Bench Top Lathe – The Plan

by | May 11, 2015 | 18 comments

As I mentioned last week this lathe is very quick to build, don’t make it anything other. I’ve stripped it back to nothing but the essentials and then used screws to fix it all together. The design could be improved to make it more attractive, or maybe a bit more user friendly, but I have decided to share the plans in the form of what I’ve built; it works and will give you a very good starting point.
Before you knock one up I want to emphasise the importance of having a stable bench to work off.
Bench top Lathe Plan
The plans are as basic as the design. They show the overall dimensions as what I’ve used and how things are laid out. There isn’t a lot of detailing here and that’s because it’s intended that you can adjust things to suit the materials you have to hand. The main body of lathe has ‘feet’ beneath it so you can hold it down in your vice. Cick on the plan images to see larger versions.
Lathe tail pieceThe central section of the tail piece will need a few extra shavings taking off the thickness to allow it to slide within the body. The tail piece extends below so once in place I secure it to the face of the bench with a holdfast, if that’s not an option for you then just clamp it to the bed. I then give the back of the tail a thump with a hammer to ensure it’s knocked tightly to the work piece. For the two centres I’ve simply used a couple of lag screws.
Tool rest If I w
ere building it again I would beef up the tool rest as currently it’s a little flimsy under heavy cuts. This is left loose to keep the tail piece adjustable and allow everything to be dismantled quickly. Lathe BungeeI haven’t included any drawings of the treadle or bungie. Mine are currently extremely primitive; it’s a stick for the peddle, around 32″ long with an over sized hole that sits over a nail in the floor. If you plan to use this a lot then I would recommend improving it with a common A-frame design.
My bung
ee – which is just a bungee strap with the little metal hooks on the ends, has it’s two ends secured to the ceiling with a length of rope tied to it at the centre. The ceiling here is 7′ and I’m managing to get about three revolutions of the work piece. I could get more if I set the bungee back from the lathe so there’s a bit of experimentation possible there.

Read more about the bench top lathe.

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. David Gendron

    That is great, I will be building one of these this fall to start turning in the winter!! Thank you for taking the time and post these plans for us to use!!

  2. Michael

    Hi Richard – love the simplicity!!
    are the head and tail stock just held in place with friction – or do you use some sort od wedge?

    • Richard

      Hi Michael, the head stock is fixed to the bed permanently and the tail stock slides between the two bed rails. Once in position I secure the tail stock with a holdfast to the bench at the bottom, or you could use a clamp. If you haven’t seen the original post on the lathe then there’s a few photos shown it clamped in situ which might help. There was also a link to a quick video on Facebook if you scroll down to it.

  3. Eric

    Richard – Have you considered using a pulley to get more effective bungee length in the same distance?


    • Richard

      Hi Eric, that’s an idea I’d never have thought of, got the brain ticking… thank you.

      • Eric

        I’m confused, I always assumed that the number of revolutions was a function of the travel (length) of the treadle and the gearing supplied by the diameter of the drive or workpiece wraparound and the bungee was merely to provide tension/grip/return force?

        • Richard

          Hi Eric, the concern with the bungee when the ceiling height is fairly low is that a larger stroke on the treadle ie more revolutions, brings the bungee too low, so that it becomes distracting, the last thing you want to do is get your moustache snagged! I get about three turns and the bungee is about at the limit I would want it to come down to. So if you have lower ceilings or are wanting more strokes then it’s time to get creative.

          • Eric

            Ahh! that explains it. Nothing worse than a snagged moustache lol 😉

  4. Dan Noall

    This is terrific.

    Thanks Richard.

  5. William Fariss

    This looks like t was drawn up in SketchUp. Could we get the actual file?


  6. AJT28

    Hi Richard

    Do you use turning chisels, or just regular chisels and gouges?

    • Richard

      I have turning chisels, but a lot of pole lathe chisels actually resemble more general purpose ones, so if you’re getting in to it then smoothing for example can be achieved with a bevel edged chisels or even a plane iron. Obviously this depends heavily on what you’re intending to make. I do have a post on this planed shortly and I’ll go in to it a lot more.

  7. Darren Brewster

    Great drawings. This is a very doable project even for a novice. I love it.

  8. Ian M. Stewart

    Thank you so much Richard, for both the time you took to draw this out and post it up for us, and also for working out all the bugs to make it workable. This is just the job for tool handles and such, but maybe one day a chair 🙂

  9. Kermit

    I, too, thought of a pulley. Stretch the bungee at the back of the bench, rope goes over a pulley at the ceiling, thence back down to the bungee. You could do away with the bungee and clamp an ash or yew batten to the benchtop by one end, and attach the cord to the free end of the stick. Presto, springpole.

  10. Walter


    Exactly what we need for those who limit their turning tasks because they are mostly doing flat work on the bench.

  11. Andrew Frudd

    Hi Richard, I am a big fan of your videos and blog. I just wanted to mention that while I was reading about reciprocating lathes on the Bodgers forum bungee cords come up a lot. There is an issue with the metal hooks coming loose or straghtening out. Either way you can end up with a piece of metal flying at your face. The suggested method on there is to use cords without the hooks and sevure it with a clamp of some kind.

  12. David R

    Thank you for the concept, Richard.

    I made one today, it was astonishingly simple and came out nicely, rock solid in the vice.


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