Spring Pole Lathe Plan

January, 2020 - I have received a few requests for information on building a simple spring pole lathe. What follows are a few drawings, dimensions and construction notes for building a small, portable, spring pole lathe. The design is based upon a demonstration lathe I used at art fairs back in the mid '80's, nearly 35 years ago.

Sue & Steve at art fair, July 1985

The lathe is there in the photo by my left elbow. Instead of a spring pole I used a bungee and leather strap fastened to the booth frame and that is the way this new lathe works too.

I have broken the project down into four parts: (1) Main layout reference drawing,  (2) Dimensions & cut list, (3) General construction notes, (4) Brief comments on the building process. I'm hoping that what I'm presenting here will serve as inspiration so you can build your own spring pole lathe.

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Lathe Layout:

Spring Pole Lathe  - Layout Drawing

Dimensions & Cut List:
Dimension Drawing
All from nominal 2x4 (1-1/2" x 3-1/2") stock.

A - Ways                              24" (2)
B - Base                                12" (2)
C - Fixed Left Tailstock         11"
D - Movable Right Tailstock  10"
E - Riser Beam                      28"
F - Cross Beam                     18"
G - Gusset                              5"

Parts A, B, F & G = 95"
Parts C, D & E = 49"

General Construction Notes:

- 2x4's should be clear (or nearly so) and very straight - especially with no twist.
- Base unit (parts A, B & C) are assembled with 2-1/2"  x #8 deck screws and wood glue. Pilot holes should be pre-drilled to prevent splitting.
- Clamp pieces in position then drill.
- Movable tailstock (D) is cross drilled to match holes in ways and pinned in place with 2 - 3/8" x 8" bolts with the threads cut off.
- Upper unit (parts E, F & G) are screwed & glued like base unit was.
- Holes in Ways (A) are 2" on center beginning 9" from left end - 3/8" diam.
- Holes in cross beam (F) are 2" on center beginning 1" from left end
- Riser Beam (E) is bolted to base for portability with 2 - 3/8" x 7" bolts and 1 - 3/8" x 5" bolt.

The Building Process:

Begin by sawing two 2x4's into the nine pieces as shown above. A nice touch is to round the tops of parts C & D and now is a good time to drill the holes in those two pieces for the lathe centers.

Lathe Centers: I had good luck using a medium duty gate pintle (1/2"Lathe center - pintle showing filed end diameter) for the adjustable lathe center and a 1/2" x 3 lag bolt for the fixed center. Bore a slightly undersized hole through the tail stock upright, heat the pintle or lag bolt with a propane torch (holding it in Vice Grips) and quickly screw it into the hole. This burns some decent threads into the hole. While the screw is still warm rub some bee's wax on it for lubrication. One of the first turning projects on my lathe was to turn a wood handle to slip over the 'handle' end of the pintle. I filed a nice, smooth, bluntish point on the working end of the screw. This setup worked well for a lot of years.

This is also a good time to drill the tailpiece securing holes in the ways. Easiest way is the clamp the ways together and use a drill press to bore through them at the same time - nicely aligned. Mark and cross drill the tail stock (D) to match all those holes you  just drilled in the ways.

Notch the ways to fit over the base pieces (B). Assemble the base section securing everything in place with clamps. When you have it all lined up and square,  drill one pilot hole at a time and put in a deck screw. By going at it one screw at a time you give yourself multiple opportunities to check and re-align the base unit. The way I drill these kinds of pilot holes is to first drill using a small (~1/8") bit to almost the depth of  the screw, then use that hole as a guide to enlarge the hole with a bit that will allow the screw to just slide through the hole without snagging. Finally, use a countersink bit to allow the screw head to be flush with the surface. Three steps that go a lot faster if you have more than one hand drill but I usually just change bits - over and over.

Now, drill the holes in  the upper cross beam. These holes give you multiple spots along the length of your turning to fasten the cord or strap that wraps around your work-piece.  Eyebolt for top beam

Assemble the upright pieces (E, F & G) with clamps and screw them together as you did the base unit. It would be a good idea to remove the gusset and apply some good wood glue and re-assemble it. The screws will make it unnecessary to clamp that awkward shaped piece.
Cord wraping diagram
Just three more holes to drill; two crosswise  through the ways and lower end of the upright, and one through the very lower end of the upright and the base piece - see the drawing. By bolting the two main units together rather than screwing and gluing, you can easily take the lathe apart for transport.

The only thing left before you can begin turning your first piece is the cord or strap that makes the whole thing work. To create the reciprocating action you can use a metal spring, perhaps a section of a screen door spring, or a piece of bungee cord. This recoiling device fastens to the screw-eye and the wrapping cord or strap fastens to it, coming down to wrap once around your work-piece, and then continues down to a loop or better, a flat board that acts as a treadle. A nice touch is to round over the front edge of the front way to help reduce wear on the cord or strap.

In the lower right corner of the Layout image is my idea of how one might make an all-wood tool rest from the left-over pieces of 2x4. Its base fits between the ways and can be adjusted left and right to align with the holes in the ways. The horizontal piece is fastened to that base by a bolt with a nut that is imbedded in the base. This allows the tool rest to rotate laterally. You may well come up with a better way to do this but what I've presented is very similar in function to the tool rest I've used on my treadle lathe for years.

Using the Spring Pole Lathe:

The biggest tip I can offer is to keep your lathe tools really sharp. On some of my tools I have ground a shallower bevel and that seems to work well especially on green wood. It does take a few minutes to coordinate foot action with a very slight backing-off of the tool on the spring's return stroke, then a slight moving forward of the tool on the down stroke. This movement become second nature quickly.

If you have any questions please use the contact page and I'll do my best to help you out. I hope you enjoy using your new lathe!


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