Introduction: Make Your Own Lathe From Other Peoples Rubbish

The aim of this instructable is to make a wood lathe from recycled and scrap materials and use it to make some lovely things.

Why a lathe? You can use it to make beautiful birthday and Christmas pressies for family and friends and to craft all manner of things to help in other projects. To make yourself a load of wooden kitchen bowls, plates, utensils, etc. To make arrows, door and draw knobs, staffs, axles, beautiful ornaments, flower pots, light shades... The list is endless.

Making a lathe is fun! Designing one yourself and using free or cheap materials is even better.
This instructable shows how I did it. I got ideas from lots of places on the internet (including other instructables - do a search for 'lathe') and formulated my design as I collected materials.

This lathe is made almost exclusively from stuff other people threw away or didn't have use for anymore, and a big part of the challenge is creatively using these readily available materials. You will probably want to vary your own design from mine, as you will inevitably find you can get your hands on different bits. Don't worry though I will try my best to offer techniques and advice (including where the best places are to get stuff), anyway it is much more exciting when you have a hand in the design process. I would love to hear what you guys use to make your designs.

A more complete and up to date set of instructions for this project and videos of the lathe, and other bits and bobs can be found on our blog at:

I use some basic power tools in making this, and I meddled (carefully!) with mains voltage, so the usual safety precautions must apply. Always wear eye and ear protection when using power tools and lung protection when making dust. Be very careful and get qualified help (if you need it) with main voltage etc.

The lathe itself can be very dangerous, following good practice, and designing in safety, is the best method of staying out of harms way. I will hopefully cover some of these points, but ultimately you're doing this at your own risk, so please take care!

Step 1: Acquiring the Motor

For this you are either going to buy a motor, or scavenge and reuse one. Favouring the latter and more environmentally-friendly option, this instructable assumes you will scavenge one. The picture shows an old washing machine motor salvaged from a machine my parents were throwing out. These tend to be a good and surprisingly plentiful (keep your eyes out) source of one horsepower series wound commutator motors. It should provide plenty enough power to drive a small wood lathe like the one I am planning.

If you do get a washing machine motor try and grab the whole machine - then in the comfort of your own home you can take your time to work out how the wiring went. If like me you were on a time budget to get it away from your parents sub-Arctic outside shed just cut it out and get as much of the electronics as possible.

To extract the motor, turn the machine upside-down and you should be able to see the motor. It is now simply a case of unbolting it from its mountings.

These motors can be run off both DC and AC making them quite versatile little beasties.

In the picture I am testing the motor with a DC bench supply, made from an old computer PSU (power supply unit - check out Sitnalta's instructable). DO NOT CONNECT THE MOTOR TO MAINS VOLTAGE without any load attached. Series wound motors have no theoretical limit to their speed and the centrifugal forces can fling the motor armature apart! Even with a modest load a direct connection to 240V mains is a bad idea, as the speeds are likely to strain the bearings, brushes and frame - all of which are not designed for unlimited power without a hefty mechanical load.

Another way to test a motor of this sort without a bench-top supply is to attach a 1000W electric heater wire between the brushes. The current passing through the resistance wire should be enough to limit the speed of the motor.

Step 2: Speed Control (part 1 - General Information & Motor Connections)

Electronic speed control is highly desirable for washing machine, and other series wound, commutator motors.

One of the down sides to modern series wound washing machine motors is that they are designed to go very fast, and when run on unfettered mains current will screech along at about 8,000 rpm with a modest load (as I already said don't run them unloaded). This uncontrolled speed is bad because:

a) it is going to make a lot of noise, annoying you and your neighbours;
b) to turn wood on a lathe we will need a much lower rpm - from about 400 - 2000. To achieve this without some sort of electronic control would mean an elaborate (read even more noisy) and large pulley system, and,
c) if connected straight to the mains the speed regulation will be poor when load is applied to the motor. In other words when you start turning your wood and you push the cutting tool into it, the speed will fluctuate wildly. Ideally you would like the rpm to remain predictably constant, rather than speeding up and slowing down as you make your master-works on the lathe.

There are various ways to build a controller - probably the minimum and most basic is to vary the voltage with a variable transformer. Although very simple, this is not a good solution because: when you set it to run at low voltage/low speed, it will also have very low torque - and it will still suffer greatly from point (c) above. This is a disaster because you often want the most torque and predictable performance at low speed.

A much better method is to make a very simple triac controller circuit, also referred to as a pulse-width-modulation or chopper circuit.

This stage required me to do fair bit of learning, but in the end I was able to build a really nice little controller that adjusts the speed quite accurately with a turn knob (an elaborately decorative new version of which I shall make once I have finished my new lathe). All that is needed are some quite cheap components (available from most electronics mail order places) and a soldering iron.

After reading lots of books and websites I found a fantastic chapter about speed control. Here is a link to the book Electric Motors in the Home Workshop by Jim Cox (pages 59 to 73 are well worth reading).

The good thing about a triac system is that you don't need to faff about with changing pulleys or drive belts. Also you get to learn some cool electronics jazz!

Working out which connections do what on the motor, is one of the first steps (see the photo below in which one of the brushes has been unbolted for clarity). Also check out the diagram that shows what bits of the motor are what.

There will likely be 3 stator coil connections,
2 brush contacts,
2 tachometer contacts,
and an earth connection on the motor frame.

Step 3: Speed Control (part 2 - Making a Simple Circuit)

The pulse-width-modulation circuit that we want can be made in a number of ways. It is essentially the same stuff that is in a light dimmer switch, all be it beefed up a bit so it can handle higher current. One might be salvaged from some other device that has speed control: many modern vacuum cleaners have one, discarded power tools would be another possible source. Really though, this would be quite a lucky find.

I chose to make my own (to better understand it and to and add some mods). It is essentially very simple and can be made using some strip board and a few cheap electronic components.

The stuff needed is as follows (maplin code in brackets):

C1 Polyester capacitor 0.1uF 250V (BX76H)
C2 Polyester capacitor 0.047uF 250V (BX74R)
C3 Polyester capacitor 0.01uF VAC (got off e-bay)
D2 Suppressor 250VAC (HW13P)

VR1 Variable resistor or POT 220k (FW06G)
R1 Min Resistor 4k7 (M4K7)
R2 Min Resistor 22k (M22K)
R3 Min Resistor 100R (M100R)

D1 Diac DB3 (QL08J)
T1 Triac BTA26-600B (UK56L) (the 16A version would suffice - I was in an overkill mood)

Some strip board to put it all on.

Optional components (more on this later):

2X Rectifier J04 (BH46A) ~ �3 each (but I got very similar ones on e-bay for 99p each)
50VA Step down transformer 240V to 9V - (search out old power supplies, audio amps, hi fi's, etc.)

The triac itself can often be salvaged from the washing machines along with the motor. I could have also ordered some spade connectors to make the 'live', 'neutral', 'the armature' and the 'stator coil' contacts, but I felt like making my own to save a few pennies (see photo). I used some standard 2mm copper wire scavenged from some old house wiring, and soldered on some cut (using a hacksaw) and flattened (hammer or vice) scrap of copper pipe.

When it comes to actually making the circuit, there is loads of good advice on soldering here on instructables, so I will not talk much about that. Enough to say that is is not a complex circuit and it should be pretty straightforwards if you read the instructions here carefully. Thanks to Westfw for the Eagle schematic 'able (

Step 4: Speed Control (part 3 - Thinking About Heat)

The triac is going to need a way to cool off during continuous use. You could buy a standard heatsink from Maplin or similar or make your own. As my triac is rated at 26amps I am not too worried about it- but something to lick the heat away is needed.

I used a section of aluminium channelling (same as used on the lathe bed) bolted together with a bit of old heatsink rescued from a discarded computer PSU, with a bit of flattened copper pipe.

As far as I know copper is better at conducting the heat, and aluminium at radiating it to the surrounding atmosphere. Hence the copper helps disperse the heat throughout the sink and the aluminium radiates it off.

Whatever you find to use, cut your metal to a sensible size with a hacksaw , or similar (if you only have a junior hacksaw make or buy a full size one or you will waste a lot of time). Drill your holes, then, clean and polish all joining surfaces. The cleaner and flatter the meeting surfaces the better the heat will transfer. If you have some, apply thermal paste before bolting up the assembly.

Step 5: Speed Control (part 4 - Testing Time)

When you have completed the basic circuit, look it over a lot' - check for boo boos and out of place solder. Check each track, to ensure it is not accidentally connected to any other.

If all is well you can test it with a 60W incandescent light bulb. It has to be this old type - new compact fluorescent ones will not like the chopped current.

Turning this baby on is one of those exciting moments where things should work nicely.

By using the variable resistor you should be able to vary the light from completely off all the way through to full brightness.

Be very careful. Remember that as soon as you plug this little thing in it will have uninsulated mains voltage all over the place, including over the heatsink. Make absolutely sure the workspace is clear and safe and your not going to have it accidentally knock over or into something conductive. Test it briefly then disconnect from the mains (well ok, you can play with it a little bit, but remember those connections are live, and the crock clips don't exactly meet domestic wiring regulations). Clear away as soon as you're done so no stray or inquisitive fingers can easily plug it in.

Step 6: Speed Control (part 5 - Improving Speed Regulation and Low Speed Torque)

If you're happy with that (slightly shoddy but workable) speed control setup you can skip the next two steps, however...

An optional further increase can be had in speed regulation and low speed torque by effectively converting the machine to a direct current shunt wound motor. To do this we rectify the speed controller output and supply the motor with DC (direct current). We also use a very low voltage (and high current) to energize the field coil.

As shown in the diagram, we still keep the 240V DC running through the field coil as well, this gives the benefit of reducing starting current surges. It is important to wire the two rectifiers such that they are pushing current in the same direction through the field coil (see diagram).

The transformer, being the most substantial electronic component is definitely worth scavenging (A new transformer is likely to set you back a good 15pounds). To our shame, in Britain at least, you will not have any trouble finding one. Likely places for the transformer are junked stereos, amplifiers, power supply boxes (though most wall warts are not up to it), and other electronic devices that routinely get thrown away.

To do this we will need the optional components mentioned earlier - a transformer (100VA should suffice - but see what you can find) and bridge rectifiers (these get quite hot, high current ones are a good idea). After flirting with the idea of using a rewound microwave transformer (and discarding it as overkill), I came across an old-school Spectrum power supply at the local tip (which is essentially a transformer with a rectifier and smoothing capacitor) - just the ticket! It is only rated (on the case) to 2.1A at 9V DC and I was needing more like 5A, but after testing it seemed the rectifying diodes were the weak link, and the transformer, when not completely sealed in plastic, as it was originally, actually runs nice and cool when delivering a steady 4.2A.

Step 7: On/Off Switch (No Volt Release Switch)

It is a good safety feature to have a so called 'no volt release switch' on your lathe. Basically this switch will start from a push button but if there is a power cut for any reason, it will not automatically restart when the power is restored. This is important - say there is a power outage, you do not want your lathe bursting into life unexpectedly (when your not around or leaning against it) when the lights come back on.

This feature is fairly standard on most decent sized power tools. You can buy them ready to fit off e-bay or make your own if you have a good high current contact relay and a push to make and push to break buttons in your scrap box. See circuit diagram.

S1 = On button (push to make)
S2 = Stop button (push to break) - if you make it this way S2 must be a very robust button as it will carry all the power going to the lathe. It should also be big and conveniently situated for quick stopping.
K1 = Heavy duty contacting relay.

Step 8: Electronic Braking

You obviously want your classy lathe to have the option of regenerative user control braking right? If not you can skip this step. However, there are significant advantages to having a braked motor, most importantly, you don't have to wait ages for it to spin down. This spin down time can be quite substantial if your turning something hefty. It also presents a safety hazard as attention is focused on the next task, while the lathe remains spinning and dangerous.

But it is nice to have the option of braking, rather than have it always imposed... Three reasons:

1. You might not always want it to rush to a halt - doing so puts extra strain on the belt, bearings and other components. In unusual circumstances, It might also endanger your work piece to have a dramatic change of speed.

2. Almost all electronic braking (on series motors) works by shorting the brushes together with a resistor - effectively turning the motor into a generator. This creates a braking force and the energy is dissipated as heat in the armature. Meaning that a lot of stopping and starting with full braking being applied can overheat the motor.

3. It is simply more fun to be able to control things.

One difficulty with this type of motor is that the field coil must remain energized for braking to work.. This is a problem because in general we want braking to coincide with a cut in the power to the unit.

My solution, is to have a push button (S1), normally open, that, when pushed (and held down), makes a separate circuit that both powers the field coil and energizes a solenoid relay (S3), which shorts the brushes through resistor R1.

Key to diagram:
S1 = Push switch - the main switch that the user pushes, and holds, to cause braking.

S2 = A relay that gets power and therefore energizes, when S1 is pressed. It cuts power to the NVRS

S3 = Another relay that, when energized, completes a short circuit between the motor brushes.

NVRS = The main on/off "no volt release switch".

R1 = A resistor of about 10ohms (the larger the value the more gentle the braking effect)

T1 = Step down transformer 240V to about 9V

D1 = A diode that ensures the field coil is maintained in one direction.

Step 9: The Lathe Bed

For the wood lathe - which is what we are making here - people have used various materials to form the bed of the lathe. I have seen pictures of ones made from wood, lumps of cast iron, aluminum channeling, even huge RSJ's (rolled steel joists) from the building industry.

I had some scrap angled aluminum which I took from some old 'science draws' (it formed the handles) that my university was throwing away. This on its own looked to be a bit flimsy, so I also rescued a long peace of angle iron that was rusting away at my parents farmhouse.

As you can see the steel is well rusty and actually quite pitted but is hopefully still thick enough to add the rigidity we're after. Once the steel is cleaned up the aluminium can bolt on top to create a smoother surface for the sliding tail stock.

First I used a small cheap angle grinder to cut the steel into two lengths (a hacksaw would be OK but slower). Then I began to clean it up.. I found that belt sanding (real course 40 grit) followed by drill mounted wire brush seemed to work.

Bits of scrap like this are easy to find. Possible sources: metal bed frames, surplus construction site materials, old gates, old trailer or other large machinery framework. Basically you are looking for something long, straight, and strong enough to support a spinning log without undue flexing. My general advice would be to think about the size of lathe you are wanting to make and the kinds of things you want to make with it, and then overbuild the lathe bed. It can't be too strong, but consider the weight and size ;) Mine ended up being much heavier than expected and I need help to move it about.

Step 10: Thinking About the Headstock (bearings and Main Drive Shaft)

The headstock is basically the part of the lathe that houses the main drive shaft which will spin your wood. It needs to take drive from a motor, transfer it, through a belt to a shaft that you will attach the wood you're working on.

The materials I found for this were:

Coming from an old piece of machinery, one surprisingly heavy and large sheet of metal, about 6mm thick (strong stuff!).
Two similar sized tray like pieces of stainless steel.
Some of the angle aluminum.
Old motor shaft, bearings and bearing housings.

The photos and descriptions tell it better than words up here.

One problem here is that the old motor bearings are not taper bearings - they are not designed for anything other than small loads in a sideways direction. My feeling was that this was outweighed by the fine axle and ready made bearing housings, and more importantly I had it all there and then, and it was free!

It is worth thinking about though. This is going to mean I have to be very careful and avoid certain (angry) ways of working when the lathe is in everyday use. If I find it unacceptable, or I destroy the bearings, I will replace them with taper bearings, that are much better with side loads. (see for more info on taper bearings:

Step 11: Making the Headstock (front and Back Panels)

Here I decided how high the centers would be, which among other things (like common sense and self preservation) will determine the maximum radius of wood that can be turned. I wanted the ability to make food plates, which can come from stock that is quite thin (therefore not overly heavy) but has a reasonably large diameter.

Remember the further the drive shaft is from the bed the more leverage it has and the more likely it is to do cheeky twisting, wobbling and other dangerous things. So it is a compromise of size and strength...

Once I had decided that (it was partially determined by the materials i had available), I began by cutting two equal sized pieces from the 8mm thick sheet of metal. I already had two stainless bits which would add a tough outer shell and little bit of rigidity.
Now we need to decide where and how we will fix the front and back faces. I wanted to make them identical front and back panels - I did this by clamping them together and, where possible, drilling through one and into the other a ways so it was easy to resume drilling at the right place.

Again see the pics and their descriptions for more.

Some general advice on drilling... This would have been easier with a drill press (that will have to be a future project though), but you can make do with a decent hand drill - and get quite skilled at using it in the process.. Use plenty of light oil on the drill bits, and go at a slow speed. If you go fast you will harden the steel your trying to drill and dull the drill bit, making it really difficult. Using sharp drill bits helps a lot! (see

Always clamp things your drilling, Its easier and safer, and you can concentrate with both hands on making a straight hole.

Consider what size bolt you are going to use in advance, so you can choose the right size bit. You can download tables with the correct corresponding sizes and print it out.
Or, a good rule of thumb is to take the bolt diameter and take away the thread pitch to give the size of drill bit.
e.g. If i want to tap a 6mm thread (because I want to use a 6mm bolt) and if the thread pitch is 1mm, then the drill bit size would be 6mm - 1mm = 5mm drill bit. Rule works just as well with imperial too.

Step 12: Making the Headstock (central Supports)

The central supports are going to join to the front and back panels, bracing them and giving us a way to attach the angle iron that makes up the lathe bed. Because they will be used to join on the bed of the lathe they need to be exactly perpendicular to the front and back panels.

They also needed to be cut so that they hold the front and back panels at the correct distance - that is, the length between the drive shaft bearings. Make sure everything will fit before you start cutting or drilling - cardboard mock ups are useful!

I use some aluminium angle to bolt them in.

Step 13: Mounting the Motor & the Other Center Support

I found that I could bolt the part of the motor housing that previously held the electrical connector directly to the back panel. This didn't look quite strong enough, so I also used one of the 'proper' motor mounts, bolted to some aluminium channelling, which in turn bolted to the back panel.

Using a tailors tape measure or a piece of string the belt length can be calculated. For this application a poly-v belt is best. This is because only the relatively flat poly-v belts can handle the sharp radius of the small motor drive shaft. Standard v-belts would need bigger pulleys. The chances of scavenging a correctly sized belt seemed minimal so I ordered mine over the phone, it was �8.

Apparently the belt tension is about right when you can just twist the belt by 90degrees but not much further without using force. Super subjective I know, so it is a good idea to design some adjustment into the motor mount.

Step 14: Attaching the Headstock to the Bed

You will need to find a way of attaching the headstock firmly to the lathe bed - and in such a way that the drive shaft lines up as close to perfectly parallel as possible (luckily as this is not going to be a metal lathe this is not quite so crucial - still very important though).

Two cross bracing pieces (one made of the white metal, the other a doubled up alu sheet) will bolt onto the bed's rails. Fairly straightforward: drill the holes, and bolt up (I tapped a thread in the bed's rails, but a bolt through with a nut would probably have been ok too).

I needed to make a hole in the front panel for the bed angles to fit through, I did this with small angle grinder and some filing.

Step 15: Wiring Up the Insides

After a quick bench test, with electronics and crock clips all over the place, it is time to put the magic into the lathe more permanently and tidily. You need to make sure all the wires are kept firmly in place, away from the moving parts.

I tried to mount the components that might get warm, like the rectifiers and the braking resistor, to the metal panels to help dissipate the heat.

Step 16: Housing the Moving Bits and Making It Look Nice

Because wood turning creates a decent amount of dust and wood debris, the motor will need encasing and protecting. Same applies to main bearings and drive belt. It is important to cover away the drive belt anyway - exposed it presents an intolerable safety risk.

I still wanted to keep an eye on what was going on inside while the lathe was running though, so the plan was to find some thickish perspex to cover the top.

See the pics.

There has been a rubbished stainless steel kitchen sink in the woods now for about 6 months, which I walk past on my way to university most days. Not to let an opportunity to tidy up pass me by, this found its way onto the lathe (well part of it anyway - the rest went to the correct recycle facility).

As well as the sink, I used a stainless panel from a scrapped microwave to make the main control panel.

Step 17: The Viewing Window

It was quite some time before I cam across some scrap perspex - despite keeping my eyes open and a number of visits to our council skip/recycle centre. Eventually I hit the jackpot when I found some scrapped 15mm thick translucent perspex. It came out of some offices and as far as I could tell must have been part of a table or something. Anyway with a bit of polishing up it would be clear and do the job perfectly.

Step 18: Speed Measurement (optional Little Interlude)

Ok so now we have a working, spinning, dancing (almost) headstock, we can measure the speed and press that motor tachometer into useful service.

There are a number of different ways to do this. I used the 'threaded rod and nut' technique.

Simply attach the multimeter to the tacho output, set to read voltage (20V scale).

Setup a threaded rod so it spins with the drive shaft. You need to know the pitch of the thread (i used some 1mm pitch stuff) Mark two places on the rod (A and B), a given distance apart (say 60cm).

Now set the lathe running at a slowish speed and record the multimeter reading. Hold a nut stationary on the rotating rod - it will travel lengthways along the rod, because the rod is spinning.

Start a stopwatch when the nut passes point A, stop the stopwatch when it passes point B. Record the time it took.

You can now work out the rpm (revs per minuet).. If A and B are 60 cm apart that requires the shaft to turn a full 600 rotations for the nut to travel the distance (because the pitch is 1mm - that's one rev per mm).

So what is the shaft speed if: it took 60 seconds to travel between A and B? Answer: 600rpm because it revolved 600 times in one min...

If we make a little table or rpm with corresponding voltage readings we only need a few reading and can draw a graph (which should be a straight line) to give us the rpm, at any given voltage.

Step 19: The Tailstock (part 1 - the Sliding Base)

The tailstock will slide along the rails of the lathe bed. This way you can accommodate different sizes of wood between the centres. I used some more scrap alu angle to make fixing runners.

I got a bit carried away and decided to attach a leadscrew to my tailstock base - this just allows you to move the base along the lathe bed by turning a screw (or peace of threaded rod in this case. My plan was that I could make this movable base a multi purpose item - being capable of carrying a tailstock, but also a tool that could be accurately moved across the work piece, in the style of a metal lathe, but for wood.

Here I made three mistakes - 1) attempting to make a monster leadscrew-nut from perspex, which obligingly snapped my extra long self-fabricated tap; and 2) using a leadscrew that was only 6mm diameter. to much flex mean a lot of faf, making sure it was always under tension from both ends (it can pull well - but does a bad job of pushing). 3) It was relativity pointless complication, which introduced more bits that might go wrong.

It works ok now, but was quite challenging, and required some borrowing of tools.

Whatever you plan to do, the tailstock base will want to be a snug fit to the lathe bed, with little or no play in the joints. Mine is a VERY snug fit and was nearly impossible to push up and down the rails by hand - which is partly why I wanted the lead screw.

Step 20: The Tailstock (part 2 - 'the Top Bit')

Ok so this is not finished yet. Have yet to fix on a design/material combo I like...

I am starting to think this might be my first aluminium casting experience... Now to build a small furnace that will double as a bbq ;)

Step 21: The Tool Rest

Right, so we need a rest which will support the chisel during cutting.

After a little experiment with a piece of channel clamped to the workbench, the limitations of that approach became apparent. Namely, it could not be moved in close enough to the wood - you always want the tool rest to be as close to the wood as possible without it catching when the wood spins.

What I needed was a banjo. That's right, a BANJO, a piece that fits onto the bed and supports the actual rest. Bring forth a scrap bike frame, an angle grinder, and I was on my way (see pics)...

Something reasonably rigid that swivels and can be moved towards and away from the wood and be locked in place, and that has something that the gouge can slide along, side to side.

Step 22: Parting Thoughts

Of course, there have been people that look incredulous when I tell them I am building a wood lathe.
Some reasonably common responses: "Why the hell would you do that in this day and age", and "they are so cheap from China, what a waist of your time".

To me though, it seems completely sensible. I like making stuff, and learning about how things work. If I didn't love making things why would I want a wood lathe in the first place?

Making something that helps you make other things is very satisfying, particularly if you do it in a way that uses all your creative ingenuity. If you want to make something like this yourself, and you plan, as I did, to spend very little and to recycle other peoples landfill material, you certainly will have to think 'outside the box' as you put materials and things to new and unintended uses.

Anyway enough babbling. I hope you got something out of this instructable and look forward to any comments you might have.

Final inspirational quote from the famous mechanist Dave Gingery with a qualifier: take care and don't be reckless...

"It is interesting to note that most of our best ideas meet with opposition in our own minds as quickly as we conceive them. The objections we raise usually seem so reasonable that much of what we might do never gets done. If you don't want to do a project just write down the first dozen or so thoughts that come to your mind and you will have at least a half dozen good excuses. If that doesn't do the trick just toss the idea to the experts and they will usually be happy to kill it for you. If you really want to do it, though, it is most likely that you will find that it does not really cost very much and it is not nearly as technical and dangerous as established experts would have you believe." (Dave Gingery)

PS  to see more of what I have been up to with this you may want to check out my blog:

Or if you want even more recent stuff, half finished projects and that sort of thing, like the Flowering Elbow page on facebook (also good if you want a quick response to a question). 


me123 made it! (author)2017-07-25

hi, great instructable! I have been using this to convert my old pulley driven metal lathe to an ac motor. I have made the first circuit and tested it out today, it worked! but i do think i will need to make the next part to regulate speed and low torque. now this is were I'm getting a little confused. were do i wire the different motor wires too. i get were the two brushes go to but the coil wires i don't. my motor only has 4 wires, 2 brushes 2 coil. will this circuit still work?

any advice would be much apreciated.

tchennestar made it! (author)2016-04-30

Simply the best, most detailed and well written instructable I've read so far. You, my friend, are a fine and awesome artist!

lebedis made it! (author)2015-11-11

Awesome job!


I didn't know you can buy stuff from recycling points in UK...

jelkejj made it! (author)2015-06-27

Maplin doesn't seem to carry the Suppressor diode (HW13P) any longer. Can you give details on it so I can find one that will work in it's place?

bpellerin made it! (author)2015-06-22

Made a lathe from a 1750 rpm cap start motor. I decided not to have speed control or any belts/gears. Just connected the head piece right to the motor shaft. It works great for what I want.

JoeS16 made it! (author)2015-05-07

Sir since I live in the pacific islands there's lots of coconuts and I want to make a coconut meat grater using a discarded washing machine motor! can you help me with this project!?? almost the same as this lathe machine of yours but the wiring is too complicating! Please!!! just tell me what to do ! should I follow your rewiring of the motor you did!?? please need help!

JoeS16 made it! (author)2015-05-07

very very brilliant gentleman thou art!! What a gift you have Sir and Im awed at your brilliance and good heart for sharing!! Be greatly blessed Sir and invent on! many thanks and many respect to you! Be blessed and stay blessed!!

sparus made it! (author)2015-03-05

one of the most impressive instructable on net. great work!

Bowtie41 made it! (author)2014-03-05

I like the ingenuity in this build!Being in the US,I have different voltage obviously.Do you know if the circuits you built would work for 110AC motors?

Nellafeht made it! (author)2013-12-27

Can you point me in the right direction for a speed control solution for a capacitor start ac motor?

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2014-01-31

That's a hard one. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable will chime in, but if you are talking about single phase induction motors there are very limited options, the easiest and best usually being a mechanical solution using reduction pulleys or gears. If it's 3 phase you can use a variable frequency drive, which gives a great solution.

bongodrummer made it! (author)2014-01-31

oooo a blanky.. What say you my friend?

vincent7520 made it! (author)2013-11-11

Can't believe what I see on Inst'
Thanks for sharing and Congrats ++++

drogers21 made it! (author)2013-09-14

In case you are interested, aluminum (in vacuum) makes a better heatsink because of its emissivity at lower wavelengths of the IR spectrum. Stefan-Boltzman formula says that it is more black body like (emissivity is closer to 1), etc.

Although, convection is more relevant here, so that point is kind of moot. I dunno of a good table to look at this because the convective heat transfer should depend intimately on the shape of the sink. Maybe someone else knows something about that.

SDX42 made it! (author)2013-08-08

First off: thanks for this well written Instructable.
Literally the same day as I read it, my parents washing machine broke down. Not ignoring that sign I started building my own, inspired by yours.
It works perfectly now and I didn't spend a single penny on it.

As headstock consists of parts from an axle from a big trailer. Slightly overkill, but it works brilliantly and can definitely stands the forces. The tailstock is from a bike.
As rails I decided to go for pipes, since they were free.
The electronics is the only thing which differs from your design. It incorporates parts from the washing machine electronics. It has zero-phase detection for proper speed control. It can reverse, break, and dynamically adjusts the power. So it pumps more juice into the motor when it gets slower due to high loads, which makes it a smooth experience to work with and almost impossible to make it go slower when working intensely. Also, no transformer, so 230V all the way.

The spindle is rather simple: everything needs to be screwed into place. I'm still looking for a proper spindle - for free of course.

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2013-08-08

That looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

gwelo1962 made it! (author)2013-07-23

Bongodrummer - are you an ex-Rhodie or South African? faffing around gives you away ou china.

Sneezus made it! (author)2013-01-22

Hello, I have been wanting to build my own lathe too. I have viewed your steps and they are very helpful! I do have a taper bearing I found laying around in my toolbox. How would I go about mounting/using it? It's just the bearing, no cap or housing or anything. Still works nicely and since I am looking into doing heavier project loads I will benefit from the taper bearing and not break the bicycle shaft/bearings like in you photo. Thank you very much so far!

NATIVEBOY made it! (author)2013-01-15

what other type of motors can you use?

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2013-01-16

Many. Almost anything over 1/4 horse power, depending on how you are planning to use your lathe. Each different type will require different speed control systems (eg. induction motors will need an inverter or belt change system)... If you have a scrapped/spare motor in mind try googling it...

flashedmomuse made it! (author)2012-10-27

First off i would like to say what an amazing job you have done. i am in the process of making a lathe following your design. second I'm interested in turning a plastic material such as a PVC or electrical conduit for a project in progress. any tips?

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2012-10-27

Hi Flashedmomuse,
Cool, post a pic and let us know how it turns out...

Not sure on the pvc front - if it is conduit, you may find it difficult to chuck up and turn without it flexing about a lot. A length of wood turned to size and pushed inside the pipe might help you...

It might take some experimentation. If you are going to try with hand tools (in the same way you would turn wood), I am not sure how easily it would be to take fine cuts on PVC without the tool 'digging in'. A fixed cutting tool and holder would probably be much better. Saying that I would probably give it a go - just make sure the cutting tool is sharp and you are using good technique (it makes a big difference as to whether you will 'dig in' and ruin the work piece or not) so practice on scraps first. Read/watch plenty of turning tutorials before you start making shavings.
Good luck.

123alex123 made it! (author)2012-10-11

hi, id just like to say this is one of the best instructables on a wood lathe i have seen. i soon am going to be makeing my own wood lathe from scrap parts as i dont want to spend much on it. as for the safety issue, so called experts dont always know what there talking about. im sure as you was able to build this you must be able to judge how safe it is. for my moter im going to be using and old pillar drill so itll have pullys and belt but i dont mind this to begin with. i am wondering however about how to attach the face plate to the drive? or did i miss this in the instructions?

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2012-10-11

Hi Alex, Thanks for your feedback. The faceplate is attached to the shaft simply with a number of set screws (three to be precise). Where they tighten onto the shaft, I drilled a small notch for them to engage with.
I was lucky in that I found the faceplate with the old motor I used for the spindle shaft... It fit perfectly...
Good luck with you lathe - would love to see an instructable or slideshow of your work :)

tinker234 made it! (author)2011-11-28

wow could i use it for metal eventually

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2011-11-29

Probably not without substantial design modifications. As it is it simply would not hold the tolerances required by a metal lathe - It is not stiff or rigid enough and doesn't have a tool holder. You would probably want the spindle to be much closer to the bed for a metal lathe, so the flex between the cutting tool and the work piece would be less.
Thanks for the comment - good luck!

padeutsche made it! (author)padeutsche2012-05-14

You could use it as a roughing lathe, that way it save wear and tear on a regular metal lathe, some big shops do this, they rough out the piece on a manual lathe then they do the final precision work on their cnc, it save wear and tear on the very expensive CNC, and time actually since it saves time on set up and removing all those tool path steps and saves the wear and tear on the tooling as well and having to set up the tool holders.

tinker234 made it! (author)tinker2342011-12-03

your welcome i cant wait to make my own lathe

skaar made it! (author)2011-08-27

perhaps a relay with a lower voltage coil, a few more parts to regulate mains to it? might make the difference, if someone can't scrounge the high volt coil relay.

stoneground1 made it! (author)2011-03-20

I gotta say this has been one of the best instructables i have ever had the pleasure to come across!! Kudos Bongo!!! I love the scavenging!! I seem to find myself using things out of broken or discarded "machinery" also. A piece here, a piece there and viola something else! Haha!! Great ingenuity you got there!! Thank you for all the pics also!! I have seen too many instructables with only a handful of pics and not enough description of the build. I realize this is an older build but do you still use it and have you done any upgrades to it? I'm in the process(designing phase) of building a lathe myself but i really would like to have one i can turn aluminum on. Granted it would have to be much,much beefier!! Well enough of my rambling. Again thank you for the build and your ingenious insight!! Peace!!!

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2011-03-21

Hay Stoneground. Thanks for the nice comment :D
I actually lent the lathe to a friend about a year ago now. I have been thinking about making a new one, for turning absolutely massive stuff - one day...

There are mods I would do to this one, if I was building it over again. Like I would build in some kind of 'feedback' into the motor speed regulation - so that I could get better speed control under variable loads - It is quite annoying the way it slows down when you are roughing out a blank with some 'vigour'. And I did always intend to make a digital display of the spindle rpm, using the motor's built in tachometer...

Anyway, your post has reminded me that at some point I should get the lathe back from my friend - It has been away so long, it is now quite difficult to find a space for it in the workshop now ;-)

Are you planning to use scrap for you lathe? If you want any feedback on your metal lathe designs, I would be happy to take a look.
Thanks again, B.

pheenix42 made it! (author)2011-02-02

TOP SHELF effort, sir, no doubt! (^_^)

skwoorl made it! (author)2011-01-30

What are you using as a chuck to hold your workpiece?

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2011-01-31

Hi Skwoorl, I wasn't using a chuck - rather a face plate, that the work (or a disk of ply, that the work is glued to) can be screwed to. There is an old video knocking on youtube that shows this (you could find it from my blog). A chuck would be nice mind you...

7862Tony made it! (author)2010-11-21

Since when BRUSH Motors are used in Washing Machines??. The capacitor in the picture is the starting cap not used in brushed motors. I really love to see such motor run on DC.

guds777 made it! (author)2010-07-11

An electrician told me when you has a brushed motor you don't need a capiscor.

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2010-08-03

It is true that you don't need a big 'run capacitor' in the same way an induction motor would. Depends how you set it up though, chances are you will use one or more somewhere along the line, brushed or not...

Bodygard1117 made it! (author)2010-08-02

rust dust

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2010-08-03


moshee made it! (author)2010-05-08

 Should I trust the values/part numbers on the schematic or the parts list? D2, R1, R2, and R3 seem to conflict.

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2010-05-08

 Hi Moshee. Thanks for pointing that one out, not sure how that slipped through.  Trust the values in the text parts list - the schematic has gone 'funny'..
Cheers, B. 

moshee made it! (author)moshee2010-05-08

Sounds good, thanks for the reply.

Great instructable, too :)

Simpson_jr made it! (author)2010-04-07

Thank you all for watching another episode of "The second life of Machines".
It's great, although I'd also advice people inspired to be cautious, 1hp or 240AC can do a lot of irreversible damage.

Already made some bongos with it ?

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2010-04-07

Quite right Care is needed....
No, no bongos yet ;)

rorymcstay made it! (author)2010-03-22

 your a genius :). i loved the home made tap

lasersage made it! (author)lasersage2010-03-26

which home made tap? I must've missed that bit

Looked like a good instructable. Loving the solid state speed control. My lathe has a belt but the two pulley don't match so I'm constantly having to adjust the motor mount to get an appropriate tension when changing speed. Tedious.

I guess now you need a nice tailstock to turn between centres and you'll be totally versatile  :)

sotoj159 made it! (author)2010-03-14

could you use a dryer motor?

bongodrummer made it! (author)bongodrummer2010-03-15

Possibly. Though I don't think it would likely be as powerful... Depends what kind you have?

maverick1952 made it! (author)2009-10-01

Hey go to a Harbour Freight store and buy a lathe for 99 dollars and get a set of tools about 20 dollars also go to web site for 20% off coupon.You could have slowed down your motor with a pulley with multiple groves on both ends .You spend more than that on sheet metal in that contraption.I all for building stuff but your dangerous.

msw100 made it! (author)msw1002010-02-28

Yeh  because there are Harbour Freight stores in the UK. did the Maplins store not tell you anything noobhead.The instructable came from Wales in the UK
Why don,t you read the instructable before shouting your mouth off.

About This Instructable




Bio: BongoDrummer is co-founder and member of Flowering Elbow. He loves to learn about, invent, and make things, particularly from waste materials.
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