How to Build a Wood Lathe

By Nathaniel Miller
Example of a homemade lathe

Woodworking can be a stress-relieving hobby or a moneymaking enterprise, depending on your passion and the level of work you want to put into it. One tool that is absolutely essential, regardless of why you work with wood, is a lathe. However, accurate lathes can be expensive to buy. Luckily, a less expensive option is available: Make your own! The process of making a lathe is fairly straightforward and can be accomplished by anyone who is fairly mechanically inclined and has access to metalworking tools and supplies. Follow these easy steps to get started on yours today.

Build the bed by bolting together two 4-foot pieces of 3-by-3 inch steel at the tips. Place spacers between the steel to provide a "slot" on which your tool holder will slide back and forth.

Weld a 6-inch section of tubing (2 inches in diameter) onto the top of a 1/2-inch thick steel plate. Then weld a base onto the bottom portion of the metal plate. This entire apparatus (known as the headstock) is then bolted to one end of the lathe bed.

Place your lathe shaft and seal-bearing cartridge in the metal tubing and tighten the set screws to prevent the shaft from moving. Mount the lathe head onto the shaft over the bed, and place the pulley on the opposite end of the shaft.

Build the tailstock in a similar fashion as the headstock (using 1/2-inch thick plating and steel pipe). Place your tailstock shaft and bearing cartridges through the tubing and secure with set screws. Mount the tailstock head onto the end of the shaft above the bed and the handle onto the opposite end of the shaft.

Mount the motor either to the floor or next to your lathe and position the belt on the headstock pulley.

Tip

Your tool stock/holder is the most important part of the lathe, and should be purchased at your local woodworking store to ensure accuracy and safety.

Commercially available lathes can be had at secondhand prices, and therefore may be a better option than building your own.

Warning

Make sure to wear the proper safety equipment when you are welding or cutting the metal pieces. They can be quite sharp.