some steel pipe with diam about 50mm and two generic bearings on it ? simple bearings is so cheap and you can bye it everywere

DmitryP21 month ago

According to matherial strength theory, you must use _closed_ profiles for construction rigidity: quad profile with thick wall will be the best, it can be aluminium, but steel is better

Best way is using FEM mechanical analisys, this like available for free in GNU program jumble, but I still dream of learn hot to use it myself, I can't find some time to do it. This software coupled with FreeCAD let you draw 3D construction model, set loads (by axes and tangential, made with cutter, and tailstock) and calculate colored stress maps and your bended model under load. Using this maps you can analize what places in your construction is overloaded or highly bended.

This programs are: Salome, and some solverscoupled with it. As I think CAD system is not required, Salome includes some modeling functions itself.

lenny255 years ago
I really like this intructable, I admire your DIY attitude.I would like to make something like this as well, so thanks for all the great ideas. But i'm also going t be honest with you and say that chuck looks verrry dangerous, To me it just does'nt seem solid enough. I've been hit in the face with a piece of wood that shot off a circular saw, it missed my eye by a centimeter. It was not a fun experience, certainly one i never want to repeat.

I am not questioning the rigidity of the chuck but your experience with the circular saw would have been kick back or something similar tools are dangerus, I don't see how this has anything to do with this,something else has affected you so you pass on with that opinion to any other so called "dangerus".

Like I said I am not questioning whether or not this is safe but your accidents have influenced your thoughts on totally different tools

I agree. This is a great Instructable. I am making a wood lathe for my son and will use this chuck design.. I think it would be ok very very slow speed turning of soft materials... But I would stongly suggest that the body of the chuck be made of steel and permanent screws be loc-tighted in place.   I know this makes manufacture a  little more complex.. but that is what our creativity is for.. Thanks for the great Ideas.
Ahmedsudan made it!3 months ago

That's it..

And thank you brother, next time I will improve it in my way

any idea how I could repair an existing lathe with a failing motor?
Ahmedsudan6 months ago

Did you tight the tailstock with a nut and washer in the bottom like you did with the headstock basics??

catwood (author)  Ahmedsudan3 months ago

It would definitely work to have that mechanism on the tailstock. I actually did it a different way: the plastic base block was cut 1mm narrow compared to the width of the aluminum extrusion. Two little pieces of aluminum angle were added to keep it aligned with the main bed rails. You can see in step 7 this assembly. When the screws on the side are tightened down, it actually locked the tailstock in place by tightening up the aluminum on the bed rails.

shazni2 years ago
would a sewing machine motor be powerful enough?
or should i like try and fit my angle grinder with a circular plate?
catwood (author)  shazni3 months ago

Sorry for the late reply. I think an angle grinder might spin too fast, usually those are 10000 rpm or more. I think a sewing machine motor might be powerful enough for small items. There are places online that sell surplus motors though, just search for surplus AC motors if you want to plug it into the wall.

padbravo1 year ago
The whole design is a good point, but, for me, the most useful idea is to use two extruded alum angles to make the body... and all the flexibility that U can gain with a design like that...
catwood (author)  padbravo3 months ago

It did have incredible flexibility for how easy it was to put together. Instead of having to cast or machine the main bed, the aluminum angle is easily available at home improvement stores or online.

how do you turn if you don't have a tool rest?
catwood (author)  clay zaunbrecher3 months ago

I clamped a block of wood in front of the lathe to act as a toolrest, I think I used a piece of 2x6 or 2x8 clamped vertically to the workbench and this was enough to provide a makeshift toolrest. Thank you!

lowell.angell4 months ago

I wonder if there might be bearings available that could be threaded onto the main shaft and secured into the plastic with a set screw.
The same could possibly be done for the tail-stock. Then your center point would spin.

zcorten11 months ago

This here might actually account for some of the instability, if the 2x4s were never bolted down. This would cause the whole assembly to rock slightly while it's spinning. And, honestly, the plastic joint holding it together might contribute as well, though I'm not sure about that.

zcorten11 months ago

Here, I'll probably use something a bit longer at the feet, two bolts each foot, and at least a third set of feet. Possibly even a fourth.

zcorten11 months ago

I'd actually suggest keeping the aluminum frames, and bolting them down to a 2x2 board will provide increase stability.

wonder how a bench grinder would work as the motor?maybe too much

catwood (author)  wdanielbern11 months ago

Should be okay, not a lot of power, but you could use pulleys to reduce the speed.

smoak1 year ago
I recently decided to make room for a new tool and I thought it best to be taken up by a lathe. I looked at prices and damn near hit the floor. So, I decided to come to the trusty instructables to see if any geniuses had built a decent one. And you Sir, have done just that. I appreciate the amazing work you put into the 'ible and the great job you did building the lathe. I will definitely be using your 'ible and design for ideas and methods when building mine.
catwood (author)  smoak11 months ago

I am glad i could provide inspiration for you! Did you ever get one working? I would be interested to see it!

What did you use the UMHW for before? Seems like a strange thing to find in your basement.....
catwood (author)  JoshsInstructables11 months ago

I used it for frames of my fighting robots (battlebots). You can use regular polyethelene (a lot of plastic cutting boards)

mattdenney1 year ago
where did you get the motor from?

you can get motors like this from a lot of old mschinery - air conditioner fans, but my favorite are washing machines - there (unless it's a direct drive) you get a variable speed motor (at least 2 speed) a belt and a couple of usable pulleys. Not the case of this 'ible but out of my own experience..

Lathes have always fascinated me and I long to have a metal cutting lathe and have been scouring the internet for deals over the last month. I was in the process of looking for ways to convert a rudimentary wood lathe into a passable light duty metal lathe when I stumbled upon a picture of your lathe chuck (cool idea). Isn't it funny how we think we need the best of the best immediately while other people make do with the most rudimentary of things? Check out this Moroccan foot bow lathe.

Mucho respeto. This is an excellent Instructable.
mapanlawin2 years ago
This is great! When I grow up I really wanna be just like you. I'm 29yrsold. c:
shazni2 years ago
oh...and how do you do the captive ring? tutorial please :-D
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