Introduction: Vacuum Adapter for Your Lathe

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This is a project I originally posted on my blog Stop by sometime and check out my other projects & tool reviews. Now, on to the tutorial!

Need another option for reverse turning? A vacuum chuck could be your answer.

Yes, there are other methods of reverse turning, but vacuum chucking allows you to hold natural edge pieces with ease. The objects that can be held by vacuum chucking are endless and the best part is that it's easily modified! The following will spare you the learning curve I had and hopefully get you on your way quickly. My lathe has a hollow spindle with a few cross-drilled holes. This forced me to use a through spindle vacuum adapter instead of something like the Oneway Rotary Adapter.

If you are like me, you've spent a great deal of time studying online articles learning how to accomplish the task at hand. Many designs rely on using a double sealed ball bearing as a component to be a vacuum seal. I was skeptical of this, but moved forward in spite of my doubts.

For this system, you will need to buy or make an adapter for each side of your lathe. One will fit on the outboard side and the other will match the morse taper of your spindle. You will need two ball bearings. I used R10 and 6000 series bearings. I would recommend double sealed bearings simply because of the dust that will be present . The main aspect that drives bearing selection for this purpose is the size of pipe fittings you will use. I had the R10 bearing on hand, so I had to use a 3/8 NPT fitting to adapt to this bearing.

In addition to bearings, you will need:

  • material for your spindle adapters
  • an assortment of pipe fittingsall thread lamp tube (3/8" OD, 1/8-27 thread)
  • valve rated for vacuum
  • vacuum pump (well geez, I wouldn't have thought of that)
  • filter for your pump
  • vacuum gauge
  • tubing (size of pipe fittings)
  • pipe tape/pipe dope
  • epoxya bleeder valve is nice but not a must have
  • a muffler for the vacuum pump
  • electrical switch
  • wire nut
  • pliers and wire strippers
  • wranches (wrenches for those of you not from the south)
  • someone else to do all the work for you! (optional)

Step 1: Outboard Spindle Adapter

I started off by making the spindle adapter for the outboard side of my lathe. I used Delrin for this piece because it is not porous, can be shaped by hand with wood turning chisels, and it was available. Good reasons, I think. The downside to Delrin is that it's terribly difficult to permanently bond something to it.

The criteria for this part are as follows:

  • needs to fit onto lathe spindle without too much slop
  • hold bearing with slip/press fit
  • allows lamp rod to pass through it and clamp on an internal step

The first image describes how this part works.


  • Drill center just larger than lamp tube and make recess for bearing.
  • Flip part around and turn the OD

  • This side fits over the outboard side of the spindle. This should have enough clearance to locate easily over the spindle.

  • Bearing side of the spindle adapter.

Step 2: Inboard Spindle Adapter

Now, let’s move on to the inboard spindle adapter. For this item you need to:

  • match taper of spindle
  • allow lamp rod to pass through
  • make a surface for nut and washer to lock lamp rod in place


  • Turn recess for nut and washer
  • Turn taper
  • Testing the assembly before I put everything on the lathe
  • Reduce OD of the adapter so that a chuck can thread onto the spindle

Well, the spindle adapter is wrapped up... for now.

Step 3: Pipe Fittings & a Change of Plans

Tape the fittings until the threads just start to make you think about the Michelin man and you’re good. When assembling, if the components don’t line up just right and you can’t tighten a fitting anymore, you just have to start over with fresh tape. If you back a fitting out, even just a little, you’ll have a vacuum leak. (Note, the push to connect fittings shown in the first image were soon replaced with compression fittings)

Now with those parts all married, lets plug the suction end of the system and see what the vacuum gauge reads. This is where my disappointment began. The double sealed ball bearing was leaking. In an effort to remove as many potential leaks as possible, I rethought the design of my spindle adapter.

To remove the need for the seals of the ball bearing to hold vacuum, I affixed the lamp rod to the ball bearing with marine grade epoxy. This involved a few extra steps,which are shown with pictures above.

To start with, I’m using a 1/4 NPT x 3/8 NPT bushing. The piece is held with the jaw slides of my Nova G3 chuck and I am just removing the threads of this fitting until the bearing slides over the threaded area nicely. (Picture 2)

Next I have a 1/4 NPT union that I’ve cut off one end of. With that end removed, I tap the inside of the union with a corresponding thread to the lamp rod. In this case, I’m using a 1/8-27 tap. (Picture 3)

Assemble the fittings with epoxy instead of tape and let the assembly cure. Be diligent to only get epoxy on the ID of the bearing otherwise you may end up with a bearing that doesn't spin...

Step 4: Modify Inboard Adapter to Accept Bearing

Now that I’ve affixed the lamp rod and bearing, I need a ball bearing for the other spindle adapter. By assembling the parts in this manner, I no longer need the “step” in the outboard spindle adapter. However, there is no need to remove it or remake the part.

Open up the ID to accept the bearing of choice.

Step 5: Add Tubing and Test

The last step is to attach the tubing from the pump to the manifold and from the manifold to the spindle adapter.

On the list of things to do is build a belt cover which will conveniently be a great place to store the spindle adapter when it’s not in use!

A few zip-ties hold the capacitor in place and keep things nice and tidy. One day there will be a box for the vacuum pump to live in!

I recommend testing your system for leaks before you use it for turning. A good way to do this is to plug or otherwise seal the open end of the lamp rod, let the system pump down as far as it will go, and then valve off or turn off your pump to see what the leak rate is. This system isn’t for a particle accelerator, so no need to go overboard. However, if the vacuum drops rapidly, you may want to look into it. A good way to find leaks is to mix up some soapy water and apply it to each of the connection points. You will see bubbles wherever there is a leak. Just give the fitting a bit more oomph and retest.

Be sure to check out my article on building vacuum chucks (I'll eventually write it up here too)! I make my chucks completely from materials I have on hand and those commonly found at a big box hardware store! No face plate is required for the method I use.

I hope this helps out. Please don't hesitate to ask questions or make suggestions!

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