Mini Wood Lathe




Before I begin, I would like to ask you to vote for this instructable. It was made as an entry for the Tools Contest here on Instructables, and I would very much appreciate your vote. Winning contests helps me build, upgrade and stay interested in this hobby, and continue creating more content for you readers. Thank You

A little over two months ago, I found plans for this mini lathe in an issue of Shopnotes, and decided that I would try to build it in time to be entered in the Tools Contest. I had never built a wooden machine before, but seeing lots of them over on, I was very excited to try one on my own. I am only 15 years old now, so my experience in woodworking is quite limited, but I still managed to complete it without too many problems along the way. Along with the lack of experience, I also do not have a large lumber supply. I built the entire lathe out of scrap plywood found in the garbage. My dad occasionally finds cut-off pieces of 3/4 inch plywood on job sites, and having a few around was enough to complete the project. (The only parts I had to purchase was a longer v-belt, and some large nuts and bolts.)

I wouldn't recommend trying this as your first project, but don't be intimidated by its moving parts. The roots of the project are still cutting and gluing wood together. Good Luck!

Step 1: Base

The core of the lathe is the base. It needs to be very solid and heavy to counteract vibrations and strong to overcome the different forces applied during turning. The plans called for two pieces of 3/4 inch birch plywood to be laminated together, but I ended up using three pieces of 1/2 inch spruce plywood. They were glued together using polyurethane construction adhesive. It is important to cut the pieces slightly oversized, and after they are glued, rip them to the final width.

I used all the clamps I had when gluing the boards together, and even then, the construction adhesive expanded a little which made gaps in the plywood in some areas.

Step 2: Dadoes and Dovetails

The top rail is attached to the base with two strips of plywood that are nested in dadoes on both sides. My table saw does't accept a dado stack, so I just ran the heavy chunk of wood through the saw a bunch of times to get the perfect width.

The top rail is shaped like a long dovetail, with the sides angled at 20°. I again had to glue two other piece of plywood to get the right thickness. After all the parts were cut out, I glued it all together, this time with wood glue.

Step 3: Headstock Part 1

The first part in building the headstock (the thing that drives the wood), was to make the bearing mounts. If you follow the specifications in the plans, it will go without a problem. The plans called for two layers of plywood on either side, but the bolt that I had wasn't long enough to handle that, so I had to use a piece of oak instead. I found an old spade bit that was slightly oversized for the bearing, and ground it down slightly so it would make a tight fit in the wood.

Step 4: Headstock Part 2

The next step was to make a support block. It was as straight forward as gluing a block of plywood and sanding it down flush.

Step 5: Headstock Part 3

This next part is probably the most difficult part of the build, but also probably the most important. It is basically two blocks of wood with two bolts running through embedded nuts on both sides. When you turn the bolt, it pushes against a strip of metal that moves outward, and locks the carriage against the slide. The strips are cut at a 20 degree angle as well.

Step 6: Headstock Part 4

To finish up this section of the build, another piece of plywood is cut, drilled for screws, and screwed to the locking blocks. Then, the bearing mounts, and support block are screwed onto that. I had to drill some holes in the support block as I didn't have any screws that were long enough.

Once that was finished, the hardware could be added in, and a belt guard could be made with some 1/4 inch plywood.

The next two parts (tool rest and tail stock) go together basically the same way, so I didn't record as much as with the first one.

Step 7: Tool Rest and Tailstock

The tool rest went together exactly as the plans said, and it wasn't very interesting. For the tailstock, it was a different story...

I wanted to have a live center (a point that holds the work piece and spins with it), so I came up with the idea of using an old drill chuck to hold a metal point. I used a chuck from an old Milwaukee drill that I had taken apart last summer. It had one large bearing on it, and it turned out that the end of the shaft was the perfect size to handle a little skateboard bearing.

Having a drill chuck as the center allowed me to chuck in drill bits as well as just a center, so I could drill out material when making a bowl or something along those lines.

I made up a design that held the bearings in place and mounted it on another track that could ride along the slide (I was getting pretty good at making them by then!), and epoxied the bearings in place.

The center isn't exactly "on center", but it didn't seem to matter in the end. Also, you can see how messy my shop was getting this point in the build.

Step 8: Motor Mount and Finishing

The motor was simply bolted on a piece of 3/4 inch plywood, which was mounted on hinges onto the base. I ended up using two hinges to make it more rigid.

The belt is tensioned by the weight of the motor, which ended up being plenty of tension.

To finish the lathe, I painted it white and grey on the sides and edges. After it was painted, a couple coats of water-based varnish are brushed on. REMEMBER TO LEAVE THE SLIDE UNTOUCHED as it would become sticky, and unable to slide.

Step 9: Finished! and Videos

After it is dried, the lathe is complete! I still do not have any turning tools to work with, but with a lot of difficulty I was able to use some bench chisels to turn a block of wood round.

I (badly) welded a washer to a bolt and drilled some holes in it to make a small faceplate. Then I welded two nuts together and cut teeth on one end and screwed in some threaded rod to make a drive center. Both of the two pieces easily screw onto and off of the shaft.

I have made a series of videos covering the process of building. They are linked below in case the embedded video doesn't work:

Video 1:

Video 2;

Video 3:

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    61 Discussions

    The Honey Boy

    Question 1 year ago

    Do you have a plan or a guide from Shopnotes?

    If so, could you include them in the instructable?



    2 years ago

    FYI Dado stack substitute.

    I had the same problem until I remembered from long ago that there was this thing called a wobble blade and sure enough, they still make them and it works perfectly!

    And they only cost around $20!

    Loyal Apple Geek

    3 years ago

    This is the only lathe on Instructables I could find that I actually want to replicate, beautiful work. Could you post a video of it in action?

    This instructable and the video actually got me to start building this, your entire project is amazing and very professional!

    Its funny how you started with the construction adhesive because i just had some lying around and i hadn't read the part yet, so i had the same problem and started over because the plywood had only then arrived.

    Another thing about plywood, hardwood plywood (like birch) was used in the original because softwood plywood doesnt fracture cleanly. Although its also more expensive(i got it from my dads friend)

    i got the plans here:

    plans are very blurry


    3 years ago

    What size motor did you use? great job on it very impressive

    Considering the fact that you are 15, this is amazing. The videos, the explanation, everything was well done. Continue what you are doing and good luck.


    Grant Fair

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Nice job!

    There is wood lathe tool-making info on the net. But for a great "cook book" I suggest "Make
    Your Own Woodworking Tools: Metalwork Techniques to Create,
    Customize, and Sharpen in the Home Workshop" by Mike Burton- lots of simple, cheap good info.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I'm impressed. Wondered what everyone was on about so looked at profile. Only 15, great job. Loved the video's, music with them is great. I'll vote for it


    4 years ago on Introduction

    love this build. I went to the shopnotes site and the plans are not there any more. Did you find the plans in a back issue of the magazine? If so which issue? I'd like to build this, taking into consideration some of the commenters points also.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry, I forgot to mention, they are in the issue #73

    Good luck on building it!


    4 years ago

    Besides making a cover for the belt, may I suggest adjusting the location of the drive Motor slightly. From the pictures it seems to be off center which could cause the belt to slip or ware out your motoro


    4 years ago

    Amazing! I'm impressed by your skill and obvious familiarity with the tools you used (as witnessed in your videos), especially considering your age. One question - how much would you charge to make one for me? Seriously!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Very nicely done! Wish I was able to do a project like this when I was 15!


    4 years ago

    This is awesome mate!

    I've been wanting to buy a lathe for quite a while now, and did look into building one, and I think this has helped me make my desicion. Is it possible for you to publish rough plans? I'm note sure where I would. e able to source the correct shopnotes magazine in Australia.

    Great to see young guys getting into it in such a big way. Definitely got my vote. Well done!

    I have been working with a bought minilathe jig that allows you to use your drill as a lathe, but I wanted to get a propper lathe for a while. After looking at the prizes for a "good" lathe I think I will give building one myself a try. Thanks for sharing this inspiration!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    That is awesome work, congratulations to you! I just voted! Keep it up buddy, take care, Alex.