Drill Press to Lathe With a Bit of Scrap Wood




Introduction: Drill Press to Lathe With a Bit of Scrap Wood

About: I work wood but I also have studied chemistry

This is the longest instructables I've written in a while, and it's about turning (pun intended) a drill press into a sturdy lathe for wood and metal. I don't like buying when I can make, and that includes tools as well.

In this i'ble we'll only use scrapwood and the metalworking parts are limited to cutting screws with a hacksaw, it should therefore be a pretty simple project and can be adapted to any kind of drill press (or handheld drill or any other rotating tool) you may have. There is a reason why there will be no measurements given in this tutorial : 1) you probably don't have the same scrapwood or drill press I had and 2) I took none.

This project took me most of a week-end, about 20/25 work hours which I feel was reasonable to end up with a new tool. Sources of inspiration were, of course, instructables and woodgear.ca which has an amazing, incredible, fabulous wealth of information about making your own tools from motors and scrap. I'm ever thankful for his ideas and for putting them online in so much detail. He deeply changed the way I imagine the workshop I'll have once I'll be able to buy a house. In the meantime, I'll make tools so that I can start making furniture right away when I have the afore-mentioned house.

Let's get started!

TL;DR : Make a lathe for 0 pesos if you already own a drill press.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

To make this AMAZING piece of equipment, you'll need :

Pictured is a pair of rollerblades (old) that I wanted to salvage bearings from but eventually didn't)

Any rotating tool that goes up to around 3000 rpm (I used a drill press)

A ton of scrapwood

Some screws and nuts and a threaded metal rod

A saw (Hand, circular, whatever floats your goat)

A drill and drillbits + countersink bits

Wood glue

Sand paper and the such

Knife (always useful. Opinel is godly)

Step 2: Bench and Main Structure

First, we need a STURDY (can't stress that enough) bench. I used a cut in half 2x4 and made sure the spacing between the two was even along the whole shebang when I attached them together as shown on the pictures. All the screw holes are pre-drilled and countersunk because it's always better and if that is a good enough reason for me then it should be for you too.

I added a 6 cm square section piece of wood on each end to triangulate and for added sturdiness.

Finally, the sliding surface was sanded flat with an orbital sander.

Step 3: Drill Press Holder

Now at an angle as close as you can to 90° (celsius, I'm european) of this bench you'll want to attach the rotating tool which will be hereafter referred to as "the drill press".

This is made possible by fine tuning of the wooden structure (read : gluing and screwing thinner and thinner pieces of scrapwood).

I made it so that the whole system would be plug and play, just put the drill press in there and remove it whenever you're done because an average human doesn't own more than one drill press and is likely not using at the same time as the lathe. I think.

You need to ensure that the drill press is nicely held in all dimensions though, be it by bits of wood (x and y) or it's own weight and friction (z) in a Cartesian coordinate system with z pointing from the core of the earth towards outer space.

Step 4: Spinning Pins

Now we need them smooth and nice "spinning pins" for the head and tailstocks. (Way out of my comfort zone regarding technical vocabulary. Please let me know if I'm using the wrong words for things, English is not my native language)

I cut the heads of a couple bolts so that they would de facto become metal bars, more or less threaded, and turned them in the to-be lathe with so that the point would be in the very centre of rotation. I started using a rough file, then a semi smooth and a smooth one and finally some 200 emeri and polishing buff.

The trick to make them pointy rather than rounded is to make sure that your tool is always straight and flat against the surface and doesn't wiggle. It takes some practice but it comes quickly.

Step 5: Grip on the Driving Pin

Now one of those pins (more precisely the one attached to the drill press mandrel) will need to have a way of gripping the piece of wood you want to turn.

I used a thick slice of an old hardwood tool handle, in the middle of which I drilled a snug hole for the spinning pin. As you can see on the pictures, the hole wasn't exactly in the middle so I turned it circular and flat on the to-be lathe.

To make sure that the shaft and wood circle are never separating again unless I want them to, I added a keyway with a dremel on the side of the spinning pin and on the inside of the wood circle, and added a beheaded nail there to act as a key.

Two very small holes are added on each side of the big one and nails are driven through them and cut to the same length, then sharpened. Those will keep the wood a-turnin.

Step 6: Tailstock

Important part if you wanna keep the turned wood out of orbit.

Made up of doubled-up thick plywood, with a sliding part that goes inside the rail.

I drilled the hole for the tailstock's spinning pin by pushing it against a drill bit in the drill press. Rudimentary.

I made a locking mechanism that involves a little bit of threaded rod and a piece of plywood under the rails, I feel like it's pretty straightforward with all the pictures but if anyone needs some more details please ask away!

Further improvements will include : ball bearings, adjustable pressure of the spinning pin to tighten the turned wood even more, better looks.

Step 7: Tool Rest

Important part if you wanna keep your fingers out of orbit.

It's made out of three pieces of wood : a flat one for the railing, the actual tool rest which is made out of plywood, cut to 45° Celsius on the table saw and aluminium railing, hammered to 45° and epoxied to the plywood and a block to join the two other pieces.

The tool rest's very professional looking shape was cut on a scroll saw.

The locking mechanism is the same as the one used for the tail stock but with a slot instead of a single hole in the top part to make it adjustable.

To make the slot, I clamped a straight piece of wood as a guide and drilled all the way through then smoothed the inside of the slot with a file.

I made a similar slot on the tool rest to allow for vertical adjustment.

Step 8: First Test!

Use safety glasses. Those are very underrated as one of their hidden perks is that they can saves your eyeballs.

It works! I successfully turned a rectangular-section piece of pine into a circular piece of pine.

I can sleep now.

The feeling of turning is wonderful, it is both fascinating, satisfying and relaxing and really puts me in a comfortable zone. I can't wait to do it more, but the sunday was drawing to an end and work calls. I'll update this ible with results as soon as I have some.

Step 9: A Smidge of Paint

I don't usually paint wood, I think it looks better au naturel (en français dans le texte). But this scrap wood is really ugly, so I thought that paint wouldn't hurt. I first wanted to ask the beardedchipmunk fellow to do it for me as his painting skills are off the charts but he couldn't be reached for comments, so I painted it myself.

I used blue because all the other ones were dried up.

Step 10: What Lies Ahead of Us ?

Well. Here's what's next:

Turn many things! Rings, bowls, candle holders, table legs, handles and whatnot

I want to improve the tailstock significantly so that it spins frictionlessly and faces the headstock straighter.

I'll need to make my own lathe tools (lathe knives ?) from old files. That will include some blacksmithing which should be fun! And once I have the first one I can turn the handles for the other ones on the lathe. Latheception?

I also need to make a chuck to hold the bigger pieces and bowls or things of the such.

Oh. And I need to learn how to use a lathe.

Until next time,


Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Be the First to Share


    • Game Design: Student Design Challenge

      Game Design: Student Design Challenge
    • Block Code Contest

      Block Code Contest
    • Baking Contest

      Baking Contest



    Question 5 years ago on Step 10

    What size drill press did you use? Is your drill press adjustable in speeds? How many HP does your drill have?

    thanks in advance, this is a very good instructable


    5 years ago

    I found the pictures would have been easier to make out if your work area had been less cluttered. Presentation is as important as the content. Otherwise, not bad.


    5 years ago

    Thanks, great idea mate.


    5 years ago

    funny how the ables that we work on the longest, sometimes get the least amount of views. I really thought that bomb chair would do better. This able should have had a lot more than it did.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Maybe not everyone is as committed to the catcher in the rye as we are. I mean I've literally got a tattoo of holden on my left arm


    Reply 5 years ago

    I feel you man. But who ever knows what the people want? :)


    6 years ago

    This is really impressive. Very nicely done!


    Reply 6 years ago

    Thanks seamster :) I find it really enjoyable to make my own tools