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Building my own budget lathe for wood model ship building - looking for tips and advice on my ideas


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The attached image shows a VERY basic mock-up of what I plan to do. But it shows enough to give you an idea of where I'm going with this.


Plan bullet points:

- Headstock and drill (on the right in the image)

-- Mount the drill upside down

-- Build a frame around it to keep it perfectly level and steady in terms of the tailstock's "depression" that will hold the other end of the dowel (more on that in the "Tailstock" section below)

-- The drill's trigger will be easily accessible, and

-- The drill must be perfectly level in relation to the point on the tailstock that will keep the dowel steady (more on that below in the tailstock section)

-- Mounting it upside down allows for the cord to keep out of the way. go where I want it to, and

-- The trigger and trigger lock are still easily/comfortably accessible with the drill in that position.

-- The drill does not have variable speed control and runs at 4800 rpm, so I'm going to get a dimmer switch (switch is 5 Amp, drill is 3 Amp), cut the drill cord, and wire the switch inline between the drill and power source

-- The dimmer switch will be mounted to the right of the drill on the platform/base of the lathe

 

- The Tailstock

-- Obviously this needs to be adjustable in terms of the distance between the headstock/drill for the length of the dowel that I'm working with

-- The clamp (on the left in the picture) is doable, but I'm wondering if there is a better solution, as currently I feel that it is a llittle too easy to rock the upright 2x4 block laterally in relation to the length of the platform

-- The drill bit laying on the base in the middle of the picture is a 3/8" bit with a tapered tip. My thought is to use that bit to drill a shallow hole into the tailstock (the short, upright 2x4 on the left) as a means to keep the dowel that I am working on steady to prevent wobbling


Questions and concerns:


1) What overall length should I make the base to allow moving the tailstock to extreme lengths for longer dowel tapering? (I understand that question must be qualified with information about how large of a ship might I build in the future)


2) Will a common 5 Amp dimmer switch - available at a typical hardware store - really work for this with the drill that I have? Somewhere in this forum I ran across a post last year (not necessarily posted last year) from a guy who built a similar corded electric drill-based lathe, but for the life of me I couldn't find ii. He included a dimmer switch in his design


3) Doing the tailstock right, I think, is paramount. Will the concave hole of the tapered tip of a 3/8" drill bit into pressure treated wood be sufficient? Might it need to be larger? Should I get some other, more heat-tolerant material to handle the heat created via the spinning of the dowel against the tailstock?


4) I'm thinking that the drill needs to be raised up a bit. Just a thought...

 

ANY advice and/or suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

20221019_170618.jpg

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I am not so sure that you will be happy with that road ... these electrical drill are very noise and perhaps run at a too high speed to be save.

 

What do you actually want to do with the lathe. The set-up seems to indicate some work on masts and spars?

 

You can buy on ebay these days lots of bits and pieces to make some make-shift lathes, such as small DC motors together with drill-chuck or ER11 collet chucks, which is a better option. There are also revolving tailstock centres. In fact, both, motors and tailstocks come with brackets to mount on a board or some rail, so that you don't have to worry about height adjustment.

 

One thing I would consider essential is a foot-switch. This is even more important, when you work with sand-paper on your mast, as it can easily get caught and rip on your fingers, or the spar slips out of the tailstock and starts whipping - then you don't want to waste time reaching for the switch on an electrical drill ...

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Capella,

I agree with the comments of wefalk above. It will be up to you, of course, but the question of what exactly you need from the tool is important. Having said that, I can also say that I have seen a couple of quite successful drill-powered lathes over the years.

My two cents worth: if you go for a drill-powered machine, there will be a trial and error process and then it will work. I make this rosey-tinted prediction because it is clear that you have a good idea of what you want to achieve and are willing to solve problems.

So, with apologies if you already are addressing this, the one thing I will steer you toward in your deliberations is this: if the lathe does not run true, ie concentrically, it will be very difficult to get any good results. The key to this is ensure the headstock (your drill) is aligned perfectly with the tailstock and stays that way. Since you are using wood as a building material it will be very easy to be caught out on this point. Wood reacts to changing environment.

Just a few thou mis-alignment may give you a headache when making the small stuff we need for our scale models. The good news is that the solution (imho) lies in the design and choice of materials.

So, my suggestion, which is based one particular successful homemade lathe I saw a long time ago:

Use a stable board with a smooth laminated face as the base-plate/bed.

Make your tailstock with parallel sides and a smooth bottom that will slide easily along this bed.

Make a ‘trough’ for the tailstock to travel back-and-forth in. This can be simply two battens, preferably smooth laminated stuff again, fixed to the bed and perfectly parallel. They should maintain the tailstock alignment for the whole length of travel. Feel free to take a long time ensuring the parallelism of these two battens. A means of locking the tailstock in place without twisting is important.

After the trough is in place, chuck a long dowel or bar in the chuck of your drill and use whatever tricks you know to line it up parallel to the bed and battens. Then lock the drill in place. Now you can centre the tailstock. 

The battens forming the trough can be used for mounting a tool rest, positioning a tool holder, mounting a steady or a duplicator.

 

The lathe design in the video posted by David is a good guide and the flexibility of some of his features is a good idea. Having an off-set facility in the tailstock without disturbing the basic alignment is a good thing especially if you plan on doing spars and masts. This should be straight-forward by dropping a custom made off-centre steady into the ‘trough’ (there has to be a better word 🤐).

I hope this is useful and doesn’t seem as if I am saying there is only one right way to do the job. The lathe I described above was made by an engineer and was used for making both drumsticks and chess pieces. He also made a duplicator and a dividing attachment which worked perfectly on even the smallest of work-pieces.

One last point. I am sure you will make sure your chuck is ok before investing a lot of time 😁.

Best of luck, I am sure a few people here will be interested to see how this progresses.

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The dimmer switch may or may not work depending on the drill motor.  The switches that I am familiar with are variable resistors intended to work with resistance loads such as incandescent light bulbs.  I have one wired into a circuit on my workbench.  It works fine controlling the temperature of a soldering iron; a resistance load.  It will control the speed of a very old rotary tool but the torque drops off quickly to the point where the tool becomes useless.  I am not familiar with the latest electric motor technology but I understand that these dimmer switches will not work at all with some motors.

 

Roger

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I have it in mind to use a ball bearing race in the tail stock. 

 

I have two types of speed controls.  One is a dimmer switch and the other one was for a Dremel that was constant speed.

 

I would fix the ON/OFF switch on the drill as being always ON. 

Add a different ON/OFF switch up stream -  I suspect that touching the drill to operate the trigger will move something that is better left in a fixed position.

 

There are types of foot switch. 

A momentary switch that provides power as long as it is depressed - constant power -

A click switch - it provides power until it is clicked again.

There is one on the Foredom site that I have a link to that provides variable power depending on how far it is depressed.  I don't think that the Foredom drills are brush motors  - I think that a speed control has to be matched to motor type.

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I always use momentary switches, as you just have to lift the foot to stop the machine - much faster and safer.

 

When you use a ball-race in the tailstock, you need to make some sort of bushing to hold the material you are working on in order to prevent whipping in a too large bore.

 

For long parts you probably will also a 'fixed steady' to keep deflection down. This can be simple L-shaped piece of wood that is clamped down to the bed and has a fairly large hole in the upright part. This hole is covered with a thick piece of cardboard into which you punch a hole to match the diameter of the work-piece - old-time machinists' emergency trick.

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Electric motors are inductive loads - like electromagnets. These do some peculiar things (a non-engineering explanation) to the driving AC current.

 

Light dimmers usually use a solid state switch called triac or silicon controlled rectifier (SCR). Operation of these devices is very dependent upon the characteristics of the AC current - as delivered by the AC power line - and are designed to drive resistive loads like light bulbs that don't mess with the characteristics of the current.

 

If you try to drive a motor with a dimmer the results may be unpredictable and/or the dimmer may go up in a puff of smoke. The motor may overheat, and the dimmer may emit a lot of RF noise that interferes with television, radio and cell phones.

 

There are some fairly inexpensive variable speed AC motor controllers that you can just plug the drill into without cutting the cord. Then you can plug these motor controllers into an off the shelf AC foot switch to interrupt power to the controller to stop the drill. And these things are wired correctly and UL/CSA approved so they won't burn your house down.

 

I have an old (1980s) Dremel motor controller and foot switch I use to control AC motors.

 

 

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19 hours ago, Dr PR said:

There are some fairly inexpensive variable speed AC motor controllers that you can just plug the drill into without cutting the cord. Then you can plug these motor controllers into an off the shelf AC foot switch to interrupt power to the controller to stop the drill. And these things are wired correctly and UL/CSA approved so they won't burn your house down.

Dr PR, is this something like what you are referring to?

https://www.ebay.com/itm/153931419939?hash=item23d7071123:g:zIsAAOSwn8dh4Nxq

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@bruce dhThanks for all of the great information and tips. Obviously I've given this project a lot of thought, but at the same time, I recognize that there is a lot that I don't know - that's why I posted this here. I knew I'd get lots of helpful information.

 

I know that the mount for the drill MUST keep the drill absolutely stable - which will be a bit of a challenge, as there is no flat surface on the drill body. Likewise, the tailstock must be able to keep whatever diameter dowel I am using as stable as possible, preventing any significant "whipping of the dowel.

 

Those two points will be my biggest challenges.

 

Building my own is partly because I have a limited budget, but also because I look forward to the project itself - making something that I know little about and will be useful to me.

Edited by Capella
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On 10/19/2022 at 9:45 PM, Capella said:

Questions and concerns:

3) Doing the tailstock right, I think, is paramount. Will the concave hole of the tapered tip of a 3/8" drill bit into pressure treated wood be sufficient? Might it need to be larger? Should I get some other, more heat-tolerant material to handle the heat created via the spinning of the dowel against the tailstock?

I suppose the arrangement you describe would be sufficient, but I suspect you were never a Boy Scout. 

 

61TQzjRBsKL._AC_SL1000_.jpg

 

The friction at the tailstock center would likely cause the wood to burn. The smoke from pressure treated wood is probably poisonous, I sure wouldn't chance it.

 

If all you are interested in doing is round and taper spars, the simplest technique is to place your drill motor upside down in a vise and mount your dowel into the drill motor chuck. Turn on the drill motor. (Most have a little button on the bottom of the handle that can be used to keep them running when you take your finger off the trigger.) Wearing gloves (because it will get hot,) run a doubled sheet of sandpaper up and down the spar, applying pressure with your fingers to both sides of the down.  This will round and taper the dowel. Measure with a calipers to ensure accuracy. Wrap sandpaper around a flat block of wood and use the flat to taper the dowel to a straight section, if need be. Your hand holding the sandpaper will keep the dowel from whipping when it spins.

 

It's always fun to consider these sorts of things, but I think one sometimes "over-engineers" it all. What you are contemplating building isn't much more than a very simple wood lathe, but it isn't even going to do that well beyond tapering spars. You would be far better off to invest in a real lathe and enjoy the vast number of things a real lather can do. I don't know how much your time is worth, but most people who have the option to put in a little overtime could save up for a really useful modeling lathe in as much time as they would spend reinventing the wheel, or lathe, as the case may be.

 

4400a_pic.jpg

 

17" Lathe - Sherline Products $728 base price new, or $250 used:; sherline 4000 lathe | eBay

 

 

 

 

SIEG C3 7x14 Mini Lathe

 

SIEG C3 7x14 Mini Lathe | Miniature Lathe | LittleMachineShop $799

 

Expensive machines, to be sure, and you can easily spend as much more on tooling and attachments, but the lathe is the only machine that can make any  other machine as well as itself. These are certainly overkill if you are only looking to taper spars, but if you plan to stay with the hobby for any length of time, you may start saving your lunch money for something like these.

 

 

 

Edited by Bob Cleek
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@Bob Cleekh Thanks for the tips.

 

Yes, I was a Boy Scout MANY years ago, but I don't remember ever building fires that way! 🙂

 

The upright-drill-in-a-vice method is a reasonable solution - unless you live in Minnesota, your vice is on the workbench in the garage, and you only work on your models during the winter! Get the picture? 😉

 

I know that heat created between the spinning dowel and the tailstock is a concern that I need to resolve. $750 for a good, new lathe - even $250 for the used one - is waaaay above my budget, so I'm going to have to do some research and find a different solution.

Edited by Capella
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There's more than one way to skin a cat. Here's a different solution. It still requires a portable vise and a Dremel tool, but those aren't expensive. One of the advantages of ship modeling is that there isn't anything that can't be done with hand tools and ingenuity.  The forum's "Articles Database" (at the top of the  forum's home page) is a goldmine of information.  See: Microsoft Word - Mast-making Revised.docx (thenrg.org)

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9 hours ago, Capella said:

a bit of a challenge, as there is no flat surface on the drill body.

Another two cents worth: You can make a collar and/or a saddle out of wood that fits the drill body and has a flat bottom surface.  Once satisfied, epoxy them to the drill body and now think of this whole assembly as your headstock. This should be easy to fettle into alignment. I suggest hardwood for these pieces.

The lathe I described in my earlier post was made this way. The old geezer who made it was full of tricks. To achieve alignment, he made the collar and saddle deliberately loose fitting and secured them to the base plate. He then mixed a wad of Milliput (a two part modelling putty) and packed it into the area where the drill would be clamped by the collar and sat on the saddle. Then he carried out his alignment procedure and left it to finish curing. 

Afterwards he added some bracing to keep the now perfectly aligned headstock stable.

This is one solution. Lots of drill-lathes are out there that don't have Milliput in their components so obviously it a wide open subject. Permatex or Evo-Stick Hard Metal Epoxy would probably be a better 21st century alternative but I have not used them with wood.

Keep us posted please, it's a good project.

Bruce

 

 

 

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I have found that the easiest way to make spars is to start with square stock.  This allows you to accurately lay the shape of the spar out on the wood.  You can then cut the spat to its correct shape, still with a square cross section. You can even do this with a disc sander.  You can then knock the corners off to make an octagonal cross section.  Chucking the accurately shaped spar in a vise mounted dill as Bob posted above you can sand the spar to its final round cross section.  It’s much easier than it sounds.

 

Roger

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My progress today:

 

I've attached pictures for reference.

 

I had a good 5 hours to work on the lathe today.

 

The house we live in had a large custom-built finished oak, built-in cabinet/bookcase in the living room when we bought it. It didn't fit with our furniture and decor so I tore it down and fortunately had the foresight to keep all of the wood, which proved to be good material for the lathe base and guide rails for the sliding tailstock.

 

I've been using anything from my plethora of wood pieces and hardware to build the lwood, my goal being to keep the budget as low as possible. I don't have any electrical hardware (or knowledge, for that matter) on hand, so that's been bulk of my purchases.

 

Speaking of which, I started with an $18 USD corded drill (with a trigger lock, but no variable speed), and I just ordered, per adamant advice in this thread, a variable speed motor controller for the single-speed drill, and a momentary foot switch. I ordered both from Amazon for just under $40 USD.

 

So, the base of the lathe is 42 inches, and the max length of the dowel is 27 1/2 inches. The extra space to the right of the headstock is reserved for mounting the variable motor speed controller.

 

I spent a LOT of time working on getting the drill perfectly level in terms of the axis of the drill's spin and the point of contact of the tailstock.

 

As is, it's as perfectly level - to the max dowel length of 27 1/2". I have a crosshair marked on the tailstock that matches up with the axis of spin of the drill.

 

My main concerns at this point are how best to **PERMANENTLY** secure the drill such that there is no

 

1) side-to-side movement, left to right along the length of the lathe base, or

 

2) clockwise/counter-clockwise rotation, along the axis of the spin of the drill

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On 10/21/2022 at 10:57 PM, Capella said:

I know that heat created between the spinning dowel and the tailstock is a concern that I need to resolve. 

Would something like this work for you?

image.png.ac71d01a04423dbd02b67d9be153b0b9.png

This is a small bearing (3mm hole). It can just be screwed to any flat service. Sharpen the end of the dowel for the bearing and this would remove the friction. 

https://www.gobilda.com/1603-series-face-thru-hole-pillow-block-3mm-bore/. I have bought a few items from them in the past and have always been happy.

 

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Capella,

 

The motor control (fan control) you listed should work, but note that it is for brush type motors only and not brushless motors. But all the drills I have seen have brushes, especially the cheaper drills. Also, it is rated at 15 Amps and that is good enough for any motorized device that has a cord to plug into a wall socket on an ordinary household 3 prong  15 Amp 120 Volt AC circuit.

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8 hours ago, Dr PR said:

Capella,

 

The motor control (fan control) you listed should work, but note that it is for brush type motors only and not brushless motors. But all the drills I have seen have brushes, especially the cheaper drills. Also, it is rated at 15 Amps and that is good enough for any motorized device that has a cord to plug into a wall socket on an ordinary household 3 prong  15 Amp 120 Volt AC circuit.

Whether brushless or not, I couldn't say, but it was only $18, so going by your assumption, I'd guess it's not.


The motor is 3 Amps.

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Another concern that I just thought of: for my current ship project (my first ever, actually) I had two spars (not sure if that's the correct terminology) that had to be tapered at both ends. I really struggled with those and ended up going through several dowels until I didn't damage an already finished end.

 

I ended up  using a small piece of cloth and wrapped electrical tape around it. That protected the finished end, but it was pretty wobbly in the drill chuck.

 

Of course, at the time I was holding the drill in my hand, so maybe with everything mounted on the lathe, it'll be more stable even with the cloth/tape method of protecting a finished end.

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There are two solutions for this

 

- use an (improvised) steady-rest as described above - the card-board will not survive more than one yard (the spar tapered on both ends), but will work. The same can be used also in the tailstock to protect machined surfaces.

 

- turn two half yards and pin/glue them together.

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Finished Product.

Behold: "FrankenLathe"

20221105_130529.thumb.jpg.85fe365e3084c0cd4f1cd49e47f50c9e.jpg

By the way, that's the cleanest my garage workbench has been in a looooong time! I'm sure many of you can relate. ;)

 

I wanted to build this as cheaply as possible, but without compromising safety and the effectiveness of its purpose: sanding dowels of various lengths and thicknesses for wood model ships. With a LOT of great advice provided in this thread, I purchased the following items, as I felt their particular "roles" in the operation of the lathe were too important.

 

Links for where I purchased each part are provided in the part name. Prices are in USD as of early November '22.

Cheap, corded hand drill with locking trigger: $19

Variable Speed Motor Controller: $22

Momentary Foot Switch: $10

3mm bore Pillow Block: $7

 

Total purchase: $58 USD

 

The rest was just wood I had laying around.

Base length: 42"

Base width: 5"

Rail length: 32 1/2"

Rail height: 1 1/2"

Max dowel length (including what's in the drill chuck): 29"

 

The base:

The base was as-is: a 42" x 5" length of finished oak that was from a built-in bookcase that was in the house when we bought it. I'm questioning if I needed to make the overall length that long, but I figured I may do taller ships in the future. The masts on my current - and first - project are only 10". I can always move the tailstock close to the headstock for smaller projects. If the base were too short, it's be a lot harder to make it longer!

 

The rails were the same length as the base, and I cut those to stop before the drill mount/headstock assembly.

 

The headstock assembly:

The drill is set on a piece of 2x4 that I narrowed to be just the width of the drill at its widest, as I knew that I would need vertical wood supports on the side of the drill to keep it in place. As you can see from the pictures, I used a lot of shims to keep the drill steady in all directions while being used. The stained blocks of wood that you see are from lengths of pine 1x2 cut to various sizes depending on what I needed it for. I glued and screwed all connection points, except for the shims - I just glued those. I ended up redoing each of the parts of the frame structure several times to get each part just right so the dowel stayed centered in the tailstock and the drill did not move while I was sanding. I measured and test-sanded a LOT to get the headstock to stay steady to my satisfaction.

20221105_130620.thumb.jpg.b641cdc5dcb3c91c04d18299e77fcaed.jpg20221105_130548.thumb.jpg.a2451384e57f969f6bb56b339b024199.jpg20221105_130541.thumb.jpg.b546ad2ed3534b55cd069e3047a6af65.jpg

The tailstock assembly:

The Pillow Block (I had no idea such a thing existed), suggested by @RichardG (Thanks, Richard!) was perfect. The center bore is only 3mm, and I'm wondering if that might cause issues for larger size dowels in the future, but it serves the purpose of my current project and my next planned ship. There are, of course Pillow Blocks with different size bores, so an option in the future might be to get a couple of various sizes and just build more tailstocks and switch them out as needed.

20221105_130601.thumb.jpg.be71cd6cd6c64c604e321a6db78fdf7f.jpg

That's about it. I started with a basic, rough idea of what I wanted to accomplish - as you can see in the image in my first post, I got great advice here, and I'm very happy with the outcome. I like the name "FrankenLathe" (courtesy of Mrs Capella), as the whole thing is just a mish-mash of purchased items and different pieces of wood and hardware that I had laying around.

 

Oh! I also want to give shout-outs to @Dr PR @Jaager and @wefalck
 for their suggestions about momentary foot switches and variable speed motor controllers. Really, everyone here had great advice.

 

If you have any questions about some particular point regarding the lathe, I'll be happy to answer them!

Edited by Capella
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On 11/5/2022 at 3:20 PM, Capella said:

sanding dowels of various lengths and thicknesses for wood model ships.

Dowels are made using a punch type cutter.  The grain is often not dead straight.  If the grain is at a slope or angle - over time the dowel may follow the curve of the grain.

Using a froe on a straight grain board to split out straight grain sticks to turn into spars may save having a model with dog leg spars.

 

I use a lot of 4" ratchet clamps.  I want squeeze out pressure.  The Irwin clamps that I have are poor at generating any sort of pressure.  The only ones that I found that work to my needs are the HF clamps with the big grey wing nut.

The Widget Supply, MM, and small grey nut HF clamps have not done the job for me.

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