Quick and Dirty(tm) Spring Pole / Bungee Lathe

  • Advertise with us
Project by llwynog posted 03-24-2012 03:24 PM 17771 views 30 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hello fellow Lumberjocks,

I agonized several minutes whether I should post this as a simple blog post or a full-fledged project but I eventually figured that this would get more visibility as a project.

I have never been attracted to turning as an end in itself but I regularly feel the need to use a lathe to turn the odd tool handle or make parts for a larger project. Until now my only resort was to borrow some other people’s lathes. Therefore, ever since I got introduced to them on Roy Underhill’s show, I have been entertaining the idea of building a spring pole lathe. As it turned out, I really never committed to actually making one. Seeing Dave's blog post made me pull the trigger.

I found several plans for pole lathes on the internet but I was always put off by the space requirements they would claim in my already too small b̶a̶l̶c̶o̶n̶y̶ workshop. I then found Jennie Alexander's page about using the end-vice of a workbench as the bed for a pole lathe and instantly knew that this was the way to go for me.

Building this bench top lathe took me just about 1 evening and cost me 4 Euros in threaded rod, string, bungee and winged nuts. Everything else is made from scrap materials.
The poppets were sawed off reclaimed church benches that my grandfather salvaged many years ago.
The spring pole itself was replaced by a bungee tied to an unused shelf frame that came with my apartment.
2 scraps of wood were screwed together to form the treadle and the string was tied to their end.
I used my sculpting tools to turn the test piece and they cut without issue.

  • On picture 1, you can see the resulting lathe itself, without the tool holder
  • Picture 2 shows how the puppets are secured to the bench through the bench dogs holes.
  • Picture 3 is a shot from my messy workshop and you can see the bungee being tied to the shelf frame, which is itself simply leaning on the workbench and tucked against a crate.
  • Picture 4 exhibits the most high-tech tool rest you will ever find on a lathe (patent pending)
  • Finally, the first piece ever turned on this lathe is displayed on picture 5. I used a scrap of an exotic wood sold under the name “ramin” in local home centers.

That’s it. All in all, this lathe performs flawlessly for simple spindle turning.

This is without any doubt my quickest and dirtiest project that I ever uploaded to but I hope that this project can inspire someone like me who until now could not afford to invest the real estate and money required for a regular lathe.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

26 comments so far

View vakman's profile


301 posts in 3687 days

#1 posted 03-24-2012 03:59 PM

Well, this is awesome! I have similarly limited space and the occasional desire to use a lathe, looks like this could be a solution. Thanks for sharing

-- - Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true. -

View Brandon's profile


4382 posts in 4235 days

#2 posted 03-24-2012 04:09 PM

Very creative! I like it. :-)

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View nubbin00's profile


26 posts in 3538 days

#3 posted 03-24-2012 04:10 PM

I’m a turner and my lathe that gets a lot of use but I’ve always wanted to try a pole lathe just for the experience. This is a really cool idea, nice work!

-- Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

View lizardhead's profile


654 posts in 4125 days

#4 posted 03-24-2012 06:45 PM

Nice looking project—All I can say is thank God for power tools

-- Good, Better, Best--Never let it rest---Always make your Good be Better & your Better Best

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3862 days

#5 posted 03-24-2012 07:08 PM

Thank you everyone for your kind words.
Lizardhead, as far as I am concerned, I would not say thank god for powertools.
A power lathe would have cost me about 100 times more without speaking of mandrels and such.
Also, for the simple pieces I intend to turn, a power lathe is not automatically faster, see below video for instance.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View Philip's profile


1277 posts in 3822 days

#6 posted 03-24-2012 08:35 PM

I dig it, thanks for posting!

-- I never finish anyth

View Bill729's profile


241 posts in 4365 days

#7 posted 03-24-2012 08:37 PM

It has nothing to do with whether one can afford an electric lathe. You made an inspiring great project!

I hope I can make one someday. I appreciate your efforts and those of anyone else that makes it look do-able.
It must be very satisfying to use.

Thank your for sharing!

View Don W's profile

Don W

20244 posts in 3851 days

#8 posted 03-24-2012 09:10 PM

that’s one cool lathe.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View mafe's profile


13404 posts in 4373 days

#9 posted 03-24-2012 09:53 PM

What a wonderful lathe.
love the simple design.
I love the video of the battle.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4124 days

#10 posted 03-24-2012 11:39 PM

Fabrice I am so glad you did this. I love it. You have to try some green wood if you haven’t. Nice job. I have to tear mine down when I am not using it, so the design you picked would be great for my shop as well.
The video of the contest was great.
Thanks for posting.
This is one of the cheapest fun things you can do. Bodgers would go to the woods with a chisel and a rope and come out with chairs.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View cutmantom's profile


408 posts in 4319 days

#11 posted 03-25-2012 12:59 AM

great idea, could something like this have been the first shopsmith

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4124 days

#12 posted 03-25-2012 03:57 AM

Grats on the badge

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3862 days

#13 posted 03-25-2012 09:18 AM

Wow, I can’t believe that this 3 hour project generated more attention than most of my other projects all put together. I guess that simple is sometimes more appealing.

I have to admit that, to me, this little lathe has the same attraction as a simple card scarper: I am amazed at the output quality and effectiveness of the tool in relation to its unbeatable low price.

@Bill : No effort on my part to make it look do-able really, the design is already as simple and easy as possible by nature ;) It is just really 2 bits of wood with a pointy rod stuck in each.

@Mads : yes that video is a great battle. I love the man vs machine theme and the last picture of the sawn off bowls says it all.

@cutmantom : Did not know what a shopsmith was, googled it and burst out laughing. If they are relatives, this bench-top lathe and the shopsmith are indeed very very distant cousins (and it would seem that family ties are not that strong between the two as one of them clearly struck fortune without deigning to share any of it with the other one)

@Dave : As I wrote, it is your blog post that decided me into trying it for real. Thank you.

The only thing I need to work on now is to find some more appropriate turning tools as sculpting tools tend to grab quite a fair bit due to their shape (and most obviously due to my lack of turning knowledge also).

Yesterday evening, I tried myself to a little bit of oval/off-center turning (hammer handle) and it went decently. I still have some smoothing down to do because of the tool marks but it was not so bad for a first try.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3862 days

#14 posted 03-25-2012 11:58 AM

A quick picture of the oval hammer handle (just a mock up in pine, would not hold very long as a real handle)

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4124 days

#15 posted 03-25-2012 01:47 PM

I love it now you are offset turning, wonderful. My first handle was a GREEN oak sapling. It was a small disaster.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

showing 1 through 15 of 26 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics