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How to Make a Wood Lathe

Luke Macedo
Knowing how to make a wood lathe from scratch will enable you to construct the exact one that will suffice all your needs and exceptions. This HobbyZeal article describes the process of making a wood lathe, and few precautions you need to take while making a lathe.
Making a wood lathe at home is easy as it provides you with the correct basics. In order to make a good quality wooden craft work you need to make sure that your machine delivers exactly what you ask for. Here are few important points that you need to keep in mind while making a wood lathe:
Shaping wood is a task that can be done in the comfort of your home. You can build your own wood lathe with a few basic materials - plywood, an old washing machine motor, which are easily available and pretty low cost too.
You get to make  myriad things for your house such as bats, clubs, pots, shelves, toys, arrows, intrinsic furniture (if you have a steady hand) and much more. Patiently selecting parts of the lathe will help considerably if you want to make sure that it is durable, not to mention the noise that the motor will make.

The Wood Lathe

Wood lathes come in all shapes and sizes and cater to various purposes. Smaller lathes are more commonly used for convenience. Specific skills are required to operate small lathes and are often labeled as art. There are two types of lathes that you can make, they are:
Fixed Speed Lathe:
While working with this type of lathe, a wood can be turned only to a limited degree of speed due to the fixed speed at which the spindle is rotated. So, when making this type of lathe, get a motor with a moderate rpm to avoid the situation where the motor is churning away at rpm of 5000 and the only thing which could be turned is 'pen'!
Variable Speed Lathe:
This type of lathe is capable of producing versatile and different sized wood carvings, due to its feature of having an adjustable speed rotating spindle. Here you will need a motor with preferably an electronic controller so that you can rotate the spindle at different speeds:
The main factor that you need to consider is the purpose of the lathe which is it to satisfy the hobbyist or to support a professional at his work. Portable ones are generally preferred due to their convenience and small size. However, don't expect it to work 9-10 hrs a day that is demanded off a heavy duty machine.
Described below is the most simplest form of a wood lathe using just a few simple tools and pieces of wood. Based on your level of interest, you can either continue using the lathe you've built or you can upgrade it.

Assembling the Lathe

First, note down the parts of a lathe that you will be assembling together. You need to get the headstock and the tailstock set along with the toolrest and the bed. No particular measurement has to be followed because you might want to customize it according to your convenience, such as the height at which you'll be most comfortable working at and so on.
Basic components required in order to build the wood lathe are:
  • A bed prepared so that the headstock, toolrest and the tailstock find support re on one plane. This can be done by bolting down two 4x4 pieces of pressure treated plywood with space in between. 
  • The headstock that consists of a spindle which will be driven either manually (in case you want to use the pedal-pulley method where you will manually drive the spindle) or by using a motor such as the washing machine motor mentioned above.
Now mount the headstock and the tailstock are fixed onto two wooden blocks respectively to the bed.
Make sure that the bed of the lathe allows the toolrest and the tailstock to move to and fro to accommodate pieces of wood of varied lengths. Do this by laying the toolrest and the tailstock in the horizontal space left in the bed while bolting down the 2 pieces of plywood. This enables the components to move back and forth when the piece is being worked on.
The purpose of a tailstock is just so that the piece of wood that you're working on doesn't vibrate so much that you'll have trouble working on it. The tailstock holds the other end of the wood firmly while the headstock is holding one end.
Now attaching a faceplate to the headstock is optional because it depends upon the type of work you want to do on your lathe. For e.g. turning bowls, plates, pans etc. will require one, however, pens, arrows, clubs, bats etc. will require only the spindle.


Here are a few tips to keep in mind, while wood turning on your wood lathe. This will also help keep your lathe as good as new.
Burn marks:
During wood turning, the friction sometimes causes burn marks on the headstock or the wooden handles (if yours is a manual turning lathe). If so, then apply a liberal portion of beeswax or paraffin, before you start wood turning on your wood lathe.
While replacing a piece of wood you are working on, make sure it is repositioned correctly onto the headstock. If it isn't positioned properly; the headstock may get damaged.
It is not uncommon for the piece of wood to slip, while the head screw which is attached to the headstock is turning it around. If this happens, some form of a packing needs to fitted in between the head screw and the piece of wood, thereby ensuring that the threads on the headstock do not wear out.
If you don't have a set of calipers to measure the diameters of the turnings, always keep an open-end wrench handy.

To smoothen the end products while being turned, it's always better to use sandpaper instead of conventional metal tools as sandpaper reduces splinters and provides a gentle finish to the piece of wood you're turning.
Once you've mastered the art of wood turning, you can make a wood lathe all by yourself. Wood turning can be both a recreational activity as well as one's living. By trying different combinations of designs and techniques, one can create wood art to decorate one's home. So go ahead, grab a block of wood and set it turning on your homemade wood lathe.