Instant lathe

I’m back from a weekend in the shop, and I did deviate a little bit from my original plan to finish the shoe rack. However, I managed to finish the mortises and tenons on one side. During marking up, I broke my self-made marking knife, so I had to resort to use sub-optimal tools (i.e. a pencil. at least, it was sharpened…). Most of the joints came out o.k, though not perfect, but one of the six is a little bit twisted.

Happy mortising...

The reason is not the tenon, but probably the mortise, it might have not exactly square sides. I’m not sure what to do about that – if I pare the mortise to be square, the tenon won’t fit tight enough, and if I pare the tenon, I’ll have the same problem. Hm. Maybe with suitable clamping, the problem will go away –

The reason for the deviation of the original plan was a blog post that I recently read – atm, I can’t find the link. Anyway, this blog post described an end-vise pole lathe, and I had a go to construct this ingenious device.

Assembled pole lathe, and work in progress. Note my new chisel in the foreground.

Basically, the two puppets are two somewhat longer benchdogs, they slip into the  dog holes of the workbench and the end vise, and thus, you have an instant, length-adjustable lathe.

The two bench dogs / puppets

For the rope, I used a bungee cord hooked into a clamp on the roof, and that was all I needed to start turning. Since I had never turned before, I had a somewhat steep learning curve, my chisels might not be the ideal turning tools. However, after some hours, I managed to turn a handle for my precision plane adjusting hammer with hexagonal brass head (photo soon, I forgot to shoot one), I used birch, which looks quite pretty. (The handle won’t last forever, some bugs have apparently munched happily in there).

The whole setup. Please note the sophisticated foot pedal.

Oh, and next weekend, a large birch will be taken down on the estate – what do you think, should I secure some logs and dry them? Or is that a useless idea?

So much for now, have a good start in the week,



~ by Michael on March 14, 2010.

14 Responses to “Instant lathe”

  1. This sounds like a great idea! I found this link:

  2. Wonderful! I saw one of these simple lathes a long time ago … probably the same place you did. Seeing yours, and being nowhere near completion of my treadle lathe, I’m tempted to make one of these quickly.

    BTW, I really like the garden house you have for a shop. Beautiful!

  3. The woodshopbug found the link – thanks!

    Bob, the parts of your treadle lathe look great – I’m sure it’s going to be a wonderful tool. And I can recommend making this simple lathe – all in all, it took me something like three hours to set it up and get it going. Half an hour of that was spent looking for a suitable rope.

    And yes, the garden house shop is indeed beautiful. I love it.

  4. That is very cool! I have an end vise on my old bench, I could probably set one of these up on it. I have a powered mini-lathe, but like Bob I’ve been wanting to build a foot-powered lathe. I’ve just acquired a pile of applewood logs, some of which I’ll use for handle turnings. I have a couple of posts about them on my blog.

    I used some fresh-cut birch for Boy Scout woodworking merit badge projects a few years ago. The boys weren’t very good with the lathe and didn’t really have enough patience, so the free birch was good to use! Just be sure to split it, don’t use a full cross section, because it will crack horribly as it dries. One of my blog pages shows a couple of small birch bowls I turned that came out fairly well.

  5. Steve – just give it a try! It is really worth the moderate effort. However, you’ll find yourself contemplating the build of a proper lathe for the next days – be warned!

    And thanks for the hint with the splitting – I’m already following your progress with the applewood with great interest. I just found out that there is some tree trimming (is this the proper word?) going on in the municipal park next to my flat, maybe I can snatch some free wood later on, it looks like they’re cutting large branches of the oaks there.

    Are branches any good for something?

  6. Looks great Michael! I’m impressed with your work with that chisel! I think with a gouge and a skew you will really be in business!

    As far as the birch – I’d grab it. Our local Alaskan birch works very well green and dried; it turns very nicely. Most of our birch is on the small side, so no large stock, but a lot of useful small stuff for projects. And Steve is correct – split it or it will check like crazy. You can also make some pretty cool things with the bark…

    And I agree wholeheartedly with Bob – your shop rocks!

    Oh – and Bob, be forewarned, I interrupted my treadle lathe build to make a “temporary” spring pole lathe and never did get back to it!

  7. I forgot to say that you can “operate” on that mortise tenon. Even if it is the mortise that isn’t true, it will probably be easier to adjust the tenon to match it. Just glue some thin wood onto the cheeks and use a chisel to reshape it. You will end up with a tenon that is not square to the stock, but when matched with the mortise, everything should look fine from the outside. Good luck!

  8. Oh dear. Again I have to acquire more tools. I have that impression that this never ends 😀 But in this case, it is fully legitimated by an acknowledged authority in handtool woodworking.

    Besides, I like acquiring tools.

    And thanks for the advice regarding the birch, I try to snatch as much as possible.

    Regarding the mortise: I will try to operate it – I think, that it is the mortise that is not true. But if it is the tenon, the proceeding is the same – I’ll glue some wood on the tenon and reshape it.

  9. Wow thanks for posting this lathe, I just built one ant it’s becoming addicting to turn! Thanks again!

  10. Oh, did I inspire you? I feel honoured! Looks like you’ve forgotten to post about it, we want pictures! 🙂

    And I became addicted as well, now I need some turning tools. I seems that I always find a reason to buy new tools.

  11. I posted it on my blog

    Time to buy some more tools!

  12. Woodshopbug, that looks great! And it’s a wonderful reason to buy some more tools, isn’t it? I found that this ingeniously simple setup works surprisingly well, and probably, it would work even better if I had the slightest idea how to turn, I’m working with a lot of trial and error and catching tools at the moment.

    In Mk2 of my lathe, I’m building some more substantial puppets, because I observes some wobbling, and I’m still looking for the best rope for the job.

  13. Green branches on your workbench lathe would be great! You’re better off splitting and using a section that doesn’t include the pith, especially if the diameter is large enough, but it’s free wood, experiment with whole pieces! You’ll be surprised how much actual liquid comes off the wood. I turned a nice bowl out of a green section of oak a few years ago and gave it to the property owner. I’m sure it cracked as it dried, but hopefully was still functional as a simple fruit bowl. It was good practice. The book “Turning Green Wood” is a good reference.

  14. This weekend, it’s finally shop time again, and I definitely will try some greenwood turning.
    Furthermore, the birch and (parts of) an aspen have been taken down now, but I haven’t seen it yet.

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