Instructables

Woodturning with a drill press

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  • Using very few materials and common hand  tools you can turn your drill press  into a small lathe for wood and plastic.

  • Three examples of increasing difficulty are described here in some detail, a bottle stopper, a tool handle and  a cylindrical piece. These examples serve to illustrate different  methods of work , useful to anybody willing to try this modification.. .

  • I also show several other  things I made in the past  that  may give you ideas for your own projects.

 
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Step 1: The set up


The idea of turning a drill press into a small lathe is not new. The setups that you may find in the internet  include

  • The work of the instructables contributor Tool Using Animal (http://www.instructables.com/id/Drill-Press-Lathe/)
  •  A few youtube videos. 
  • A commercial product under the name of Vertilathe
These setups are similar in principle. Specifically the commercial product gave me the idea to go ahead and make a simple setup out of wood as a first try, more than 5 years ago. It turned out that it works well and I did not have to modify it for the simple projects I am doing. This is what I am presenting here. It consists of a unique block that contains the two basic components of the lathe, the tool rest and the live centre.


The tool rest

This is a vertical block of wood 12 cm x 5cm x 1.5cm firmly screwed and glued on the basis. It serves to slide the tool up and down along the edge of the working piece. Furthermore it protects your hand from getting to close to the turning piece. The length depends upon the available space you have in the drill press. In retrospect I should have made this a few centimeters longer.

The live centre

This allows the working piece to rotate around a stable axis. It consists of a short axis with a conical shape usually mounted on a ball-bearing. I made mine in the simplest possible way and it proved enough. It is made out of a screw free to rotate in its hole, supported by double nuts and washers.

tholopotami (author) 2 months ago

Thanks! This is only for small parts. Be careful to align the piece as good as possible and don't push it too much..

hassin162 months ago
This is awesome. ive aways wanted a lathe but I do have a drill press so finally my quest is over.
mekennedy13136 months ago
If you want to do this regularly change out the regular bearings and replace with thrust bearings.
tholopotami (author)  mekennedy13136 months ago
This is a sound advice, thanks for pointing out this possibility. I understand your concern about the side load . However I have been using this setup for at least 3 years now and I control the condition of the drill - specially the axis - often enough, no problem until now. The meaning of this instructable was to explore the potential of the tool for small lathe work not to turn it into a lathe. A real lathe is designed differently. It is true that at the beginning I was carried away and made bottle corks, handles etc but now I only do limited lathe work to help me in other projects e.g reducing diameters of rods, small wooden or PVC disks etc. Many people - including myself - use sand drums on the drill press, a process which also introduces side loads on the axis.
pfred22 years ago
Wood lathes are easy enough to make. I've made a couple.

http://i.imgur.com/M3x9o.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/V5mzn.jpg

OK, maybe I just made one, then remade it when I re-purposed the headstock of the original after I figured out what it really was.

http://i.imgur.com/nF8yR.jpg  <-- the old headstock ended up as the grinder on the top left, the one with the bulldog style drill bit sharpener on it.

Another picture of my homemade lathe:
http://i.imgur.com/3Wezj.jpg
dieseldude3 years ago
Did I mess something, or there a step missing on how to align the dead center with the live center in the chuck ? Most drill press tables will move about the pillar when adjusting table height, so by what means are you centering the dead center accurately below the live center.

The step describing "dead centers" seems to be confusing. Looks like a terminology issue. Check any lathe text book. The center on the powered or drive end is called the "live center". The point on the non drive end is called the "dead center" There are also "live dead centers" which are not driven or powered, but have an internal bearing so that the friction is handled by internal bearings while the cone or spur center stays fixed in the work piece. This prevents frictional damage to the end of the work piece and the dead center.

As far as I can discern from the instructions, the reader is left to figure out how to deal with live and dead centers and aligning the dead center with the live center. In light of this, by what means are you applying pressure to the dead center to force it into the work piece while keeping it aligned with the live center ? On a conventional lathe these issues all look after themselves by the design of the machine.
The two ends of a lathe are called the headstock, and the tailstock. You put a live, or a dead center into the tailstock. Good lathes allow you to offset the tailstock for taper turning. Then it is left to the operator to realign the tailstock for cylindrical turnings. It is how I made my lathe. How close your alignment is isn't always as critical hand turning as one might think it would be, as you can compensate for it somewhat with your chisel traverse.

Live dead centers are commonly referred to as simply live centers, so they aren't confused with plain dead centers.

They don't call drill presses presses for nothing. You can use the racks and pinions in them to develop plenty of force to keep a piece mounted.
tholopotami (author)  dieseldude3 years ago
Dear dieseldude,
The support of the piece is a "live center" , because it rotates freely due to the double bolts and washers. I cannot use a dead center with this setup.

Alignment is indeed addressed in step 5 and it is possible with this setup. Otherwise there would be no results, right? First the base is mounted and the screws are kept loose. Then the piece is mounted on the chuck firmly. The live center is introduced into the lower hole and aligned by checking against the tool rest. The system is rotated for a while and if the position is qood then the base is fixed.
logans2 years ago
ooooooooooooo i wish i had a drill press
hey thanks for the tip there it seems like a fun way to use the drill press and save some space, but...
one minor correction, gloves rings and bracelets will catch on a lathe and should never be worn when the tool is on! heres a good site
http://www.woodturner.org/resources/safety.htm
ctrl+c ctrl+v
tholopotami (author)  imakeembetter2 years ago
I agree with you. I was a little carried away in trying to emphasize safety. I do not use gloves either, even when sanding the piece on the drill press.
you tie the top kinda weird
Cubie23 years ago
I've been lathing for sometime now but I can't get my head around the fact that this lathe turns vertical. I keep holding my lathing tools the same way I normally do... I think I'll just stick to a normal lathe.
tholopotami (author)  Cubie23 years ago
Dear Cubie2,
If you have a normal lathe, stick to it!
However you get used to the vertical easily, there is no problem. The major problem in the drill press is aligning the piece as good as possible and securing it safely.
Of course this drill press application is very limited and as I have said to other posts, I only use it now for small jobs and modifications. It is no substitute of a real lathe, it is only an extension of an additional possibility for a tool used as drill 98% of the time.
fishcake273 years ago
great idea, thx tholopotami
tholopotami (author)  fishcake273 years ago
I am glad you liked it!
However if you want to do it yourself , consider all comments about safety.
right now i dont have a drill press, but yeah ill be really careful
Broom3 years ago
A couple of times (once in an early photo note, and once in the main text) you refer to the live center being held with "double bolts and washers". I think you mean "double nuts and washers."

In discussing an improvement, you say that in the future you'd use "double bolts". Here it's not clear to me if you mean double nuts, or something else entirely.

Great 'ible!
tholopotami (author)  Broom3 years ago
Yes , double nuts it is!
rjnerd3 years ago
WARNING:

Do not do this if your drill press uses a taper mounted chuck. Never put a side load without a comparable end load, on any taper mount that doesn't have a draw bar. Side forces are about the best way you can get the taper to walk itself out. The chuck and your work will go sailing across the room, where they will seek out the most fragile/expensive item.

The best way to find out how your machine is constructed is to read the manual/spec sheet. Danger words are things like "#2 morse" and "66JT". Since you got the thing off Craigslist, third hand, the manual is long gone, here is how to tell by staring.

There are two places that drill presses have tapers. The first one may be where the chuck mounts to the spindle. On better machines, this will be a fairly steep taper, but on the cheaper/smaller sort, you might find a threaded shaft (LH thread) with some sort of locking mechanism. To discover what you have stare up the business end of the chuck, if you see the head of some sort of fastener in the bottom of the hole, that mount is staying put. (hand held drills use threaded chucks, because side loads happen. Drill presses used to always use tapers, as they are a more accurate way to hold things, but since they make so many more hand drills, their chucks are cheaper, and low end drill presses use them to keep the price down)

The other place you will find a taper, is between an arbor sticking out of the back of the chuck, and the spindle (the part that spins). These are usually one of the Morse family (a long, moderate taper). In the days before reliable chucks, drill bits came formed with a Morse taper on the back, which would mount directly into the spindle (you can still get large diameter bits made this way).

The newer/smaller/cheaper drill presses skip this, directly mounting the chuck to the spindle, but larger and/or older machines usually have them. Look at the side of the spindle or quill, a couple of inches above the chuck. (the quill is the bit that moves up and down, but doesn't turn). What you don't want to see is an oval slot, usually about 2" long with some sort of tang showing inside the slot. That would be the back of a tapered arbor, just waiting for you to insert a wedge (that came with the machine and was promptly lost), to pop the chuck arbor out. If you see the slot, beware. You might get away by removing the chuck and arbor, then using a "real" drive spur from a wood lathe, which will have an integral Morse taper to mount it. Leaving the chuck in place is asking for a half pound of metal to take flight.

END WARNING.

Start advice If your drill press has a safely mounted chuck, you can use this to see how you like lathe work. If you decide you like it, start saving your pennies for a real lathe. First, its a lot easier to manipulate the chisel with a horizontal workpiece. Next a lathe will have a faceplate, which lets you turn bowls, and flat stuff. But the big reason is that the spindle bearings on your drill press aren't sized to take a side load, and will wear out quickly if you make a habit of turning on your drill. They are a pain to change at best, and all but impossible on the current crop of low end imports.
tholopotami (author)  rjnerd3 years ago
Dear rjnerd and Dr Qui,
I really appreciate and share your concerns. In fact this instructable stresses out some of these points (see step 18). I do not want to pass out the information that you can turn a drill press into a lathe. I just did some personal exploration with this method. and my conclusion is that it should be used wisely and with good planning for small jobs , not very often. Really I would not recommend this to a newcomer. Let me comment on some of the points you mention:
1. The distance of the tool rest from the work is too large. Right. That is why I hold the tool with both hands at the correct angle and apply small pressure on the piece. I usually prepare the piece to be as cylindrical as possible specially with hard woods. The rotation is medium speed.
2. A taper mounted chuck may jump out. I agree , it did happen to me at the beginning. However if the piece is limited in a correct way between the chuck and the live centre this cannot happen.
3. The drill press can be scraped this way. Not mine. I check regularly all the parts, belts , axis chuck and there is no sign of a problem the last 5 years I am doing this.
Thanks again , I share most of your points.
If you know the gap between you tool rest and the work piece is to large why have you not fixed it?

I'm not having a pop at your Ible, I have seen this done and it works well enough for small things. You must remember the people who will try this are those who don't have a wood lathe or the background knowledge of lathes.   Building an adjustable tool rest  should not be hard and will not only be safer but will produce a much cleaner cut.

The tool rest is the fulcrum and the closer it is to the work piece the less the tool protrudes past it and less force is required to make the cut.  3mm is about right and the tool rest should be adjusted every few cuts

I does not matter how well you hold the tool, the farther the tool protrudes past the tool rest the greater the risk of the tool chattering and even works jumping. The lower the speed the worse this will get.

The longer the handle you have on the tool the less force is used to make the cut.

All my wood lathe chisels have had their short 10" handles replaced with 18" - 24" handles 


eranox Dr Qui3 years ago
Oh wow! This is a very tempting setup, although it seems like there is ample opportunity to hurt myself. As the three of you (tholopotami, Dr Qui, rjnerd) seem to know much more about the safety aspects involved than I, here's what I intend:

I have a cheap-o Harbor Freight benchtop drill press. I can already sense that this might be an issue. I want to turn cork handles for fishing rods. The cork is very soft and requires minimal pressure to work, and the majority of the shaping will be done with rasps, files, and sandpaper.

I want to build a tall hardwood box (or frame, rather) that will feature a threaded mandrel on which the handle will spin. The mandrel will be supported at the top and bottom of the box by bearings or bushings, and will extend through the top to mount in the chuck, but will not extend through the bottom. I'll clamp the box/frame securely to the drill press table, and my hope is that any moderate axial forces will be borne by the wooden box, and not by the chuck itself.

I don't know any specifics about the construction of my drill press. Do you think that the setup will be reasonably safe? I can add a polycarbonate shield, although I don't want to restrict my access to the workpiece. I'd also like to add discs of bone, plastic, and hardwood as inlays on some of the handles, and I'm not too sure how reliably the setup can handle those. They would be shaped exclusively with files and sandpaper, and will be round to begin with, so there should be minimal chance of tools chattering or catching on the pieces worked. I may substitute a hardened steel rod which is threaded on the ends for the threaded rod I'm currently planning to use, if this might eliminate any bowing in the setup.
tholopotami (author)  eranox3 years ago
Dear eranox,

I do not think that there is much of a safety problem if you intend to use cork with files and sandpaper, not chisels. You do not need the tool rest for this. However you do need the live centre in order to align your piece between this and the chuck. This will secure the turning axis and in this way you avoid the danger that the chuck flies away. This would happen if it is a tapper type. Use a screw through the cork and a wooden cylinder drilled at the centre to match the screw with the live centre. Also use the lowest velocity of your drill. Do not use gloves.

The other materials you mention (bone, plastic and hardwood) may require turning with a chisel in which case make a setup like mine. A few important safety issues:
a) always work at low velocities
b) put the tool rest as close as possible to the working piece (a few mm is OK)
c) do not press the chisel too hard d) connect your piece at both ends firmly and
e) stop frequently to inspect what if the piece is firm in its axis.

Dr Qui eranox3 years ago
For cork this would be more than ample. It don't take much to work cork.

I would recommend building a base so you can mount the drill press horizontally as you will get a better view of and access to the work piece.

You defiantly want a adjustable tool rest.

My dad repaired the cork handles on many fishing rods, I never saw him turning cork. I cant see it not being possible. you may nee to have it fixed to a tube of some kind to keep its strength.
tholopotami (author)  Dr Qui3 years ago
I share your concern about inexperienced people trying this modification. Actually I intend to collect these comments and publish a supplement of this instructable after some time with an improved setup and additional safety information.
A movable tool rest is my first consideration, its really easy to make..
I see this modification as an additional possibility for a drill press for small works, not as a routine lathe tool. It is more like pushing a tool to its limit and not substituting a lathe.
I do have access to real lathes wood and metal, in the labs of friends and also at my work. I am not interested in doing lathe work, I just need to have a tool by my side for a fast modification of a diameter for other projects. I was just carried way with the bottle stoppers and the tool handles!
Once again thank you for your comments, I take such kind of remarks seriously.
Dr Qui rjnerd3 years ago
I also agree with this warning, it's possible to do this but its not a good idea.

I have a friend how converted his drill press into a lathe and has since scrapped it as it pretty much ruined his drill press.

Your tool rest just makes me cringe at the possibilities for disaster,  the tool rest MUST be adjustable and kept about 3mm from the work piece.

Your tool rest is the fulcrum and the bigger the gap you have between it and the work piece the more likely the tool will try and jump especially with short handle tools.

I recommend you start saving for a proper lathe, put the feelers out around you community as someone my have one lying unused in their garage that you could get real cheap or even for the taking away.

A lathe is a seriously dangerous piece of kit and will give you no warning at all before taking a chunk out of your fingers of worse.
paolo30003 years ago
Drills are made for bearing axial forces only; milling machines are made for bearing radial forces. By applying radial forces to a drill you'll cause the spinning mandrel to unlock and fly away at high speed. This is EXTREMELY dangerous, gloves or glasses provide the same protection than a cardboard shield when someone is shoting you.....
tholopotami (author)  paolo30003 years ago
Dear paolo3000,
Please take a look at the photo in step 5. The chuck is locked 2cm in its axis. The spur center has an axis of about 3cm in the chuck. The piece is connected internally by a 2.5cm axis from the upper part and 1.5 cm from the live center. In this tight configuration and considering also that the lateral forces are as low as possible the net result is that the lateral force from the tool provides a vertical torque which simple decelerates the machine and is the one responsible for lathe action. In the case of this photo there is ΝΟ SPACE for the chuck to move.
I am using this specific drill press for more than 15 years and the modification for about 5 years. and never had any kind of accident.
nachiketa3 years ago
Nice work, wonderful !!
Brad I.3 years ago
Think this would work for a router? I have one mounted in a table. I don't use very much. And I don't care if it wears out the router. I just want some lathe goodness without the space needed to house one!
Hi Brad,

Chances are your router turns way too fast to use for this. Drill presses are geared down, routers are not. The router will probably throw the workpiece before you ever touch a tool to it.
Ahh yes. Thanks. I didn't think about the rpm factor.
fthies Brad I.3 years ago
Hey Brad,

I would not use your router. It will turn many times too fast for turning. Most lathes run in the 300-1200 rpm range. Most routers turn in the 10,000 - 20,000 rpm range assuming it is variable speed.

Tex
jwolski3 years ago
Woodworking is dangerous.

There are many instructables on how to make cheap versions of dangerous tools: people mounting circular saws haphazardly upside down on plywood to make table saws and now this. Save up some money and buy some entry level and/or used *proper* tools.

I have been doing woodworking including lathe work for many years. This is not a safe setup. If you want to try out a lathe before purchasing one, then take a class at a community college or store (woodcraft has classes). This is not a real lathe and will not give you a feel for what it is like to work on a real lathe.
axiesdad3 years ago
Nice job. Like most of us, I can't afford to run out and buy a new tool to fit every little job I want to do, so I have often used tools in ways that they were not designed to be used. I've even used a drill press to turn small metal parts.
Your emphasis on extra attention to safety is absolutely correct. (I have done myself a small hurt "misusing" tools many times). I must, however, take exception to your advice to "always wear gloves and safety glasses". Safety glasses yes, but gloves are a big NO NO around turning spindles. Getting a glove or a shirtsleeve or even long hair caught on a rotating shaft can really ruin your day.
tholopotami (author)  axiesdad3 years ago
Dear axiesdad, Thanks for your comments.
The reason for suggesting gloves is to avoid moments when for one who is just trying this for the first time the tool "bites" on the wood and moves violently in his hand. . Anyway the hands in this are behind the toolrest which acts like a shield anyway. As I said in another answer, I am seriously thinking of adding a supplement to this instructable with a new setup and more safety instructions.
marcintosh3 years ago
Thanks! I've been agonizing over buying a lathe to do a very few projects. This makes it possible for me to complete one or two and see if there's a real need to make a purchase.
I'll be reading all of the warnings and paying attention so I'm good with that.
thanks to tholopotami (author) and all that have made comments.
*heading out the door to studio*
"preciate the help!
O-Budd-13 years ago
I see a couple warnings posted. . . . .

I have an el-cheapo bench top drill press and I do metal, wood and plastic tirnings on it.

It has tapered roller bearings supporting the quill and a tapered stem chuck.

In 15 years I've never had the chuck "walk" out.

OTOH, I don't apply a lot of side pressure either ... justr enough to cut the material.

Oh, did I mention that most of my turning is done without a deadcenter? makes me keep the cutting pressure down.

Budd
Your going to kill your drill press ery quickly, their berings aren't meant to take side loads.
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