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Wood Working

Building A Homemade Wood Lathe

Anybody else out there wanting to build a homemade wood lathe? I’ve had the bug for over twenty years ever since the first time I saw Roy Underhill use one on his show “The Woodwright’s Shop”.

Roy is pretty shy about revealing the details of his treadle lathe. In his many books published in the last 20 years, a couple have featured articles on the lathe but without much-needed details.

A couple years ago I found myself going through another round of homemade wood lathe desire. I decided the only way around it was sit down and design one then build it. . . and I did just that!

It may have been sour grapes, but I told myself I was glad that Roy didn’t publish plans for his lathe. It was too short for me anyway!

With the work position idea in mind, I measured the distance above the floor the work would need to be spinning in order not to cause too much strain on my back. This was the first dimension for my project.

I wanted it to be able to turn at least 36-inch long work, have about 9 inches of swing clearance and make it fairly light weight to be able to move it by myself. I also decided I wanted to try and make it as economical as I could.

With these items in hand, the sketching started. Soon I switched over to scaled drawings to be able to better calculate the proper dimensions. I was surprised how quickly the homemade wood lathe design came together after that.

The large support pieces of the lathe were rather simple to design, but the details like bearing and pulley locations were another matter. I spent a lot of time scratching my head at this point.

Many weekends were spent trying to calculate the sizes and locations of the moving parts. Only after I actually ordered some of the stuff I couldn’t make myself, did I start to progress again.

I ordered all my bearings for the pulleys, flywheel and headstock from the same place. The thrust bearing in the headstock would be there to help counteract the compression forces from clamping the workpiece between centers.

When they arrived, things started to move again. Their locations were scaled into the drawings. I had a welder take a piece of one-half inch round steel stock and put two 90-degree bends in it on one end for a flywheel crankshaft.

By some manner of calculation I had concluded that an off-set dimension of one and one-half inches would provide both torque and speed in the right amount. Part of that calculation also took into consideration the height to which I would need to lift my leg in order to operate the treadle on my homemade wood lathe.

Once I was satisfied with the plans and had all my parts in hand, construction commenced. For the next month and a half I spent every weekend glued to my homemade wood lathe project.

More than several times work halted to reconsider my plans. In fitting the pieces together sometimes I would find that my measured drawing did not allow for proper clearances for example and had to be revised.

As I neared the end of almost four months, my homemade wood lathe was finally finished. It had been the single most challenging and frustrating project I had ever tackled and yet one I will never forget!

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