Picture of Build Your Own (metalworking) Lathe - Part I
You can make an entire machine shop worth of power machine tools, using basic hardware store/home center supplies and scrap metal. Melt aluminum in a metal-pail furnace, using sand, charcoal, and a clay flowerpot! Cast sophisticated metal tool parts using supplies from a gardening shop and modified kitty litter! End up with a full machine-shop lathe ("the only tool capable of making any OTHER machine-shop tool, including itself!") for just the cost of your time, some scrap steel and aluminum, and a motor!
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Step 1: Overview

OK - we're (well, I'm - but we're using the imperial 'we') making a lathe. Like, for machining metal. Out of melted beer cans, in a flowerpot in a trashcan full of sand. As the great Dave Barry said: "I am not making this up."


Well, as the immortal John Belushi said: (loud belch) ... "why not!?"

Our Good Book is the Orange Book of St. Gingery - also known as "The Metal Lathe", by the late Dave Gingery. This handy pamphlet-ish book, the 2nd of a series of 7, has step-by-step instructions for folks wanting to build a lathe from scratch. Many folks around the world have built or are building "the Gingery lathe" -- there's an entire newsgroup on Yahoo dedicated to 'Gingery machines', as well as a ton of websites.

I'm putting together pictures, notes, and so on, to help others on this sacred journey -- and for a few friends who think I'm nuts (but secretly wish they could do this if only their wives would let them, and if they thought they could get away with it without burning their ... ummm ... fingers ... off).

The books are available at Lindsay Books' website, and/or at Amazon, Barnes &, etc. Check out: for the main series.

This is how the project works: (a) You make 'patterns' of the parts, out of easy-to-work stuff like wood (pine is good), plywood, hardboard (the dark brown stuff that lots of pegboard and 1950s elementary-school fixtures are made of), etc. (b) You make molds in sand, with a few other ingredients; melt metal (easier than it seems, and DARN good fun!); and pour the molten metal into the mold cavity. And, (c) you combine the parts you make, with a few bits of steel, machine bolts, and such, from the local home center or hardware store.

Tools needed are simple: while a drill press is VERY helpful, the plans are designed around simple tools like a power hand drill, a few threading taps (not too hard to borrow, or fairly inexpensive at the local home center/hardware shop), etc.

The most important thing, imho: you'll learn a LOT about Making Things -- metal casting, machine tools, parts, tolerances, etc. -- it's a thrilling learning process! And - when you're done - you'll have the core component of a fully functional machine shop!
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-A-N-D-Y-3 years ago
have enjoyed reading your instructable :) as much so for the sense of humour as the project itself ;)

I have a similar thought when a chip of very hot, sharp metal hits my cheek at high speed... "$#!+, that was close.. I should put the glasses on!". (I am learning! experience (or close calls) is not the best teacher in this case) That's good advice re the power switch.
corradini (author)  -A-N-D-Y-4 months ago

One of my closest friends enjoys woodworking; I got him into it and he's since gotten MUCH better at it than I am. One day, he was working on the tablesaw and a bit of a cutoff got caught by the blade and flung at him, which I understand was probably around 60-80mph depending on blade diameter and air resistance. It hit him in the nose. He spent some time in surgery, with a plastic surgeon, to repair his nose, which had had a dime-sized chunk torn out of it.

His nose, like most of ours, was an inch or so from his eyes, which were unprotected "just this one time because ... (it's only a tiny little cut, etc.)". Well, it was precisely *because* it was a "tiny little cut" that the chunk was a nice small, sharp flying projectile. (It'd be tough - but not impossible! - to lose an eye ripping a sheet of plywood in half, or chop-sawing a 2x4. >;-)

Repeat after me: "I Do Not Touch A Power Switch -- EVER -- Without My Safety Glasses On." EVER. Not ONE time. Not "except for this tool" (ok, maybe a random-orbit sander on pine - but still, why *not* just be in the habit?!?!? Why NOT!?!?)

Get a cord, put 'em around your neck when you walk INTO your shop, put 'em on as a habit. It's a lot easier than making decisions as to "when". Just DO.

The way to lose your vision, forever, is this thought: "... it's OK just this *one* time."

We're actually using a different cover sheet now. We're putting them on all the TPS reports. Did you get that memo? Because we're putting the cover sheet on all outgoing TPS reports now...

Do I get the extra credit?

corradini (author)  animedude074 months ago

Ummm, I'm gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow. So if you could
be here around 9 that would be great, mmmk... oh oh! and I almost forgot
ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too,
kay. We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play
catch up.

I'm just about finished with my own Gingery Style Lathe, which turned out quite nice. Mine is a bit oversized, and I designed a digital controller / driver which powers a 2hp treadmill motor on my machine ( a bit overkill, but why not ). Anyways, I've documented the project quite a bit, so if anyone is interested in seeing some videos, photos, etc.. of my machine checkout my Lathe Project here:
skaar2 years ago
lindsay still carries the books.
Lindsay Publications is "Out Of Business"!! But you can still buy a few of their books at:
or if lucky in ebay!
mrlunna133 years ago
Does everybody knows you can get all of the books from "Dave Gingerly" from Google Books for free? I thought I'll pass it along just in case. As I just found out about it.
Searched for 10 minutes then tried Gingery NOT Gingerly, with success.
Lol! You are absolutely right, his name is (for inmortality) "David J. Gingery", not David J. Gingerly, which was his evil twin!!

Came across your tip at this later date. How do you access Mr. Gingery's books on Google? I tried and failed. Are they still there? Thanks.

Sorry for replying so late. Yes, you can still have them for free. Just "Log In" in your G mail Account, Go to Books, Type: Gingery, and all of "David J. Gingery" books will be shown on links to Google Books. You can Print them, Or Save them to your Library on Google Books.
I hope you enjoy them like I am.
Mr. Lunna XIII

Everything on there says no eBook available. How did you get them?
Hello, Mr. Lunna.
I am just geting around to trying access to the books and find that if I Go to Books after signing in, yes, there is a listing of Mr. Gingery's books. If I click on one there are opportunities to buy via links or search for a library copy but all said "no ebook available." If I click on "Get One in Print," I am directed to book sellers. "Saving to Library" appears to simply be a way of conveying one's interest in the book, not actually getting it or a link to it.
If you see the fault in how I am going about it, great...please help. Thanks.
would your name happen to be lionel?
corradini (author)  Metalcaster146 years ago
Nope. I know who you're talking about (, as I recall) -- nope, that's not me.
corradini (author)  mattgr5195 years ago
Ummm...what? What the heck do you mean by "lies"? Could you be more vague?
I dunno about him, but I definately could, example:
Get the thingey with the color and move it nearby the thingey thats the other color from the other thingey until the thingey has the other thingy in the right place.
nope he ain't lionel , lionel finished his lathe and he did not paint it
cchamlin5 years ago
What's being discussed here is not actually poisoning, but an illness known as Metal Fume Fever [wiki] 

long story short, it won't kill you, but save yourself a few days in bed and go buy a proper respirator.  (not a dusk mask. there's a difference) 
corradini (author)  cchamlin3 years ago
I'ma hafta disagree, slightly -- although it's just terminology, and the result is the same. (I.e.: you feel like crap.)

"Illness" *can* be defined broadly enough to encompass just feeling bad physically, but generally if you say "Dave was in the hospital with an illness", most people will assume he had a disease. (An infectious agent (bacterial or viral); cancer; some manifestation of a disorder (like, say, MS, or sickle-cell anemia), etc.) One would NOT, given the word "illness", assume that he had ingested Drano, or breathed a lot of H2S, or overdosed on valproic acid.

If you get a free exciting ride in a boxy trucklike vehicle with flashy lights and a siren, because you accidentally poured insecticide on your Wheaties, that's poisoning, not illness. Ditto if you're a plumber and melt (and breathe) way too much lead. And...ditto if you melt a bunch of zinc and breathe it. You've ingested a substance that's bad for you and causes negative symptoms -- that's poisoning.

Again - that's nitpicking over terms. But the *crucial* thing is: that I'm right and you're wrong. >;-)

Movin' on: you make a decent point that it (probably) won't kill you, but from what I've heard, you might *want* to die -- it apparently feels like a serious case of flu: fever, chills, nausea, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain. (Check out "Metal Fume Fever" on Wikipedia.)

You're totally right that a respirator is a way different thing than a 'dusk' mask (sorry, I *do* know it was just a typo - just couldn't resist ;-), and far more appropriate in this situation. However, I'd recommend not relying on that either - ventilation is in turn far more effective than a respirator. (Note that chemists generally don't wear respirators; they use laminar-flow fume hoods -- as I do. ;-) And when you're melting a few lbs of metal at 700C, as a hobbyist -- frankly, I can't see doing it indoors anyway (even if you *don't* have a wife to help you understand all the ways in which you've screwed up) -- you wouldn't build a campfire in your basement or garage, right? You do it outdoors -- AND YOU STAND UPWIND. If there's yellowish-green smoke coming off it -- pretty likely -- be on the other side. If you can smell it (and it's not horrible, but it's distinctive, like smoking a roll of pennies), you're breathing it.

Don't. (Just trust me on this one.)
SirDave7 years ago
I have seen reports that if you start to feel like you have the flu, you have been poisoned. Drink a lot of milk as soon as possible, it will reduce your recovery time and can help prevent more serious problems.
drolfs SirDave3 years ago

Milk won't help.
corradini (author)  drolfs3 years ago
drolfs - appreciate the comment! I'm NOT sure you're correct, though. A few thoughts:

a) It wasn't my suggestion (that came from "SirDave"), but I thought I'd look into it and respond.

b) I read the link you mentioned. Lots of reasons to not breathe lots of zinc fumes, but nothing about milk. (And there was a lot of MIXED info there; e.g. ZnCl poisoning mixed with ZnO, + lead, cadmium, etc.)

c) OT1H, breathing loads of concentrated Zn fumes is Real Bad and will kill you, no matter what you drink. OTOH, as with lots of folk wisdom, there's often some truth to it.

And here's why I immediately thought this one might be "true": I work with chemicals, including glass labware, which means I'm familiar with HF - hydrofluoric acid -- one of the scariest damn things you can find in a chem lab. It's like the inorganic equivalent of anthrax, plus ebola, imho.

Funny thing is - it's technically not even a 'strong' acid, like hydrochloric or nitric or sulfuric - it just happens to do 2 things: (1) unlike those acids, it WILL eat glass (Breaking Bad had a plot point based on this!); and (2) fluorine, being the most electronegative element, wants to replace all other anions - including calcium. Which your bones are kind of made out of. SO: when you spill HF on your skin, nothing much happens. It doesn't hurt, your skin doesn't burn or smoke, you may not even notice. Until it sinks down to the bone and starts dissolving it, by which time it's usually too late -- and the pain is apparently rather spectacular.

Here's the deal, though: people who work with HF keep a supply of CALCIUM GLUCONATE cream around, to rub on the skin at the site of any spill (just before calling 911 and taking an ambulance to the ER, which is mandatory at many/most university chem labs). The calcium provides a sort of 'decoy' for the HF to bond with - it's highly electropositive, and thus forms calcium fluoride, or "fluorspar" - a common mineral that's so insoluble as to be essentially harmless. (Unless it's formed from HF + your bones.)
Somewhat similarly, calcium interferes with zinc absorption in the body - this is pretty well documented (see, e.g.

Personally, I'd go with a massive calcium supplement from the pharma counter (like crushed oyster shells) rather than milk -- but this here pseudo- episode of Mythbusters ends with the conclusion: Milk WILL in fact help. (How much is an issue, but it WILL at least help somewhat.)
_soapy_ SirDave5 years ago
This is pretty much right, except you will also have a blinding headache. Melting zinc-based stuff will give you the worst headache you have ever had, and then some, and it will last for a few days if you've overdone it. I wasn't smelting aluminium alloys, I was doing brass (a mix of copper and zinc, much like Zamac is zinc/aluminium) Despite doing it outdoors and upwind, I still breathed enough zinc in to cripple me for three or four days. And yes, I drank lots of milk (might just be me, but I tend to down a few glasses every time I work with lead or zinc alloys, just to displace it with calcium) As for other stuff, yes, take care that people and pets are excluded properly, and plan for what you are going to pour before you start the heat! You want a mould that is stable and dry, and I'd suggest having a couple of ingot trays ready for anything left over. Make sure you are wearing an apron and have your trousers outside your boots. Think about where the water would get in if you threw a bucket of water at your chest - anywhere water could pool would be a possibly fatal burn when switched to molten metals - so you want the least chance of that. Make it so everything will run off you and hit the floor. And read the guy below's comment (he's the author) too, as it is very wise.
As a welding student & amateur metalworker, I've had "zinc flu" myself before I knew what it was. At the time, I wasn't doing anything more than heating galvanized nails in a studio apt. I did get a vile headache and a tender stomach, but (considering my lifestyle) at the time I just chalked it up to a bad hangover.


Don't mess with zinc poisoning. Remember the rule of 1* - because that's exactly what you have. (translations will be left to the reader.)
corradini (author)  SirDave7 years ago
That sounds quite reasonable -- thanks for the tip!

I'm still really heavily slanted towards PREVENTION as a strategy. If you start to feel like you have the flu, from melting zinc (etc.) -- YOU'VE PROBABLY DONE SOMETHING WRONG (and something which was easily preventable).

This is simple - but requires the difficult step of THOUGHT (and planning):
1) Ventilation is your very best friend. (Ummm...after safety glasses. And your brain.)
2) Breathing fumes from molten metal is probably going to shorten your life -- so don't do it.
3) ALWAYS ask yourself: "what's the WORST that could happen?" Then plan to avoid that. And what you're going to do if it happens anyway.

Have an "escape plan":

What if you trip? What if your crucible breaks? What if your tongs break? (mine did, once!) What if you get stung by a bee -- and drop a crucible full of molten metal near your feet? What if the phone rings? What if your kid runs out the door and tries to hug you? (Kids do that.) What if your grip on the crucible starts to slip -- do you have an "emergency-dump sand-bed" nearby? (Hint: do NOT dump molten aluminum on concrete!)

What if you DO get a severe burn -- do you have ANY plan for that? Do you have a "buddy" nearby, who can at least call 911 and/or pile you into the car and head for a burn center? Do you KNOW where the nearest burn center, or even just hospital, is?

Yep - that's overkill. Until you need it. >;-)

"Luck is the residue of careful planning." -- paraphrase from some important dead white guy
dbear corradini5 years ago
Corrandini has it absolutely correct - Prevention is the key.

Read up on Zinc poisoning people - Any heavy metal poisoning is bad news.
It can affect your health years after it occurs.
sharlston5 years ago
hey you know when your tapping the best method is to go 2 turns forward and 1 turn back and keep repeating that will get rid of any rubbish in the tap
corradini (author)  sharlston5 years ago
TOTALLY depends on what you're tapping, what kind of tap you're using, lubricant -- and a lot of just experience and "feel".

It's easy to break a small (cheap) tap in 316 Stainless in a LOT less than 2 turns. (Trust me - I know.) And just backing to break chips isn't enough - using a sulfur-based oil (like Re-li-on) will change your life.

Conversely, you can tap a big fat hole in 6061 aluminum without ever backing to break chips.
i use a lube in a blue can with a red triangle i cant remember what its called but ill take a look
corradini speaks the truth. I've broken taps in less than a quarter turn in stainless. The worst is like when you should've drilled 7.80mm but only had a poorly ground 7.50mm bit and figured it would precess enough to over drill, then never bothered to measure before you started tapping.
No amount of lube will get a cheap tap through stainless if the holes too small.

Other problems happen when you let the drill overheat in the hole and end up accidentally semi tempering the metal to be tapped.

I've given up on those cheap tapered, all in one type taps. Better with a good set of first, seconds and plug taps (each one cuts a little deeper for the same thread).

I totally agree alu, nylon, delron etc. I usually just tap the first turn or two then set the lathe on a slow speed and release the tail stock so it can feed itself. No backing off, no problems. Keep it lubed though.
corradini (author)  lasersage5 years ago
Good point about overheating -- very similar (but not identical) issue w/ work-hardening). Great points about cheap taps (see below) and all-in-one's. They're fine for mild steel, non-ferrous stuff, esp. for sizes you don't use often -- but I'm now evangelical about high-quality (= expensive, and for a reason) tooling for S/S. Especially after having to deal with 316L. :-(

My Story of Learning: After losing a couple of taps in 304 :-( (and worse, scrapping the parts), I went down to the nearby machine supply shop that's been around for 40-50 years for a new tap and some advice.

The owner asked how I was doing it and with what. I was using a tap from the standard Home Depot set (I think Irwin brand), with Tap-Ease stick, doing the turn-a-little, back-it-off to break the chips method. He gave me The Look over the top of his glasses, and said "they actually still teach that?".

He put the part on his Bridgeport, chucked up a Swiss-made tap, put a couple of drops of Re-Li-On on it -- and, to my horror, fired up the mill at about 150rpm and plunged the tap into the part....

It went through the s/s like it was Brie.

I bought the tap on the spot - I think it cost about as much as the whole Irwin tap-and-die set, something like $25 - and a pint of the fluid. Went home and hand-tapped the remaining holes -- it was easier 'n screwing a cup hook into an eggplant. (DAMHIKT. >;-)

(I also swore off using 304 - not worth the savings over 303, unless you MUST weld it.)
Here is an easy fix for broken taps, drill bits and bolts even if they are in an engine block. Weld a nut or bolt to the broken piece and put a wrench to it, the heat will loosen the rusted seized bolts and soften any temper making them easier to get out. A TIG welding unite works best but I have had success with a stick welder or even an acetylene torch. This would work great on your stainless projects.
corradini (author)  Papa_20143 years ago
So - first off: I believe you, and that that's a good method -- for certain situations -- and thanks for the input!

BUT: (a) you're throwing rather a lot of different veggies in the same stewpot, and (b) this would decidedly not work for a number of situations (including all of the ones I've had - but to be fair, that's not your fault, and your tip is a good one, for some situations.

A 10-24 tap broken off flush (or below) in s/s, 45 seconds (of cursing like a sailor) ago, in a precision part -- has very little in common with a "rusted (!) seized bolt " (say a UNC 1/4-20) "in an engine block".

I'm trying to imagine the skill involved in welding a bolt to a hardened, fluted tap about 2 mm across, without welding the bolt to the workpiece as well, never mind other types of damage due to the heat -- I know I don't have that kind of steady hands, especially after 12 or 13 margaritas for breakfast. Even jober as a sudge, I think you'd need a robotic welder for that kind of precision. In which case EDM is probably at least as convenient, and far more assured. Oh - and that's assuming the tap is made of a type of steel that's weldable -- some steels (e.g. the most common s/s: 303) are NOT.

Sure, if you've got a big rusted seized bolt broken off above the surface, and have some threads available, welding a nut on makes perfect sense, and is easy to do, and will loosen the threads. (Of course, if you're not much of a welder, or don't own one -- you could try heating the end with a propane torch to expand/contract it and detemper it, then apply some PB blaster spray, then drill a pilot hole (it's now drillable, but I'd use a cobalt bit or even a dremel diamond-coated grinding pin - any hardware store - anyway) and use an extractor bit to try to back it out....)
an impressive demo to see I bet.

great to get sound advice from a proper machinist

We do have specific tapping fluid but I'm going to investigate this re-li-on after hearing you rate it so highly.

We gave up on re-li-on and moved to Rocol RTD - even better results in exotics.
Wow this is an awesome project .Im not gonna try and do it myself though cos im not so brave (or is it insane) to attempt playing around with large amounts of poisonous 400 degC molten metal in my back garden.I may try somthing a bit smaller and simpler with one of those flower pot smelters though.Ive had limited casting experience with toy model kits in lead and plaster and once had a mishap when the mold was not completely dry when i cast hot metal into it. luckily i was not hurt but that sure was one scary and very violent reaction.Makes you think a lot more clearly about what you are doing.
Non the less very interesting and im sure gonna google your links and research more on these ginger machines and flower pot smelters.
thank you very much for a great tutorial.
the lubricant is break free
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