Woodturning On The Cheap - Tips and Tricks

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Forum topic by MrUnix posted 03-23-2017 04:58 AM 9517 views 12 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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9048 posts in 3697 days

03-23-2017 04:58 AM

Topic tags/keywords: resource woodturning cheap tip trick

How many times have you all heard that the lathe is just the beginning in terms of costs associated with woodturning? Statements like this one from a recent thread: ”I recently picked up a [insert lathe model here]. As is well known that was the cheap part.” It’s repeated so often, that it is not even questioned by most, and the notion is spread that you will need to sink a boatload of additional money into tools, sharpening systems, chucks, rests, centers, etc… or you won’t be able to do squat on that newly purchased lathe.

Well, you sure can spend a ton of cash on all that stuff… but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I was surfing around the net the other night, and ran across this article over at the FineWoodworking web site titled “Turning Tools on the Cheap”. That got me thinking that it would be nice to start a thread discussing other methods of turning on the cheap. It should be interesting (and informative) to hear what others have done to keep the cost of woodturning down to a minimum.

I’ll start it off with one of my favorite tips – a thread tap matched to your lathes spindle. With it, you can make all sorts of spindle attachments out of scrap wood to do a wide variety of tasks. For just the cost of the tap and using free scrap wood, you can make your own faceplates, threaded glue blocks, jam and screw chucks, mandrels, sanding discs and all sorts of other really useful additions to your lathe:

(I described the process of making them in this post)

For example, you can make a threaded faceplate/glueblock to use to turn bowls, lidded boxes, heck, just about anything. Just glue it onto a blank and have at it – no need for an expensive chuck:

Those blanks turned into these finished bowls:

Glue an extra piece of wood on there and turn it into a jam chuck… or a cone that can mount pipes and other hollow forms for turning or polishing (and it’s self centering). Drill a hole in the center and put in a screw/bolt to make a mandrel – for turning pens, gear blanks, wheels, etc… and it will be perfectly concentric around the shaft when you are done. Here is one I made so I could make some small 2” rotors (from this thread) that I then drill and tap for a set screw (cut down machine screw with a screwdriver slot cut into it using a dremel tool) for mounting on a shaft:

There are a ton of possibilities. And because it’s directly threaded, it turns true even after dismounting and re-mounting. They are also re-usable. Turn a project, part it off, then just re-true up the face so you can use it again. If it gets too short from being parted off, just true it up and glue on another piece of wood.

You don’t need a fancy tap – cheap steel ones work fine since you are just threading wood. If you have any kind of home construction around you, that is an unlimited source of free scrap 2-by material – it’s amazing what those guys throw out!

Total cost – probably around $10 or less.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

36 replies so far

View Karda's profile


3422 posts in 2052 days

#1 posted 03-23-2017 05:26 AM

.this thread sounds like a good idea, I just started turning a few weeks ago, and am still getting used to the tools. I have watched a lot of UTubes and got alot of good information, How ever I noticed that the very large majority have expensive commercial lathes. Many are professional turner and can afford expensive equipment. some how to do without spending a boat load of money will be very helpful

View gtrgeo's profile


240 posts in 1929 days

#2 posted 03-23-2017 05:35 AM

”I recently picked up a [insert lathe model here]. As is well known that was the cheap part.” – Hey! I represent that remark :)

Thanks Brad for the pointers I look forward to learning more ways to keep things in check money-wise. Sometimes I enjoy making tools and jigs and other times I would rather just spend the money as my shop time is usually limited. It’s good to have options.


View Robert Stockwell's profile

Robert Stockwell

8 posts in 2055 days

#3 posted 03-23-2017 06:16 AM

This isn’t a good idea with many drills, as they are not designed to take much perpendicular force, only fore-aft force (Don’t know whether you’d call it vertical), this can potentially damage the drill. On the other hand, I’m sure doing it with a dremel would be perfectly fine, since they are designed for that sort of thing.

View MrUnix's profile


9048 posts in 3697 days

#4 posted 03-23-2017 06:23 AM

This isn’t a good idea with many drills, as they are not designed to take much perpendicular force, only fore-aft force (Don t know whether you’d call it vertical), this can potentially damage the drill. On the other hand, I’m sure doing it with a dremel would be perfectly fine, since they are designed for that sort of thing.
- Robert Stockwell

Ummm… doing what exactly with a drill/dremel? For the threaded faceplates/glueblocks, you are just drilling a hole in a 2×4 like you would with any other piece of wood…


PS: No worries George! You are far from the only person who has made a similar statement, and certainly won’t be the last :)

-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View JollyGreen67's profile


1676 posts in 4261 days

#5 posted 03-23-2017 04:34 PM

Interesting concept for newbies. When I started turning, somewhere along about 60 years ago in woodshop, we made our own glue blocks, and other assorted helpful devices with 1-1/4 taps. Thanks for the memories Brad, and ideas on the cheap remembered.

-- When I was a kid I wanted to be older . . . . . this CRAP is not what I expected ! RIP 09/08/2018

View gwilki's profile


378 posts in 2972 days

#6 posted 03-23-2017 06:28 PM

Excellent post, Brad. I have a 1 1/4” x 8 tap that matches my head stock and a 3/4” x 10 that matches my live center. With those, like you, I’ve made cones, vacuum chucks, waste blocks, you name it. They are cheap, easy to make and disposable.

I made a set of sanding mandrels to use with my power sander. They are simply cones turned from softwood, into which I press a 1/4” drive screw driver bit. I mount the bit into a collet to turn the cones so that they are perfectly centered about the bit and true on the face. Then I glue velcro to them to hold the sanding disks. They work well and I have one for every grit so that I’m not constantly pulling on the velcro to change disk.

-- Grant Wilkinson, Ottawa ON

View socrbent's profile


1051 posts in 3768 days

#7 posted 03-23-2017 06:49 PM

Make an awl from a damaged screw driver with a grinder or file. Helps mark centers.

-- socrbent Ohio

View Wildwood's profile


2960 posts in 3633 days

#8 posted 03-23-2017 07:19 PM

Have said it before have no problem with making special purpose homemade tools think have to be safe & smart about it. Yes small scraping and other special use tools made from allen wrenches easy to make like the author says in his article. Old files do not make great scrapers metal is too thin & brittle. If watch semi pro-turners like Robo Hippy(Reed Gray) will see him using heavy duty scrapers & big ugly tool on his bowls. He also demonstrates shear scraping with both his gouges & scrapers.

While scrapers are fine for bowls & inside small hollow forms not really great for spindle turning except for boxes. Having said that do know couple of turners turning calls love their scrapers. If strive for an off the tool finish with gouges and skews will greatly reduce sanding of a spindle.

When buying a used lade have to know what you are looking at versus looking for a deal. There are many old wood lathes that were never great to begin with selling for a lot of money in the used market. Unless have the skills to do your own repairs buy new.

Cannot find parts for this lathe never a good lathe:

Could be a diamond in the rough if complete and can haggle over price.

I bought extra faceplates back when they didn’t cost much, today a tap sounds great or get a four jaw chuck.

Where to spend or save money is an individual thing, eventually every woodturner will end up with a tool they thought a must have but seldom use.

-- Bill

View BenDupre's profile


816 posts in 1986 days

#9 posted 03-23-2017 07:40 PM

Bought my lathe from Harbor Freight. I also bought the $18 turning set. Although i was able to make a full chess set with the basic tools i quickly found all their limitations. Since then i have bought at least 5 times what the lathe cost in tools and accessories. And my tool set is still very modest. The thing i wasnt ready for initially was spending on a chuck alone what i paid for the whole lathe. I look forward to hearing some good tips. Making Jam chucks is the only cheap thing i figured out on my own. BTW my HF lathe is still turning strong. One of the few tools i bought from them that has outclassed their cheap reputation.

-- The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred. – George Bernard Shaw

View soob's profile


271 posts in 2707 days

#10 posted 03-23-2017 07:50 PM

If you want to go cheap on turning tools, you can buy Chinese HSS bars on ebay and amazon for $5-10 each.

View MikeUT's profile


212 posts in 2858 days

#11 posted 03-24-2017 02:34 PM

After I bought my lathe I started looking for tools and was a bit overwhelmed with the idea of buying full sets of chisels, especially with the prices. I bought some carbide replacement tips on Amazon, a ½” stainless steel rod and some plumbing fittings from Home Depot, and used some walnut scraps to make a set of cheap but effective and beautiful tools. Not only was it economical but it was a great exercise for a beginning turner.

View eflanders's profile


339 posts in 3349 days

#12 posted 03-24-2017 03:09 PM

One major cost factor I hadn’t thought through fully when I started turning was in sharpening / grinding equipment… One can get a cheap grinder, and use the wheels that come with them but they don’t last and often cause more damage when you are inexperienced. You do not need to get a slow speed 8” grinder with Diamond wheels, and the Wolverine jig, but it is a good long term investment if you do. This setup can easily cost north of $500. I used a standard speed 6” grinder, with a Norton blue wheel, a diamond wheel dreser and a Wolverine knock-off jig successfully for years. This setup cost me less than $200 via Amazon. The issue with this setup is you need to develop a soft touch and a keen eye to avoid costly mistakes (which can also be done with the premium setup). You can also make your own sharpening jig to save some more cash.

View RichCMD's profile


430 posts in 3439 days

#13 posted 03-24-2017 05:00 PM

Some thoughts, in no particular order:

  • You can learn a lot from YouTube videos, but I’ve also seen people do things that make me cringe because they are not safe. New turners should always start with learning basic safety stuff and feel free to judge what others do that is unsafe. You don’t have to call out somebody on their YouTube post, just don’t mimic their bad practices.
  • Using a slip stone to hone your tool can quickly restore its sharpness without going to the grinding wheel. Not only saves time but makes your tools last longer.
  • I use free countertop sample cards for burning lines on my turnings. Cheaper and safer than using burning wires.
  • A beginning turner probably only needs a roughing gouge, a bowl gouge, and a parting tool. A spindle gouge or detail gouge also might be nice to have. You can substitute a bowl gouge for a spindle gouge, but not vice versa. The bowl gouge is much more substantial.
  • If you are turning anything bigger than pens you should have an impact resistant full face shield. There are decent ones available at Amazon and other places for under $20. This should probably be the first thing you buy after you buy the lathe.
  • Many lathes come with a faceplate. You can use the face plate to make glue blocks similar to some of MrUNIX’s ideas.
  • All kinds of ideas start swirling around in my head when I take a lunch break from work and start reading Lumberjocks posts.

-- Ride the bevel!

View jmartel's profile


9330 posts in 3648 days

#14 posted 03-24-2017 05:15 PM

For me, the lathe really was the cheapest part. I ended up getting it for free for trading the guy some wood that I wasn’t using. Extra cutoffs from projects, plus various bits that I’ve picked up for cheap from craigslist. Pretty good score for just chatting up someone at the lumber dealer that looked lost and had no idea what he was doing.

But now I’m being faced with having to buy some stuff for it. So I’m keeping an eye on this thread. I know you can easily make your own carbide tools, for instance.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View Woodknack's profile


13594 posts in 3878 days

#15 posted 03-24-2017 07:59 PM

Here is the 1-8 tap I bought to make faceplates. A bottoming tap would be better, but this is okay and it’s cheap.

Also a 1-8 tap is the most difficult to search for because searching will return lots of sizes like 1/8, 1-1/8, etc., also sellers aren’t consistent about how they list them. They can be 1-8, 1×8, 1×8, 1” x 8, and more. So sometimes I search for “8 tpi” or “8tpi” and at least that narrows it down to the right pitch.

-- Rick M,

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