How to Build a Small Wooden Lathe

Written by jophiel aurora
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How to Build a Small Wooden Lathe
A wood lathe is useful for adding details to some wood projects. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

A wooden lathe is a tool used by woodworkers to spin and sculpt wood. Lathes are used to make furniture, repair chairs, make bowls and add decorative details to woodworking projects that require turning. Wood lathes come in different sizes, from small lathes for hobby size projects--like making bowls--to huge turning machines used to make wooden posts. You can purchase a wooden lathe at a hardware store. However, if you enjoy handy work, you can also build a small lathe using scrap materials.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Hand drill
  • Square of steel
  • Chisel
  • Hacksaw or handsaw
  • Heavy duty metal file
  • Pencil
  • Centerpunch
  • Drill press
  • 12mm drill bit
  • Scrap wood board
  • Metal rod
  • Welder
  • 2 Pillow block bearings for the lathe
  • Wooden jig

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  1. 1

    Make the faceplate. The faceplate is the metal plate that is fixed to the spindle of the lathe. Cut out a square of metal with your hacksaw for the faceplate. The square only needs to be a few inches by a few inches, based on your woodworking needs.

  2. 2

    Clean the faceplate using a metal file to smooth away any sharp edges and shape the corners of the plate.

  3. 3

    Find the centre of your faceplate square, and mark it with a pencil. You can find the centre by drawing a straight line from corner to corner, making an X in the centre. If the hole is not in the centre, the lathe will vibrate while spinning.

  4. 4

    Drill a hole in the centre of your faceplate. First, use a centerpunch to make a dimple in the middle of the faceplate to keep the drill bit in place. Then, use your drill press to make a hole through the plate.

  5. 5

    Place the scrap wood board underneath the faceplate. Put the 12mm drill bit onto the drill press. On a slow speed, drill through the faceplate in the centre dot.

  6. 6

    Attach the metal rod. Your metal rod should fit snugly through the hole. Weld the faceplate square onto the rod, so you're left with a relatively flat faceplate with a rod protruding from the bottom.

  7. 7

    Prepare to mount the faceplate. Slide the two bearings onto the metal rod a few inches apart so the lathe can sit securely, sideways on a workbench or table. Drill four holes through the faceplate near the metal rod, making a square in the centre of the plate surrounding the rod. These will be used to screw your workpieces onto the faceplate, so they remain secure while you shape them.

  8. 8

    Prepare your workpiece for the lathe. Cut a thick square wooden block or find a thick square piece of scrap wood. The wood piece is to test your lathe. So, it needs to be big enough to carve. Use the saw to cut off the corners. Secure your workpiece onto the lathe with four screws. They will go through the four holes on the faceplate into the bottom of the wood workpiece.

  9. 9

    Insert the end of the metal rod opposite the workpiece into your hand drill. Bolt down the two pillow-block bearings onto a sturdy wood surface to keep them from moving around, and clamp the entire unit to a desk or work table. The lathe is ready.

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