Mini Wood Lathe Using Scrap Wood





Introduction: Mini Wood Lathe Using Scrap Wood

I've always wanted a wood lathe to turn pens and other small objects but I've never been able to justify the money over other things in my long list of projects. One day I decided that I could still have a lathe without spending $200 on a Harbor Freight one. Luckily I took pictures during the process!

All the wood came from older projects that were taken apart. The MDF came from old shelves we made and the plywood came from cabinets.

This is my first instructable so if you see anything that can be made better please tell me. I hope you enjoy!

P.S. As many people have pointed out this was inspired by Matthias Wandel. Make sure to check out his channel on Youtube!

Step 1: Making the Lathe Bed

1) The first thing I did was figure out how big I could make the bed with the MDF I had. I ended up on making it 5-inches wide with a 1-inch gap for the tool rest. I made it in two ~2' sections then screwed them together using pocket holes. Looking back I should have made both sections at the same time because the two halves aren't exactly the same and aren't level to each other because of it.

2) The next thing I did was rip the one inch strips and then the two inch strips. After those and the five inch strip were cut I screwed them together from the bottom and top while being careful to not place the screws on top of each other and pre-drilling and countersinking all the holes. (I just used a 3/8" metal drill bit to countersink the holes) See pictures 4 & 5

Step 2: Assembling the Headstock

I went through a lot of scraps before I got the final pieces so I'll try to explain my fails so they don't happen to you.

1) I wanted to have a three inch and a four inch pulley so I made the headstock with 5" x 5" squares. The first thing I did was mark a line down the center, next I made a mark 2" down from the top on that line. I had a few bearings that had a 1 1/4 inch OD and 15/32 inch ID so I then drilled a 1 1/4" hole at that point while trying to get it as centered as possible.

Once I drilled it I remembered an oh so familiar meme: "It was at this moment that he knew he had "messed" up." I went a little fast and had drilled it way off-center. Thus came the second try. And the third...

2) Once the holes were drilled (on center) I flipped the piece vertical and marked a spot 3/8" from the front and 1 1/2" from the sides.(see pic 3) I then drilled the holes with a 5/16" drill bit. This is where the bearing blocks are mounted so the closer to the point the better. This also took multiple tries to get it right. Then, I took the square and shaped it a little while still taking care to avoid cutting close to the holes with the jigsaw.

3) Once all that was done, I drilled 3/8" holes two inches deep where there were already 5/16" holes. A non brad-point drill bit would work better, I used a metal drill bit.

4) After that was done I cut the pieces along the center of the holes, for me that was two inches from the top. See picture 5.

5) For my headstock I wanted to use bolts that were put into the pieces we made and nuts to secure them down. I made other ones with screws but the holes always loosened and some pieces ended up splitting in half. I used 3/8" threaded rod that I bought in a 12" section. I cut it in 4x3" sections with a hacksaw. After that, I cut 4 slits along the length of one of the threaded rods. The slit was about 1" long. I did this to make a "tap" for the wood so It wouldn't split as I put the threaded rod in the undersized holes. I tapped all four holes then put the 3 regular pieces of rod in the holes and the one I used as a tap in the last with a generous amount of gorilla glue on the rod.

6) The next thing I did was cut a piece of plywood to 5" wide and 3" long. I drilled a 7/16" hole in the center. (see step 7 to know why) After that I drilled pocket holes to connect the two sides to it (the bottom). After that was drilled I screwed it to the sides while taking care to make sure it stays straight. Again, see picture 5 for more details.

7) Do you remember that 7/16" hole? That is what will hold the headstock to the lathe bed. You have to cut a piece of plywood to 3 1/2" by 2" and drill a 3/8" hole in the center. This will become the nut for a bolt that will come down through the hole it the bottom of the tailstock and through the slot in the lathe bed. The bolt can be tightened to hold the tailstock in place.

Step 3: Creating the Spindle

1) The first thing I had to do was cut the threaded rod to 9". After that I had to sand down the threaded rod to 15/32" from 1/2". I put the threaded rod in a drill chuck and spun it while holding 80 grit sand paper to the ends. Every few seconds I would check the fit with the bearing to make sure I didn't sand too much. Once I had it sanded enough for the bearings to go a few inches onto the shaft I started on the pulleys. The bearings need to go on enough so they can be held in the headstock. For me they needed to be 3 1/2" apart from each other.

2) I marked a hole that was far enough from the sides of the stock to make a 2" radius pulley. Once I marked it I drilled it with a 7/16" drill bit. I drilled the hole before I cut out the circle because I knew the drill bit would drift a (not a pun) bit and the wheel would become off-center. Instead, I drilled the hole and then made a small compass with a 1/16" hole and a 7/16 hole 2" apart. I put the drill bit through the compass and the pulley. Then I put the pencil in the 1/16" hole and marked a circle. By doing this I got a mostly centered pulley and it was easier to true up once it was made.

3) I then cut a 4" length of the 1/2" threaded rod and cut slits across the thread like I did for the 3/8" rod and "tapped" the pully.

3) The next thing I did was thread one lock nut almost halfway onto the threaded rod. Then I screwed the pulley onto the rod from the other side and secured it with another lock nut. After that was done I put a lock nut on either side of the pulley and slid the bearings on as far as they could go. The lock nuts were then losened back to butt up against the bearings. Then the final two lock nuts secured the bearing onto the spindle.

Step 4: Creating the Tailstock

1) The first thing I did was cut another length of the 1/2" threaded rod to 9". After that was done I put it a drill chuck and spun it against some sandpaper to get a point. After about 15 minutes and one and a half sandpaper belts I had a decently centered point. The most important thing is to go slow so you don't get an off-centered point. After that was done I cut 2x 5"x5" squares of 3/4" plywood and drilled a 7/16" hole 2 1/2" from the side (the center) and 2" from the top. Then I used the 1/2" tap from the last step and tapped those holes.

2) I went back to the table saw and cut a 3" by 5" rectangle of 3/4" plywood and two 3" by 2" parts. I drilled a 7/16" hole in the center of the 3" by 5" rectangle and I screwed the smaller pieces in between the two sides as braces.

3) The last thing to do was make a handle for it. I cut a 1" by 3" piece of 3/4" plywood and a 1" by 2" piece. Then I drilled a 7/16" hole 1/2" from the end of the 3" long piece. I then drilled a 1/8" hole 1/2" from the other end. Next I drilled a 1/16" pilot hole in the end of the 2" piece. After all the holes were drilled I drove a long wood screw through the 1/8" hole and into the 1/6" pilot hole. after it was in all the way I backed it out a little so the 2" section could spin freely of the 3" section. It should look like a handle with the two pieces 90 degrees from each other. Once that was done I screwed it onto the threaded rod (opposite to the side with the point) and drilled a hole in the end that went through the threaded rod and the wood. Then I put a 1/8" nail in the hole with a hammer. That stopped the handle from screwing onto the rod further when it is turned.

4) I then screwed the handle and threaded rod through one side, put a nut on, screwed it through the other side, and put another nut on. All you have to do it twist the handle to tighten the tailstock to the workpiece and then tighten the two nuts onto the front piece. This stops it from turning.

5) The last thing to do is cut a piece of plywood to 3 1/2" by 2" and drill a 3/8" hole in the center. This will become the nut for a bolt that will come down through the hole it the bottom of the tailstock that can be tightened to hold the tailstock in place.

Step 5: Making the Tool Rest

Even though this was the second thing I made I decided to put it at the end because you might want something different than me.

1) I cut a 3 1/2" by 1" piece of MDF and drilled a 3/8" hole in the center of it. After that I cut a 1 1/2" by 5" and a 1 1/2" by 2 1/2" piece. I then drilled a 3/8" hole in the center. .After this was done I connected the bigger piece with the hole and the 1 1/2" by 1 1/2" piece together with pocket screws. They should be perpendicular to each other with the bigger piece flat and the smaller piece vertical. (see the picture) Once that was done I slid the 1" by 3 1/2" piece into the lathe bed and put the other part on top. I aligned the holes and put a bolt through the top hole, the slot, and the bottom piece, which when tightened will secure the tool rest.

2) After that I cut a piece of oak to 3/4" by 3/4" by 4" and cut off one corner. I then connected it to the rest of the tool rest with pocket screws. Later on it the build I found a piece of scrap metal and decided to attach it to the tool rest so it doesn't wear out as quick though this doesn't need to be done.

Step 6: DONE!

The end! Now you can turn anything you want once you mount a motor to it! Please comment if you see anything that can be fixed. Thank you for reading and have a good day! (:



    • Oil Contest

      Oil Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest
    • Water Contest

      Water Contest

    24 Discussions

    I enjoyed this Instructable, in your next one numbering the pictures might help the flow.

    1 reply

    This would be good for turning rollerskate wheels.


    2 years ago

    Thanks for the idea. When you make, you learn a lot in the process. But when you use it over and over again for a long time you will learn more and more valuable points about your making process. You will understand what could have been done different and better. This is very relevant in the case of this lathe. Especially when there are tons of similar projects in the net. But very less information or follow up information on its performance and durability.

    Request you to post your valid comments and follow up information once you use it and keep using it.

    Appreciate your efforts on sharing your experience.

    You might want to try a variable speed motor, I have a 1/2 horse on my lathe. I am going to put a 1 horse variable speed motor on this next week.

    5 replies

    Dear Grar :
    I want to put a variable speed half horse on my 9 inch Atlas metal lathe but haven't been able to find one. Please tell me where to get one and how well does it work.

    Would you want to sell if not using yours ?

    You can find some cheap speed controller like this

    If you are using a 110volt motor then you can buy a simple dimmer switch to do the job of raising/lowering motor speed. I have a normally closed switch that I use to do the same thing as an emergency shutoff on my lathe.

    I went to my local electrical supply and picked one up. I am going to get the motor I have on my lathe on a small drill press I built.

    If you can't find/afford a variable speed motor, you can use different pulley configurations to change the speed.


    2 years ago

    It's Matthias Wandel's ! If you respect the man and his work you should at last mention him since the start. IMHO

    3 replies

    Yes, this was inspired by him and I've just put something in the intro about him. Thanks for the reminder!

    Nice ! May I asked you what was the total cost of the build ?

    The only thing I bought while making it were the lead screws and the nuts. That costed about $15. If I had bought the plywood it would probably be around 40 bucks. Thanks for the question!

    Thanks for sharing this. I love reading people who are energetic enough to get the rest of us motivated to follow suit! If you use a motor from a washing machine or dryer, remember to take the starting capacitor with you as you can prematurely ruin the motor or have it not work at all. Best wishes

    1 reply

    You've read my mind! Yesterday I just took one out of a dryer and I'll soon be making a enclosure for it and be putting a different pulley on it. Thanks for the tip about the capacitor too!

    P.S. The motor is 1/4 horsepower and 1725 RPM. Maybe a little underpowered but I won't be turning anything big. It's a pretty good motor for about $0 and 30 minutes of my time!

    I feel inspired, but scared, but never the less, inspired.

    Thank you! One day I just decided that I would get a lathe a lot quicker if made it than if I kept looking at pictures of them and I started. Hopefully I'll be able to turn something soon!


    2 years ago

    Do I see inspiration from Matthias Wandel?