Benchtop Spring Pole Lathe – Uses and limitations

The idea and use of the lathe goes back thousands of years to at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. These days of course the lathe is very different to how it was then, replacing a simple machine manually operated by one or two people to the motor powered powerhouses of the modern era. Being a simple tool woodworker however, I decided to try and recreate a bit of a blast from the past.

You can see the YouTube video documenting the build here – Benchtop Spring Pole Lathe



A few of the pieces that make up the lathe

I went for the idea of a spring pole lathe, the spring in this case being an elastic bungee cord to save space in my little shed. Needing a way to make the lathe fit into my shed without it getting in the way I also made it so it could be clamped to my bench when in use and pulled apart easily and stowed away under my bench when not needed. The whole lathe being made from pallet wood also posed the problem of having to glue pieces together to make the stocks, this problem was soon overcome though.


Sharpened bolts to act as the centres

For the lathe centres I just sharpened the ends of a couple of bolts and bolted them firmly to the stocks. These bolts were 8mm in thickness and I think probably that’s the slimmest you’d want them, they maybe could’ve done with being thicker.



Test assembly

When I had inserted a bolt into the moving stock I did a test assembly. This allowed me to move the movable stock towards the fixed stock and push the point of the centre into it. This gave an accurate marking where I could drill the hole for the corresponding bolt to attach. After that was all done I just glued and screwed.


Attaching the posts to hold the bungee cord

I made the two posts that held the bungee cord removable so I could easily pack it away. The bottom of the posts simply slot into holes made with a wooden surround, they can sit in there firmly whilst being used and just slid out when packed away.


The lathe ready for use

After making a very simple pedal and clamping the lathe to my bench it was ready to use. I’m not very good at turning and I also don’t have the correct tools, so you’ll have to forgive my attempts! After failing with a piece of pallet wood I found more success with a small cherry branch, it was however still pretty awful but I would call it progress.


Attempt at turning

This build was so much fun and to do it all with recycled wood was incredibly satisfying. There are some limitations to this build however. I think to turn anything like a bowl would be very difficult as the side rails are quite high on the stocks, so if a bowl was to be turned it would be a rather small bowl. With it being made from pallet wood it will perhaps not be as sturdy or as long lived as its more robust, hardwood counterparts. It did however only take a few days to build and so far it seems to perform very well. I would encourage anyone at all to give it a go, nothing quite like seeing a machine you’ve made come to life.









One piece of pallet wood, one little box

Sometimes we do what we can to push the boundaries of our imagination and our materials, sometimes we just want to create a quick and easy project. This was the latter! (please be aware this post contains affiliate links)

You can see the YouTube tutorial here – YouTube tutorial – Pallet Wood Box

I wondered what I could make from a single piece of pallet wood and also what would be easy, quick and solid. Figuring that everyone needs boxes at some time in their lives I opted to make a little box, with a little lid.


It all started with a single piece of pallet wood, which scrubbed up nicely after planing

So I found a nice piece of pallet wood with as few knots in as possible, I planed it down to get all the grime and roughness off. You could almost mistake some pieces of pallet wood for shop bought lumber when they’re cleaned up. I then marked up the lengths I wanted for the sides and cut them, 2 long sides at 15 cm (5 15/16″), the top and bottom of the box at 15cm and the 2 small sides at 5.5cm (2 3/16″). You can of course make the box as big or as small as you like.


The 2 long sides, 2 short sides, the bottom and lid cut and ready

After these were all cut I clamped the 4 sides together without gluing them. I got the pieces in the right position and drilled the holes for the dowels. Having the sides all clamped together helped me to get the accuracy I needed for when the dowels go in.


I used a hand powered drill but an electric drill would work just as well, I just enjoy the quiet

4 holes were drilled on each of the long sides into the short sides and 4 holes from the bottom into the long sides. Creating the dowels is fairly simple, I just took a small piece of the pallet wood and split down it with a chisel to make smaller pieces. Using a carving knife I whittled them down and finally tapped them through a dowel plate to make them exactly the right size. If you don’t have a dowel plate you can just carve them down with a knife and keep testing the thickness until they’re the right size.

Dowel plate – Dowel Plate


Before and after being cut down to size

I always make more dowels than I need in case they break, especially at this size because they’re only 3mm (1/8″) in diameter and so are prone to breaking when being tapped in. Set all your pieces out on your work surface and start to glue them together.


All sides drilled and ready to be glued

I started by gluing the two short sides and making sure to really rub the glue in as I was gluing onto end grain. End grain soaks up a lot more glue and so its good practice to give it a helping hand. After that I put a tiny bit of glue on a dowel at a time and slowly tap them in. It’s important to be careful at this stage, start with very light taps to get the dowel started, going at the dowel gung-ho is likely to result in breakage.


Glued and doweled

After you’ve glued and doweled the sides and bottom its a good idea to leave it for 24 hours before doing anything else to it. When the time passed I trimmed off the tops of all the dowels.

The lid was the next thing to turn my attention to. I wanted it to lock in place when I put it on and so decided to cut a recessed area around the edge. Starting by making a cross going through the centre of the lid, I then marked out the inside lengths of the top of the box using the lines to centre those measurements.


The lid marked out and ready for cutting

I found using a small tenon saw is ideal to cut out the recessed area, a Japanese ryoba saw would be just as good though. Coming in with a chisel afterwards helps to really clean up the edges and make it nice and crisp.

Tenon Saw – Tenon Saw

Japanese Ryoba – Japanese Ryoba



Paring material away with a chisel can be incredibly satisfying

A file can then be used to smooth down all the corners and edges of the box. This step once again isn’t necessary but I like to be able to run my hands over the wood without feeling any sharp edges. After this is done you can smooth it even further with 120 grit sandpaper.


Filing down the edges and corners

The next step, whilst also not essential, is to make a simple handle for the lid. Now this handle could be square, cylindrical, triangular, cone shaped whatever you like. I opted for a simple semi circle cut out from the pallet wood with a coping saw.


You can use something round to make the semi circle shape, like a small tin

I smoothed the edges of the handle down and glued it onto the box. Later I gave it a good sanding all over with 240 grit sandpaper. I made sure to get around all the edges and into the box as well. I figured my hands would be entering the box at some point and so didn’t want the risk of splinters.


The box sanded down all over and ready for finish

At this point you could leave the box as is, I prefer to have a light coating of Danish oil on mine. It provides a low lustre, smooth finish.


After a couple of coats of Danish oil

The great thing about a finish is that it shows the real beauty of the wood. Even humble pallet wood can be brought to life with a finish.

All in all it was a very simple build but also quite satisfying to see a nice little box at the end of it. It certainly isn’t complicated joinery and I can’t imagine it looking like it belongs on any fine furniture but it serves a purpose, it’s sturdy, it’s recycled and it made me smile to see it completed. I think once you get all the other stuff out of the way, it’s the fulfilment that counts.

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