Some Days You Just Can’t Win.

While waiting for parts of the Rocket Bookcase to dry, I launched into another project.  Turns out SWMBO (I say with a wink and a smile) recently put the kabash on a potential gift of a lathe to me.  Now, leaving aside the shock of the aborted tool acquisition, I could understand the logic, and after the events described below, I now agree with it.

What exactly can you do (not master turners or guys who can spend all day in the shop—I’m talking regular Joe’s like me who have maybe an hour or so a day in the shop) with a mini-lathe?  The usual suspects are pens, tool handles, rings and maybe small bowls, etc., at least to the best of my limited knowledge.

Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that yeah, maybe I don’t have all that much space for another benchtop device that will spend 90% of it’s life on a shelf taking up valuable real estate…especially if all I can really do is make rings and pens and tool handles.  I don’t have but 4 micro files that need handles anyway!   It would sure be fun to have though….

But….the lathe, or maybe the try-something-new bug had bit me. I found an old issue of ShopNotes in my magazine stack that has plans for making a mini-lathe out of a drill press. I have a drill press…I have scrap wood that would work for the jigs….I have a new project!


So, after cutting the requisite pieces, I started to assemble the plywood base and maple tool stand:


I also cut a 45 degree chamfer with a 3/16″ lip using the hand planes before final assembly.


Then all I had to do was a little metal shaping….I cut a 3/8″ hex bolt to length and sharpened the point on the little piece to be set in a chunk of maple for the tailstock. Then with the rest of the bolt, I drilled a hole in the end and pushed a nail through. On the top of the stock, I drilled a 3/8″ hole and cut a kerf to make a slot for the nail. That would spin the stock.

I found a big screwdriver we’ve had for about 4 years and never used because it was too big (it was a freebie, found somewhere in Texas). I ground a bullnose bevel on the belt sander and hone with sandpaper to a mirror polish.


All that was left was to clamp the jigs and stock and let ‘er rip. With visions of cool new shaped handles for my micro files, I turned on the drill press amd watched the spinning stock in fascination. Now was the moment of truth.

With safety gear in place, I gingerly touched tool to wood and heard the thump-thump of the screwdriver making contact with the corners of the wood. Cool! Chips were flying!

Then, just as I was starting to think this was the best thing ever, the wood jumped off the press and dropped to the floor. I shut off the press and discovered the nail holding the stock in place through the bolt was gone. I later found it on the floor at my feet, bent badly.

Hmm. Clearly a weak nail. So I made another, tried again. Another minute or so of success and as soon as I applied any pressure at all, the wood flew off the drill press and the nail followed it.  I managed to make some marks on the wood…but this is just too dangerous, I think.


Maybe it was user error (not like I’ve ever done this before lol) or just bad nails or not enough clamping pressure, or both or something else…I don’t know what caused it to keep falling apart.  But with it fell apart any illusions of turning in my near future.  I will put the lathe on the “nice to have…someday” list for now.

So that was a dismal failure.

Could my experience have been better had I a real lathe?  Possibly.  Likely.  But then again, given my limited space and budget….I think a band saw would be a better investment and realize a lot more utility.  After all I don’t have a tablesaw either…and with the small-ish parts I use to make my projects (so far), using a bandsaw to rip and cut things makes more sense than a tablesaw (and the large footprint it carries with it).  Something to think about…

At any rate, my next mission was to try and take a chunk of that wood that didn’t like to stay on the drill press/lathe and shave it into a roughly cylindrical shape with chisels to make a handle for those micro files. Well….long story short, I made a palm handle, sort of…that seemed well enough to work. I drilled a hole and put the file tang in the started to gently tap the handle down.

So far so good! Then the handle stopped moving. No big deal, I thought, we’ll just persuade it a bit more with Kroktskaft. Well, two taps later, I had a micro file in 3 pieces: one jammed in a piece of scrap I was holding the file steady with, one I held in my hand, the other (the tang) was embedded in the handle.


Some days you just can’t win.

So I threw in the towel, cleaned up and went inside. Maybe I’ll make a little rabbet plane using the screwdriver/chisel I made today….


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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3 Responses to Some Days You Just Can’t Win.

  1. Paul says:

    Methinks the nail was the problem? Ithe nail driving the work?

    • S. M. Vaught says:

      Sort of….yes. the bolt is held in the chuck, and fits in a hole in the top of the stock. The nail slides through the bolt and fits in a kerf cut into the top of the stock so it has something to register against. I thought about using a stiffer nail…but without something that really grips (like a chuck or one of those forstner looking things on the headstock of a real lathe) it makes me nervous. But what just occurred to me was to drill a hole in the stock, glue a dowel into it and put the dowel in the chuck…..hmmm….

    • Paul says:

      nail was probably slipping out while turning. because of the interuppted cut . A lathe very handy thing, the only problem you always need one a little bigger one, lol!

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