Here’s a short birch bowl I turned last night on the Shopsmith. It’s the first piece I tried using my new faceplate.
The wood is from the birch tree we cut down in our front yard last year. I had split it and sealed the ends with drylok cement sealer so it wouldn’t crack as easily. There was still minor cracking near the edges but that was waste wood anyways once I started spinning it.
I finished it with three very thin coats of Traditional Cherry Varathane Stain + Poly
I’ve been the happy owner of lathe since some time last summer or fall, but now I’m the happy owner of a functioning lathe. My aunt gave me a lathe her friend had. It’s a 1950s or 1960s PowerKraft from Montgomery Ward. It is in really good condition. The paint is a little worn in some places, but there’s no rust, and all the screws turned pretty easily. I oiled it up and it works like a champ.
I’ve wanted a lathe for a long time. You might remember that about 18 months ago I turned my drill press into a lathe. That worked well enough, but I couldn’t turn anything bigger than a fishing lure on it and I didn’t have the right tools.
This lathe doesn’t have a motor, and I don’t have a lot of space. I already had a motor mounted on my work bench to power my (also antique!) grinder so I added some braces where the lathe should go. Now I can slide the lathe in securely and pin it in place.
My aunt also gave me the body of an an old avacado-green juicer or stand mixer. It’s got a 1/3 HP motor in it, which is twice as powerful as the 1/6 HP motor I have mounted here. The mixer motor doesn’t have a table mount though, so I’m going to have to figure out how to mount it one of these days.
Today I went and bought a $60 set of High Speed Steel lathe chisels from Harbor Freight, and picked a straightish piece of wood from the wood pile.
It was pretty fun to see it get rounded out just like the YouTube videos I’ve been watching. I got through the bark and got it nice and smooth.
For my first project I decided to do something simple — a kids size rolling pin. It ended up slightly tapered, and the grooves on the handles aren’t symmetrical, and the grooves aren’t as smooth as I would’ve liked, but I thought it went alright for a first project.
The final test will be in the morning when the snoozy wakes up decides if she’s excited about it or not.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.