Introduction: Pocket Lathe

Picture of Pocket Lathe

Sometimes building small items requires small tools. This pocket lathe is 8 inches wide, 3 inches deep and 4.5 inches tall. Yes it does fit completely in my jacket pocket and cargo pants pocket.

Please note that there are some ideas for improvement posted at the end of this Instructable.

This started as a desire to make a miniature chess set

Step 1: Order Parts

Picture of Order Parts

I disassembled an inkjet printer to get the motor that drives the print head. This motor has enough power for turning pine and other light woods. It is too weak for working with aluminum or copper.

The bearings and support blocks are from
The gears are from

I used some scrap pieces of ¼ inch hard board to make a base stand.

You will need 2 of the ¾ inch shaft supports part number WH12A
You will need 2 skateboard wheel bearings 608ZZ type

You will need drive gears or belt system. This is completely dependent upon your motor selection.

I used nylon bevel gears for a reduction in the motor speed 1:2 (24/48).

Step 2: Assemble the Rotating Parts

Picture of Assemble the Rotating Parts

Begin by enlarging the opening in the shaft supports. These started out at ¾ inch and needed to be 7/8 inch. I used standard drill bits to accomplish this. You only need to enlarge the hole about half way through the thickness of the support.

At this time you install the bearings and tighten the support.

The bearings go towards the inside of the working area.

Step 3: Make the Holders

Picture of Make the Holders
Select a 5/16 X 1 inch bolt and cut a cross into the threaded end. Use a file to bevel the sides of the cuts. This creates teeth to hold the work piece.

Select another 5/16 X 2 inch bolt and perform the same tooth cutting procedure.

Put the 1 inch bolt through the bearing and support, use several spacer washers and tighten down with a 5/16 nylon lock nut. The bolt should rotate freely but not wobble.

Place the 2 inch bolt through the drive gear with the bevel facing he bolt head. Then use 9 spacer washers then put the bolt through the support block and bearing then use another spacer washer and a nylon lock nut. Again tighten until the drive mechanism rotates freely but does not bind. The drive gear should not slip on the shaft.

Step 4: Make a Chuck

Picture of Make a Chuck

This step is optional and will require you to know how to braze or weld. When you are completed you will have a 4 jaw chuck. I cover a 3-Jaw chuck in my mini metal lathe Instructable.

You will need a ¼ inch fender washer and 5 5/16 regular nuts. Along with 4 5/16 set screws.

Thread one of the set screws into one of the nuts with the bevel of the screw protruding through the back enough to center the nut in the fender washer hole. The nut must sit flush to the washer. Braze the nut to the washer then remove the set screw.

Turn the washer over so that the nut is on the bottom.

Thread 2 nuts onto a 5/16 2 inch bolt and space them apart enough so that the outer edges of the nuts are at the edges of the fender washer. Lay the assembly across the washer center and braze the nuts in place.

Repeat this step one more time and braze the nuts at 90 degrees to the first set.

Clean the piece and finish as desired, I primed and painted it flat black.

You might want to use some thread locker on the set screws. Make sure all screws are tight before turning on the lathe.

The nut on the back threads onto the drive shaft as shown in the main picture.

Step 5: Make a Base

Picture of Make a Base

The base is 2.5 inches wide by 8 inches long. Using the motor and gear drive block, mark the position if the desired holes. Drill the holes for the drive motor and drive support.

Using the tail support block mark the holes for mounting at both the farthest and closest points on the base. Using a ruler mark off the slide holes that are needed for the work piece support block. These long holes will allow for adjusting the work area for work piece size and will also be used as a manual clamp for the work piece.

Drill and cut all the holes then build the base using additional pieces of hardboard that are cut to size. I 4 pieces the same dimensions then cut one of these in 2.5 inch sections for use as end pieces. Assemble the base then glue to hold together. I used super glue but wood glue would also work. Finish the base as required. I primed and painted it flat black.

The motor mount is made from a 2.25 inch piece of 1 inch aluminum angle.

This was visually aligned to the drive support block and the existing motor support. This was then marked, drilled and tapped to create the support clamp.

The motor is attached first then the support is places in the base and the drive block is bolted to it. Align the block so that it is square to the base.

The tailpiece slide lock is made from 1/2X1/4 in aluminum bar stock that is slightly narrower than the base of the support block. Visually align the two then drill and tap, I used 10-24 socket head bolts due to the fact that the Allen key needed to tighten is the exact same size as the set screws used in the 4 jaw chuck. Place the slide lock under the base and bolt the tailpiece support down.

Step 6: Assemble and Test

Picture of Assemble and Test

The wiring is quite simple, you will need a switch and a power supply. I chose a 12V 1A wall wart as mine and it seems to have enough power. It is also small enough to store in the base of the lathe when not in use. The socket for the wall war was located at the back and the power switch was located at the top near the drive gears. The power is connected directly to the motor with a switch in series.

The red wire goes to the + motor terminal and the black goes to the -. These were soldered in place.

The power of this unit is quite low so accidentally coming in contact with the gears or chuck will typically give no injury. I ran my cutting tool into the chuck while testing the lathe, the tool did not break and the rotation stopped immediately. Also if you try to take too much material off at once the tool will bog down

Make sure that the drive shaft turns counter-clockwise otherwise the chuck will not stay on the shaft. If it does not reverse the polarity of the motor wires.

Step 7: Make a Cover

Picture of Make a Cover

The hollow base is used for power supply and tool storage.

I decided to make a vinyl wrap to secure all the components. I rough measured then used a spray adhesive to keep teh halves from rubbing. Then folded in half, cut to the correct dimensions then stitched along the long edge. I cut one end square then stitched the edge. I wrapped the lathe with the vinyl to get the proper length then cut it square and stitched the remaining edge.

It unwraps towards the front so that when you rest your hands down it secures the lathe from moving. I used Velcro for the closing flaps and a small strip was sewn near the back flap for attachment into the base. I glued the center flap onto the inside of the base with hot glue. The flap that is closest to the user has the soft Velcro side to prevent scratching and snagging on clothing.

I had some scrap vinyl left over and made a tool pouch to hold the Allen keys and cutting tools.

My sewing machine is not working correctly, please forgive the unprofessional stitching.

Step 8: Final Thoughts

Picture of Final Thoughts

While this can be run on batteries it seems to be a little bit of a power hog so it is advisable to use an external power source.

Since this is a single speed lathe running at ½ the RPM of the motor that used, a PWM motor controller might be nice to give variable speed.

A larger motor from a power drill will be a nice change and would afford more power for working with light metals. I am currently working on this for use with copper and aluminum. The current design is direct drive with variable speed control. I will post it when complete.

Using a belt drive will allow for a size reduction as the motor could be mounted horizontally instead of vertically.

The base could be made from acrylic or plywood

A cover for the rotating parts could be added for safety.

I am in the process of creating a miniature chess set. A rook and a king are shown.


am263 (author)2016-02-01

Great idea!, I was talking to a friend about something like this, for some of my projects.

P.S. I will be making one, I accidentally hit the Made this button.

maxnoble440 (author)2015-08-10

Wow...that a tight package...nice work. I know the head full of cats feeling...just go with it...full speed

buck2217 (author)2015-06-25

Terrific idea

Random_Canadian (author)buck22172015-06-29

Thanks... it definitely turns heads when you start turning wood at the park or on the bus.

hobbyman (author)2015-04-02

This is very cute :D

minimart (author)2015-03-23

good idea

3dhellfire (author)2014-02-10

Thanks for sharing this. I want to see how much of this I can print on my 3d Printer. Might be a cool little project for turning pens.

Post what you build, that is the reason I do this. Yes the king and rook still sit on my desk waiting for the rest of the army....

Pravin Jat (author)2013-11-28

Hello! Random_canadian,

Very very beautiful lathe, really inspiring.

KemikalzAreFun (author)2013-05-22

Think this would be good enough to lathe some nickel or softer metals?? I often make rings by hand and sometimes it's rough getting the shape I want.. And this would be great for polishing my rings! :D
Great idea! Thank you!!

nanosec12 (author)KemikalzAreFun2013-06-03

the author mentions that it is NOT powerful enough to turn copper or aluminum, so I highly doubt it will work for nickel, but you could always use a more powerful motor (he used an old printer motor...

mbourhan (author)2013-06-03


dimdiode (author)2011-11-29

This is way cool, I really like it.

If it were me though, I think I'd take the lazy way out and buy a large diameter, self-centering chuck, like for an electric drill. I realise it may weigh too much for your rig, and it may limit the diameter of the material to be turned, but the benefit of self-centering may be enough of an incentive. I don't know, maybe it wouldn't work.

I guess I need to find out by making one of these myself ;)

Nice project, well done.

Random_Canadian (author)dimdiode2011-11-29


There was a pretty lenghtly discussion about the pros and cons of self centering VS not. Note a 3 Jaw chuck will not hold off round or square pieces.

The size and weight is definitely an issue on this tiny lathe.

My mini metal lathe instructable may show the power that you are looking for. but again the self centering chuck may greatly limit your materials choice.

Good luck with your build.

... i have to disagree there..... i've used 3 jaw chuck for both square and round, particularly round. keep in mind they're used in drills specificaly FOR round things, namely drill bits. square stock is slightly more difficult, but so long as it's clamped solid it works fine.

badideasrus (author)badideasrus2013-06-02

not perse a DRILL chuck for lathing XP. but it's the same mechanism

badideasrus (author)badideasrus2013-06-02

...... well, i look kinda dumb XP. missed the word 'off' round. still, you can use a 3 jaw chuck with it. it just wont center the wood. so long as it doenst matter that you're rotateing it around the center of the wood it should hold just fine.

i really wish this place had an 'edit' button. it'd save me from tripple posting like this

MU5ICI4N (author)2013-06-02

Cool instructable! Very professional looking. However, I find that when I am in need of a "mini" lathe to turn smaller pieces of wood, I just use a hand drill : D

turtledrake (author)2013-05-12

This is fantastic

bvsmanya (author)2013-01-21

nice and compact pocket machine.

abstracted (author)2012-03-09

it could work on light metals if u use a dremel as your cutting tools. i have used weak drills as metal lathes and a dremel...nice job btw

a918bmxr (author)2012-01-23

just a suggestion...

try adding a detachable tool rest to make turning things a whole lot easier.

profpat (author)2011-12-05

i like it! very tiny and good for hobbyist!

g_badhri (author)2011-12-04

Simply super Work. thanks for sharing this your valuable idea. Thanks ;_)

Random_Canadian (author)g_badhri2011-12-04

Thanks. I'm glad that you like it and found it useful

kristian2858 (author)2011-11-30

i give you 6+++ for your work nice


MatthewEnderle (author)2011-11-29

Did you put a weight in the housing? It looks like it bounces around a tad bit. Even cheaper would be to cut the top of a mouse pad off and glue the bottom to the device, and then it would be quieter too because of less vibration resonating. Or better yet do both! I like it though. I might make a mini lathe too but i'll use an old drill motor from a 120vac 60hz motor!

The housing is hollow for storage. The outer cover is fastened to the base and is meant to rest your hands on for stabilizing the lathe.

All in all this is an extremely light duty rig

Again check out my other lathe instructable.

There is a video in the last step showing the vibration damping of rubber.

Itscrafty (author)2011-11-28

Wow, the professionalism looks amazing on this, this looks like something i would go to menards to buy, great job on the looks alone. I cant believe how small this is and it has a nice amount of power, great job i give you 5/5.


Southclaw (author)2011-11-28

Hahahaha,what an amazing little project!! I did notice one thing tho in your video, your lath seems to wiggle,as if it were unbalanced, I was wondering if this was just the video, but, what an awesome thing.

There is a little bit of off center in the chuck in the video. I have since made some improvements in the centering of the base chuck nut but it is still not perfect... I may have to change to a fine pitch thread to get rid of it.

rsmith6322 (author)2011-11-29

Very nice work. I own a large lathe that I use for wood turning and something smaller for pens and such would be nice to have. You've given me some food for thought. We'll see what happens.

pheenix42 (author)2011-11-29

Oddly enough, your headstock and tailstock pieces look just like a sensor bracket that my paper folder at work uses!

Matrix-technician (author)2011-11-01

Wonderful project! My father has been a machinist for over 23 years and taught me the trade of metalworking. I can see this coming in handy on multipule occasions. I have been building balsa aircraft for a number of years and had to use either full size or benchtop lathes to mill some pieces, this would make it much easier to manufacture parts. Keep up the good work!

Hi again! I would like to make a correction on my last comment. I phoned my father th eother day and it turns out he has been a machinist for over 33 years. (oops!) I try not to post misleading or incorrect info, but it happens sometimes to all of us.

No worries... I often skip a decade myself. And technically your first statement was correct.

Thanks. I know what you mean with the machining of small parts.

I had a blast making this lathe and was laughing like a maniac the first time i turned it on and used it.

CementTruck (author)2011-10-31

Impressive! I really like this build. Your 4 jaw chuck is inspired.

Thanks. I had one of those AH-HA moments and this of the resulting offspring...

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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