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The Utilitarian Mk1 (This won't be pretty)

Design considerations for a beginner's homemade lathe
Inspired by a mix of youtube videos and my earlier mistakes, a few thoughts have begun to circulate on what a basic homemade woodturning lathe for a beginner might look like.

Unfortunately its unlikely to be as pretty as some of the masterpieces put together to honour the skills of yesteryear. What it could be is cheap and functional (read ugly), and able to be constructed within a reasonable time frame using basic skills and tools.

Design considerations: The Utilitarian Mk1

It should run quietly: If you have your own sound-proof workshop then you can already afford to buy a lathe. For everyone else who lives with their folks, flatmates or in their sister's basement, a power-drill running non-stop is going to get really annoying. Even if you have your own place, your neighbours won't appreciate a drill whining all night.

Electrical safety: Noisy motors limit when you can use your lathe, and their need for electrical power limits where you can safely use them. Maybe you wan't to use it outside for example (so that dust and shavings can just fall straight into the garden). I also feel less concerned about the likelihood of anyone getting injured when high-speed motors and mains electricity are taken out of the equation.

Keep it simple: I don't want to have to master a lifetime of other (impressive but unnecessary) skills just to spin a piece of wood. I also want to avoid reliance on hard to find or expensive parts. Commonly available materials and tools will be the order of the day for making. If you need a bandsaw or a drill press to build it, its already out of reach for most people who just want to have a hack at playing with a lathe for an afternoon.

An overall forgiving design: I want to avoid the need for precision joinery and alignment. If your billy club or chisel handle or whatever you end up making don't end up perfectly round, it's ok. It should be good enough to find out if woodturning is something you want to pursue. Based on what I have seen on youtube we can also assume the most new users have no idea how to use a lathe safely so I want a design that will minimise the risk of injury.

I want to make a lathe not a bench: For the Utilitarian Mk1, I want to focus on making the wood spin, not on building the world's largest, heaviest and most ornate workbench (as cool as that may be). I'm going to assume the maker has something to clamp or screw this thing onto that will hold it at a comfortable height for working.

This doesn't have to last forever: For this design I'm ok if parts are likely to wear out over time. It should be easy enough to repair if required, but realistically it is more likely the user will either upgrade within a few months or go back to playing computer games.


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