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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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56 minutes ago, Roger Pellett said:

Where did you find a $19 corded drill in MN?


I had a Sears corded 3/8 in drill that I liked for perhaps 30 years.  I am now on my second cordless drill and I don’t like them.  Whenever I pick it up to use it the battery is dead.





I got it from Amazon, like every part listed, except for the pillow block. Each of those items in the list is linked to where I purchased it.


And I definitely didn't want a cordless drill for this particular project, as I needed the ability to control the speed, and wanted a foot switch, neither of which you could do (well, **I** could do) with a cordless drill.


But yeah, things like drills (and most everything we buy now) are NOT going to last 30 years!

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41 minutes ago, Oldsalt1950 said:

If I were building my own wood lathe on the cheap, I'd look at sewing machines as a source for the motor and switch. You can drive the headstock via pulley and have a free rotating tail stock. Use angle aluminum to create the bed rails for moving the tailstock. Just my 2 cents.

I definitely don't have the engineering or electrical experience or ingenuity to do something like that, but hey, if that's a "better" route to take for the goal, then if you can do it, go for it!

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1 hour ago, Jaager said:

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.

I'm interested in the information you provided, but there are some terms and points that I'm not familiar with, or have different experiences with:


I understand that the dowels may curve - that's been my experience with the ones that I've purchased from Walmart and Menard's. But,




"Dog leg spars"? Do you mean spars that are angled in some way? What type of application would that entail? I just built this for tapering wood model ship masts, spars, etc.


My Irwin clamps have been sufficient in clamping things for keeping them secure while working on them, and for securing two pieces that I glued together.


I'd be interested in some clarification.



Edited by Capella
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1 minute ago, glbarlow said:

Proxxon DB250. $225 All you need 

Okay, if that works with your budget, great!


Not to be snarky, but I said in my original post - the very title of this thread, in fact - was that I was on a budget. Considering the fact that I spent a mere $58 on the entire project, $225 is a lot to me - especially since I accomplished the same outcome.

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A traditional froe is a wooden handle with a right angle straight blade at the bottom.  It was used to split out Cedar shingles.  The blade is a wedge that splits along the grain instead of cutting the wood.  The wood peels apart.

I have a smaller version - sort of looks like a paint stirring stick in shape - from a Japanese tool site - it was designed to split Bamboo.


You make a new yard - it is straight when finished - the wood was from a dowel - the dowel came from the outer part of the board and the grain is curved -  over time,  the yard seeks equilibrium - the rest of the board is gone, so no restraint - and it follows the grain -   I am just calling the bend "a dog's leg".   I do not know of any actual spars that are anything but straight - so dog's leg  is slang for an unwanted bend.


Spar is the umbrella term for masts, yards,  and booms.  I do not know if it is official, but it seems to be.


I do POF.  I use all bends - (two paired frames with each overlapping each butt joint of the other) - I like tight gaps - the closer the join, the stronger the bond.   No wood to wood joint will have enough PVA squeeze out to starve the joint (in a healthy situation)- especially if both surfaces are 100% covered first - wood is hydrophyllic - unlike metal - and too much clamping pressure (unhealthy) would crush the outer wood fibers before too little PVA is left .   I guess Basswood could too easily crush, but I class that species as being inappropriate for much of anything important.  For my needs, the Irwin clamp was a failure.   Another factor is to not use too fine a grit sanding medium on a wood surface that will be at a glue joint.  I like 220 but that is right at the edge of being too smooth.  The wood wants some "tooth".  Too fine a surface and it becomes metal-like.

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@Jaager Thanks for the explanation. I'm only just finishing my first wood model ship, so I'm still learning the jargon and terminology of the hobby.


Maybe this lathe project gave the impression that I have some experience in wood model ship building, and/or mechanical or electrical experience - which couldn't be further from the truth! I simply saw a need: I had much difficulty tapering the various masts and spars for my ship (having used the method of chucking the dowel in a handheld drill and sanding it with a towel between the sandpaper and my hand). I broke - and purchased - too many dowels to make what I needed for my project, and then came up with the idea that I originally posted at the beginning of this thread.


I appreciate you taking the time to address my qquestion!

Edited by Capella
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On 10/23/2022 at 10:44 AM, wefalck said:

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.


On 10/23/2022 at 10:44 AM, wefalck said:

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.


Could you provide in more detail what you're describing? Particularly the "for long parts" comments.


While testing my lathe with a 20" (or so) dowel, I came to realize that sanding the middl of such a long dowel would be difficult at best. It sounds like you're addressing such a problem, but I'm just not able to picture what you're describing.

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21 hours ago, bartley said:

My take on home lathes is discussed here.  It has always served me well even for long masts





Thanks so much for providing that link. In all of my searching for lathe information - including here on MSW, I don't know how I missed it. I particularly like the idea of a "second" or "middle" tailstock, as while I was test-sanding dowels during the construction of mine, I was coming to the realization of the issues that will arise when sanding longer dowels.

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22 hours ago, Capella said:

While testing my lathe with a 20" (or so) dowel, I came to realize that sanding the middl of such a long dowel would be difficult at best. It sounds like you're addressing such a problem, but I'm just not able to picture what you're describing.

I don't think it should be difficult. Pushing the sandpaper against one side of a long piece will cause deflection that can cause difficulties, including breaking the piece. However, if you fold your sandpaper in half and place the folded sandpaper over the piece and apply pressure with your thumb on one side and forefinger on the other (pinching the sandpaper,) you can easily apply sufficient pressure to the sandpaper against the piece on opposing sides and thus avoid any deflection. This technique also allows you to do twice the sanding in any given amount of time.


An alternate technique is to glue a piece of sandpaper to a flat stick the same length as the workpiece and apply pressure against the workpiece starting at the side you want to end up being the thinner end. As the sanding progresses, apply pressure to the entire piece as the thinner side becomes smaller in diameter. The flat stick will ensure that the taper is even the entire length of the workpiece and the even pressure from the flat of the stick against the workpiece will also negate deflection otherwise caused by pressing on the middle of the workpiece alone.

Edited by Bob Cleek
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