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01/07/2010 Home Made Metal Spinning Lathe

My Metal-spinning Lathe
A Home Workshop Guide
Last Updated: 13 February, 2002

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Copyright © 2001 - 2009 to Bruce Simpson

Why Build A Metal Spinning Lathe?


I guess I could have gone out and
bought a commercial wood-lathe and
used that for metal spinning but I have
had an old budget-priced drill press
sitting here for a couple of years and I
really wanted to put (at least parts of) it
to good use.

So, I scrounged the motor, pulleys,


drive belt, power wiring/switch and
bearings from this drill press and built a
lathe around them!

Design Considerations
Obviously some of the design
constraints and parameters were set
by the parts I was re-using from the
drill press. This did introduce some
less than optimal limitations -- such
as the use of 19mm bearings,
meaning that the mains-shaft of the
lathe was also limited to 19mm in
diameter. If this turns out to be too
weak I'll just go buy some bigger
bearings and make a new shaft.

Other than the legacy components,


there was the issue of exactly what I
had sitting in my metal rack and
scrap bin -- which wasn't much.

Apart from the main-shaft, just about


everything on this lathe was made from 25mm square or 25x50mm CRS 1020 steel bar stock.

There are no castings -- it's just cut to size and bolted together.

The main spindle and the backplate were turned from 1214 free-machining steel which is much nicer to
work with than plain old 1020. The chips from 1214 are small and blunt and -- unlike the razor sharp
shards that come off 1020 when it's milled or turned. If you're planning to turn anything out of steel, do
yourself a favor and get some free-machining stock such as 1214 or 12L14.

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01/07/2010 Home Made Metal Spinning Lathe
Tools Used
Most of the operations required to build the lathe were done on my 7x10 minilathe and my RF30 mill-
drill -- it's quite impressive what these bits of oriental iron can do if you're prepared to take your time
and work within their limits.

General Layout
Let me say right now that building a wood lathe or metal-spinning lathe is a whole lot easier than
building a metal-turning lathe.

Unlike a metal-turning lathe, these machines don't have a cross-slide or compound, so they don't need
accurately ground ways and all the extra parts and machining that such pieces entail.

In effect, these lathes consist of little more than a headstock and a place to rest your tools.

The Headstock
I decided to start with the headstock and designed it so
that the center of the backplate would sit 180mm (7
inches) above the lathe-bed. This provides enough
clearance to spin a disk of metal 14 inches in diameter --
plenty large nough for my purposes and probably more
than the little 1/2HP motor is capable handling.

The basic design of the headstock is very simple -- it's


two pieces of 50x25mm (2"x1") which hold the shaft
bearings and are separated by a piece of 25mm (1")
square down the middle so as to make an 'I' beam.

The holes which retain the bearings were drilled to 14mm


and then bored out to 36mm, the outside diameter of the
bearings used. I'm not too happy with the results here
actually -- I was trying out new carbide inserts and didn't
find a satisfactory combination of insert, sfm and feed rate
until I'd done the first hole -- but they're okay.

The 36mm hole doesn't go right through of course -- it's


recessed to 12mm -- the thickness of the bearings.

Rather than just bolt the two pieces of 50x25 to the


central 25x25mm center-piece, I milled 1mm deep slot in
the 50x25 pieces so that the centerpiece was held snugly in place.

I can't imagine any casting being more rigid than


this beefy item once it's all tightened up snugly.

There are then two horizontal pieces of 50x25 bar


which bolt to the headstock so as to connect it
firmly to the bed of the lathe.

These have 25x25mm notches cut in the bottom


edge (these were hacksawed and then
squared/finished with the mill). They also have a
1mm deep slot milled in them so that the
headstock is firmly keyed in place.

I was very pleased with the level of accuracy


achieved with machining the headstock

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01/07/2010 Home Made Metal Spinning Lathe
components -- they all fit together very snugly -- requiring just a light hammer-tap to seat everything in
its groove. After that you can pick the whole thing up and it won't fall apart -- even without the bolts in
place.

The Main-shaft
The lathe shaft was turned from 1214 mild steel and it required some careful attention to accuracy in
several places.

Firstly -- because the pulley salvaged from my


drill press was designed to fit on a 22mm shaft --
but the bearings only allowed the maximum
thickness for the shaft on that side of the
bearings to be 19mm, I had to make it in two
parts.

A smaller 22mm OD collar was machined to fit


very snugly over the end of the main-shaft and it
is secured with a grub-screw.

Of course the parts of the shaft where the bearings sit also had to be machined for a close interference
fit so that the shaft doesn't spin inside the bearing.

Finally, the end of the shaft to which the backplate is attached also needed a close interference fit so
that it didn't have room to wobble or slip. I was thinking of turning a taper here to ensure good centering
and maximum grip -- but I decided to try a straight shaft first and see how that turned out.

The Backplate
With a metal-spinning lathe there is no need for a
chuck. Instead of gripping the work as you would
on a metal lathe, the work is actually clamped
between a specially turned form and a live-center
on the tailstock.

So -- the backplate is simply a place where the


necessary form can be bolted or keyed to stop it
shifting about.

I decided to turn up the backplate from a 20mm


thick piece of 100mm diameter 1214 steel I had
sitting on the shelf. This makes a pretty heavy
item but the extra thickness ensures good
alignment on the shaft and resistance to skewing
due to the high side-loads imposed by the
spinning operation.

To make it easier to center the form on the backplate, I turned a number of concentric rings into the
face of the backplate.

The backplate is retained on the main shaft by an 8mm high-tensile bolt that screws into a matching
thread in the end of the shaft.

One of the nicest things about making this part was that I had to turn it in two operations on the 7x10.
The jaws in my 4" 4-jaw chuck had to be reversed to hold it and then, having turned one face and half
the edge, I had to remount it and set the runout to zero. Any axial run-out would have manifested itself
as a discontinuity or lip along the edge of the backplate where the two machining operations didn't line
up.

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01/07/2010 Home Made Metal Spinning Lathe
After spending a little more time than usual, I got the plate lined up so that the dial-indicator didn't
budge and, although there's a slight visible difference between the two halves, there's no discernable lip
or edge to the touch.

The Bed
One of the nice things about wood and metal-spinning lathes is that the bed exists only to provide
support for the headstock, tailstock and toolrest.

There's no need for precision ground and hardened ways to guide a saddle and cross-slide -- it's all
pretty basic stuff.

Since the tooling on these lathes is hand-held, there's no need for absolute rigidity in the lathe bed
either -- so I just used 25mm (1") square section laid out into a rectangle.

The Tailstock
The job of the tailstock is to apply the clamping pressure that holds the
metal disk (which is to be spun into the final shape) firmly against the
face of the form.

To acommodate different length forms, the tailstock needs to be able to


be shifted along the bed -- as with a regular lathe so the base was made
from a piece of 25mmx50mm (1"x2") CRS into which two slots were
milled so that it would ride on the 25mm (1") sq pieces that make up the
bed.

Milling these slots was a good test of the RF30's ability to put its 2HP
motor to work. I used a 16mm 4-flute cobalt end-mill running at around
500 RPMs to move the metal.

I took off 2mm at a time and, although there was some vibration (as
you'd expect), it breezed through without any problems.

I'm pleased to say that the tailstock base was a perfect fit on the bed -- and
moves smoothly enough and with so little slop that it would indeed be a nice
setup for a saddle on a conventional-type lathe. In fact, based on my Lathe M achines
experiences with this little lathe, I'd say that it would be quite practical to build
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The tailstock vertical is another piece of (you guessed it) 25mm x 50mm (1"x2")
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At the top of the tailstock is the adjustment screw and live-center needed to
provide the clamping force.

The clamping mechanism consists of a 10mm cap-head bolt which runs in a


threaded hole drilled at the top of the vertical. It is locked in position by another
cap-head bolt (6mm) that screws down and presses a brass pad onto the main
bolt.

Because the alignment of the tailstock is critical to accurate work-holding, the decision was made to
use an adjustable mounting system for affixing the vertical to the tailstock cross-member.

This was done by mounting the vertical to a smaller cross-piece that is in turn bolted to the main
cross-member. The height can now be adjusted by shimming, the angle and horizontal alignment can
be set by loosening the mounting screws, moving and retightening.

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01/07/2010 Home Made Metal Spinning Lathe
The live-center was made using one of the other spindle bearings out of the drill press.

The static side was machined from 6061 aluminum and screws onto the end of the 10mm bolt which
passes through the tailstock. It also holds the bearing.

The rotating part of the live-center is also turned from 6061 and is designed to be easily changed. I
wanted to be able to use different sized centers for different sized forms.

A sharp center is used to firmly secure the


wood when I'm turning up the initial form for
later use in the spinning process.

The final piece is the clamping bar which


holds the tailstock from sliding along the bed
as clamping pressure is applied through the
live-center. This was made from a single
piece of 25mm (1") sq which has the ends
milled as you'll see in the picture.

This cross-piece simply clamps the tailstock


to the bed by tightening two bolts that pass
through from above. There was no point in
building any fancy cam-lock mechanism for
this (although it would not be too hard)
because the talistock is only moved when
changing forms.

The Toolrest
As mentioned above, the tooling for spinning or
wood-turning is hand-held -- so this requires the
addition of a toolrest.

By the time I got to this part of the lathe, the


prospect of having to mill out another cross-piece
and clamping bar was all to much -- so instead the
toolpost clamps to the closest rail of the lathe bed --
halving the number of machining operations required.

A 50x25mm (2"x1") piece of CRS serves as the post


and it has a slot milled into it so that it's a nice snug
(but sliding) fit over the bed-rail. Another smaller
piece of 50x25 is also slotted and fits on the other
side -- the clamping pressure being provided by two
bolts that pull the two pieces together with the bed
rail firmly held between.

On top of the toolpost is a cross-piece made from


25x25 (1"x1") which is retained by a single bolt so
that it can be swiveled and locked to make tool
manipulation easier against the form.

Several holes have been drilled and vertical pins


inserted to give leverage points for the hand-held
tooling.

The Drive System


I'm using the motor and pulley system from my drill press so this was fairly simple to set up and gives
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01/07/2010 Home Made Metal Spinning Lathe
me a choice of 5 speeds.

I was going to just weld up a motor mount -- but ended up doing things the hard way and milling up a
little mounting block that is in turn bolted to a mounting plate that is (in turn) bolted to the lathe bed. I
could have made this thing in about half the time if I'd welded instead of bolting everything.

The motor is a 1/2 HP unit and speed is changed simply by moving the belt to the required grooves on
the pulleys. I'm probably breaking about a million different laws by not having a cover over the pulley --
but that's another project. If I'm brave/stupid enough to attack a rapidly spinning disk of stainless steel
with a metal bar while the whole lot spins around at several thousand RPMs then a little old pulley isn't
my biggest worry ;-)

Unfortunately the belt that came as standard is a piece of crap and seems to have been spliced in
about four places. This makes it alternately stiff and flexible -- something that causes vibration. I'll
replace it shortly with a decent quality belt.

Do Yourself A Favor!
Just a word of warning -- this project involves cutting a hell of a lot of CRS. If you don't have a bandsaw
or power hacksaw before you start a project like this then you will live to regret it.

I'm still nursing a sore shoulder from all that manual hacksawing.

And... if you're a masochist like I am -- have a good supply of nice, sharp 18 tpi blades on hand. Don't
be miserly -- cutting steel with a blunt blade is a dumb thing to do -- it wastes time and invites poor
results.

And don't think you're going to be able to move even a little lathe like this around too easily. It's
actually heavier than my 7x10 metal-turning lathe!

I've already started spinning up some aluminum and stainless using this lathe and although I'm pretty
low on the learning curve, it does the job just fine and it's already become an indispensible part of my
workshop.

Coming Soon(ish): Learning To Spin!


I'm always keen to share my successes and failures with others so I'm in the process of creating some
new pages that will document what I've learned while learning to spin.

There aren't a lot of good tutorials or metal spinning info sites on the Web so I'm hoping I can perhaps
create some interest.

Until I get these pages up, those interested in spinning might want to check out this guide (PDF file)
which has some great stuff.

Meanwhile -- here are some of the intake venturis I've been spinning for my pulsejet engines.

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01/07/2010 Home Made Metal Spinning Lathe

These were spun from 1.2mm 1100 alloy aluminum which was anealed by heating and quenching prior
to use -- because the local merchant couldn't supply in anything other than H12 temper.

In order to spin a shape like this which would otherwise get "stuck" on the form, it's necessary to make
the form so that it can be broken into two parts for extraction purposes.

Home | Proj ect Diary | My Tools | Contact Me | Links | My Gas Turbine Proj ect | The Afterburner
Turboshaft Engine | Jet-kart | Pulsej et-pow ered Kart | Kitsets | Troubleshooting pulsej ets
Valv eless Pulsej ets | Ramj ets Explained | 100lbs-thrust pulsej et | Turbo-turbine FAQ
Chrysler's Turbine-cars | How Pulsej ets Work | Flying Platform | Metal Spinning | My Lockw ood engine
Starting a pulsej et | Making Reed-v alv es Last | Pulsej et-pow ered speedboat | The PDE
Thrust Augmentors List of Sponsors | Master Site Index | The Pulsej et FAQ | DIY Cruise Missile

Copyright © 2001 - 2009 to Bruce Simpson

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