How to Make a Wood Lathe for Woodturning

How to Make a Wood Lathe

How tо Make а Wood Lathe

It’s not difficult to learn how to make a wood lathe once you understand the basic principles. In order to make well-crafted wood projects, you need to make sure that your woodworking tools and equipment deliver exactly what you ask of them. There are some important points to keep in mind when making a DIY wood lathe so that the process becomes easier for you to understand and carry out.

Once you have a wood lathe, you’ll be able to shape your wood items in your own workshop. In order to make your own wood lathe, you’ll need a few basic materials. Some scraps of wood, plywood and an old washing machine motor should all be easily found and quite inexpensively, too.

With a lathe, you’ll be able to make a myriad of things for your home – or someone else’s – such as baseball bats, pots, clubs, toys, shaped chair and table legs and much more.

Selecting the Required Parts

It will help a great deal if you take your time in selecting the necessary parts for your lathe. You will want your lathe to be durable and to have a motor that runs with the minimum of noise.

The Wood Lathe

Wood lathes are made for various purposes and, consequently, come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Smaller lathes are more common in home workshops for reasons of convenience. One needs a certain amount of skill to operate a small lathe; some finished products are veritable works of art.

This video explains the basics of how a wood lathe works:


There are two types of wood lathe that you can make: fixed-speed or variable-speed.

Fixed-Speed Lathes

With a fixed-speed lathe, you can only perform wood-turning to a limited degree, due to the fixed speed at which the spindle rotates. In this case, it’s best to get a motor that does not have a too-high RPM. You won’t want to have a spindle running at 5,000 RPM when all you want to turn is an arrow or a pencil!

Variable-Speed Lathes

As the name implies, a variable-speed lathe has an adjustable spindle-rotation speed. It is, therefore, able to produce an assortment of different-sized wood carvings. Ideally, the motor for such a lathe would have an electronic controller to enable you to rotate the spindle at varying speeds.

Before you do anything, you need to consider the purpose of your lathe. Will you be doing casual wood-turning as a hobby or will you be doing it professionally? A small, portable wood lathe being worked for 8-9 hours a day won’t stand up to the pressure required of a heavy-duty machine.

The wood lathe described below is of the simplest form. To make one, you will need just a few pieces of wood and some simple tools. Depending on your future requirements, you could use it as it is or you could upgrade it at a later stage.

Assembling Your Lathe

Make a note of the parts of the lathe that you’re going to be assembling. You need to get the tailstock and the headstock set, along with the bed and the tool-rest. There are no specific measurements that you need to follow because you might want to customize it according to your preferences, such as the height that you’re most comfortable working with and so on.

Basic Components for Building Your Lathe

Here is an image of an industrial-type woodworking lathe so you can identify the various components. As you can see, this one is not portable!

how to make a homemade lathe
An industrial-type woodturning lathe

You need to prepare the lathe bed to support the headstock, tailstock and tool-rest so they are on one level. How to do this:

Bolt down two 4×4 pieces of pressure-treated plywood with space in the middle. The headstock will contain the spindle; you can drive the spindle either manually (using the pedal-pulley method) or by using a motor, as with the washing-machine motor mentioned above.

You would then mount the headstock and the tailstock (which you would have previously fixed onto 2 wooden blocks, respectively) onto the bed. Make sure that the lathe bed will allow the tailstock and tool-rest to move back and forth so it can accommodate pieces of wood of different lengths. You can check this by laying the tailstock and the tool-rest into the horizontal space that you left in the bed while bolting down the 2 pieces of plywood. You will then be able to move both those components back and forth while working on your wood piece.

The tailstock holds one end of the wood firmly while the headstock holds the other end. The tailstock keeps the piece of wood that you’re working on from vibrating so that you don’t have difficulty working on it.

Depending on the type of work you want to do, you might or might not need to attach a faceplate to the headstock. For example, for turning pots, plates, bowls etc., you will require one; however, for arrows, pens, bats, clubs etc. you will need only the spindle.

Thіѕ іѕ аѕ easy аѕ іt gets whеn уоu’rе making а simple, portable lathe.

Here you can watch the process of how to make a wood lathe:


If you would like to order the DIY wood lathe plan for building this lathe ($12), click here.

Safety Precautions

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re busy turning wood on your lathe – it will also help keep your lathe in good condition:

Burn marks: Sometimes, when turning wood on a manually-operated lathe, the friction can cause burn marks on the wooden handles or the headstock. If this happens, apply a liberal amount of beeswax or paraffin before you start wood-turning with your lathe.

Repositioning: When replacing a piece of wood you’re working on, make sure that you reposition it correctly into the headstock. If it’s not properly positioned, it may cause damage to the headstock.

Slipping: It’s not unusual for the piece of wood to slip while the head screw that is attached to the headstock is turning it around. If this happens, you need to fit in some form of packing between the head screw and the piece of wood. This will ensure that the threads on the headstock don’t wear out.

Measurements: In the event that you don’t have a set of calipers to measure the diameters of the turnings, always keep an open-end wrench within easy reach.

Scraping: To smoothen out an end product while it’s being turned, it’s best to use sandpaper, rather than conventional metal tools; sandpaper reduces splinters and also provides a smoother finish to the wood you’re turning.

Woodturning can be a most rewarding hobby, once you’ve mastered the art. It can even become a means of earning a living. By trying out different techniques and designs, you can create wood art to enhance any environment. Now that you have learned how to make a wood lathe, grab a chunk of wood and get it turning on your new wood lathe!

How to Use a Wood Lathe

The wood lathe is the oldest form of lathe. It’s the most convenient tool for wood-turning and also the safest when used responsibly. There are two types of wood-turning: spindle turning and faceplate turning.

In spindle turning, you attach the wood to the lathe and keep it stationary by securing it between 2 points or else with a clamp. You would then use a hand-held turning tool to carve out wood material from the “raw” piece of wood.

When doing faceplate turning, you attach the piece of wood to a faceplate, which keeps the wood rotating. You would then use a stationary tool to shape the wood to the desired form.

This video gives a more detailed explanation of how to use a wood lathe:



Wood-turning Ideas

Beginners to wood-turning often have one big difficulty when starting out: What on earth shall I turn? Here are some suggestions:

The easiest project for a beginner to start with is a simple bowl. To make one, you can get a 3.5″-thick piece of ambrosia maple wood in a dry state. The turning tools you will require are a spindle gouge and a bowl gouge.


We will be using the faceplate-turning technique to make our bowl. It’s always a good idea to start turning the bowl from the bottom (referred to as the tailstock of the bowl) and then proceed upwards. You can rough-cut the bowl first in whatever shape you want, then add the appropriate finishing touches.

You can use the same technique to turn out objects such as a wall clock or tea light holders. A “lazy Susan” is another useful item you can produce. How about a set of wooden spatulas for the kitchen?

It’s a good idea to polish your finished items with an oil finish. It makes the wood weatherproof and also improves its appearance. Be sure to sandpaper the surface of the wood before you apply the finish.

To finish off your wood-turned item, attach a buffing wheel to your lathe. A good buffing will further improve the quality of the wood surface.

Final Safety Tips

Woodturning with the use of a wood lathe can be a highly-satisfying hobby. Yet, it’s important to follow some safety rules in order to avoid mishaps. Use a face shield when you’re using your lathe; at a minimum, wear protective eye goggles. You’re going to be sprayed with wood chips and sawdust, so wear appropriate clothing. Roll up your sleeves, tie back long hair and never wear anything that could get caught by the spinning mechanism!

Lastly, use wood conservatively. Value your wood. Remember, a tree was cut down to make the wood available to you. Practice as far as you can with pieces of waste wood before taking up wood of superior quality.

If you don’t feel inclined to make your own wood lathe, you can easily order one from Amazon:

How to make a wood lathe

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