Introduction: Mini Metal Lathe

Hack a power drill into a mini metal lathe with precision speed control.

I used a couple of broken power tools for the drive components in this mini lathe.

It features a powerful motor and small size.

The speed control hack is shown in step 5.

The video shows a functional speed test of the lathe. There is a vibration from the motor coupling which is quite evident as the speed increases.


I have added another video in the more tweaks step.

I am starting to think that I need a laser etcher to make a micrometer tool holder for the next round of tweaks.

Step 1: Materials

There are some specialized items needed for this Instructable.

The base materials are from Bosch Rexroth. The extruded aluminum base, t-nuts, inside brackets, end caps are all Bosch Rexroth. The extruded member is 45X90 and 14 inches long.

The support blocks are from VXB.COM Part number WH12A

The Skate bearings are form VXB.COM Part Number 608ZZ. Yes I know that these are not taper bearings (ideal choice) but they do work for this application.

The flex motor couplings and rubber spider are from

I used a 12V DC motor from a Black and Decker cordless weed trimmer

I used a variable speed switch from a Milwaukee 18V Li-Ion cordless drill

The rest of the materials are presented as needed in the instructions.

Step 2: Make the Supports

The shaft support blocks have an ID of ¾ inch, You will need to bore/Drill to 7/8 inch for the skate bearings. This was done gradually with increasing size drill bits and a hand drill.

The bearings are set flush to one face of the blocks and tightened into place

The tailpiece support is a ½ inch counter bore bit that will be running in reverse. The shaft on the bit is ¼ inch and a copper tubing adapter was used to increase the size to 5/16 inch for the inner race of the bearing. This is a friction fit shaft and you are done this piece.

The drive side is a flex coupler mated to a 5/16 inch rod. The flex coupler was threaded to accept the rod then two hex nuts are placed on the shaft for spacing. You may need to add a spacer washed for clearance. The shaft is then fed through the bearing and the assembly is clamped down with a nylon lock nut. The assembly should be snug but not binding.

Step 3: Assemble the Lathe

Install 2 inside supports and set the drive side bearing side on the base. This is to mark the position of the drive motor. I used 10-24 counter bore screws to allow for minor adjustment instead of the metric bolts needed for attachment of the angle supports.

The motor mount was marked and drilled with a 3/8 inch hole then fastened loosely to the inner angle supports.The motor shaft was smaller than the drive coupler so I had to build up the shaft diameter with aluminum foil tape. The drive spider is now installed and the drive bearing assembly is placed then tightened securely. The motor is aligned and fastened securely.

Place the tailpiece support and snug the bolts into place.

I placed 2 additional angle supports between the bearing blocks for use as a tool rest.

You can finish the base with end caps if you desire.

Step 4: Make a 3 Jaw Chuck

Now is the time to make a 3-Jaw Chuck a 4 Jaw Chuck is shown in my pocket lathe Instructable. You will need to know how to braze or weld.

Begin by selecting a ¼ inch fender washer. This is the base plate for the chuck. You will now need a 5/16 inch nut and a set screw that is ½ inch long. Place the set screw into the nut so that the bevel is protruding enough to center the nut in the ¼ inch hole of the fender washer. The nut should sit flat on the washer and not move about the hole. Braze the nut in place. The remove the set screw and flip the assembly over.

Place a ½ inch hex nut in the exact center of the washer and equally space three 5/16 hex nuts around the perimeter of the ½ inch hex nut.

Braze the 5/16 inch hex nuts in place and remove the ½ inch hex nut. Remove any slag with a wire brush and finish as desired. I chose to prime and paint flat black.

Install the three 5/16 inch ½ inch long set screws and you now have a 3-Jaw chuck. You might want to use a thread locker on the set screws. Be sure to completely tighten the screws before you use the chuck. This lathe will throw materials at a high velocity under full speed. Play safe...

Step 5: Make the Speed Control

I highly recommend a speed control for this motor. It rotates insanely fast and if operated without a guard will represent a safety hazard.

You will need the trigger assembly from a cordless power tool. Preferably not a Li-Ion type as these can be fiddly to work with due to the safety circuitry inside of the switch.

I used some scrap materials to quickly put together a clamping mechanism as shown, in a pinch a c-clamp will work for this.

The drill that I used had a blown motor but the switch was still good. Since this was a Li-Ion type tool there is control circuitry in the switch. The fine wires shown on the inside of the larger wires are for that control circuitry. I placed the battery mating plug onto the battery and determined that the control circuit is 3.6V in reverse polarity. That means that you will need a small Li-Ion battery connected red to negative and black to positive for this switch to work. The switch is hand held and squeezed to adjust power as needed.

The switch has a direction lever and if your motor is running clockwise the chuck will not stay on the threaded shaft so reversing the direction will correct this. Run the motor so that the chuck is tightened onto the shaft by rotational force.

I put a quick jig together to allow for setting the speed at a desired level then having your hands free. I used a small section of the Bosch tubing and some 5/6 inch bolts. The switch was taped to the tubing and a lever was brazed together from scrap pieces. The adjustment is accomplished with a 5/6 inch threaded rod joiner, Tightening the joiner squeezes the trigger and increases the motor speed while loosening the joiner releases the trigger and the speed reduces. With no tension on the trigger the power stops.

Previously I hacked a motion sensor for a switch, the main control board had a 3.6 Li-Ion cell as a backup source. I used this to trick the switch into working. Now when the power supply is attached the switch gives variable power to the motor to control the speed.

The power supply inlet wires go to the bottom of the trigger as do the control circuitry wires. The motor is directly connected to the terminals at the top of the trigger.

Step 6: Test the Power and Lathe

I wanted to use a 12V supply for this project but needed one that was in excess of 10A. I connected two 5Volt supplies in series to accomplish this. The supplies allow for adjustment in output VIA a small pot. I got 11V with what I had. Yes it will run on the battery but only for about 20 minutes of continuous use will deplete it.

You might want to place a safety guard over the rotating motor and shafts for safety.

I used metal files and HSS cutting tools to work the aluminum. This was done at a fairly low speed dry. The tool rest in from of the workpiece is a 1/4-20 bolt.

The motor coupling that I used was horribly our of balance and I had to clamp the lathe to the workbench with a C-Clamp.

I am currently working on a better tool holder for more accurate cuts.

Step 7: Build a 2 Axis Tool Holder

This is a long step with lots of pictures.

You will need a 5 inch long piece of steel 1 inch by 1/8 inch bar stock. as a base. You can use a slightly longer piece if you have it and I will explain this part later.

You will need 2 6 inch 5/16 bolts and a 8 inch 5/16 bolt that is threaded the full length.

You will also need 11 5/16 nuts.

Begin by drilling out 8 of the nuts with a 5/16 bit to remove the threads. Grind one flat on 4 of the drilled nuts slightly.
place 3 of the drilled nuts on the 6 inch bolts then thread on a regular nut fully.
Place 2 of the drilled nuts on 8 inch bolt.

Lay the bolts as shown on the steel bar stock and braze the 6 end nuts to the steel bar. the alignment of the bolts is critical at must be as parallel as possible. make sure that the ground part of the 2 center nuts on the 6 inch bolts is facing toward the plate.
Do not braze the 4 drilled nuts on the 6 inch bolts as these need to move freely, these will be called slide nuts later.

Remove the 8 inch bolt.
grind one face of a 5/16 nut slightly then braze this nut in the center a square piece of steel bar stock keeping the face of the nut parallel with on edge and the ground flat opposite to the plate

place this small plate nut side down in the center of the previously brazed piece then feed the 8 inch bolt back into the piece threading it through the nut on the smaller piece. make sure that extended threads of the center bolt are towards the right. This is critical for use later.

Position the upper piece in the center of the 6 inch bolts then move the slide nuts to the corners of the 1 inch piece and carefully braze them to the 1 inch plate making sure that they do not get brazed to the bolts.

Test that the small plate moves freely along the 5/16 slide bolts. It may be a little tight but it will work in and move freely as long as your slide bolts are parallel. You may have to tap the center bolt with a hammer to break any slag off of the bolts.

The heads of the 6 inch bolts were not brazed in place to allow for a little play if the slide bolts were not completely parallel.

Cut the ends off of the 6 inch bolts but not the 8 inch bolt. The 8 inch bolt is an adjuster bolt.

This whole process needs to be repeated using 1/4 inch bolts.
You will need 6 slide nuts, two 2 1/4 inch bolts and one 3 inch bolt that is threaded the whole way.

Make the 1/4 inch slide nuts the same way as before using a 1/4 inch drill bit. Grind one flat on 4 of the drilled nuts slightly.
place 2 slide nuts on each 2 1/4 inch bolt and thread a regular nut the whole way on.

Place 2 slide nuts with the ground flat on the 3 inch bolt

Align the bolts on the upper plate at a right angle to the 5/16 inch slides. Make sure that the slide nuts have the ground flat facing downward. Carefully braze the 6 end nuts in place leaving the slide nuts free.

Remove the center bolt and grind the head round.

Cut the slide bolts off flush to the brazed nuts.

Place a threaded nut on the center between the 1/4 inch slides. thread the center bolt through the nut with the threads extending towards you with the lower adjuster bolt towards the right.. this is your upper adjuster bolt.

Take a small piece of the bar stock that is as long as the slide bolts, this is the upper plate. Drill and counter bore the exact center of the upper plate. Place the plate on the center of the upper slide. Align the slide nuts so that they are about 1/4 inch apart in along the center of the upper plate edge.

Braze the center nut through eh counter bore hole. Make sure that is is brazed in place and the threaded adjuster moves freely. Then braze the slide nuts in place. Test for freedom of operation.

Finish the upper plate bu brazing 4 small headed 10-24 1 inch bolts to the corners, threaded side up.

The clamp is a small piece of aluminum that has 4 holes drilled in the top. This is held in place with standard 10-24 nuts. The tool is clamped in place between the upper plate and the upper clamp.

The adjuster bolts will need to be locked in place firmly but not binding. I used a lock nut and threaded rod joiner for the lower adjuster. This was drilled and pinned in place. I did not have a roll pin so I used a small nail cut and peened in place. The upper adjuster had 3 standard nuts installed on the threads then brazed in place.

As a final step I brazed 4 fender washers to the bottom plate for clamping to the lathe. It is held in place with standard t-nuts.

I primed and painted it flat black

Step 8: Tweaks

Due to the height of the tool holder I had to adjust the height of the motor by drilling new holes for the mount. Then I had to increase the height of the Drive bearing blocks bu placing a 1/4 inch shim of aluminum under the support blocks.

More importantly I removed the foil tape from the motor shaft an pressed a small section of 1/4 inch copper Tubing onto the shaft then I used the new tool holder of machine the tubing to an exact fit for the motor coupling which greatly reduce the vibrations.

Note the cutting tool looks like it is on upside down, This was done due to the lack of stores being open at 4AM. The cutting tool was too thick to meet the shaft properly so it was installed upside down and the motor was run in reverse to get a proper cut.

Step 9: Still More Tweaks

I have made some updates to the mini lathe since the first one was posted. Unfortunately the pretty have been knocked off of it.

While the first one was functioning fine I wanted to improve the operation. I have added a second bearing on the main shaft along with soft clamping jaws on the chuck. The motor coupling still is producing some vibration.


ShaneW77 made it!(author)2017-05-26

Is there any chance i could get a list of all the parts you used to make this and maybe the links to the websites to order the parts?

Yonatan24 made it!(author)2016-08-11

Hi, I've added your project to "The Ultimate Collection of DIY Workshop Tools" Collection

Here is the link If you are interested:

KellyK2 made it!(author)2016-03-18


zacker made it!(author)2016-02-01

I have a Sherline headstock with motor and the column for the Sherline mill... but no way to mount the headstock to the column and nothing to mount the column to. Now turn it into a mill. Ready, Set.... GO!


woodworking+gentleman+bear made it!(author)2016-01-06

what if you welded/brazed a rod of the same size as the drive shaft of the motar? then you would have vibration less operation and have a better look to it

zacker made it!(author)2016-01-25

I was thinking of threading the shaft and using something like a rod coupling to extend the shaft. or using this lathe to machine a new shaft... actually if you look hard enough and I was that important to have less viabrations, im sure there are other motors with longer shafts out there or maybe instead of direct drive you can use a gear box or just make a gear drive like they have on the little mini bench top lathes. This is a great project as it is though.

woodworking+gentleman+bear made it!(author)2016-02-01

I was thinking about welding the rod on wile the motor is spinning around at about 5 RPM doing very quick heat ups as to not damage the motors interior. If the shaft is spinning around, it is more likely to be flush with the end of the shaft. You will have to sand the new shaft down to size if you solder it to.

zacker made it!(author)2016-02-01

what if you centered the shaft on the late and bored a hole in the direct center, then did the same to a new piece of shaft material, then threaded the hole and used a stud to hold both ends together with about 1/16th of an inch spacing between them, then weld the two together and true it up in the lathe when finished? lol Or just find a motor with a longer shaft? lol

Random_Canadian made it!(author)2016-01-06

That is an interesting idea... I'm not sure but the heat from that operation could possibly damage the sintered bushings of motor windings. Since I first published this there are motor couplings now available that offer a balanced operation. try SPD-SI website.

zacker made it!(author)2016-01-25

this is an excellent idea! Now get to work on making a DIY Compound Cross Slide Table for a DIY milling machine.. lol

KommieCid made it!(author)2015-06-26

Whatever anyone tells you, THIS PAGE here, is something a mechanical engineer and designer would be proud of! Congrats on your epic tool rest!

Random_Canadian made it!(author)2015-06-29

Thanks. Sometimes ideas come into my head fully formed and all I have to do is assemble the parts. This was definitely one of those moments.

buck2217 made it!(author)2015-06-25

That is awesome

AndyJ4 made it!(author)2015-06-04

do you have any pictures of the stuff you made with the lathe?

How would you compare it to commecial min lathes?

russ_hensel made it!(author)2015-02-06

Just a note to let you know I have added this to the collection: Cordless Drills Hacking for Other Uses !


Take a look at a bunch of project involving odd uses of drills.

and for even more drill info


russ_hensel made it!(author)2015-02-06

Just a note to let you know I have added this to the collection: Cordless Drills Hacking for Other Uses !


Take a look at a bunch of project involving odd uses of drills.

and for even more drill info


nooniensoong made it!(author)2015-01-07

I was thinking that maybe if you attach the assembly to a sandwich made of a solid wood+(not-so-thin-layer-of) rubber+wood it would reduce the vibration.

nooniensoong made it!(author)2015-01-07

Fantastic, congrats. You gave me many ideas.

OffBeatSocker made it!(author)2014-10-22

You can add some sandpaper at the bottom and it'll be two tools in one. c;

en2oh made it!(author)2014-04-15

very clever! Proud to be Canadian! :)

tiggeeer made it!(author)2014-03-19

fantastic instructions. im a 54 year old woman, with a brain and i could follow and make this, really good

SparkyOR made it!(author)2013-06-02

Awesome work! I like the speed controller rig. Have been thinking of how to add drill attachment to my Taig lathe, you've inspired me!

Dream+Dragon made it!(author)2013-04-02

Looks like you have a very useful tool there.

htbeef made it!(author)2011-11-03

Don't want to sound like a commercial, but a company called Misumi (full disclosure, I work there) sells a ton of mechanical components (shafts, bushings, bearings, bearings in housings, metal plates, brackets, etc.). They have a catalog that specializes in parts used for assembly automation. But, what makes them probably most useful for the Makers out there is that there are no minimum order quantities (you can order one of anything in the catalog, including springs washers, screws, bolts, and nuts) and you can order everything online with a credit card (they deal directly with the end customer). I only mention this because I saw many components that can be purchased directly from the catalog (bearings in housings, motor mounting bracket, extrusions, hardware for the extrusions). Plus many of the components are "configurable" (with the extrusions, for example, you purchase them in 0.5mm increments in length anywhere from 50mm to 4000mm), which means that you don't have to modify them when you receive them (the motor mounting bracket, for example, would come with all of the holes in the correct locations already).

Again, I didn't want this to sound like an ad, but I think that this catalog would be very useful for many of the Makers our there.

rgeelen made it!(author)2011-11-03

i like the way he says that he doesnt want to look like a advertisor but stil advertiser neverless its still very useful, i mean im 16 yrs old and even i understand it all. so thx for the nice non- advertisement.

marg_nukem made it!(author)2011-11-10

i have to disagree on that, I see advertisers all the time and i can tell for sure when i spot one, he never mentions prices or why they're product is better not even a single link to a webpage or email, i really think he did it on good faith, actually i didn't knew about misumi and it help me cause i always struggling to find parts like those... just my two cents...

MatthewEnderle made it!(author)2011-11-29

also McMastercarr has a huge variety of parts. I was going to order from there, but then I cancled my 10W Laser cutter. At 16 i can't get to well of a paying job to satisfy the projected cost of $1500.

ringai made it!(author)2012-11-06

I always wonder why no one ever mentions Grainger ( They sell all sort of odds and ends. If you're lucky enough to live near an outlet, they almost all have a "will call" window where you can pickup your order and avoid shipping charges.

For extrusions, I also prefer the Bosch-Rexroth brand. Especially the heavy duty styles (45h, for example).

MatthewEnderle made it!(author)2012-11-06

I use grainger as well, but mainly for larger orders. My father works at a factory and can do the order through them and get two discounts in the process.

lloydrmc made it!(author)2012-05-14

Nowadays, if you're 16 and can get any job at all, it's a miracle!

MatthewEnderle made it!(author)2012-05-14

Not quite... I'm trying to get a job in the Information Technology and other outdoor labor forces (landscapeing, Excavating - which i did last summer, and anything else). And my dignity refuses to work in a large chain store or fast food area.

lloydrmc made it!(author)2012-05-19

Ahh, dignity! I have forgotten what that felt like! :)

lloydrmc made it!(author)2012-05-14

Nothing even slightly wrong with presenting this information, given your disclosure, and the perfect topicality for this project - more so given your specific examples.

For my part, I'm very glad that you did, as I can see that, at some future date, i may well have use for what they sell.

eBandit made it!(author)2011-11-06

Cool, I was thinking of making one of these mini lathes using a linear guide from Misumi. I was checking their site and the linear guide (not sure if need heavy duty or not) "may" make a decent lathe bed and also the carriage part both???

billhorvath made it!(author)2011-11-04

Misumi makes very nice parts, and they're accommodative to hobbyists. I've ordered from them a number of times and haven't been disappointed yet.

overblast made it!(author)2011-11-04

Thank you, just signed up at MiSumi.

MattyBoJangles made it!(author)2011-11-03

We use Misumi parts at work in our designs. Very High Quality parts.

brainpuddl3 made it!(author)2011-11-03

Thanks, looks very useful!

jdkchem made it!(author)2011-11-03

What are the limits to what you can work on with your lathe? Aside from the obvious size limits of course.

Random_Canadian made it!(author)2011-11-04

I have machined aluminum and copper. I have not tried steel as of yet.

nduetime made it!(author)2012-06-26

Have you tried steel yet?

jdkchem made it!(author)2011-11-04


ninteriorplasterer made it!(author)2011-11-04

This is seriously cool.

The first thing I thought as soon as I saw it though was this :

Hmmm... so theres something I can do with that old tile cutter I got from the local dump for $5 - I was thinking of dismantling it to use parts on bicycles / art projects... and it just so happens I have an old drill laying about - now, just to make the time to do it... maybe next winter (southern hemisphere).

Seriously - look at a tile cutter, then look at the lathe... ready made?

This picture is from the first result on google image search and is a Husqvarna TC470 - credit where it's due and all

lloydrmc made it!(author)2012-05-14

Wow - no kidding. What an imaginative hack! Make sure you take pictures so you can post an instructable.

TT01Fanatic made it!(author)2011-11-03

Hey, just found this instructable, lemme first say this is some GREAT stuff! I've always wanted a mini lathe, never realized how easy it really was. Anyways, I'm wondering how the finish on the part is after taking it out of the chuck, it looks as it the allen screws would scratch the surface, and with even my little amount of experience in this field, they have done the same for my pieces. Do you have an alternative that might correct this?

mwhite16 made it!(author)2011-11-09

You could use shims to prevent marking. (Very thin pieces of metal, like paper thin, or up to 1mm thick), which would absorb the scratching, but still provide enough clamping so as to not allow the work to spin in the chuck, which produces terrible marks.

If you use aluminum shims, they can be a bit thicker, but provide good grip. Try any machine shop for some scrap to use as shims, or buy a small sheet of very thin steel or aluminum to cut up and use. One tip for using shims though, is to have one shim per chuck jaw, don't try to use one piece and wrap it all the way around. It can make it sit unevenly in the chuck, and not spin true, and use the same thickness at each chuck jaw.

I hope this helps.

clazman made it!(author)2012-03-17

Very innovative.

haven't read all of the comments except for the one that mentioned plastic screws.

Why not just use brass screws?

I had an occasion where steel screws were riding in a groove in a mild steel shaft and creating an slight burr on the groove edge. This burr created havoc with the aluminum component that slid over the groove. I simply replaced the steel screws with brass ones and problem solved. I have seen very little wear on the replacement brass screws and even if I did the replacement of two crews was much cheaper than the replacement of the piece of steel.

This situation, I might add, was a component of a $27,000 power chair that my wife requires to make her life less restrictive.

Again, a nice piece of work!

Rockil made it!(author)2011-11-21

i use brass shims for just about anything that i do not what marked up or try useing a brass button on the end of the screws

Random_Canadian made it!(author)2011-11-04

Thanks. I am working on a new design that should give better clamping without the marking.

ironsmiter made it!(author)2011-11-11

as long as your pieces will hold up to it...
try brazing tiny ball bearings to the dimple in the end of your set-screws ;-)

Another thought...
Since this is a TINY lathe, and parts don't need a ton of clamping force, even at high speed, epoxy/glue nylon puck onto the end of the set-screw. or even use plastic screws!

Or, pay-to-play, using y ideas... that I now see aren't nearly as novel as I first thought.

About This Instructable




Bio: Bit of a background in various electrical and mechanical fields, obscure sense of humour and typically willing to help...
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