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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.