Introduction: Drill Press Lathe

Picture of Drill Press Lathe

I think any wood worker will eventually gravitate towards wood turning. However wood lathes (good ones anyways) are expensive, this is my variant based on the ones from Grizzly, Vertilathe and Eccentric cubicle.

Step 1: Make a Live Center

Picture of Make a Live Center

The only thing you really need to do to create a lathe from your drill press is make a live center, and that's just a piece that holds the wood and rotates freely. Here's what I did.

I ripped apart an old battery drill, a cheap skil drill from the thrift store for a dollar, Out of the pieces you should be able to save a chuck with shaft and a thrust bushing.

Now bolt a scrap of hardwood to your drill press table and bore a hole through the wood slightly smaller than the shaft of the drill chuck. For example, the chuck shaft was slightly over 5/16th of an inch so I bored a 5/16ths inch hole. Here i'm using a scrap of Mahogany.

Step 2: Making a Great Fit

Picture of Making a Great Fit

To ensure a good fit between the shaft of the chuck and the block of hardwood, we're going to use the shaft to burnish the wood to size. Use a hex shaft screw driver bit and chuck it into the drill press, now attach the chuck we're using as a center and with the drill press running slowly, very slowly feed the shaft of the chuck into the hole we bored into the hardwood.

Step 3: Almost Done

Picture of Almost Done

Now that you have the hole in the hardwood sized, pull out the chuck and slip the thrust bearing into place, add a couple of drops of light oil and you should find the live center turns very freely, Chuck a couple of countersinks to hold the work place and your are ready to start turning.

Step 4: Turning

Picture of Turning

Because we don't yet have a tool rest we won't be using proper turning tools for shaping, instead we'll be using shurform blades and wood rasps.

Use a mallet to knock the drive countersink into the work piece and then slip the piece between the chucks and lift the table so the work piece is securely held. Turn the piece by hand a couple of times to make sure it's centered. Now take a deep breath and turn the drill press on at medium speed.

Provided the wood did not fly out you can start rounding it with the shurform blade, once it's round, shaping can be done with the rasps.

and yes I really want real lathe now.


mekennedy1313 (author)2017-12-13

Just remember drills and drill press bearings are not meant for side force. Lathes have thrust bearings. It will work but light cuts and not too often.

seedoo (author)2015-12-19

plus couple home made attachments its really wood turning lathe

seedoo (author)2015-12-19

plus couple home made attachments its really wood turning lathe

seedoo (author)2015-12-19

plus couple home made attachments its really wood turning lathe

seedoo (author)2015-12-19

why not to laid down drill press to work horizontally

seedoo (author)2015-12-19

why not to laid down drill press to work horizontally

seedoo (author)2015-12-19

why not to laid down drill press to work horizontally

Tex Arcana (author)2014-02-14

fantastic idea!

padbravo (author)2013-10-02

Grat idea!... tks for show your way...

akoutdoors (author)2013-02-08

had a question, what is the thrust bearing?

retrotimelord (author)2011-07-31

awesome thank you

Wi11 (author)2011-07-27

I just noticed this and thought of your instructable:

thelastonekills (author)2011-03-19

this is jst what i need,
thanks heaps

neffk (author)2010-11-27

There's nothing like a home-made tool to make you appreciate the real thing! I had an identical experience.

macrumpton (author)2010-09-16

I guess if you wanted to turn something larger you could always turn the drill press base around and clamp it to your workbench with the head hanging over the end of the table. Then hot glue your live center to the floor and you are ready to go.

rapidprototyping (author)2010-07-25

if you have a cordless drill you can cut pieces of wood quarter inch square then by carefull drilling from either end (if your patient and luck enough to not drill out the side) it happens too! with a long drill bit you can drill through and brfore you drill it out. de chuck it and carve cut and rasp the quarter inch stock to octogon pencil shape. now re chuch and use 80 100 and 120 paper to make you a pencil. finall grasp the pencil and reverse your bit out. now if you fill this with graphite you will be in the business of pencil making with small to no investment necessary. really a cordless drill you can makes beads for your girl friend to sell at market she will hang them from her ears and around her neck for free advertising . pens you can get your bic and make a walnut version sell it for small profit and buy a used lathe on craigs list for fifty bucks.

rejectcarp (author)2010-01-21

I am absolutely not procrastinating any more.  I have the night off and I am building this TODAY. 

dantimdad (author)2010-01-03

To also simplify turning, cut the corners off the square stock to make an octagon.  It won't stand nearly the chance of catching on a tool and will work into a round much much faster.

bigjano (author)2009-12-04

So simple and so amazing!!.

Thank you. Your creation rocks!!!!

Jack A Lopez (author)2009-08-14

I just noticed this instructable, and I like it!

Here's an instructable of mine using a similar trick to make soldering iron tips:

Finally, for those commenters still consternated and trembling in fear of putting a "side load" on your spindle, I think that's why TUA put a chuck on the bottom, to help push back against the cutting tool. Also perhaps you could try balancing the forces by holding something blunt on the other side of the cutting tool. I frequently do this. I haven't killed the bearings on my little drill press yet. Knock on steel.

hammy10809 (author)2009-07-08

you have the same drill presses as me, how much did u get for it? i got mine for 70 bucks at an auction

Richard.marier (author)2009-06-07

Do you think you could turn the press drill on it's side to work?

Einsteins Circuitry (author)2008-03-01

Could this be used as a metal lathe? maybe with some modifications?

Nice instructable +1 and favorited

No, it won't last a few minutes under the side loadings required.

NCRatSniper (author)2009-01-05

Wait a second, this will KILL your drill press! They are not meant to take side loads and over short periods of doing this, the bearings will be dead.

_soapy_ (author)NCRatSniper2009-05-16

- What he said. The bearings will be rapidly destroyed. My drill press has never recovered from my attempt to do this.

0087adam (author)2009-02-26

usually i cut out a square on the end of the piece of wood, a fairly small square and put it in the chuck, and use the hole thats already on my table to spin it. it works.

rjnerd (author)2008-03-06

Danger Will Robinson Danger Check the lathe to see if the chuck mount involves a taper to make it easy to swap chucks. They are usually found on larger, more expensive drill presses. Tapers are a great way to mount a chuck, UNTIL you apply a side load. (like pressing against your workpiece with a tool) They will walk right out, and your workpiece and chuck will go sailing across the room. From the looks of the setup the wood is pretty light, but a chuck can weigh over a pound.... (this is why they tell you not to use your drill press as a milling machine. real milling machines have a long bolt from the top of the machine, specifically to keep the tool from doing an "exit, stage left", and why you have to use a collet, rather than a chuck to hold your end mills)

How to tell if you have a taper. The easiest is to look in the manual. It might say something like spindle 2MT, or chuck 6JT. If you look at the side of the spindle, with the chuck cranked down, and see a slot, with the end of a metal tang visible inside, you have a morse taper spindle, and with the aid of a single flat wedge, that came with the drill press, and the first owner promptly lost, you can quickly change chucks, or use drill bits that have a morse taper formed directly onto the non-sharpened end, so they mount directly into the spindle, without needed a chuck. It also says you have to go lathe shopping.

So you have verified that you have a cheaper lathe that doesn't use a MT spindle. It still may taper mount the chuck. If you have the instructions, and it talks about using a pair of wedges to get the chuck off, again you have to try this on another machine. (unlike the spindle taper wedge, JT wedges don't usually come with the drill press)

If there is a screw thread involved in holding the chuck in place (either one you get at by poking a screwdriver up where the drill bit goes, or they tell you to grab an allen wrench with the chuck and tap the long bit sticking out, to break the threads free, you don't have to worry about a taper, and you can give this a try.

rjnerd (author)rjnerd2008-03-06

On the very first line where it says "Check the lathe", it should say "Check the Drill Press". Says I need to check my blood sugar...

Tool Using Animal (author)rjnerd2008-03-06

Well that sure spoiled my fun. ;-) maybe I'll just pick up a cheap wilton or psi lathe.

Grizzly tools make something like this for $19.95. <br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href=""></a><br/><br/>If you get hurt using it then you have someone to sue because you were using it as it was intended, not something you rigged up.<br/><br/>By the way, they also have a hand drill powered lathe for $45.95. <br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href=""></a><br/><br/>

mg0930mg (author)Lokisgodhi2008-12-31

Haha,cool.Thanks for the info.

rjnerd (author)Tool Using Animal2008-03-06

Don't give up hope until you check your drill. If you happen to have a fairly small import, it will have a one piece spindle, and a screw mount chuck. Tapers cost money compared with cutting a thread. Also they make a LOT of screw mount chucks, which are the norm on hand held drills, where side loads happen. Saves them some more money to avoid the low volume part. But if your drill is 14" or larger, its likely to use a taper mount chuck. At 16 inches, you start seeing morse taper spindles (especially if it s more than 10 years old) A 20" drill will have a taper spindle.

Tool Using Animal (author)rjnerd2008-03-07

The manual doesn't specify what kind of taper, but assembly consisted of driving the chuck on with a wooden mallet. :-( Question. I can see how the chuck could walk off in a milling operation, but my setup, it's supported in place, so wouldn't it be much less likely to happen? I've some 1/4 lexan, maybe I'll see if I can rig a shield.

rjnerd (author)Tool Using Animal2008-03-07

Well thats clearly a taper. (hint for the future, heat the chuck to 250F, then tap it onto the room temp spindle - it will be a lot more resistant to "spinning out") If it is truly well supported, give it a try. Wood lathes do use a taper mount drive center without a drawbar when spindle turning, but they have the tailstock that can be cranked to hold the wood tightly, and the drive center is a lot lighter than a drill chuck should something go wrong. It did just occur to me, if your lathe does have a morse taper spindle, you could buy a drive center. Doesn't solve the tailstock problem, but it is a lot less likely to split the workpiece like the countersinks can. If you had a quill lock so you could crank the spindle down and hold firmly, that would help. I can't imagine the juggling act trying to use the table crank to get things tight, without the workpiece falling out, and especially while keeping the live center fastened to the table aligned... When you faceplate turn, the chuck mounts on the threads on the outside of the spindle. Just think about this, a used hobby wood lathe is cheaper than a single visit to the ER. Find a 40 year old belt drive hobby machine, that has been sitting in someones basement a while. You get the option of using chisels, and even faceplate turning (make bowls, not just pens). For $50-75 (total), they may even throw in their starter set of chisels. If you don't like the craft, you could just sell it, for $$ comparable to what it cost you. It will let you know if you like turning, and when you are suitably addicted, and buy a "real" lathe, you can pass the starter machine along to addict someone else. A wood lathe is a fairly simple device, as long as the bearing doesn't wander or make awful noises, there isn't a lot else to go wrong with them. We have been making lathes for thousands of years, and the only real change from the pole lathe that a roman would recognize, is that the work doesn't spend half its time running the wrong way. (and the chisels stay sharp a lot longer) They don't have the alignment/wear issues of a metal lathe - the toolrest placement is arbitrary, after all. Belt drive means that if the motor bites the dust, you can get going again with a scavenged attic blower motor or similar.

Tool Using Animal (author)rjnerd2008-03-07

I've been keeping an eye on craigslist, but most people seem to want more for their used lathe than amazon sells new (?). As a unemployed college student, I'll have to wait for an extra ordinary deal. I have a 1/2inch corded drill languishing, maybe I'll cobble together a "safer" lathe from that. It will be adequate for the small projects I have in mind currently.

sansbury (author)rjnerd2008-03-08

I've had chucks and tapers detach in floor-standing drill presses before, and while it's annoying, it's never been catastrophic--the chuck drops, maybe a drill bit breaks, the operator utters a few choice expletives, and remounts the chuck. With the workpiece pinning it all in place, you have a pseudo-drawbar action, which would seem to mitigate further against problems. So long as you stick to small workpiece diameters, and use rasps and files, the sideloads shouldn't be that significant, and with light cuts in wood, you're not going to get that much chatter. That said, one thing to consider is the spindle bearing(s). Drill presses typically take only axial/thrust loads (i.e. along the axis of the drill bit) while lathes and mills also take radial (side) loads. Some types of bearings can only handle one type of load well so there is some risk of premature wear/failure with this if the sideloads are significant (rasping a pen body IMHO can probably be done OK so long as the operator keeps these issues in mind). You can replace bearings but for $99 you can also get a perfectly serviceable lathe from Harbor Freight and be done with it.

rjnerd (author)sansbury2008-03-08

I used to do things like this. I stopped when an acquaintance using one of those planing gadgets, launched it and the chuck thru a sheetrock wall. Since then my rule is no drawbar, no sideloads. (it does help that I have a real milling machine available now, so I am not tempted to cheat any more) I have had chucks come off, when drilling. Its usually associated with the bit stalling. With the drill bit to hold stuff in place, and the chuck not particularly turning, it is less exciting. (it also means it may be time to re-surface the tapers, something that takes equipment rarely found in a home shop). Using the heat the chuck prior to installing trick makes it a lot less likely to spin off. You can make a serviceable wood lathe out of some scrap hardwood, some plumbing parts, and a hand held drill. Use a long-reach pipe clamp mechanism to make the tailstock. Even better, get some pillow blocks, a bit of shafting, (get any place that sells iron plumbing pipe to thread the outside, so you can use a floor flange as a faceplate) add a small (1/3-1/2 hp) motor and some step pulleys (if nothing else, you can borrow them from your drill press) Put a drill bit in your improvised tailstock, and use it to drill a mounting hole in your spindle, to hold the counter sink or other sort of drive center. (you will have to cross drill, and tap a hole in the spindle to mount a grub screw to hold it in place. If you know someone with morse taper reamers, you can cut a taper for a real drive center, but the reamer will cost you as much as a used lathe). A bit of bed frame angle as a tool rest, a little creativity and some of the hardwood, to give you a way to hold it (adjustably) in place, and you are ready to turn. Unless you have the stuff (especially the pillow blocks) in your junk box, you can easily spend more than the harbor fright lathe would cost you.

AnarchistAsian (author)2008-09-19

woah, cool... this should keep me content until i get a real one.

reluctant_paladin (author)2008-05-17

Great idea. I've been really wanting to try my hand at making turned wooden pens, but no way I was going to invest hundreds of dollars in a lathe just for that. This way I can scratch the itch for a couple of bucks. Only need the rasp, surform, and sandpaper blocks for the pen turning. Safe (slow speed) and cheap. Great combination :)

Glad you likeit, however, if you just want to turn pens Rockler has a tut. on doing it with just a drill press.

could you use this to turn metal rod

finnindian (author)2008-06-16

Popular Mechanics put out a 12 volume encyclopedia set in the 1950's, it has a red cover, I have bought them for as little as $5.00. The set has a lot of plans for building your power-tools.

photochromes (author)2008-03-10

Great idea! 1st, I don't think there is any problem with the Morse taper working loose as the work piece should hold it in place just the way the morse taper on a regular lathe is held in place by holding the work piece in compression between the head and tailstock. That is assuming the work piece is properly installed and does not disintegrate or something. 2nd,I was glad to see that only a rasp was being used. Being experienced in turning wood, the first impression I got from looking at this set up made me cringe. Wood lathes are actually one of the most dangerous tools to use and many experienced turners come to grief operating them. For safety, the operator tries to stand aside and behind the work piece so that if the tool kicks back, he or she is not speared by it as it is thrown like a bullet perpendicularly from the spinning work. The operator also tries to stand with his body back behind the head or tailstock if possible so that if the wood disintegrates, he or she is not impailed by the sometimes large and leathal splinters. With this vertical set up, there does not seem to be any safe place for the operator to stand. Perhaps it would be best to set the drill press horizontally as someone else has already suggested just for safety's sake, if for no other reason. Also, it would not hurt to learn about lathe operations before ever turning the thing on. I don't want to sound like a downer because I do like the idea.

triumphman (author)2008-03-03

I tried this but many things went haywire! When I chucked wood into it the wood split no matter how easy I pressed down. Even harder woods such as maple, oak and cherry. Pine is the softest but not durable for worthwile projects. When I tried to carve into the wood with tools of all sorts (wood chisels, edged blades, files, etc..., I got very poor results. I think this is too dangerous and did not produce the results I saw in your pictures. I have tried all speeds and changed parts to accomodate many combinations but nothing worked. What do you suggest to get better results. I am out of choices and don't have the pesos (moola) to buy a real lathe. Thanks.

Not having a tool rest you are limited to using rasps, files and surform blades, any thing like a gouge or chisel will be INCREDIBLY dangerous. What I've been doing is roughing to round with a surform blade, and carving with coarse files (which need frequent cleaning). As to the splitting, here's an alternate drive method, which I'm using for some work, Drill a small hole about 1/4 inch deep in the drive end, on axis, and screw in a dry wall screw (coarse wood screw), now either cut the head off the screw and chuck the screw shaft in the drill, or place a screw driver bit in the drill and drive the screw. I'll post a picture of what I mean later tonight, if possible. The only wood i've had split so far was poplar.

Great comment.Sure is VERY dangerous.Fight for the tool rest.

Here ya go, this is a spalty piece of something, it's so rotten I have to keep soaking cyano into the cracks so it holds together.

Bobpinda (author)2008-03-08

Wonder why not use one chuck only. The other end a simple conicpoint would do the same. No ?

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