Introduction: Mini Wood Lathe

Picture of Mini Wood Lathe

Before I begin, I would like to ask you to vote for this instructable. It was made as an entry for the Tools Contest here on Instructables, and I would very much appreciate your vote. Winning contests helps me build, upgrade and stay interested in this hobby, and continue creating more content for you readers. Thank You

A little over two months ago, I found plans for this mini lathe in an issue of Shopnotes, and decided that I would try to build it in time to be entered in the Tools Contest. I had never built a wooden machine before, but seeing lots of them over on, I was very excited to try one on my own. I am only 15 years old now, so my experience in woodworking is quite limited, but I still managed to complete it without too many problems along the way. Along with the lack of experience, I also do not have a large lumber supply. I built the entire lathe out of scrap plywood found in the garbage. My dad occasionally finds cut-off pieces of 3/4 inch plywood on job sites, and having a few around was enough to complete the project. (The only parts I had to purchase was a longer v-belt, and some large nuts and bolts.)

I wouldn't recommend trying this as your first project, but don't be intimidated by its moving parts. The roots of the project are still cutting and gluing wood together. Good Luck!

Step 1: Base

Picture of Base

The core of the lathe is the base. It needs to be very solid and heavy to counteract vibrations and strong to overcome the different forces applied during turning. The plans called for two pieces of 3/4 inch birch plywood to be laminated together, but I ended up using three pieces of 1/2 inch spruce plywood. They were glued together using polyurethane construction adhesive. It is important to cut the pieces slightly oversized, and after they are glued, rip them to the final width.

I used all the clamps I had when gluing the boards together, and even then, the construction adhesive expanded a little which made gaps in the plywood in some areas.

Step 2: Dadoes and Dovetails

Picture of Dadoes and Dovetails

The top rail is attached to the base with two strips of plywood that are nested in dadoes on both sides. My table saw does't accept a dado stack, so I just ran the heavy chunk of wood through the saw a bunch of times to get the perfect width.

The top rail is shaped like a long dovetail, with the sides angled at 20°. I again had to glue two other piece of plywood to get the right thickness. After all the parts were cut out, I glued it all together, this time with wood glue.

Step 3: Headstock Part 1

Picture of Headstock Part 1

The first part in building the headstock (the thing that drives the wood), was to make the bearing mounts. If you follow the specifications in the plans, it will go without a problem. The plans called for two layers of plywood on either side, but the bolt that I had wasn't long enough to handle that, so I had to use a piece of oak instead. I found an old spade bit that was slightly oversized for the bearing, and ground it down slightly so it would make a tight fit in the wood.

Step 4: Headstock Part 2

Picture of Headstock Part 2

The next step was to make a support block. It was as straight forward as gluing a block of plywood and sanding it down flush.

Step 5: Headstock Part 3

Picture of Headstock Part 3

This next part is probably the most difficult part of the build, but also probably the most important. It is basically two blocks of wood with two bolts running through embedded nuts on both sides. When you turn the bolt, it pushes against a strip of metal that moves outward, and locks the carriage against the slide. The strips are cut at a 20 degree angle as well.

Step 6: Headstock Part 4

Picture of Headstock Part 4

To finish up this section of the build, another piece of plywood is cut, drilled for screws, and screwed to the locking blocks. Then, the bearing mounts, and support block are screwed onto that. I had to drill some holes in the support block as I didn't have any screws that were long enough.

Once that was finished, the hardware could be added in, and a belt guard could be made with some 1/4 inch plywood.

The next two parts (tool rest and tail stock) go together basically the same way, so I didn't record as much as with the first one.

Step 7: Tool Rest and Tailstock

Picture of Tool Rest and Tailstock

The tool rest went together exactly as the plans said, and it wasn't very interesting. For the tailstock, it was a different story...

I wanted to have a live center (a point that holds the work piece and spins with it), so I came up with the idea of using an old drill chuck to hold a metal point. I used a chuck from an old Milwaukee drill that I had taken apart last summer. It had one large bearing on it, and it turned out that the end of the shaft was the perfect size to handle a little skateboard bearing.

Having a drill chuck as the center allowed me to chuck in drill bits as well as just a center, so I could drill out material when making a bowl or something along those lines.

I made up a design that held the bearings in place and mounted it on another track that could ride along the slide (I was getting pretty good at making them by then!), and epoxied the bearings in place.

The center isn't exactly "on center", but it didn't seem to matter in the end. Also, you can see how messy my shop was getting this point in the build.

Step 8: Motor Mount and Finishing

Picture of Motor Mount and Finishing

The motor was simply bolted on a piece of 3/4 inch plywood, which was mounted on hinges onto the base. I ended up using two hinges to make it more rigid.

The belt is tensioned by the weight of the motor, which ended up being plenty of tension.

To finish the lathe, I painted it white and grey on the sides and edges. After it was painted, a couple coats of water-based varnish are brushed on. REMEMBER TO LEAVE THE SLIDE UNTOUCHED as it would become sticky, and unable to slide.

Step 9: Finished! and Videos

Picture of Finished! and Videos

After it is dried, the lathe is complete! I still do not have any turning tools to work with, but with a lot of difficulty I was able to use some bench chisels to turn a block of wood round.

I (badly) welded a washer to a bolt and drilled some holes in it to make a small faceplate. Then I welded two nuts together and cut teeth on one end and screwed in some threaded rod to make a drive center. Both of the two pieces easily screw onto and off of the shaft.

I have made a series of videos covering the process of building. They are linked below in case the embedded video doesn't work:

Video 1:

Video 2;

Video 3:


Chrome98 (author)2017-01-27

FYI Dado stack substitute.

I had the same problem until I remembered from long ago that there was this thing called a wobble blade and sure enough, they still make them and it works perfectly!

And they only cost around $20!

Yonatan24 (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:

Loyal Apple Geek (author)2016-03-16

This is the only lathe on Instructables I could find that I actually want to replicate, beautiful work. Could you post a video of it in action?

ugly yellow robot (author)2015-08-17

This instructable and the video actually got me to start building this, your entire project is amazing and very professional!

Its funny how you started with the construction adhesive because i just had some lying around and i hadn't read the part yet, so i had the same problem and started over because the plywood had only then arrived.

Another thing about plywood, hardwood plywood (like birch) was used in the original because softwood plywood doesnt fracture cleanly. Although its also more expensive(i got it from my dads friend)

i got the plans here:

plans are very blurry

firecrossbow (author)2015-06-28

What size motor did you use? great job on it very impressive

The_42nd_Paradox (author)2015-05-28

Considering the fact that you are 15, this is amazing. The videos, the explanation, everything was well done. Continue what you are doing and good luck.


stuart.jones.75470316 (author)2015-05-04

wonderful job. you are an inspiration.

Grant Fair (author)2015-04-22

Nice job!

There is wood lathe tool-making info on the net. But for a great "cook book" I suggest "Make
Your Own Woodworking Tools: Metalwork Techniques to Create,
Customize, and Sharpen in the Home Workshop" by Mike Burton- lots of simple, cheap good info.

crazypj (author)2015-04-22

I'm impressed. Wondered what everyone was on about so looked at profile. Only 15, great job. Loved the video's, music with them is great. I'll vote for it

Kikbuty (author)2015-04-16

love this build. I went to the shopnotes site and the plans are not there any more. Did you find the plans in a back issue of the magazine? If so which issue? I'd like to build this, taking into consideration some of the commenters points also.

laffinm (author)Kikbuty2015-04-18

Sorry, I forgot to mention, they are in the issue #73

Good luck on building it!

ntowner (author)2015-04-16

Besides making a cover for the belt, may I suggest adjusting the location of the drive Motor slightly. From the pictures it seems to be off center which could cause the belt to slip or ware out your motoro

Izzypup (author)2015-04-13

Amazing! I'm impressed by your skill and obvious familiarity with the tools you used (as witnessed in your videos), especially considering your age. One question - how much would you charge to make one for me? Seriously!

mxx (author)2015-04-11

Very nicely done! Wish I was able to do a project like this when I was 15!

ahamed nadeem (author)2015-04-11


jeves1 (author)2015-04-08

This is awesome mate!

I've been wanting to buy a lathe for quite a while now, and did look into building one, and I think this has helped me make my desicion. Is it possible for you to publish rough plans? I'm note sure where I would. e able to source the correct shopnotes magazine in Australia.

Great to see young guys getting into it in such a big way. Definitely got my vote. Well done!

EoinM17 (author)2015-04-07

Damn that is awesome. Well done

Dominic Bender (author)2015-04-07

I have been working with a bought minilathe jig that allows you to use your drill as a lathe, but I wanted to get a propper lathe for a while. After looking at the prizes for a "good" lathe I think I will give building one myself a try. Thanks for sharing this inspiration!

ThisWoodwork (author)2015-04-06

That is awesome work, congratulations to you! I just voted! Keep it up buddy, take care, Alex.

frankmci (author)2015-04-05

Very nicely done! There are few things as satisfying as making stuff with tools you've also made yourself.

If I might make one suggestion for anyone doing this kind of project themselves: Use the headstock to drill the holes for the tailstock bearings. That way you can be sure the headstock and tailstock line up exactly, at least within the limits of the the accuracy of the ways. If that's not really doable, use two sharp centers, one in the headstock and one in the tailstock, to align them as closely as possible before mounting the tailstock to its saddle. It's not as big deal for wood turning as it is for metal, but if you need to make relatively accurate cylinders, it's important.

NathanSellers (author)2015-04-04

I am so impressed that you actually built a lathe. That is so cool. It looks like it works pretty well too. Well done.

chrism24 (author)2015-04-04

For someone so young to make such an important tool you deserve to win prizes all over the world only one critic cover that belt and then it will be safe as well as perfect

well done

chrism24 (author)2015-04-04

well done there is nothing like the feeling of building something and getting a good result .Full marks to you

savingthepennies (author)2015-04-03

Very impressive

ringai (author)2015-04-03

That's a great build. You've done a bang up job, there.

BTW, if you can gain access to the very early issues of Fine Woodworking, you'll find articles and plans for some stationary tools.

snoopindaweb (author)2015-04-03

That's worthy of a vote and faved too. ~(:-})={>---- ]

rc jedi (author)2015-04-02

My lathe is too big, this one would be more handy. You made it right, with design and materials most everybody can come up with. A lathe for the people. I respect that.

You can never have a lathe that is too big. Only too small...

ronald.ferreira.39 (author)2015-04-02

great idea hear you canmak pencils and statues

david.lister.1671 (author)2015-04-02

Cover up that belt and pulley.

It's an accident waiting to happen!

A safer method would be to mount the motor closer to the spindle. You could use a shorter belt then which would make fitting a cover over the rotating pulley and belt easier.

domino88 (author)2015-04-02

Very impressed! Great Job!

Making this homemade wood lathe has been in my to-do list for 2-3 years now. I've been collecting the parts... :-)

poppindon (author)2015-04-02

Excellent job, finished product looks better than store bought.

laffinm (author)2015-04-02

Haha! To answer your questions, I am a boy. Unfortunately, I cannot really draw up a good cut list because I made the entire machine out of scrap pieces. The lathe can do pieces up to 11.5 inches in diameter, which is well enough for my purposes. Thank you!

rattyohara (author)laffinm2015-04-02

Fantastic job , you are very talented .

dollarseed (author)2015-04-02

Mike, great project. Nothing better than using wood to build more tools to enhance your wood shop :) You are an inspiration to many, I am sure.

birchland (author)2015-04-02

Nice Job! You said you were 15 but didn't note your gender. There are lots more girls/women in woodworking these days than when I started; it's nice to have company! I'm just curious.

The one thing I would wish for would be a cut list: a list of parts with dimensions and a drawing of any notches, rabbets,, dadoes, curves, holes, etc. Also you could tell us what the length is and the radius over the bed. Again, nice job! I voted for ya!

All.Thumbs (author)2015-04-02

Great project, well presented!
Got my vote ?

Zlaja Genije (author)2015-04-02


mariosk8s (author)2015-04-02

Awesome idea. Very nice video doc.

Topteddy49 (author)2015-04-02

Genius! Well done - especially liked the video.

ScottR4 (author)2015-04-02

A list of materials and tools used would be very helpful. Thanks.

brobTPA (author)2015-04-02

Nice work! Keep building AND sharing!!!

hughesengineer (author)2015-04-02

Awesome instructable. Very well done!

Great job on the video documentation.

You've inspired me to make one.

fixNmowers (author)2015-04-02

This is awesome

BeeTrap (author)2015-04-02

Hey, I just opened this up and was impressed by the quality of the "build". One can tell when a maker actually cares about their project. Gave ya my vote. As a retired Tool and Die Maker, but only allowed to work with wood now, I may actually build one of these soon. Thanks for the motivation!

SomervilleDesigns (author)2015-04-02

I am a woodturner and own a mini lathe and midi lathe. Building this one would be fun. Thanks for the tutorial and Yes I voted for you. ;-)

fkról (author)2015-04-02

Well maid. Can you please tell me how powerfull is the table saw you were using to cut all the plywood parts?

laffinm (author)2015-04-02

The motor is 1/4 HP and turns at 1750 RPM. I used a step pulley on the headstock which is able to vary the speed a fair bit.
Thank you for your concern!

bassman1950 (author)2015-04-02

While this is a good idea you failed to mention what you used for a motor and what speed it is rated for. One key thing is important when it comes to turning wood on a lathe and that is speed. You should add a means of slowing or speeding up the piece by adding different size pulleys..

laffinm (author)2015-04-01

Thank you! You can click the button in the corner that says vote, and it will bring you to the contest

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