How to Turn a Drill Press into a Lathe

Lathes are pretty sweet. You can turn table legs, fancy lamps, cool wooden bowls, pens, baseball bats… so many fun things you can make! Unfortunately little ones start at $400-ish and ones big enough to turn table legs and baluster start at about 2 grand. Some day maybe I’ll pick up a used one, but for now I just wanted to try making some homemade fishing lures.

I started by considering what tools I have that spin. The main contenders were the router, the drill and the drill press. I decided that I use the drill too often to use it, and I thought that the router might spin too fast. For a test, I put a screw into a piece of wood and put the screw into the router (where the router bit goes) the screw folded over the the wood whipped around sideways. Not good.

So, I went with the drill press. This green machine is a reliable but dated 1982 1/3 HP 6 Amp motor drill press. The lid lifts up so you can manually switch the belt between gears to change the speeds.

The old drill press
The old drill press

Step 1: Do a Little Jig

The first step was to turn the drill press sideways. I had to find a way to turn it sideways while supporting it securely and being able to access the power button. I was able to unscrew the arms of the drillpress height adjuster and then I built this:

A jig to use the drill press as a lathe
A jig to use the drill press as a lathe

This jig holds the drill press drilling axis horizontal, and gives makes the drill press stable while operating in a horizontal position.

Step 2: Create a Dead Center

I used a grinder and a file to make the end of a bolt rounded and smooth, this would be my dead center. A live center would be better, but I didn’t have any appropriate parts available.

Failure Number 1 – Attaching Dead Center to a Wooden Platform

While a live center would be preferable, I decided to start with a dead center for simplicity. Since I don’t have any welding equipment, I used a piece of 3/4 inch plywood and some bolts to secure and provide the dead center.

The makeshift lathe with a wooden platform for the dead center
The makeshift lathe with a wooden platform for the dead center

It started out find, but after about 5 minutes of spinning a piece of wood, the bold had vibrated loose from the wood.

Success! Bolting the Dead Center to The Drill Press Platform

Although I lost about 2.5 inches in doing so, I next tried bolting the dead center directly to the adjustable drill press platform.

Dead Center Bolted To Drill Press Platform
Dead Center Bolted To Drill Press Platform

Failure Number 2:  The Chuck Falls Off

After using the lathe for a short while, the chuck fell off. I pounded it on nice and hard, and have been using less lateral force. I hope that if I let the tools do more cutting and I do less pushing, it won’t be an ongoing problem.

Step 3: Cutting Some Blanks

I cut two blanks. One from a piece of lilac branch from the yard and one from a 2×4 (pine). I used a table saw and cut each blank to be 1.75×1.75×5 inches.

Step 4: Making Some Tools

I needed some tools to cut the wood so I turned to the two pieces of metal I had on my workbench which I wasn’t going to be using anytime soon.

Wood Turning Tools From a Chisel and A Railroad Spike
Wood Turning Tools From a Chisel and A Railroad Spike

That’s right, a railroad spike. I have a handful of them, and I’m not sure that they’re good for anything else. As for the chisel, my grandpa had more chisels than he probably ever used, which means I have more than I know I will ever use. I sacrificed one of them to the grinder to make its cutting angle more appropriate for wood turning

Results

The pine (2×4) wood didn’t turn out well at all, but I didn’t really expect it to, I mean it’s a 2×4, not some nice wood. The lilac turned out pretty decent for a first time.¬† A little bit more drilling and fiddling later and I am the happy owner of a drill press lathe and two through-wire construction fishing plugs that need to be painted.

on My first two turned fishing plugs
My first two turned fishing plugs

 

Warnings

If you’re the sort of person who heeds warnings, don’t turn your drill press into a lathe. The comments on this instructible which I found while researching my own lathe project indicate that the chuck coming off is a common problem and could be dangerous.

If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t heed warnings, I’m not sure what you’re doing reading this, but best of luck, and be safe. I assume no responsibility for your success, safety or lack thereof¬† should you undertake this or a similar project.

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3 Responses to How to Turn a Drill Press into a Lathe

  1. Pingback: I’m the Happy Owner of a Lathe » Stuporglue.org

  2. Paul says:

    Great. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking of doing. I want to make some chess pieces and the entry point cost of a lather does not readily justify itself. I like especially how you candidly list the failures.

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