Using a Power Drill as a Lathe in Woodworking

The need sometimes arises for turning a piece of wood or metal and without a lathe, an ordinary power drill looks like a possible alternative. There are even some kits that can be purchased purporting to transform your drill into a portable mini-lathe.

Disadvantages

While it is certainly possible to make a drill function as a lathe there are some drawbacks to consider.

First the drill will usually not have the power necessary to work on anything other than the softest of materials. You will probably be able to work with wood, maybe plastics, but probably not aluminium or really hard metals such as steel.

Secondly, the drill is designed for downward pressure not the sideways pressure it would experience if used as a lathe. So the life of the drill may be compromised if you try and make it do something for which the bearings are not designed.

Thirdly, you are unlikely to obtain the precision and accuracy that a lathe can produce.

Transforming Your Drill Into a Lathe

If you are determined to transform the drill into a lathe you will need to find a chuck that will hold the object to be milled into the drill. Unless the object to be turned fits directly into the drill, a hexagonal socket head or something similar, will normally be suitable for holding the object still while the drill head rotates.

Once you have a chuck to hold your object into the drill, you need to secure the drill with a vise so that it is stable.

Someone will probably need to operate the drill pulling the trigger to obtain different rotation speeds, typically starting gently until a groove has been established, before increasing the rotation. You may be able to operate the drill yourself, depending how awkward the job is.

The “cutting tool” that you use with the drill maybe a hacksaw blade, or even lathe cutting bits. But since you will be holding your cutting bit by hand there is no way the precision and accuracy of a lathe can usually be obtained. As the drill rotates, and your object to mill moves, you will have to carefully align the blade to achieve the desired cut.

Make sure the teeth of the hacksaw face into the side of the object to turn to make the starting groove. After you have a starting groove that will guide the cutting tool to cut in the correct place you can increase the drill speed.

Better control is achieved at slower speeds and hacksaw blades are not high speed cutting edges. The cutting tool should dig itself in, so do not press down hard. This would exert additional pressure on the drill bearings and increase the chances the drill breaks.

Resources

Watch the video as Vinnie from Makify.com demonstrates the process. (Featured image is a still from his video).

You can get detailed plans and measurements here by Makify.

If You can Avoid it, Just Dont Do it!

It is vital to remember that using a drill as a lathe creates additional hazards compared to using a lathe. There are more chances for objects to fly loose, cutting blades to snap, spin off out of control, or even the drill to come loose creating an unpredictable hazard and probably a breakage of the drill. Chances of accidents are reduced by going slowly and not trying to take too much off at once.

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