Thinking about building a spring pole lathe - convince me to/not to do it

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Forum topic by Jeremymcon posted 05-24-2017 02:21 PM 4476 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Jeremymcon's profile


414 posts in 1459 days

05-24-2017 02:21 PM

I was recently given a small bench top lathe, and I’ve really found it to be useful. However, the 12” spindle length is very limiting. I’ve be shopping for a full size lathe that I’d like to use to turn chair parts, but I have two issues with purchasing a full size lathe right now:

1. They are expensive – it seems like all of the decent used ones I can find are around $350 to $500. That’s a big chunk of change for me right now. I could see myself making that sort of purchase maybe in the next couple years, but I have leg blanks that are nearly dry right now, and don’t I don’t really want to wait..

2. They heavy and difficult to move. I am renting a house with a basement, and I have already built a simple mdf bench, and acquired a 14” bandsaw. I don’t want to make my move from this house any more difficult that it is already going to be.

A spring pole lathe I could potentially build mostly from a 2×12 based on plans from Roy Underhill, and I could build it in such a way that it will easily disassemble when I need to move.

Disadvantage is obviously that it will be slower and less powerful than an electric lathe, and I’m not certain that the turning tools that I currently own will work on a treadle lathe. That might be a deal breaker – if I need to spend a bunch of time or money making buying gouges that will work with the pole lathe it may not be worthwhile.

I’d love to hear input from folks who have made and used a pole lathe. What am I not seeing? Should I just shape my chair legs with a draw knife and spokeshave like I was planning to do, and save up for a proper lathe? Would a pole lathe build be a waste of time and effort? Or is it usable and worthwhile for my small shop?

10 replies so far

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 2741 days

#1 posted 05-24-2017 04:10 PM

I would say maybe you’d be better off finding a cheaper used lathe unless you like the idea of using muscle power and getting some exercise.

That said, I used bungee cords instead of a pole for mine because I didn’t have anything handy to make a good pole from and it fit well in the smaller space of my basement shop. I also made mine to use the bench and be removable as per this article:

One thing that might be obvious to everyone else is that the centers need to be as perfectly aligned as you can get or they will hollow out the wood. I didn’t think of that and have to spend some more time tweaking it. I haven’t used it a lot because I haven’t done that yet. You can use the same chisels though. Another option is to make a treadle lathe with a flywheel, Roy has made some plans for those too, I think in one of his books, or maybe it was published in a magazine. The benefit of the treadle lathe is that you don’t get the back and forth reciprocal action that you do on a spring pole design where you can only cut half the time.

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1555 days

#2 posted 05-24-2017 04:37 PM

If you build the spring pole lathe, you’ll almost certainly still need to buy a lathe afterwards, because its a ridiculously antiquated machine. Save yourself the time and money…

View GravelRoad's profile


20 posts in 1147 days

#3 posted 05-24-2017 05:09 PM

Seems like a treadle lathe would be more functional.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4427 days

#4 posted 05-24-2017 06:34 PM

I’ve often seen 24-36” benchtop lathes for
sale on the used market for $100 or less.

I made a spring pole lathe when I was starting
out. It was not much of a lathe but it was
fun to make.

You can also find bed extensions for some

View OSU55's profile


2648 posts in 2769 days

#5 posted 05-24-2017 06:53 PM

I see quite a few lathes on clist that would work for spindle turning for less then $200. As little as 6” swing would do table and chair legs – you jest need length. No need for vfd or anything fancy – stepped pulleys or Reeves drive would be fine. Check out HF 34706 – more than enough lathe.

View Jeremymcon's profile


414 posts in 1459 days

#6 posted 05-25-2017 01:43 PM

A treadle lathe seems like a more complicated build than a pole lathe. Plus I’ll have to find a flywheel… I had considered the harbor freight lathe. But I read a few bad reviews. A few good ones too. I’ll have to think about that one a bit.

I’d hate to drop 100 or so on an old craigslist spindle lathe and then not be happy with it – plus I would eventually like to turn some bowls when I do buy a full size lathe.

Good to know that pole lathe can be fussy to get working or properly too. Thanks for your input. Will keep thinking about it.

View Ottosan's profile


12 posts in 1961 days

#7 posted 05-25-2017 03:10 PM

I thought this “blog” series might be of interest to you if you’ve not seen it:

That’s all I have.

-- - Otto

View MrWhit's profile


19 posts in 1533 days

#8 posted 05-25-2017 07:34 PM

Love my spring pole lathe. It’s awesome. Cost me about 25$ to build, not quite sure of the actual number cause a lot of the material was scrap. I use a bungee, because the pole was hitting the ceiling making a terrible racket. Super simple and actually a lot of fun. It did take a little tweaking, but after that it sure runs well. I actually made mine as a knock down. It folds up when not in use, and one side fits into one of my vises. Bowls were a bit more difficult to learn, but now that’s not too difficult either. I have to disagree with the above assertion that it is “ridiculously antiquated”. Simple yes, but I guess that means all hand tools are “ridiculously antiquated.” Would I start a spindle factory for my lathe or use it for mass production work…no. But for all the projects I’ve had, It’s performed well.

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1427 days

#9 posted 05-25-2017 08:01 PM

Mine seems to work well … I’ve had a lot of fun with it over the years. Just completed a rather nice piece with turned legs … but then again … fun and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!
William & Mary Prie Dieu
Spring Pole Lathe

... I use turning tools, chisels, files,, rasps, and sandpaper with my lathe!

View SignWave's profile


472 posts in 3814 days

#10 posted 05-25-2017 10:16 PM

Given your constraints, consider rigging up a lathe based on a hand drill. Even the most primitive design should be sufficient to turn your chair parts.

My first “lathe” was my bench-top drill press, turned on it’s side. I turned some wands for a Harry Potter party. It worked well enough that I got the bug and got a proper lathe.

From what I’ve seen of spring pole lathes, they require a different technique than with a treadle or motor powered lathe. Now that I’ve turned on a powered lathe, the spring pole lathe doesn’t seem so compelling. For that matter, a rigged lathe isn’t so compelling either, given that you can get a usable lathe for a couple hundred bucks. But I understand the hesitation to commit the time, money, and space to a full-sized lathe.

The Excelsior Mini-Lathe is on sale right now at Rockler. I recommend it if the HF #34706 is too big for your needs. Essentially the same as the HF 65345, but black instead of green. It’s more refined than the 34706, but smaller and is 5 speed (you have to move the belt on the pulley to change speed)

I keep wondering how many pepper mills I need to turn in order to afford an American Beauty…but I digress.

-- Barry,

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