Home-built metal lathe

Hi all.
I am interested in building a metal lathe. At present, I’m restoring a wood-lathe and that has been going quite well. Long before I started on the restoration, I started following Gingery’s design to build a metal lathe but struck a few snags and eventually, after a fair bit of research, have hit a bit of an impasse. I have a few different designs that I’ve been considering, each with merits and dismerits. Has anyone in MHV pursued a project of this nature? I’d be intested in your experiences.
Cheers, Chris Small.

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I work at a place that builds CNC’s and other Industrial Equipment.

It really depends on how accurate you need it to be and what cutting speed you want. Obviously having a lower cutting speed makes everything a lot easier.

Here are some questions…

  • What bed length do you want? 20cm -> 1m? etc

  • What head diameter ?

  • to cut what types of metal? Aluminium or Steel

Sourcing the Electric motors is a lot easier than it used to be. As are the chucks. It really comes down to what size you want.

There are lots of old Industrial lathes going at Auction sites but they’d be 3-phase and perhaps too big. Some of the hobby-lathes that you can buy are pretty neat.

Hi David!
I don’t know anything about lathes is the short answer - but I’m learning. I thought that it would be a good project to build a gingery-type lathe but have subsequently read a fair bit of adverse feedback in relation to chatter, torsion of the bed, etc. I essentially wanted to build something that I could machine up the occasional piece for generic projects.The nice thing about Gingery’s design is that it more-or-less can be used to build itself. But that was based on being able to acquire cold rolled steel - and CRS seems to be a problem in Australia.

I was also looking at the `concrete lathe’ as another option but this is a much larger machine. It has some nice features but, again, I think that availability of material at a reasonable cost would be an issue.

As for type of metal - I usually cast Aluminium, ZAMAC or pot metal. But steel, bronze and brass are also possibilities (with all of the machining difficulties that the latter imply).

I expect the alternative to CRS is to buy mild steel and have it milled to spec or buy 1020 `bright steel’ that is close to spec and modify the patterns for the aluminium castings accordingly.

For all the bother that it would be (redoing a few hundred years of R&D :slight_smile: ), it might be best to go buy a hobby-lathe like:


Sometimes having nice tools rather than ones that you make yourself is worth it. Especially with a lathe, precision is the key.

Anyway, link posted for ideas. A concrete base might work. I also have some compound-stone countertop material that would make an ideal base. It’s pretty heavy, has a shiny surface and could no doubt be drilled into to add metal parts - free of course.

Good points - and that’s a fairly cheap and reasonable looking machine. I might give a bit of thought to this whole thing before I invest more effort.
Cheers, Chris.

I also know little about lathes, other than using them when I was younger. However that hobby lathe appears a bit un-sturdy compared to the traditional suppliers for about $100 more:

A friend of mine whom is an experienced machinist has told me in the past when I was looking at getting one that it actually takes a lot more skill to use a smaller machine, due to the lack of rigidity. For this reason he was suggesting to get a bigger machine as it would be a lot easier to get decent parts out of it.

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It’s quite fun driving around the country getting equipment like lathes from Auction sites. Some works, some is damaged, some not. It’s amazing what’s out there.

My point was that for 20 hours work, it would be hard to approach a commercially made lathe new, unless your hourly rate of pay was very, very, very low.

Appropriate Safety Message: Always hoard responsibly. Throw out immediately before or after adding new items to your collection.
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I saw a really small one here: https://www.banggood.com/DC-24V-Mini-Lathe-Beads-Machine-Polish-Woodworking-DIY-Tools-80-100W-p-1121255.html?rmmds=detail-left-hotproducts

Maybe there are a few design idea’s to borrow, or just buy it. It’s going to be smaller than it appears on the pictures as usual.

Hi David.
That’s an interesting design. I haven’t gotten around to buying a machine but I’ve been keeping my eyes open from time to time.