Introduction: Portable Benchtop Spring Pole Lathe

I needed a lathe but have such little room in my shed that it had to be able to be packed away when I wasn't using it. It's design allows it to be clamped down to a bench or table so if need be I can chuck it in my car and set it up somewhere else. This lathe is made completely from pallet wood as many of my projects are. As always I've made a video on YouTube documenting the build and showing some of my turning "skills", instructions and plans follow below.

Thanks a lot for checking this out and I hope you enjoy it!

Step 1: Tools and Materials Needed

Picture of Tools and Materials Needed


- Pencil, measure and square

- Crosscut saw and rip saw (I only have a crosscut) or table saw

- Hand plane or planer thicknesser

- Clamps

- Brace and 8mm bit (or drill)

- 2mm pilot hole bit

- Wood chisel and mallet

- Screwdriver (size and type depending on the screws used)

- 2 X 13mm spanners (or one spanner and one set of pliers)

- Optional - turning chisels if you wish to have a good go at turning when its finished!


- 1 length of wood 102cm X 10cm X 1.5cm (40 3/16" X 3 15/16" X 9/16")

- 1 length of wood 200cm X 5.5cm X 1.5cm (78 3/4" X 2 3/16" X 9/16")

- 1 length of wood 208cm X 4cm X 3cm (81 7/8" X 1 9/16" X 1 3/16")

- 1 length of wood 74cm X 9.5cm X 6.5cm (29 1/8" X 3 3/4" X 2 9/16")

- 1 length of wood 132cm X 11cm X 1.5cm (52" X 4 5/16" X 9/16")

- Scrap wood for the wedge and tool rests

- 200cm (78 3/4") of bungee cord or strong elastic

- 400cm (157 1/2") of para cord or rope at least

- Wood/PVA glue

- 2 X 8mm bolts, 8cm long (5/16" bolts, 3 1/8" long) with 4 nuts and 4 washers.

- 40 X 4cm screws (1 9/16")

- 20 X 6cm screws (2 3/8")

Step 2: Marking Up and Cutting the Stocks

Picture of Marking Up and Cutting the Stocks

I've included a jpeg with detailed measurements of every piece of the lathe besides the pedal and tool rests as I think they have to be cut in a way that suits you and your shop/work area. I didn't have big blocks of wood to use for the stocks so I just cut some pieces and glued them together. Not everyone will have to do that of course but if you do then you can see how I went about that process in the video.

Once you've cut the pieces you can then mark where the wedge will go, this is where I had an advantage with having slimmer pieces of wood to make the stocks. I could plan exactly where the wedge would go through the centre of the piece and then glue the two pieces together as you can see in the photos. If you have solid blocks for the stocks then of course you have to bore a hole through and clean it out with a chisel. For the purpose of this instructable though, I'll stick to what I did.

When all the pieces are cut and you check to make sure the wedge fits snugly, you can glue them all together. It's a good idea to make sure the pressure of the wedge is on the top and the bottom of the stock and not towards the sides for two reasons. First of all, a wedge that pressures the wood width ways can cause the wood to split. Secondly, the wedge needs to make contact with the side rails in order to clamp the stock firmly in place, this is why you should make the hole for the wedge slightly higher up the stock than it needs to be.

Step 3: Attatching the Side Rails and Centres

Picture of Attatching the Side Rails and Centres

Lining up the stocks with each other, you can then plan where the side rails will go. These are the rails that the moving stock will ride along and clamp to. You can see that I've set the bottom line of where the rail will go just under the top of the wedge hole. This is to make sure that when the wedge is tapped in it makes contact with the rails on both sides and therefore locks the stock in place.

Taking the 2 bolts I sharpened them to an angle I thought would work and then installed one of them onto the sliding stock. I clamped the rails to the other pieces and put the sliding stock between them and slid it over to the fixed stock. Giving the back of the sliding stock a little knock with the mallet marked the centre point for the bolt to go through the fixed stock. I did it this way instead of measuring the fixed stock and putting the bolt through in case there were any inaccuracies with my measurements. Luckily I did because there were certainly some inaccuracies!

After these pieces are all sorted out you can then glue and screw the side rails on and fix the two end stocks to the bottom of the lathe. This bottom piece is what allows it to be clamped to a benchtop.

Step 4: Making Slots for the Vertical Poles

Picture of Making Slots for the Vertical Poles

I wanted the vertical poles that hold the elastic to be removable so I can store them away when I'm not using the lathe. They also needed to be firmly held onto the two fixed stocks however as they'd be under a fair bit of pressure as the elastic gets pulled down by the pedal. To overcome this problem I placed the vertical pieces on the fixed stocks and made a kind of wooden casing around them, just like a mortise and tenon joint. This meant I could put them in and pull them out as much as I like without sacrificing any of their stability.

Step 5: Attaching the Elastic, the Rope and Making the Pedal

Picture of Attaching the Elastic, the Rope and Making the Pedal

Attaching the elastic is a pretty simple job which I was glad of after all the earlier complications! I made two little notches for the elastic to fit into to stop it wobbling around and drilled a hole on the vertical pole which was attached to the larger of the fixed stocks. Passing the cord through I tied a knot at the end and then pulled it up and over the notch and over to the other pole. I pulled the elastic down the side of the other pole until I felt that I had the right tension, made a loop at the end of the cord, screwed a screw in (what else can you do with a screw?) at a severe angle and looped the cord over. I later found this to be too tight and had to adjust it as you'll see at the end of the video. I think it just takes a little tweaking to get it how you want it.

To make the pedal I just used a load of scrap pieces and screwed them together in a pedal shape that I liked the feel of. Later, to stop the pedal moving around everywhere, I attached another piece to the pedal with a hinge which I could stand on with my right foot to stop it moving around. I think this is another situation where you have to keep tweaking things to suit your personal needs and wants.

Making a small loop around the elastic with the rope I was then able to tie the other end onto my pedal. I just used para cord for this which I won in an instructables contest so...thanks Instructables!

Step 6: Making the Tool Rests

Picture of Making the Tool Rests

The tools rests were very simple and really another part of the build which is down to personal preference I think. All the measurements for my rests are on the plans. I just made simple, triangular kinda shapes and screwed them on with 3 screws each. I then found a scrap piece of wood that sat on them nicely and got my chisel to the right height.

Step 7: Using the Lathe!

Picture of Using the Lathe!

This was the most fun and perhaps the most challenging part of the build as I've never really used a lathe before let alone a pedal powered lathe. I don't have any turning chisels currently either so the results of my attempted turning are from a severe lack of skills and from using normal bench chisels.

A couple of last things to remember are to firstly have the wood spinning towards you, you want the wood to turn downwards into the chisel and also you can use beeswax or paste to lubricate the centres. Secondly, ALWAYS wear eye protection when using a lathe, always. This may be pedal powered but it still has enough force to make a splinter fly towards your eyes and also the chisel fly out of your hands. Always use eye protection and keep a firm hold on the chisel at all times, take it slowly and build up your confidence. Your eyes are incredibly valuable.

When you've got all that down, enjoy! I'm hoping my next attempt will yield better results and my dad has some old rusty turning chisels lying around somewhere so I'm gonna clean those up and give them a go.

Thank you very much for checking out this instructable, if you enjoyed it and you wish to keep up with my projects then please give my Facebook page a like and also head over to my YouTube page.

Hope to catch you soon!


dale12899 (author)2017-08-18

Hi I am very interested in building this but the dimensions for the plans come out fuzzy is there a possibility you could post a clearer photo. Thank you.

timberanew (author)dale128992017-08-19

Thank you Dale, I just checked it and you're completely right about that. I'll have to change that in the future. I just added a pdf file to the section called "Marking up and cutting the stocks", it seems to be clearer. I hope that helps.

JmsDwh (author)2017-05-10

Great design! I have thought about making one of these but couldn't find plans, thanks!

timberanew (author)JmsDwh2017-05-11

My pleasure! Thank you for checking it out and hope you can make it one day.

mcgypsy9 (author)2017-04-23

You friend have made my day! I am a female that loves wood and woodworking of any kind. I have longed for a lathe but the! This is the most incredible piece I have seen in a very long time. Was the idea purely from your mind? Truely unique and I will be working on this soon! Thank you so much for sharing and you definitely have my vote!

timberanew (author)mcgypsy92017-04-23

Ah thank you so much! Well a spring pole lathe, that is a lathe that works with a rope around the workpiece, a pedal and a "spring" to pull the rope back up is a very old idea. You'll see a few people using them on YouTube and at craft fairs and things like that but my design of it being able to clamp onto a bench is one I haven't seen before. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I hope you do make one!

ed-romes (author)timberanew2017-05-07

You can also watch the woodwright shop !! There's both a spring lathe and a foot pedal lathe that looks like an repurposed foot peddle sewing machine !!! Something to think about for turning bowls !!!

timberanew (author)ed-romes2017-05-08

I got a lot of my inspiration from Roy, I've been collecting The Woodwrights Shop on DVD for years! It doesn't get shown on TV over here in the UK so I have to buy American DVD's and use them on a multi regional DVD player, its worth it though.

QuentinB1 (author)2017-04-30

I am definitely putting this into my "things to make" folder. Excellent job. I especially enjoyed that you used all hand tools, just to show that the workshop doesn't have to be all fancy. I will most likely used a skilsaw and a power drill, but that's just because I'm a lazy bastard :-)

And I especially love how you just "slapped" the pieces together, and it has a nice rough unfinished look to it. It's great.

madhamish (author)2017-04-24

Great idea & loved the construction, a couple of idea's that might help improve things. If you used the two slots you had cut at the top of the two uprights to put in a cross piece, that would enable you to get more tension on the bungee without stressing the parts. A turner wouldn't usually use a piece of branch as you did, they would split or cleave a larger one and roughly round it before use (look up shavehorses on or youtube (other sources may be available!) that has two advantages, having the points going into the pith or central part of the branch means that as they tend to be softer the points will become loose and you'll need to keep adjusting the poppets to tighten the work piece, as well as that if you are using green (unseasoned wood as was/is traditionally used) there is less chance of the finished piece splitting as it dries. Marvelous piece of work and welcome to the wonderful world of bodgers (look it up historically it's not what most people think it means).

timberanew (author)madhamish2017-04-25

Thank you very much! Yes I had noticed that the branch was coming a little loose whilst I was "turning" it, thank you for explaining that I'll change it in the future. Ah yes I see what you mean about putting a cross piece in at the top, that's a great idea! I've watched many shows on bodgers and seen a few at craft fairs, it is a funny word since "bodge" often means to slap something together quickly without too much thought....though maybe some days I'm guilty of that too haha. Thank you for your ideas, greatly appreciated.

madhamish (author)timberanew2017-04-26

Bodger certainly has an interesting history have a look at

Cayotica (author)2017-04-23

Love your spring lath. After the collapse of civilization your carpentry skills will be in great demand congratulations.

timberanew (author)Cayotica2017-04-23

Haha thank you, I'll make sure to advertise myself upon the collapse of civilisation.

gboblow (author)timberanew2017-04-24

Will be interested on how you can advertise upon the collapse of civilization. Perhaps use wood chips with name etc burned in? Just a joke. Nice job!

timberanew (author)gboblow2017-04-25

Haha, maybe I can use messenger pigeons? I'll figure it out. Thank you!

BobK71 (author)timberanew2017-04-25

I think you'd be in a good position to advertise if you built your own Gutenberg press!

timberanew (author)BobK712017-04-25

Haha I just had to check what that was and I like the idea...a future project perhaps.

Kcuboo (author)2017-04-25

Great job! I loved watching your build. I wish I had even a fraction of the patience that you have.

timberanew (author)Kcuboo2017-04-25

Ah thanks a lot! Well I think it helps to be working outside, listening to the birds, breathing in the fresh air....I could spend all day out there.

oor willie (author)2017-04-25

Splendid. Most instructive, and not a 3D printer in sight. Well done.

timberanew (author)oor willie2017-04-25

Haha thanks a lot!

LLAVRINI (author)2017-04-25

Congratulations on the manufacturing system.

timberanew (author)LLAVRINI 2017-04-25

Thank you!

terezkaterka (author)2017-04-25

Krásna práca a všetko bez elektrického náradia. Vidiať a je to pekné, že pán udržuje pri živote staré remeslá a postupy. Vďaka.

timberanew (author)terezkaterka2017-04-25

Ďakujem za vaše pripomienky, som veľmi rada, že ste si to užili. Musel som používať google translation, dúfam, že to funguje!

lefty9 (author)2017-04-24

Well done! Your plans are very clear and complete and it can all be done with out a power tool! These are lost skills.

timberanew (author)lefty92017-04-24

Thank you very much I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Jezard (author)2017-04-24

Hats off to the ingenuity here and the excellent detailed explanation, however I will stick with 20th century technology.

timberanew (author)Jezard2017-04-24

Haha thank you and of course, to each their own!

Salvacore (author)2017-04-24

I'm going to build this Thankyou!!!

timberanew (author)Salvacore2017-04-24

Ah great, I'd love to see it when you're done! Thank you too.

shepherdmarley (author)2017-04-24

Brilliant dude, well done! Do you think it is chunky enough to turn bowls on, bearing in mind its weight and the fact that you seem to have only used soft wood? Keep up the great work!!

I'm wondering about that myself to be honest, I would love to try and turn a bowl. I know for sure I'm gonna need some kind of scooping tool to hollow out the bowl (no idea of its name) and also a mandrel to hold the wood in place. Plus I think my centres are a little close to those side rails, so I think if I did turn a bowl it'd be a very small one! haha. Thank you very much!

dougoutcanoe (author)2017-04-24

Great little pole lathe. The squeaky noise while turning may be due to lack of grease where the centres sit in the worked wood. I use tallow available from a plumbers supplies, Toolstation, Screwfix, etc. Try to use a longer, steady pedalling action to get more turns per stroke and steadier working. To learn more about working with greenwood join a local bodgers or greenwood working group. Check out groups at

timberanew (author)dougoutcanoe2017-04-24

Yes I think you may be right about the squeak, I added a little bit of beeswax paste to the points which seemed to stop it. I'll look out for the tallow though. Thank you for those tips, you caught on that I'm not very good at turning at this moment in time haha! I'll check those out, thank you so much.

smartrem (author)2017-04-24

Reminds me of how they made the poles at the Globe Theater in London. This guy did an excellent job

timberanew (author)smartrem2017-04-24

That's a very cool article, thank you for bringing that to my attention. I feel like trying to make a bowl now!

DavidF15 (author)2017-04-23

Awesome project. I was just thinking about a string pole late I saw in Branson Missouri about 35 years ago. I love the use of bungee elastic in lieu of the greenwood sapling.

Maybe try a skinnier piece of scrap for the toolrest-crosspiece. The one in the pics looks too wide and would limit the ways you can vary to position and angles the chisels or gouges with respect to the workpiece.

timberanew (author)DavidF152017-04-23

Thank you David, yes the elastic helps when you have limited space.

I'm certainly a novice when it comes to turning, thank you for that tip I shall try that out next time I use it.

edmanep (author)2017-04-23

Resourceful! I WILL be making one! Thanks for the inspiration !

But I have an off-topic question... did you make the door to your shed from pallet wood? Have you plans or an Instructable for it?

timberanew (author)edmanep2017-04-23

Ah my pleasure, thank you for checking it out and I hope yours turns out well!

I didn't make the door for the shed, I know it kinda looks homemade but it was bought from a hardware shop before I was even interested in woodworking. I just had a quick look on instructables and on YouTube but I couldn't really find a door similar to mine.

There's one here for a sliding door :

But I'm not sure that's the kinda thing you're looking for. Hope that helps though.

edmanep (author)timberanew2017-04-23

Yeah I'd seen that sliding door and others. I also had no luck finding good (realistic cheap) plans for a door like yours out of pallet wood. Thanks so much for the effort in looking.

GTO3x2 (author)2017-04-23

I don't want to leave without saying something for the reason of acknowledgement, but I am speechless.

timberanew (author)GTO3x22017-04-23

Haha well thank you very much! What you've said there is more than enough.

autotech1 (author)2017-04-23

I really like your lathe and you made it without using a single power tool. I don't know if I would have the patience to do that so I applaud you for it. You are a real life Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the main character on NCIS, an American TV show. Along with some smaller projects he has built many sailboats in his basement.

Maybe I will try this as I do want a lathe and they can be really expensive for a good one.

timberanew (author)autotech12017-04-23

Thank you, yes I really wanted to make this particular project with zero power tools just to show that you don't need a huge budget or a ton of experience to make something useful. I feel like its sometimes daunting to see all the woodworking machinery available out there when really it can be a lot simpler than all that. I hope you do make one!

relbatto (author)2017-04-23

history has served us all well in this really great easy to follow instructable. the history of wood turning shows kings and queens pursuing the hobby in the early days of turning between two trees that happened to be in the right place with springy branches pressed into service in a similar fashion . the real lesson to be learned in using what you have and not whining about what you don't have is there too but not presented in a preachy fashion at all.

the amazing lathes that came along later when we had the compound screws to rotate the item and permit spirals and patterns to be added in such a fashion that i still cant figure them out shows our progress well.

making a lathe out of palette wood is something i would never have thought of and to see its function here is impressive indeed. everything we have used to pull ourself to this point came out of the ability to make a lathe.

james watt built his first steam engine with pedal powered lathes and bragged about the casting that there was ..."hardly any place in it that you could put your thumb where it wasn't supposed to go..." this deserves a very loud shout out of bravo on more levels than i can praise. thank you for reminding us of those who came before and showing us that we can still function without the electric grid to make patterns and lift ourself up again.....from the progress i see from governments we may very well need it.

timberanew (author)relbatto2017-04-23

Thank you so much, I didn't expect I'd be reading a comment like this today and it's really lifted my spirits. I love to do what I can with what I have and I really can't afford much in the way of wood, I'm glad you appreciate it and very thankful for your support.

Valvelifter (author)2017-04-23

Impressive. especially as you appear to have used recycled timber. Thanks for sharing.

About This Instructable




Bio: Growing up in a rural area in the East of England I've always been interested in nature and trees and found myself building things ... More »
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