I inherited a 1930's Atlas Press metal lathe from my wife's grandfather. I do very little metal work so I removed and stored the back gears, counter shaft, and lead screw with its associated feed gears. My headstock has a 4-step pulley and the lathe is powered by a 1 HP motor with a 4-step pulley. By moving a spacer strip I can shift the motor left one pulley position so I have another combination of 3 speeds for a total of 7 speeds which cover the usual woodworking range. The motor mount has a belt tension screw in the back and a reversing switch on one side. I have been getting by for several years with a headstock pulley and gear shield that I made from a plastic bucket, but recently I found an aluminum kitchen canister which was just the right size and made a new one. I made an outboard hand wheel with a center hole to allow a lathe center knockout bar to pass through the headstock.
The lathe has a 10" swing and a 54" bed. The headstock is indexed and the spindle is 1 1/2" by 8 TPI and accepts a #3 Morse taper center, or a reduction sleeve with a #2 MT center. The tailstock is self-ejecting and takes a #2 MT center. The compound rest is easily installed and I use it often for boring, making dowels, turning a perfect cylinder, or truing the face of a wooden faceplate or chuck. The compound rest is fun to use and extremely useful for precise turning in certain situations -- sort of like machining wood. I use 1/4" HSS metal lathe bits which I grind with a round nose and a lot of rake from side to side. This produces a shearing cut which is fairly smooth. The lathe also came with a milling attachment which mounts on the compound rest. This is designed for milling metal, but I have used it a few times for cutting slots in wooden objects.
Being a metal lathe, it is very solid and has a lot of useful features. It came with several accessories, many of which can be used in wood turning. These include a variety of woodworking tool rests, faceplates, calipers, centers, chucks, and tooling. The accessories are stored on shelves in the right side of the cabinet below or in the swing out trays on the left. My lathe has a tailstock chuck adapter, a 1 1/2" by 8 TPI solid spindle on a #2 MT center. This allows me to mount any of the headstock spindle accessories on the tailstock. I use this adapter with my spindle mounted Jacobs chuck, and also to precisely center and mount faceplates with glue blocks.
For years I did not own a scrolling chuck, but I recently found a used Oneway chuck in very good condition. It came with 3 sets of jaws and is used mostly on my Jet mini lathe. I purchased a headstock adapter for my metal lathe to allow the scrolling chuck to be mounted on the Atlas 1 1/2" spindle.
Turning tools are stored in a box on top of the lathe. While turning, I place them in a rack on the front right cabinet door or on a tool tray which sets on the end of the lathe ways. I use a Veritas center locator to mark the center of square stock, and a Starrett center gauge to mark round stock.
I show some lathe tool sharpening jigs on the Sharpening page.
I also have a Jet mini lathe and a watchmaker's lathe which are described on the Other Lathes page.
Shop Made Turning Tools
I like to turn my own handles for lathe tools that I have made or purchased unhandled. I use copper plumbing unions for the ferrule and whatever hardwood is handy for the handle. I have made handles from the following, (from left to right) ash, sycamore, apple, maple, and beech.
I have made several scrapers from old files. Yes, I am aware that long and thin files can be brittle, but I use only shortened files which are 1/4" or thicker and I temper the steel after smoothing the bottom and the front portion of the tool. I use these scrapers on the exterior of a turning only, and for internal scraping I use thick HSS round or square profile scrapers. After grinding the scraper to the desired shape, I turn the edge using a Veritas scraper burnisher. When working with very dense wood I do not turn the edge, I just hone it.
HSS tool bits make excellent detail scrapers and it is easy to grind them to unique shapes for special applications. I made a couple of tool bit holders from mild steel bar stock and setscrews and one from a section of iron pipe. Different profiles can be ground on each end of a bit.
My favorite tool for separating box lids is this narrow blade parting tool. I used a metal lathe cut off blade which is made of HSS and tapers from 3/32" at the top, down to 1/16" at the bottom which I have rounded over to protect the tool rest.
In his book on bowl turning, Richard Raffan recommends making some hand held center hole drills to gauge the depth of the bowl and provide initial clearance for the bowl gouge.
I used a couple of old HSS twist drills to make some pyramid point turning tools. The larger one is 5/8", the smaller is 7/16", and the ash handles came from a broken shovel handle. These are very useful when cutting beads and can be used in either a scraping or cutting orientation. After grinding 3 facets evenly spaced around the shank, the facets were lapped and honed with a diamond plate until they were flat and the intersections were sharp.
I also made a round skew chisel from a 1/2" long shank HSS drill bit. It is used mostly in spindle turning.
A broken baseball bat and a length of steel rod yielded this straight shank multiple-tip hollowing and scraping tool. The tool is used with the flat portion of the shank on the tool rest. The design is remarkably similar to one manufactured by a well known Sheffield tool maker, but there is no reason to believe that they copied my design (wink, wink). The hollowing and scraping bits are also used on my Robert Sorby Swan Neck Hollowmaster lathe tool.
I used a replacement cutter from a popular tool maker to fabricate this carbide tipped hollowing tool, which can be used to rough out bowls, turn hollow containers, and scrape the interior of vessels. The bevel below the cutter is very important, as it is used to make contact with the wood before rotating the tool to bring the cutting edge into the piece being turned. It is used with the cutter rotated down at around 45 degrees, and even more for scraping. My handle has been drilled out to allow the round steel rod to extend as much as 8" for scraping deep vessels, or as little as 4" when cutting. Two set screws secure the rod in the handle. Shaping the bevel on this tool took a long time; I'm not sure I would want to make another.
I found some beech table legs at a surplus store priced at $1.98 each. These are perfect for making lathe tool handles up to 14" in length. I ordered 5 replacement carbide cutters from Craft Supplies USA and picked up some 1/2" steel bar stock at Ace Hardware to make these square and radius tip tools and also two round tip scrapers. All cut with a scraping action with the tool flat on the tool rest and parallel to the floor. The square cutters with a slight radius are quite aggressive and remove stock very quickly. The tip of the steel bar is ground and filed to leave a ridge behind the carbide cutter. This ridge makes contact at two points below the cutting edge to prevent the cutter from rotating. The tool tip of the round cutters is shaped to allow clearance on the front and sides. The smaller round carbide cutter is perfect for scraping the interior of vessels and hollow forms. I made a simple carrier which allows me to use the round cutter on my Robert Sorby Multi-Tip Hollowing Tool.
A recent project required turning a number of evenly spaced beads. I made a bead scraper from an old Craftsman bench saw molding cutter bit. The handle came from my favorite source of ash, broken baseball bats, and the bit holder from a large square shank screwdriver. It worked very well so I made a few additional cutters in cove profiles. Here is a sampler turned from a piece of maple.
Shop Made Turning Jigs and Fixtures
I have made a number of accessories and jigs for the lathe. Among the most simple are hardwood centering cones which fit tightly over a revolving Steb Center. A hardwood cylinder with a centered steel point assists in mounting faceplates. Also, a simple bowl depth gauge made from a scrap of wood, thumbscrew, and a dowel.
There has been a lot of discussion concerning shop made power sanding disks on the news group forum "rec.crafts.woodturning". These typically use the 3M Roloc quick change sanding disks which are popular in the automotive body shop industry. I used the directions on Darrell Feltmate's highly informative website to make two sets of eight each -- medium flexibility disks made from an old rubber mouse pad, and thicker disks made from rubber wrist support pads, similar to the mouse pad, but much more flexible. These were attached to Roloc sanding disks with hot glue, and heavy duty Velcro hook material was applied to the top surface. I found some Roloc holders at a used tool store. I cut 2" disks from 5" hook and loop ROS sanding disks using 2" diameter washers as templates. My storage case was made from an old audio cassette case. These are common thrift store items and I have purchased several for various storage requirements in my shop.
The sanding disks described in the previous paragraph are generally used under power with an electric or cordless drill. They can also be used with a passive holding device which allows the rotation of the work piece, such as a bowl, to cause the disk to rotate against it. I have used a simple block of rosewood with a 1/4" hole drilled in one end for several years and it works pretty well, especially on the exterior of the bowl. For interior sanding I made an adjustable angle sanding tool with a ball bearing in the head. This device was turned from rosewood also.
"Hardware store" mandrels were made from all-thread with one end drilled to accept the live center, and some nuts and washers. These mandrels are held in a hollow center Jacobs chuck which mounts directly to the headstock spindle.
Since the headstock takes a #3 MT center, it is easy to make some hardwood drive centers which slide into the spindle. These can be turned to suit specific needs -- I keep a few handy which are modified as required. This is also true for stub tenon jigs which use a hose clamp to provide compression. I have made several and each has a different inside and outside diameter. These are used to turn a round tenon on a dowel, or to grip other round stock such as this socket chisel handle which I needed to turn down for a different chisel. If I am working close to the jig I slip a plastic cylinder over the clamp to prevent catching my knuckles when it is spinning. Most of these were made from "thrift store" maple rolling pins which you can buy for a dollar or two.
When turning a thin walled vessel or a long item to be hollowed out, I support the piece with a shop made steady rest. The jig is symmetrical and can be mounted with either side facing the headstock. The aluminum support arms can likewise be mounted with the wheels facing in either direction. I made two sets of wheels, small and thin wheels made from roller bearings which have been covered with a thin band of soft plastic tubing to prevent marking the piece, and larger wheels from a child's inline roller skate.
Another type of steady rest can be easily made using some threaded steel rod and 3 inline roller skate wheels. I got this idea from Hermann de Vries' excellent website. This type is easier to make, but will not accommodate as large a piece because the bottom wheels are located between the lathe ways and the piece being supported. I used a piece of channel iron for the base of the jig which allows the bottom of the wheels to be positioned closer to the lathe ways.
I purchased a hollow tailstock center for drilling lamp bases. It is designed to be held in the tool rest support, but I made a more substantial support from hard maple. After the cup center with a temporary point is centered using a template, the lamp base is mounted on the cup center and tightened with the tommy bar, then everything is locked down with set screws. When the temporary point is withdrawn from the rear, the lamp base can be drilled through its axis with a lamp base auger. This lamp base was made from a piece of Colorado Aspen with a lot of surface defect.
Most of the jigs that I have made use 1 1/2" by 8 TPI headstock spindle adapters which came with the lathe or which I have purchased from Grizzly Industrial. The jigs are fabricated on the lathe to assure accurate centering and are precisely faced using the compound rest. These include some screw chucks made from some scrap Baltic birch and MDF screws. Spindle adapters were also used in the faceplate system, the ring collar chuck, the jam chuck, and the centering plate described below. I made an adjustable length large screw chuck using a screw from a Oneway Stronghold Chuck which I found on the bargains table at a Woodcraft retail outlet. This screw chuck is used a lot when turning the exterior and bottom of bowls.
It seems that you never have enough faceplates, especially the 3" and 4" size. I made a faceplate system from some birch hardwood which contains a headstock spindle adapter and a 3/4" 10 TPI grade 8 bolt and nut. The faceplate chuck was accurately drilled on the lathe, tapped, and the bolt secured with J-B Weld metal epoxy. The face of the chuck was drilled out with a Forstner bit to accept the nut which was also secured with epoxy. I then made two 3" faceplates and two 4" faceplates, and also a couple of pine glue block carriers. The faceplates were made from laminated Baltic Birch plywood and were faced on the chuck. Each contains a captured hex nut which allows the faceplate to be repeatably and accurately centered on the chuck's bolt. These nuts were also secured internally with metal epoxy. The pine glue blocks are essentially carriers which allow pine blocks to be parted off, trued up, and refaced with pine and reused.
I usually glue a pine block to the bottom of the bowl blank and mount a 3" faceplate. I turn these off after finishing the bowl using a shop made ring collar chuck to hold the bowl. I made 4 rings with different diameter holes for different size bowls. The ring collar chuck is also known as a donut chuck.
Like many wood turners, I often make jam chucks to assist in completing my projects. I used a spindle adapter to make a jam chuck carrier. In its most simple application it can be used as a pressure plate to drive items held against it with a live center in the tailstock. It contains a centered nut which is secured with epoxy from within. This allows me to use the chuck with a bolt and some scrap wood to grip the turning from the inside or with a groove in a disk to hold the item by the rim.
Recently I needed a cup shaped jam chuck to grip a small round item. I had just made one, but I couldn't find it, and it wouldn't have been the correct size anyway, so I decided to make a project out it. I grabbed 4 or 5 of my "thrift store" maple rolling pins and cut them into short cylinders. Using a shop made tapping guide, I tapped one end to fit the bolt on my faceplate chuck. After facing each blank and truing up the sides, I drilled center holes ranging from 3/4" to 2 1/8" in 1/8" increments and drilled a hole in the side for a tommy bar. I also made several extra blanks for future use, and put them in an old audio cassette case. When I need a cup shaped jam chuck, I select the closest size which is smaller than needed and enlarge the hole to fit the item I am turning. When it is just right, I moisten the inside of the cup and insert the item to be turned. It holds the item quite tightly.
I made a centering plate to assist in centering stock and other lathe setups. It uses 4 rubber "corks" with holes drilled off-center to help center and grip the piece. I find this useful in centering previously turned items while I mount a glue block to the bottom.
Turning Bowls on a Metal Lathe
I have been asked how I turn bowls on a metal lathe using glue blocks. I decided to photograph the steps on a recent bowl project.
If the bowl blank is cupped or uneven, I flatten the top surface with a scrub and jack plane. Fairly flat is good enough. This step assures that the blank will seat correctly on the screw chuck. Next I cut out the bowl blank on my bandsaw. I decide on the shape and depth of the bowl, and drill a pilot hole in the center of the surface which is to become the top and screw it onto a screw chuck. Using my compound rest, I face off the bottom of the bowl blank. Next I prepare a pine glue block and mount it to a 3" faceplate. I true the glue surface in the same manner as the bowl bottom, and also true the side. The latter step is not really necessary, but takes only seconds to accomplish. I screw the 3" faceplate onto my tailstock chuck adapter and coat the pine with Gorilla glue. Using the tailstock to apply pressure, I glue the faceplate and pine block to the bottom of the bowl blank and allow the glue to cure overnight.
While the blank is still mounted on my screw chuck, I turn the bottom of the bowl to approximate shape. It will be finished later when the blank is reversed and the faceplate is mounted on the headstock, but it is easier to shape the bottom in this position. I use a bowl gouge to create the desired profile. After mounting the faceplate on the headstock, I complete shaping the outside of the bowl with a bowl gouge and shear scraper. I then hollow out the bowl using a bowl gouge followed by a round nose scraper. I tie the end of my dust collector hose to the lathe bed using an old shoe lace and sand the bowl with 150 through 600 grit paper. I apply finish at this time, usually a friction polish made of shellac and wax, or sometimes a micro-crystalline wax containing a burnishing compound. I remove the finished bowl from the faceplate and turn off the glue block using a ring collar chuck. I then turn a slight concavity to the bottom of the bowl, sand it, and sign the bottom with my name, wood species and date. Finish is applied to the bottom to seal the wood. Here is the finished bowl which was turned from Myrtle burl.
I show several of my woodturning projects on my Woodturning page.
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