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Any interesting lathe projects for beginners?

perhaps something that is not a tool or model piece

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Jim Dalton 116/09/2019 21:44:21
22 forum posts
3 photos

After getting the hang of the basics, I am now able to churn out some simple cylinders (I use them as stops on my woodworking bench) to very small tolerances (I know, nothing special about that!).

To be honest I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience using my mini chinese lathe, so much so that I would like to expand it's use.

The trouble is, I am limited by my experience and imagination. When I research beginner lathe projects, it throws up some less exciting projects such as making a hammer and the like. On the other hand, and I am being careful as possible about how I put this, while I would like the idea of getting into small model steam engines, it is not a path I wish to go down, for fear of being hooked and consuming my time!!!

Does anyone have any inspiration here? Anything that might be useful around the house? Items that might compliment my woodworking (I have some 1/2 inch brass rod in the shed, and I am sure there'll be a eureka moment to put this to good use). Also got plenty of 1" aluminum lying around waiting to be turned.

Sorry I know that is as open a question as you can get.

Edited By Jim Dalton 1 on 16/09/2019 21:45:33

Jon Lawes16/09/2019 21:54:11
377 forum posts

It's a bit of a cliche but a nice pen is a good thing to make; I used brass and its got a real weighty, quality feel. I recessed some neodymium magnets into the body and made the cap out of Martensitic stainless steel so it would be retained by the tiny magnets. I used a fisher space pen refill for the interest of using a pressurised ballpoint.

With your woodworking skills you could make a spalted walnut finger grip for the pen barrel, or similar.

Brian G16/09/2019 22:15:55
705 forum posts
28 photos

How about a mortice gauge? Either make a screw to lock it or be really fancy and use a separate locking collar linked to the body by a thread for exact adjustments. You could turn the wheel from silver steel, harden and temper it, or cheat and buy a spare from Axminster.


Mick B116/09/2019 22:18:17
1607 forum posts
85 photos

Make a nutcracker in the runup to Christmas? There's a pic of one in my album - I copied the design loosely from an Austrian modernist Carl Aubock. You'll need a bit of about 3" diameter brass that'll cost you a few quid and it'll give you at least a day or two's work.

Another possibility is a mixed metal/delrin/wood salt/pepper grinder - a few woodturner outfits sell kits of ceramic and stainless internals.

Or design and make some toy cars? Light switch pulls? Pendants? Mobiles?

I have the same problem as you, with an imagination that doesn't churn out ideas at a speed that matches the capability to realise them - even though that last can sometimes take depressing lengths of time - so I end up making multiple variations on a theme.

Edited By Mick B1 on 16/09/2019 22:19:22

Neil Wyatt16/09/2019 22:30:13
17970 forum posts
709 photos
77 articles

For a start, look though the FREE PLANS on this website.


Hollowpoint16/09/2019 22:40:22
331 forum posts
31 photos

This trench art lighter was a fun thing to make.

Paul Lousick16/09/2019 23:27:34
1451 forum posts
555 photos

Have a look on Harold Hall's website for projects.



Brian Sweeting17/09/2019 00:07:59
424 forum posts
1 photos

There's always a chess set.

Steve King 517/09/2019 05:40:34
84 forum posts
94 photos

A fire piston maybe.

Clickspring on YouTube have a good video on his channel.

Lathe tool hight gauge

Chuck key (iv just done this myself) not so difficult and useful.

Do a simple sketch with dimensiones and try and hit the numbers to the thou.

Andrew Evans17/09/2019 08:21:29
321 forum posts
8 photos

I made a couple of small machinist jacks when I first started which I actually use a lot. They involve screw cutting, taper turning, boring and knurling - so a good range of skills needed.

Diogenes17/09/2019 08:22:20
37 forum posts
6 photos

Do you have other machinery?

A very common source of small workshop projects - for example, any covers, controls, or adjustments that require a spanner or key to operate might benefit from a dedicated, well thought-out handle, perhaps to make speed changes less of a chore.. Do all parts (depth stops, table- and mitre-clamps operate accurately, smoothly, and as you would wish them to?

Fixes can be as simple as say, making a thicker chamfered washer to move the stop position of a clamp handle to prevent it fouling other parts, to as complex as one might ever wish.

With regard to your comments about steam engines, try a Stirling - if you pick the right "wrong" design the resulting expenditure of time and effort for so little gain might well cure you of latent-but-unwanted engine-building desires for ever smiley

Bazyle17/09/2019 10:44:56
5291 forum posts
201 photos

Mandrel handle, tailstock die holder, tailstock tap holder, flycutter.

For a challenge it is worth getting into screwcutting, actually quite easy when you have stopped being nervous about it. Then you could make some dogs with interchangeable tops. I'm not sure how useful they are but saw them in the Axminster catalogue.
Again once you have got the screwcutting under your belt how about a screw for a tail vice. I saw one on the web that was $450 surprise or bits for a Moxon vice, or screw type holdfasts,
If you go to car boot sales you may see G-clamps that have lost their pads which you can get much cheaper and then make the missing bit from aluminium and peen over the side of the hole to attach.
Have you tried milling in the lathe by clamping something under the toolpost? If you or a friend has a Startrite bandsaw then the cast iron blade guides benefit from refacing.
Chisel honing guide or if you have a Chinese one already cleaning up the geometry.

Nicholas Wheeler 117/09/2019 10:56:55
331 forum posts
19 photos

Why not have a look around the house?

New handles and knobs for missing/broken ones on furniture are a good start, either to match existing or replace them all. Not long after I got a lathe I made a new handle from aluminium bar to replace the broken plastic one on the chest freezer; it had been broken for years so won me some brownie points. I'm currently fixing a damaged waiter's friend for my sister; it's not worth doing, but it's part of a set that was a present. Bazyle is right about the G-cramps, we have lots that were thrown out because the pads were missing, it only takes a few minutes to return a £30 Record clamp back to use. And because it is already well-used I have no qualms about putting it to rough use.


My 80 year old Dad still opens letters with the opener he made at school, and they make tea with the caddy spoon I did.

Making parts that don't matter is a good way of improving skills and learning what the tools can actually do.

Edited By Nicholas Wheeler 1 on 17/09/2019 11:00:16

Juddy17/09/2019 11:19:05
67 forum posts

There is a large selection here: **LINK**

take your pick enough to fill a lifetime

Mark Gould 117/09/2019 15:31:24
215 forum posts
120 photos

What about a Kentucky-do-nothing?


Edited By Mark Gould 1 on 17/09/2019 15:32:47

Jim Dalton 117/09/2019 21:00:50
22 forum posts
3 photos

Thanks to all for the replies. Although not made on the lathe,I think a saddle stop would be a very useful addition to use of the lathe. I have no mill, but do have a vertical bandsaw. Would I get an acceptable surface finish after some filing?

Jon Lawes17/09/2019 21:12:45
377 forum posts

It's possible to get some amazing results from filing, with practise. I don't have a mill so I do things like that on a vertical slide, but if I ever get the space and cash I'll be first in line for a mill.

Jim Dalton 117/09/2019 21:35:11
22 forum posts
3 photos

Jon, in that case I would make a complete mess of it! Thinking about it further, there's no way I'd manage to file a flat surface on the V.

My filing skill level is limited to getting rid of sharp pointy bits!

Nicholas Wheeler 117/09/2019 22:38:12
331 forum posts
19 photos
Posted by Jim Dalton 1 on 17/09/2019 21:35:11:

Jon, in that case I would make a complete mess of it! Thinking about it further, there's no way I'd manage to file a flat surface on the V.

My filing skill level is limited to getting rid of sharp pointy bits!

It's just making an internal sharp bit!

Seriously, that would be a good reason to make one(two, three -however may it takes to get a satisfactory part), and you'll use it most times you turn on the lathe. First thing I made for and on mine.

jann west18/09/2019 07:40:31
62 forum posts

South Bend produced an entire book of them, which I have linked to before: **LINK**

As much as you might not find a (soft faced) hammer interesting, it offers a chance to practice marking out, turnng, facing, taper turning between centers, knurling, screw cutting, spotting, drilling (boring? depending on size) and internal screw cutting. The resultant object can further be beautified through the use of various metals with different finishes, and through graving.

A finely finished hammer is something which can be simultaneously beautiful, useful, and a demonstration of an uncommon and useful skill which few today possess. I'd go so far to say that you are not a "real" machinist unless you have made your own machinist's hammer.

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