How to Make a Wood Lathe

How to Make a Wood Lathe

Knowing how to make a wood lathe from scratch will enable you to construct one which you can customize to your own needs. In the following information I will describe the parts that make the lathe, how they're assembled, and a few precautions you need to take.
Making a wood lathe at home is as easy as it gets provided you get the basics correct. In order for you to make good quality wooden craftwork you need to make sure that your machine delivers exactly what you ask of it. Here I shall explain a few important points that you need to keep in mind when making a wood lathe, so that it's easy for you to understand and execute.

Shaping wood can now be performed in the comfort of your own home. You can build your own wood lathe with a few basic materials - right from using plywood, to an old washing machine motor, they are all easily available, and pretty inexpensive too. And you get to make a myriad things for your house such as bats, clubs, pots, shelves, toys, arrows, intrinsic furniture (if you have a steady hand) and much more. Taking your time selecting the parts of the lathe will help a great deal as you will want to make sure that it turns out to be 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 due to convenience. There is a certain amount of skill required to operate small lathes, due to which their finished products are more often labeled as art. There are two types of lathes that you can make, they are:

Fixed Speed Lathe: In this type, wood turning can be performed only to a limited degree, due to the fixed speed at which the spindle can be rotated. In this form of turning, it's best if you get yourself a motor with a not too high rpm, so that you don't want to be in a situation where the motor is churning away at an rpm of 5000 or so and the only thing that you want turned is a pen.

Variable Speed Lathe: This type of lathe is able to produce 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 choose to rotate the spindle at different speeds.

The main factor that you need to consider is the purpose of the lathe, is it to satisfy the hobbyist or, to support a professional at his work? Portable ones are generally preferred due to their conveinience and small size. However, don't expect it turn churn out 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, we will note down the parts of a lathe that you're going to be assembling together. You need to get the headstock and the tailstock set, along with the toolrest and the bed. There is no single measurement that you have to follow because you might want to customize it according to your conveinience, such as the height at which you'll be most comfortable working at and so on.

We will now discuss the basic components required in order to build the wood lathe.
  • You need to have a bed prepared so that the headstock, toolrest and the tailstock find support and are on one plane. You can do this by bolting down two 4x4 pieces of pressure treated plywood with space in the middle. The headstock will consist 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.
  • You then need to mount the headstock and the tailstock which are already fixed onto two wooden blocks respectively, onto the bed.
  • You need to make sure that the bed of the lathe allows the toolrest and the tailstock to move back and forth to accommodate pieces of wood of varied lengths. You can do this by laying the toolrest and the tailstock into the horizontal space that you left in the bed while bolting down the two pieces of plywood. This will enable both these 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 will depend on 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.
This is as simple as it gets when you're making a simple portable lathe.


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.
Repositioning: While replacing a piece of wood you're working on, make sure that it is repositioned correctly onto the headstock. Damage may occur to the headstock, if it isn't positioned properly.
Slipping: 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.
Measurements: In case, you do not have a set of calipers to measure the diameters of the turnings, always keep an open-end wrench handy by your side.
Scraping: To smoothen out the end products while they're being turned, it's always better to use sandpaper instead of conventional metal tools, as sandpaper reduces splinters and also provides a smoother 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 a means of earning 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.