Introduction: Simple Metal Lathe

I don't have many fancy tools and more times than not I have to improvise with what I've got. Not having many specialized tools doesn't need to be a hindrance though. If you have a drill, then you can turn this into a metal lathe very simply.

Recently on a project that I was working on (check it out here) I had to work out a way to shape and reduce the size of a brass coupling, I could have used a grinder and files but this would have taken too much time and probably would have been uneven in spots. Turning it would mean that I could get the job done in way less time and a much better finish.

You only need a very limited amount of parts to make this and if you don’t have the correct ones, then it’s very easy to improvise

Step 1: Parts and Tools

Parts:

1. Drill. I used an old one that I had lying around. It’s handy if it is a variable speed drill as well.

2. Vice. This will be used to hold the drill in place

3. Threaded rod. You could also just use a long bolt or even a piece of dowel. This will form the lathe shaft.

4. Nuts, washers etc. These are used to hold the metal onto the shaft.

5. Tape

6.

Tools:

1. Files

2. Sand paper

3. Polish

Step 2: Making the Shaft Section

Steps:

1. Cut the threaded rod down to the size that you need it and clean-up the cut end with a grinder

2. Add a bolt to one end and a washer. The washer needs to slightly bigger than the piece of metal you are turning.

3. Depending on the diameter of the metal, you may need to add some bushes to the rod. This will help you align the metal so it is straight on the threaded rod. I just used some nuts which were larger than the threaded rod and taped them up.

4. You will also need a nut and washer for the other end of the threaded rod

Step 3:

Next step is to add the piece of metal to the threaded rod that you want to turn. Make sure that you remove as much metal as you can first by using a grinder – it will make the job easier and quicker. Using the grinder is a rough and ready way to start to shape the metal

Steps:

1. Push the bush (tapped bolts) onto the threaded rod.

2. Next push the metal onto the bushes

3. Place a washer onto the rod and add the bolt. Tighten-up the bolts so the metal is secure

Step 4: Adding the Rod to the Drill

Steps:

1. Place the drill into a vice and secure it in place. You need it tight enough so the dril doesn’t move when pressure is added to the rod and metal.

2. Put the threaded rod into the drill end and secure into place.

3. Grab a bunch of files and some sandpaper with different grits

Now you’re ready to start

Step 5: Starting the Shape the Metal

Steps:

1. Turn on the drill. If you find that the metal is uneven, try tightening-up the drill end again.

2. If the metal is spinning correctly, lightly press a file against the area you want to shape.

3. Keep adding pressure and move the file back and forth. Stop and check the work regularly.

BE CAREFUL – you don’t want to get anything caught in the drill as it can do some serious damage

Step 6: Continue to Shape the Metal

Steps:

1. Try different files if you find that you aren’t getting the shape or reduction in size that you need.

2. Remember, it’s easier to remove large sections if you can with a grinder first. It may be rough but you can clean this up on the lathe.

3. Once you have the shape that you need, it’s time to refine and remove any scratches

Step 7: Using Sandpaper

The best way to smooth out and remove scratches is to use some sandpaper. Start with a higher grit paper and then work your way down to 800 or 1200 grit paper to give your work a mirror finish

Steps:

1. Use a high grit paper to start with. Something like 280 or 350 will do the job. You want to remove any large scratches or divots from the metal and shape where necessary

2. Move onto a finer grit paper like 400. I use wet and dry paper.

3. Continue to reduce the grit on the sandpaper. I used a 600 and then 800. I would have also used a 1200 grit sandpaper but I didn’t have any left.

Step 8: Polish the Metal

Steps:

1. To give the metal a mirror finish, use some metal polish.

2. Add some to a rag and press against the metal

BE CAREFUL – you don’t want the rag to get caught in the lathe section. Only use a small piece of rag and make sure you hold it away from the spinning section.

3. Continue to polish until you have the desired finish

Step 9: Done

That’s it!

You can spin the metal around so the other end is closest to the drill and file or polish if necessary. I find that it’s easier to do this if the metal has a slight wobble on the lather.

Remove the metal from the lathe by un-doing the bolts at the end.

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Bio: I've always liked pulling things apart - it's the putting back together again that I have some issues with.
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