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Homemade Lathe?

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  • Homemade Lathe?

    So I am so new at Machining that my Lathes Cord is still pulsing.... anyways already looking at my craftsman 109 and thinking its too small.... hate that Anyways Looking at lathes and guys that buy bench top lathes and all the mods they do and I just can't keep thinking would it be easier to build a lathe? I mean... take the lathe I have make some of the parts I have and make a BIGGER lathe? Doesn't seem that hard. The gearing would be the "hard part" just a ton of math UGH but I was looking at the length of my bed and thinking I could make an extended end thingy and then it got me thinking... why not just go the whole distance.... What do you guys think?
    "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you."

  • #2
    I think it depends on what you want out of the project.

    To learn how to do a bunch of stuff, like making gears, ways, lining up bearings, all kinds of stuff that goes into making a lathe? If so, great.

    To make a larger lathe than what you have that works well? I don't think this is likely to be the end result, particularly for someone just starting out. It's doable, but will take a lot of time, effort and persistence. And how much it costs will likely vary depending on how much time you want to take (faster is generally more expensive).

    I don't think it makes for a good "starter" project.


    • #3
      I often find in building one of my own, I learn to appreciate the knowledge incorporated into the tool. It usually takes lots more time, money, and revisions than I originally thought to get something usable. It's a great way to truly understand a tool, though.


      • #4


        • #5
          The gearing would the be the easy part imo. Post lots of pics
          in Toronto Ontario - where are you?


          • #6
            Seems I remember that Evan built a lathe and shared it here years ago.
            Or maybe it was a mill.
            Or maybe both.
            In any case it was an amazing machine (or two).
            There has to be a thread on here somewhere.
            I cut it off twice and it's still too short!


            • #7
              yes you can build a lathe. a lot of work but not that hard. being new I would make the tooling for what you have make other projects. get some experience. all the while keep on the lookout for a larger lathe. a nice south-bend mite show up.

              go on you tube search 6 inch craftsman lathe. there will be enough videos to keep you busy for a day or two. some of the projects I have seen them doing on a small lathe makes you think.


              • #8
                I agree with everyone else - it is a great worthwhile project, but ...

                will cost 10x more in money and 20x more in time to get an equivalent tool vs buying one.
                None of the steps or components are particularly hard to do, but most involve all sorts of tools and techniques and skills you need to make, buy and learn for each component.


                • #9
                  My goodness you all must be a lot smarter than I am because this to me appears as a pretty daunting task. While yes maybe making the parts isnt exactly rocket science the design and planning involved would be nuts.

                  Even if you made a VERY detailed schematic of what you wanted you still then need to drill / mill / ream / scrape / etc etc etc darn near perfectly every single component to get a quality machine.

                  Seems it would take even a VERY experienced guy a LONG time to pull this off. On top of that you would need a tremendous amount of tooling to accomplish. Not to mention it would cost a fortune.

                  But hey if you want to give it a try and learn it would be a heck of a feat in my opinion.


                  • #10
                    Using a big lathe and a big mill to make a smaller lathe would be doable in a home shop. But using a small lathe to make a big lathe? That would require a huge amount of trickery, inventiveness, keen skills in pretty well all facets of metalworking and a healthy dollop of good ol' luck. And since you are a self admitted neophyte I'm going to suggest that you go lay down until the feeling goes away..... sorry....

                    The heart of any lathe is the bed. On the larger machines this is a big and well integrated lump of top quality cast iron. They are cast then allowed to "age" for some time to relieve the stresses of casting so they can be machined and hole true. Or perhaps these days they do some sort of heating based stress relieving. I'm not that up on it. But either way the castings are stress relieved to aid in remaining stable and true during and after machining once the ways and other surfaces are shaped.

                    So what would you use as a home shop replacement for the bed? Do up a big steel weldment? Bad idea. Unlike cast iron the stresses from all that welding would not ease off with age. It would require a careful pre and post heating of the parts to reduce the stresses from welding. But a lot of it would still be there and come out to haunt you later on when trying to machine and true the welded bed. And without sending it out to be machined how would you handle the machining and truing to a high degree of the bed that is roughly 7 feet long for a 12x36" machine?

                    And how would you make the head stock? Even my own fairly modest 12x36" lathe has a head stock which would not fit the 109. And what about the lead screws for the carriage apron? Mine are 4 feet long. Even the shorter cross slide screw is longer than what you could hold and thread in your little 109.

                    So all in all I'd still say while it's nice to dream like this that your wiser path would be to spend that time you would have put into making a lathe into working overtime or some other pursuit that will gather funds and just buy a suitable machine.

                    In the meantime explore the world of "table top machining". There's oodles of great smaller engines and other doohickies you can make on the 109 that will teach you the new skills and gather smiles from your buddies at your home shop prowess.

                    If you don't have a mill yet I'd suggest that you take the lesson of the 109 to heart and buy a mill that is large enough to serve as a suitable companion to the lathe you eventually want to buy. Same with the drill press you buy. Don't go too small or it'll end up being out of scale for the work it can hold for later on. Of course the size of mill and lathe will be determined to some extent by the shop size you have now and expect to have in the future. For me that was the 12x36" size. It's proven out to do all I've ever wanted. If I were to go smaller I'd likely be able to live with one of the more solid new 10x22" lathes. Or a nice older Logan would be sweet as well. But this is a decision you'll have to make based on your situation.
                    Chilliwack BC, Canada


                    • #11
                      I think it would be much easier to build a purpose built CNC lathe than a manual lathe. Large linear ways, big ball screws, the headstock made from a large piece of cast iron, that might be the trickiest part... Well besides making sure everything is linear, square, and chatter free.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by BCRider View Post
                        So all in all I'd still say while it's nice to dream like this that your wiser path would be to spend that time you would have put into making a lathe into working overtime or some other pursuit that will gather funds and just buy a suitable machine.
                        Read and study the rest of BCRider's post. He knows what he's talking about

                        That said, it is possible to make a serviceable, larger lathe from scratch. You can buy top quality linear bearings for a bed, buy a pre-made precision spindle, buy lead screws, etc. and - with a good bit of thought and machining - cobble something together. If you go that route, you could even build it to be CNC. BUT, even if you end up with a 16" swing lathe, it won't compete with a 16" commercially available lathe that is built around a solid piece of cast iron. In the end, there is no substitute for mass/rigidity. And all those parts you buy off the shelf will end up costing way more (to say nothing of your time) than if you just bought a used machine.

                        Edit: Not trying to discourage you... like others have said it could be a really rewarding project in terms of lessons learned but if you really want a bigger lathe to *use*, then I suggest buying a bigger lathe!
                        Last edited by Fasttrack; 06-13-2017, 12:09 PM.


                        • #13
                          Take a look at the following site for ideas about building a lathe, milling machine, and drill, from common scrap parts and concrete:


                          Or a "multi-machine":

                          You may find this to be a welcome challenge where you might have fun and learn a lot, but it will be a lot of work and could be boring and frustrating. If you really need a large lathe, and don't mind doing some work, they are often available cheap on Craig's List and eBay.

                          I think it would be more fun, as well as quite a challenge, to make a miniature lathe (and other machine tools).


                          Paul , P S Technology, Inc. and MrTibbs
                          USA Maryland 21030


                          • #14
                            If you are interested in making your own, I suggest that you look into the Gingery books. He has one just on building your own lathe.

                            They say that a lathe is one of the few tools that you can use to make itself. But look at the Gingery model to get an idea of the compromises that you make to go that route. It does not look at all sophisticated.

                            I came across a project on the web a few weeks ago where the guy made a new headstock for his lathe from weldments. It was well designed and seems that it worked well for him.

                            The biggest impediment to making your own (it certainly looks simple) is that you don't always know the reasons behind all the design decisions. Why did one lathe have flat ways and another had Vee ways and yet another had cylindrical ways? Why does it use the pulley ratios that it uses? The list goes on and on.

                            In this case, I'd buy rather than build. The build is a year or two of weekend work for a novice. The buy is just 6 months of disposable income.

                            At the end of the project, there is a profound difference between spare parts and left over parts.

                            Location: SF East Bay.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by PlanlosChannel View Post
                              I just can't keep thinking would it be easier to build a lathe? I mean... take the lathe I have make some of the parts I have and make a BIGGER lathe? Doesn't seem that hard.
                              Being very new at machining, it's understandable that you might think it looks easy, but that's a function of inexperience, I'm afraid.

                              Ever consider getting into wood turning? You might enjoy giving it a try to make a wood turning lathe - it would be vastly less demanding, and could give you some interesting experience and insight into what you'd face giving a serious effort toward the rigidity and precision of a metalworking tool.

                              As a latecomer to the machining world, I started with a Taiwanese 11-inch lathe, and soon wished for a more robust, but not bigger machine. When I saw what it could do, I realized the Hardinge HLV style was just what I'd need. So, in 2006 with the aid of my trusty credit card, I spent as much as a new Toyota Camry LXE for a brand new Sharp clone of the machine. BEST TOOL DECISION I EVER MADE. Now my work on the lathe is never limited by the machine, but my own ability, which has grown exponentially since the purchase!

                              And, as it turned out I "accidentally invented" a product that took advantage of the machine's production capability and eventually netted me enough income that i could at least tell myself the lie that I paid for it twice over by making product . . .

                              Frank Ford