Introduction: Drill Press As Wood Lathe

Picture of Drill Press As Wood Lathe

So you don't have a wood lathe? But you have a drill press. Well that's good news. Now all you need is few bucks, some basic handyman skills and about 45 minutes of your time.
This is an easy project that will make possible you having so much fun when you'll start lathing. Wood lathing is such a fun, it makes you feel like an artist. So let me show how easy you can make this:

WARNING: This is a homemade wood lathe for occasional use and not for everyday use and also for turning small pieces of wood. If you want to build something solid for turning larger and longer pieces of wood you'll need to use bigger materials like washing machine motor, bigger bearings etc.

For your safety wear eye/face protection and gloves

Materials you need:

  • A piece of hardwood preferably about 12" x 6" and about 1 1/2 thick
  • 1x threaded M8-M12 bolt, 1x nut and 1x wood 'three prong tee nut' of the same size
  • A bearing preferably extracted from a sliding door bearing wheel
  • A washer and two screws to hold the wheel bearing in the place/hole
  • A long thick bolt to make the toolrest (at least 6" long and thicker it's better)

Tools you'll need:

  • Drill Press
  • Forstner bits
  • Measuring tape or caliper micrometer
  • Hack saw
  • File
  • Screwdriver
  • Desk Grinder
  • Two clamps
  • Drill bits

Step 1: Make the Spindle (the Bottom Part)

Picture of Make the Spindle (the Bottom Part)

The sliding door bearing wheel I found had two coupled wheels, so I had to detach on of the couple to get one wheel together with the shaft. For this I used a metal drill bit to drill one side of the shaft in order to release the wheels from each other. Of course I took the wheel which has the shaft still in it and I grind (in the desk grinder) the end of the shaft to make it sharp. After that I measured the diameter of the wheel and chose the forstner bit of a same diameter and made a hole somewhere in the middle of the piece of wood. I then inserted the wheel in the hole and followed by capping it with a washer of a same diameter to. Then I screwed two screws in the two opposite sides of the washer to keep it in place together with the wheel. REMEMBER: after you drill the hole the same size of the wheel, you MUST drill with a forstner bit (the size of the inner part of the bearing) about 1/8 profound at least, to avoid the friction of the shaft with the wood.
After this all you have to do is to drill a hole for the "toolrest" bolt and screw it in. Refer to photos for an aproximate distance of toolrest and spindle. With this done you have finished the spindle.

Step 2: Make the Drive Center (the Upper Part)

Picture of Make the Drive Center (the Upper Part)

Using the hacksaw cut the head of the bolt. Put it in a vise and with the file make four points. Take the wood drive-in nut and ply or cut the pointed pins. Insert first the nut and then the wood drive nut in the bolt. Insert the drive-in nut in the chuck and tighten it. You can still adjust the length of the bolt and when you'll have the piece of wood in place and tightened than you can tighten the nut also.

Step 3: Align Them

Picture of Align Them

To align the spindle and the quill I firstly put a drill bit in the chuck and align it togethe with the spindle and then I replace the drill bit with the quill. Make sure you tighten the base of the spindle with clamps.

Now you're ready to go and give a try to your homemade wood lathe. Put a piece of wood and tighten it by adjusting the bolt (the quill) and after this tighten the nut.

Step 4: Enjoy

Picture of Enjoy

When you start lathing remember not to apply too much force with your chisel and always keep the chisel backed on the right side of toolrest. Have fun and if you like this project don't forget to vote it if it's in a contest.


adam.verner.790 (author)2016-09-11

the only problem i can see is the drillpress running for long-time period, you should watch out for the motor, as it can easily overheat.
great idea tho

guy90 (author)2015-09-28

Great instructable! I never would have thought of modifying bolts and nuts in that way to make the parts. This will give me something to do with the spares I have knocking around. Thank you

amarques10 (author)2015-07-14

Awsome thanks :D

SparkySolar (author)2014-10-19

Thank you for your Instructable

Nice job.


Bill WW (author)2014-05-11

Good work. There are countries where one HAS to improvise to make specialized tools such as a lathe. The drill press bearing problem is a non-issue, in my mind side load will not be great and much of the load will be taken at the bottom bearing.

Nice handle you made - oak?

Andrew LB (author)Bill WW2014-06-28

Yes. That would be oak. And by the look of the shavings in the action shot, it would be safe to assume it's red oak.

Andrew LB (author)2014-06-27

Great "poor-man's-lathe"! I'm currently in the middle of making my own and I'm looking at different ideas for my drive center. I was thinking very much along the same lines as your except mine involved a cut-off bolt with two nuts that are tightened together when you get everything set. For the live-center I had initially used a ball bearing setup like yours but I had problems with it deflecting, so to make sure there is as little stress on the drill press as possible, I bought a MT2 live-center for $12 on sale at Woodcraft and have that set tight into a 2" base of hard maple which is bolted to the table.

Andrew LB (author)Andrew LB2014-06-28

Here's what mine looks like. I need to start making instructables...

ruckus357 (author)2014-03-14

I think the man was real clear about it at the beginning of this Instructable, It is for very light and every now and then work. It works great and it allows me to add an occasional turning to a project that I would not have since a lathe is just not in my budget at the moment. I just don't understand all these people with the negative comments if you have enough time to sit around and nit pick someone elses work you should use it to get off your butts and DO SOMETHING! ngadhno, Thank you for taking the time and the effort to share your knowledge with us.

Sabata (author)ruckus3572014-03-18

ruckus, you are my new hero for saying exactly what I was thinking! I have been thinking about giving up on this site lately because of all the negative nervous Nellie whiners who preach to us on every single 'ible that explains anything more "dangerous" than how to blink. It is getting ridiculously out of hand and it makes me wonder where these people come from. I can't imagine how they are able to make it out the door each day with the fear of everything they seem to live in. Do they walk around their neighborhood and place of work scolding everyone like they do on here? Very sad people.

Anyway, thank you to ngadhno for the nice 'ible. I've been thinking about using my drill press as an expedient lathe but I hadn't come up with an easy way to improvise a tail stock. I'm going to give your method a try as soon as the weather breaks and I can get out into the garage.

Andrew LB (author)Sabata2014-06-27

That's the thing, they don't leave the house. It's all part of the wussification of America. Can't play tag in schools, no dodge ball, or butts-up...and in sports, everyone gets a trophy.

Can you imagine these same people if Earth gets nailed with a solar flare and we don't have power for a year or more. Within a months time they'll be eating each other. lol.

ngadhno (author)2014-03-14

In my last 20 years of professional work, I, not rarely, abused drills and believe me that it never happened to ruin a bearing except in two cases ( and it wasn't abused) when the bearing of a tiny Makita drill died. In both cases it was different drills of the same model what makes you doubt that this really can be an issue with the quality bearings.

databank08 (author)ngadhno2014-03-30

Great job bro, I'm very pleased to see this one.. I feel sad for those people who give negative comments without complete understanding and bestow rain of their dumbness here, I'm sure they must be doing the same with their girls too... LOL..

Well thanks for this and let more coming.. all the best.

quadracer (author)2014-03-20

Good idea.

sb4 (author)2014-03-15

I wonder if there is a way to use two opposing chisels to reduce side force...

Dowaine (author)2014-03-14

this is a great way to do it i always just chucked the piece of wood strightt into the drill press i never thought of doing it like this

gungajin (author)2014-03-14

It's a brilliant idea.

Of course, those who caution are right. Drill press bearings are not made to take sideways pressure, but honestly, if your drill press burns the bearing after turning a door knob or two, than it's time you get a better one. I've used my Metabo power drill for quite sophisticated woodturning projects, for years, and it was not the bearing that was the first part to go when it died after 20 years heavy use.

wobblycogs (author)2014-03-14

For very very light use this it probably an acceptable solution but for anything more than that you'll just ruin the drill press, the bearings will go first probably. The tail stock (what you call the spindle) will help with that, and is a clever idea, but you still have significant sideways pressure on the drill press bearings.

Please, make or get some tools designed for turning. You appear to be using a regular chisel as a scraper. The sharp edge of chisel will bunt quickly because it has no metal behind it for support and a blunt tool leads to accidents. Any old flat bar piece of steel can be turned into a scraper in a few minutes with a grinder. Gouges are probably better bought than made though.

ngadhno (author)wobblycogs2014-03-14


snoopindaweb (author)2014-03-14

Would it be prudent to devise a waay to adjust the distance from the tool rest to the work "closer".?

ngadhno (author)snoopindaweb2014-03-14

I agree with you, but my objective was to keep this instructable as sipmle as possible also to make the build of it easy and fast for everyone. Thank you

shazni (author)2014-03-13

Don't have a drill press....but so want to try wood turning :-)

ngadhno (author)shazni2014-03-13

I guess you have a drill (not drill press). There's also a simple way you could make it with a drill, just find a way to fix the drill (horizontally would be much easier) and align the spindle with the drill and there you go :)

shazni (author)ngadhno2014-03-13

Thanks. Yes I've been reserching home made wood lathe. Hope I'll be able to complete it for the potable workshop contest :-). One thing I need to know is should the tail end (not the part that is at the motor end) rotate or be stationary?

shazni (author)shazni2014-03-13 tail end I mean the spindle. Should it be stationary ir should ir rotate?

ngadhno (author)shazni2014-03-14

Spindle shouldn't be stationary to avoid friction. In my instructable the spindle is made from a bearing which means it rotates.

wobblycogs (author)shazni2014-03-14

On a lathe the non-powered end is called the tailstock and it will typically have a Morse Taper fitting which allows you to insert different tooling. The simplest is called a dead centre which doesn't rotate. This instructible shows a live centre which does rotate. Live centres are generally preferable to dead because they rotate with the work causing less damage / heating. For your first lathe I recommend making the tail stock from a piece 2"x4". For the tailstock centre just file a point on a bolt and thread it through the wood. It's not pretty but it works really well.

the norm (author)shazni2014-03-13

I have an old wood lather and it is a real pleasure making shavings with it.
I am not an artist, but with the lathe I have become one. Of course, since I have the lathe, I got a bandsaw to cut wood for the lathe, and I got a drill press so I can drill and sand, and I have a portable sander. All because I have the lathe - I'm not sure what the table saw has to do with the lathe, but .... I have a fairly full shop because of that lathe.

snoopindaweb (author)the norm2014-03-14

Ain't that the blessed truth. I bought a Mini Laythe and all those other tools just the same way. I live in an efficiency apartment to boot. Carpet runner is good stuff. ~(:-})={

shazni (author)the norm2014-03-13

lol...sounds familiar ;-D. I started with a jigsaw cause my arms were aching using a handsaw for my basic craft. Then I got a sander cause my arms were aching sanding, then I was gifted a drill cause I kept commenting my wood is splitting ;->. Then I got an angle grinder....cause my sander was taking ages...cause it was kind of cheap. ..and angle grinder is supposed to many options . Lol. Then I just had to have a chopsaw even if it was second hand cause my jigsaw couldn't cut thick wood. Now I see the art of wood turning...and contemplating how to build one cause I can't justify spening loads as I'm a simple diyer :-) lol

sharlston (author)2014-03-13

Not a good idea I don't think.

A tool catch would throw the tool or a work piece at chest/face height.

Also,drill press bearings are not designed to take side loads,only pressure from above/below.

ngadhno (author)sharlston2014-03-13

Shariston dear,
First: this idea was TESTED

Second: before you apply the quantity of force so you would damage/ruin the bearings of the drill press, most likely the piece of wood would fly toward your face.
Third: if anytime for any reason you aren't sure and don't feel safe about doing something, well JUST DON'T DO IT.

sharlston (author)ngadhno2014-03-14

I won't be doing this,I will keep my lathe seperate from my pillar drill and I will not be using my bench grinder as a band saw any time soon either...

askjerry (author)2014-03-13

I like the way you provides a bottom spindle. Some people try this without the lower spindle which is problematic. A drill is not designed for side-loading, and the chuck is held on with a Jacob's taper... so it can come off. (Most people think it's wielded on)

Your spindle keeps the piece from exerting side pressure, or more correctly, angular deflection... which is a good safety measure.

Nicely done!

Additionally, there is another instructable on this subject.


ngadhno (author)askjerry2014-03-13

Thanks Jerry for your instructive comment.
I was surprised to see this lathe accepting much pressure that I thought.

spongerich (author)2014-03-13

Very Nice. If you do this, you should be sure to always take very light cuts. Drill presses aren't designed for side loading and you can easily ruin the bearings. It's also worth noting that lathes have a nasty habit of throwing your chisel or the work at high speeds when things go wrong. Be sure to wear full face protection and appropriate clothing. Cheap goggles and a t-shirt aren't enough.

ngadhno (author)spongerich2014-03-13

I totally agree with you and I DID mentioned on my instructable that applying too much pressure can be dangerous and that holding the chisel in the right side of the toolrest is a must. REMEMBER that this is not an everyday working lathe but rather an occasional lathe for turning small pieces of wood.
Of course there are lot of other solutions for making a homemade wood lathe, bigger,stronger, solid etc. BUT my objective was to make a wood lathe from stuff you can find around you and to be a fast and easy project for everyone. (it took me 30 minutes to build including the idea)
I didn't want to make wood lathe from a washing machine motor or smth like that, as not everybody can find a washing machine motor. :)

And thanks for your comment.

ngadhno (author)ngadhno2014-03-13

Oh I forgot, about the "fragility" of drill pressing bearings: with this tiny "wood lathe" you'll never ever damage a bearing of a drill press, believe me.

ac-dc (author)spongerich2014-03-13

I was about to post that issue about side loads. IMO it would be better to add your own top and bottom bearing and using a flexible coupling to the drill press.

lordzamiel (author)2014-03-13

Just wanted to mention, what you refer to as a 'drive in nut' can be found at just about any home improvement store (ACE, True Value, Lowe's Home Depot, etc) in the hardware section, they're called a 'three prong tee nut'. Great 'ible, I think I know what I'll be doing this weekend!

ngadhno (author)lordzamiel2014-03-13

I really appreciate for explaining this. I really was struggling to find the real name about this kind of nut. (also english is not my native language).
Thanks to you I'll edit the instructable and for sure it'll be better. :)

onemoroni1 (author)2014-03-13

I have been thinking of doing this and now I have a project to accomplish it by your instructable. Thanks for posting.

ngadhno (author)onemoroni12014-03-13

I'm sure you'll make it and you'll enjoy it. Thank you too.

poorjohnn (author)2014-03-13

I have thought about doing this for years but your is a much simpler design that I was coming up with. Gotta give it a shot

ngadhno (author)poorjohnn2014-03-13

Well this was my exact intention, to do it in the simplest way so anyone can make it.
Thank you

hawkes07 (author)2014-03-13

thank you, just what I've been wanting to do!

Matt2 Silver (author)2014-03-13

very cool, I particularly like how you created the live center from the sliding door bearing, very inventive thinking!

dbreaux (author)2014-03-11

I am building a lathe myself out out of a washing machine motor was wondering how to mount the chuck of the drill now I no thanks for the idea great job

antioch (author)dbreaux2014-03-13

Oh lordy, please do take notes and pictures, I'm dying to see this great concept in action!

Ilan Voyager (author)2014-03-13

Very nice and well thought. Many thanks, I'm going to make it.

About This Instructable




Bio: I've been working on construction since the age of 15 and as specialized glazier,aluminum structures,curtain walls. In the last 10 years I ... More »
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