Picture of 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!

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sparus26 days ago

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

Bowtie411 year ago

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?

Nellafeht1 year ago
Can you point me in the right direction for a speed control solution for a capacitor start ac motor?
bongodrummer (author)  Nellafeht1 year ago

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.

SDX421 year ago
(removed by author or community request)
bongodrummer (author)  SDX421 year ago

oooo a blanky.. What say you my friend?

Can't believe what I see on Inst'
Thanks for sharing and Congrats ++++
drogers211 year ago
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.
SDX421 year ago
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 (author)  SDX421 year ago
That looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing!
gwelo19621 year ago
Bongodrummer - are you an ex-Rhodie or South African? faffing around gives you away ou china.
Sneezus2 years ago
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!
NATIVEBOY2 years ago
what other type of motors can you use?
bongodrummer (author)  NATIVEBOY2 years ago
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...
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 (author)  flashedmomuse2 years ago
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.
123alex1232 years ago
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 (author)  123alex1232 years ago
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 :)
tinker2343 years ago
wow could i use it for metal eventually
bongodrummer (author)  tinker2343 years ago
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!
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.
your welcome i cant wait to make my own lathe
skaar3 years ago
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.
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 (author)  stoneground14 years ago
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.
pheenix424 years ago
TOP SHELF effort, sir, no doubt! (^_^)
skwoorl4 years ago
What are you using as a chuck to hold your workpiece?
bongodrummer (author)  skwoorl4 years ago
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...
7862Tony4 years ago
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.
guds7774 years ago
An electrician told me when you has a brushed motor you don't need a capiscor.
bongodrummer (author)  guds7774 years ago
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...
rust dust
bongodrummer (author)  Bodygard11174 years ago
moshee4 years ago
 Should I trust the values/part numbers on the schematic or the parts list? D2, R1, R2, and R3 seem to conflict.
bongodrummer (author)  moshee4 years ago
 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. 
Sounds good, thanks for the reply.

Great instructable, too :)
Simpson_jr5 years ago
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 (author)  Simpson_jr5 years ago
Quite right Care is needed....
No, no bongos yet ;)
rorymcstay5 years ago
 your a genius :). i loved the home made tap
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  :)
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