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Suggestions for lathe-only projects?

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William Ayerst25/11/2020 21:02:13
259 forum posts

Good evening gents,

I've finished my first project on my ML7 - a machinist hammer. However, the projects I want to tackle next all seem to require a drill press or vertical slide for drilling and milling - and I own neither.

Having just spent the wide end of £1500 I'm reluctant to spend another £200-400 on a Myford vertical slide and vise, and another £80-200 on a bench drill (and I wonder if that might better be put towards a mill or shaper).

What I am after, is a purposeful project I can build to increase my familiarity with the tool - which isn't just another tool or pointless exercise - but I'm drawing a complete blank! My first question is - is there a handy list of projects one can build with JUST the ML7 without a vertical slide? I feel like a crazy person because there's got to be something!

Any help or suggestion would be good - an imminent house move means that buying any more big machinery is off the cards!

Jeff Dayman25/11/2020 21:21:35
2226 forum posts
47 photos

Pin punches

hole punches

rivet sets

filing buttons

toolmaker's buttons

washer dies

screwdrivers (filed ends for slot and Philips)

machinist jacks w hex bodies

vise stop for mill vise

tailstock die holder


spring loaded tap guide

depth gauge

boring bars

many model parts - just pick a model and make the round bits

Get the L H Sparey lathe operating book - he has plenty more ideas.

Steviegtr25/11/2020 22:07:24
2436 forum posts
336 photos

All the above are just another tool.

I see where you are coming from. I am not the person to advise you. It seems like you would like a project to actually build something. Get ready for a stack of replies from members who have made many projects without anything more than a standard lathe.

You could look out for a cheap pillar drill though. They are not all expensive items. My own is only a cheap Aldi item & does drill holes in a fashion. Anything accurate i do with the milling machine or in the lathe if it is roundish.

Good luck with whatever you decide on.


SillyOldDuffer25/11/2020 22:10:54
8719 forum posts
1972 photos

I don't recommend a Milling Slide because they are seriously limited. Short travel, tiny workspace, bendy, and all round third-rate compared with a Milling Machine.

Do you have a face-plate? Many milling and drilling jobs can be done on a lathe by clamping work imaginatively to the plate. A 3-jaw chuck can only spin symmetric work. A 4 jaw is more flexible in that jobs can be offset somewhat, but a faceplate has lots of room. Work can be positioned off-centre &/or at an angle. Obviously slower and less convenient than a drill or mill, but still useful. Faceplates were much used in the good old days before milling machines and pillar drills made us lazy!

Interestingly, if a really accurately positioned and sized hole is needed, a faceplate is probably the best way to do it - see Toollmaker's Buttons.

Sparey is well worth having!

Double headed pennies are fun. Make a stub-mandrel and learn about super-glue!


Bazyle25/11/2020 22:19:51
6330 forum posts
222 photos

It used to be normal practice to use the lathe for drilling with a pad in the talistock, sometimes the pad has a vee groove for centering round things. Also prop things up and hold them in the toolpost - great for drilling a precision line of holes. Hold items in the 4-jaw or on the faceplate to drill aswell. Some holes only need starting in the lathe for precise position then can be finnished by hand drill (often better than a heavy electric battery drill).
You have all you need to make a steam engine and boiler complete with safety valves and sight glass.

If you can find an old enough mains Black and Decker drill from the seventies people are throwing the stands away after failing to sell them on ebay. They still drill straighter than by hand.

Paul Lousick25/11/2020 22:33:09
2044 forum posts
722 photos

Hi William,

There are a 1000 and 1 projects to make on a lathe. It depends on what your interests and hobbies are. Do a search on Google and Youtube for ideas.

Harold Hall's website for metalworking has many projects; **LINK**

There have been lots of projects that have been machined on a faceplate and with a milling slide on a lathe but as mentioned above, they are limited in what you can make. A mill/drill is much more useful.


Mick B125/11/2020 22:46:09
2192 forum posts
122 photos

Well, I wanna disagree with SOD about milling slides. I got mine in 2000 with a Myford Speed 10 - I think it cost me about £125 and another £25 for a vice that turned out to be pretty good.

Back when I was machining for pay in the 70s, I did quite a bit of milling on Bridgeports and a big Varnamo, so I'm reasonably familiar with the process, and I found that, even on the Myford 10, but far more so on the Warco WM250V that I've got now, I can generally do the milling and drilling I need in the lathe. My plan to buy a mill keeps getting put back - not so much for financial reasons as the disruption to other work it would cause. I think just about all the machined stuff in my album (except the hex-milling on railway stuff) was done in my lathe, and the vertical slide is mounted about half the time.

It's been hugely worth the money.

DMB25/11/2020 22:46:56
1312 forum posts
1 photos


Some my earliest tool purchases many years ago included a B n D drill and stand. Stand was rubbish, column bent and it wouldn't drill 3/16" black mild steel. Drills were new as well. Resorted to hand operated Union bench drill, success! Still have both cluttering up the place.


Are you intending a steam loco project? If so, why not obtain drawings and make a start, taking particular types of parts, e.g., boiler fittings as a smaller sub - project? Just the mechanical lubricated will be a nice challenge to start with! Whatever you decide upon, I wish you good luck. Do put up photos of your work for us all to see.

Be aware that a mill is very nice to have but cost doesn't stop there; you will need a number of endmills which are more than a tad more expensive than lathe or shaper tools. Either a machine vise or at least one angle plate will be needed. The list of accessories and tools go on and on and could cost quite a lot extra to the basic mill. Certainly don't want to put you off but will need some thinking about.


Edited By DMB on 25/11/2020 22:55:10

Clive Hartland25/11/2020 22:52:18
2820 forum posts
40 photos

A useful item for Xmas would be a Nut Cracker made from bar stock. It needs a thread, and all parts can be done in the lathe

Roderick Jenkins25/11/2020 22:52:36
2185 forum posts
608 photos

The Stuart 10V is can be made using only lathe. The steam ports are cast in to the cylinder. Edgar Westbury's "Building A Steam Engine From Castings" describes the various methods to manage without milling.



not done it yet25/11/2020 22:56:50
6819 forum posts
20 photos

You will need an independent 4 jaw chuck to make square or rectangular items with the lathe. Then you are away with lots of options.

Nicholas Wheeler 125/11/2020 22:58:54
932 forum posts
88 photos
Posted by Steviegtr on 25/11/2020 22:07:24:

All the above are just another tool.


More importantly, most of them are sized to specific jobs - pin punches, filing buttons, hole punches etc - and are probably best made when you need them. Make one of each so you know how and move on. Otherwise, you burn through material and end up with lots tools that never get used. Like the machinist jacks I made when I first got the mill 15 years ago. I've never used them, and have recently converted one into a tool height gauge when my digital one died.


My suggestion would be to look around the house/car/bike/garden and see what you can improve or repair. Handles and knobs are a good bet; you could quickly develop your own house style.

Edited By Nicholas Wheeler 1 on 25/11/2020 23:01:20

DMB25/11/2020 23:04:00
1312 forum posts
1 photos

In my younger days and lack of knowledge and experience, followed Martin Evans' advice on using an endmill in the 3jaw to mill work on the vertical slide. (Not the current Editor of the same name. What's the chances of two editors of the same mag having the same names?) Well anyway, 3jaws useless at holding endmills, they just wind out of the chuck and cause a smash up. Vertical slide not rigid enough for serious work. Forget it.

Ady126/11/2020 01:32:11
5098 forum posts
736 photos


taper turning, internal and external

live centre

live centre with interchangeable inserts

Edited By Ady1 on 26/11/2020 01:36:16

peak426/11/2020 02:25:36
1719 forum posts
183 photos

I'm not suggesting this particular one, a two speed would be better (just as an example) but maybe a restore a hand operated drill press.
New bushes, pinions, thrust washers, etc to make, and you end up with something useful as well; for little money if you purchase carefully.
Don't decry them, I still use mine, normally set up with a countersink bit for de-burring holes, or the frame for tapping.

Also make up an extra arm, swivel the drill head out of the way and the extra arm guides a vertical round bar with a drill chuck on the end to use with a tap for getting your threaded holes square; a bit like one of the kit staking tools.

Yes I appreciate it's another tool, but it's also a project, and they drill holes quite well too. smiley


Edited By peak4 on 26/11/2020 02:28:21

Edited By peak4 on 26/11/2020 02:31:11

Henry Artist26/11/2020 02:46:09
121 forum posts
46 photos

If you want some good projects where the end product is not a workshop tool or tool accessory I would strongly urge you to read the following books -

  • Building Simple Model Steam Engines by Tubal Cain
  • Building Simple Model Steam Engines (Book 2) by Tubal Cain
  • Making Simple Model Steam Engines by Stan Bray

The first book on the list will probably be the most beneficial to you in the long run. In the first chapter - Ways And Means - the author discusses how the projects in the book may be completed by those with limited workshop facilities. Throughout the book alternative approaches to each step are offered. It's a great book for increasing your knowledge and skills. And you end up with a working steam engine!

Since you have yet to acquire a drill press you may like to try a technique that has been known to Unimat (and Sieg C0) owners for many years - drill chuck goes on the lathe spindle and faceplate goes on the tailstock. Mount a small drilling vice to the faceplate or clamp the work directly to it. Ta-dah! You now have a horizontal drilling machine. face 1

David George 126/11/2020 07:36:02
1844 forum posts
503 photos

Hi William have a look on here

I have made it satisfying when it works.


Buffer26/11/2020 08:33:05
339 forum posts
153 photos

What about a cannon. You can also turn the wheel hubs, axles etc and there is no need at all for any milling.

William Ayerst27/11/2020 12:03:47
259 forum posts

Hi guys, thank you all for the advice.

One tool I definitely DO need soon is a sprung tap follower, so thanks Jeff, I’ve started to build one now. For the other subjects:

Making things
Ultimately I'm looking to build a live steam loco so could definitely look at building lathe-only compatible parts for that, it's a really good shout.

Henry, I've bought that book as suggested, just to see what I can do.

Buffer, I built a cannon on my Unimat which is what drove me to realise how much I ejnoyed the lathe! I have notional plans to build a carronade, so that's a good point...

David and Paul, thank you - I will review those links.

Buying a Mill
DMB, and Mick - I'm just not in a position in my life right now where I can afford another 2-3k on a mill and accessories. Certainly at some point in my life I am, just not right now - and I don’t want to stop making things in the meantime.

4-Jaw, Faceplate and Manual Drill Press
Bazyle, SillyOldDuffer - I have a face plate and a 4-jaw chuck. I’ve not heard of using pads on the tailstock and drills in the chuck as an option. Do you have any examples or links to what it might look like? Peak4’s suggestion of a manual pillar drill might be a good compliment, maybe? I’m happy to size up drills rather than going straight for a 5/8” but just to be clear, I’m going to be able to drill brass, bronze, copper, iron and mild steel by hand? Restoring a vintage hand drill definitely feels like an awesome little project.

Edited By William Ayerst on 27/11/2020 13:14:55

Michael Gilligan27/11/2020 14:05:39
20216 forum posts
1053 photos
Posted by William Ayerst on 27/11/2020 12:03:47:


I’ve not heard of using pads on the tailstock and drills in the chuck as an option.



They are [or were] also available with a useful vee-groove


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