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How I built a Homemade Mini Metal Lathe from Scrap Engine Cylinder Head

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

How my quest to build a homemade mini metal lathe started. Every time I see a Tech video come up on my feed there's always someone using a metal lathe to help them build there projects. I wished I could have tools like this and always wanted to own a metal lathe, but there were a few problems trying to acquire one. Firstly I would need a nice dry space to store a full size lathe, and second I need to justify the cost of buying one, and thirdly how often would I actually use a lathe. With all those factors in mind I felt like it made no sense in buying a full size lathe. The Build video is Below.

My discovery of the mini lathe, I was doing a little shopping on Amazon and at my amazement I discovered the mini lathe, at this point I've never seen these before and was really interested. Unfortunately when I did all the math on cost I would need to pay about $1200 for the lathe, that's pretty reasonable but at the time I couldn't afford to spend that kind of cash. One thing I noticed on the mini lathe was the lathe chuck and who made it, And that's where it all started.

So I searched for the 4'' lathe chuck online, I found one on Amazon, than I got really excited, the price was fair about $50, this is when I figured I would buy the chuck and try and build one myself. So I ordered the chuck, and in a few days I had myself a lathe chuck, hurray! hurray!

The build: After some research on lathes and how they work I figured I would just use some pillow bearing to hold the lathe shaft to the base, but I ran into a problem, lathe shafts and bearings are kind of expensive around 100$ each plus shipping, so my plans to build the lathe were halted, temporary until I found another solution.

The big discovery: while I was walking through my junk pile looking for parts for another project , I saw an old Suzuki 3 cylinder engine head, I noticed the camshaft it was the same size of the 4'' lathe chuck. Now I do have some experience with engine repair, cylinder heads have pressurized plane bearings, but they are very precise this was the eureka! moment, I'll try and use the head as my lathe head stock. I ended up mounting the chuck to the cam shaft very quickly with some measuring and it was fairly true, once I had the chuck on I started to look for something to use as my lathe bed (ways). I hunted around for materials I found an old piece of 1/4 inch plate and figured I could use some brake rotors to raise up the head. That idea wasn't turning out with some frustration I needed a better solution. I decided to do more hunting around, I found some nice pieces of thick angle iron, so I ended up using the angle iron and some 1/4 and 1/8 scarp plate to build the Ways.

Build Video Below.

Mounting the head to the lathe was pretty easy but building the slides were very time consuming and challenging as you can see in the video. I had to cut out all the steal with an 4'' angle grinder with cut off wheels, it was a nightmare hopefully I will never do that again and I advise you not to do so either. I ended up basically copying the size of an another lathes tool post I saw online and also built a working tail stock with a strut shaft from a car, I came up with that idea myself looking for parts.

I had to do a lot of research on lathes and how they worked to build this somewhat working lathe. I think with some improvements I can get this lathe to work much better, I'm planing on some updates soon and will post on my blog.

Conclusions: The lathe works, and I even had it rotating the wrong way 😆 I was still able to turn down some aluminum shafts fairly easily even tho it was spinning the wrong way. Before building this I had only used a lathe in high-school so there was a lot to learn, but hopefully I'll become more proficient in the future.

I will do more updates on this blog and if you have any questions than feel free to leave them here.

Thanks for reading! Take Care

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