how to extreme

Five Lathe Projects You Can Build

Power Tools, Tool Reviews, Tools, Woodworking - Directory April 16, 2008 Sonia


I’ll give you fair warning—woodworking lathes are addictive. Although they appear daunting to first-time users, lathes are fun and can be used to create a wide range of projects. Lathes are commonly used for small projects such as bowls, platters, even pens, as well as furniture parts and cabinetry. Several techniques are used, with two basic turning methods, spindle turning and faceplate turning. The five projects included use both methods as well as duplicate turning, and something quite different.

Turning projects on a wood lathe is fun, interesting and a great way of “turning” small scraps of wood into lots of interesting presents.

A number of manufacturers make lathes. They range from small to super-size heavy-duty models. The lathe shown is a Craftsman Professional 15-inch, variable speed model. It’s a mid-range size, but well designed with cast iron construction for heavy-duty work. Features include a one-horsepower motor to provide plenty of power. The motor maintains full power even at the slowest speed. The headstock swivels 90 degrees allowing for 20-inch outboard turning. A 24-index stop at 15-degree intervals allows you to use the lathe for router fluting and beading. The lathe has a 37-inch maximum spindle length and 15-inch inside bowl-turning capacity. The lathe comes with a 6- and 12-inch tool rest, spur center, bearing center, 4-inch faceplate and lathe center removal rod. In addition, we added accessories including the Craftsman Bowl-Turning Kit and Craftsman scroll chucks, as well as a work arbor with chuck and key. 


Turning blocks can be purchased in a variety of sizes from local sources or mail-order. Cut the blocks to square before turning.

You will also need turning woods, which you may be able to purchase locally. Turning blanks are also available from a number of mail-order sources. Packard Woodworks carries all types of turning supplies from tools to wood to finishes.

Editor’s Note: The instructions in this article are for specific woodworking projects. All blueprints are at the end of this article. If you’re new to lathe work and want to learn the basics, check out “A Lesson in Lathes” by Monte Burch at



Turned Stone Candle Holder

Of course you can’t turn stone on a wood lathe, but with today’s “textured” spray paints such as Rustoleum MultiColor Textured Spray Paint you can easily simulate a stone “sculptured column.” The candle holder shown was turned from scraps of red cedar. Any scrap materials you have will work, but softer woods that turn easier and don’t show the grain are the best choice. The turning combines both spindle and face-plate turning.

Mark diagonally across the ends of the block to locate the centers. Cut the corners off the turning block at a 45-degree angle on a table saw. This cuts down on the rough-into-round step.


Cut on the diagonal lines of one end with a fine-toothed saw to about 1/16″ deep. Tap the spur center into the cuts.


Cut the block to round using a gouge lathe chisel, and smooth up the surface with a skew chisel.

Draw diagonal lines across the ends to locate the centers. Using a fine-toothed handsaw, make cuts in one end following the diagonal lines to about 1/16-inch deep. Tap the spur center into the slots. The first step is to enlarge the squared drawing and create a pattern for the spindle portion. You can speed up the rough-in by cutting the corners off the stock on a table saw set at 45 degrees. Rough cut the stock to round with a gouge chisel. Use a straight skew chisel to smooth up and create a straight-sided cylinder.

Mark the locations for the grooves with a pencil.

Then cut the grooves and rounded bead with a skew chisel.

Locate the beads and mark their locations on the block with a pencil. Turn on the lathe and add more to the pencil marks for easy definition. Use a spear-point chisel to rough-cut the beads and finish the beads with a skew chisel. Sand the turning smooth in the lathe with progressively finer grits of sandpaper cut into strips. Part the stock from the lathe with a parting tool to about 1/2-inch and finish cutting off with a fine-toothed handsaw.

The bottom and top portions are turned using a faceplate to hold the stock.

Cut a 3-by-3-inch square block of 3/4-inch stock for the base. Mark diagonally from corner to corner to establish the center and use a compass to mark the circumference of the base. Mount the stock on a faceplate with screws. Turn the base to round, and cut the decorative edge on it. Sand smooth.


The flutes for the “column” are cut with a Legacy Revo milling machine and router.

The machine has an indexing head that allows you to precisely cut the flutes.

Shown are the resulting flutes for the candle holder.

You can leave the candlestick as is, or you can flute it with a fluting bit in a plunge router and using a hand-made fluting cradle set on the lathe bed rails. The fluting shown on this project was done with the Legacy Revo milling machine, which is extremely simple and precise. The machine has an indexing head and a tail and headstock to hold the work piece between centers. Cut the top sections on a bandsaw. Fasten all pieces together with glue and apply the textured finish. 


Pepper Mill

A pepper mill is a fun, practical and challenging turning project that makes a great Christmas present. The grinding mechanisms are available from several sources, including Packard Woodworks. The mechanisms are available in several sizes, and come with full instructions for turning the mill and installing the mechanism.

Round the turning blank of the pepper mill using a gouge chisel.

Smooth up the round stock with a skew chisel.

This is basic spindle turning with a few added challenges. Spindle profile turning is the simplest and a great way to learn how to turn wood on a lathe. Start with a small spindle and a soft to medium-dense wood. Walnut is a good choice. A good size is a 2-1/2-by-2-1/2-by-12-inch turning block. Enlarge the squared drawing located at the end of this article and create a pattern. The mill body is turned between centers. Rough cut to round using a gouge chisel and then use a skew chisel to smooth the cuts. Use a gouge and skew to complete the profile.


Cut a shoulder on the upper end of the body using a parting chisel. The shoulder should be 1-3/4″ in diameter and about 3/4″ long.

Calipers are used to check diameters throught the turning process.

A portion of the top end must be turned down to 1-1/2 inches and will then be placed in a four-jaw chuck for boring the holes in the body. Once the body has been turned and sanded, apply a finish while still in the lathe. Apply a coat of salad bowl finish, allow to dry, buff with extremely fine steel wool and apply a second coat. Or, you can use polyurethane varnish. Once the second coat is dry, buff with a soft cloth. 


Remove the blank, saw off at the shoulder and mount in a 3- or 4-jaw chuck. Turn the mill body profile using small gouges and skew chisels.

Use a parting chisel to square the bottom.

Place the body in the chuck, remove the tailstock and use a work arbor chuck with a forstner bit. Position the bit in place and turning at slow speed, use the tailstock to bore a 1-5/8-inch hole in the end. Then bore a one-inch hole as deep as you can into the body. Reverse the body and bore the top end 1-5/8 inches for the cap tenon. Then bore the hole in the body to complete the through-body hole. Use a fine-toothed handsaw or bandsaw to cut off the waste. Or, you can simply turn the body and use a drill-press to bore the holes. Make sure the stock is positioned perfectly parallel to the drill by clamping with a large c-clamp.


Sand the body while still in the lathe.

Then apply finish and buff while still in the lathe.

With the body still in the chuck, use a forstner bit in a work-arbor chuck to bore the holes in the mill body. Finally turn the cap.

Turn the cap with a tenon on its end to fit in the recess in the top of the body. Assemble the mill mechanism and mill according to the manufacturer’s instructions.