How to Use a Drill Press as a Lathe: a Step-By-Step Guide

All woodworkers would come to the point of learning about the wood lathe, and curiosity arises as they go along with the process of lathing. It requires purchasing a new vast machine specifically for lathing, but do you know that you can use a drill press as a substitute?

A Drill Press is an excellent backup as a horizontal wood lathe. Whether you want to have a live or dead center, you can do it with the use of some bearings, screws, bolts, and Lathe attachments. Put these pieces together in place, and you can set up a Lathe with your Drill Press.

Instead of investing in another expensive bulk tool, using your drill press could save you money and more space. So, without further ado, here’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide to set up a lathe using a drill press.

What is a Lathe?

A Lathe is a machine tool for shaping or curving the wood to get the desired shape on the workpiece. It works well for both wood and metal, wherein the cutting or shaping tool feed against the rotating workpiece. A Lathe’s primary function is to remove a portion of the workpiece to get the desired size and shape – like a bowl, a pencil holder, and other cylindrical workpieces.

What Does a Lathe Machine Can Do?

A Lathe machine can do various basic operations, primarily for shaping and smoothing a cylinder. The cutting speed and feed depend on the project, and the amount of work required.

Here are some of the fundamental Lathe operations that you can perform using a Drill Press.

  1. Facing. It is the primary operation done in a Lathe machine to produce flat surfaces at the end of a workpiece. It is also a standard action done on a Drill Press by feeding the workpiece against the rotation of the chuck.
  2. Turning. Another typical operation that you can do with a drill press, wherein it includes the removal of excess material on the workpiece surface to create a cylindrical surface.
  3. Boring. It is the process of removing a part inside a workpiece to create holes with various sizes depending on your pin. The process is also possible with the use of a Drill Press and a single-point cutting tool.
  4. Counter Boring. Almost the same with the process of boring to greater than one diameter on the same axis.
  5. Knurling. It is where you make indented spaces on the surface of a workpiece, with the use of a knurling tool.
  6. Chamfering. It is the process of beveling the extreme ends of the workpiece to remove the burrs or protect the wood from any damage. The beveled angle also gives a better look.

With proper tools to combine, these are some of the fundamental operations that a Drill Press can do even without a Lathe. It’s all about understanding what you want to do with your workpiece and finding the right pieces to work with the Drill Press.

How to Use a Drill Press as a Lathe?

Here’s where it gets exciting. You’ll get to know how can you use your Drill Press as a Lathe when doing any processes mentioned above. It is a bit slower, but it’s better than purchasing another expensive and bulky tool.

  • Understanding the Significant Components

There are two significant components in a Lathe – the tool rest and the center. Form and improvise to create these two parts, using your tools and other available materials. So, we will explain how to use a Drill Press as a DIY Lathe for both Live and Dead Centers. 

The Tool Rest slides the tool upwards and downwards the edge of the piece. It also protects your hand from getting close to revolving wood. You can use a vertical block of wood, screwed firmly and glued on the drill table. Its length depends on how long you have to drill, and the space in your drill press.

A Center is the part of a Lathe that holds the wood and rotates it freely in a stable axis. It can be a live center wherein it turns with the work, or a dead center that does not rotate and the work rotates on it. They have the same effect, and choosing which one to use is your preference.

IMPORTANT! It applies to both methods to always turn off your Drill Press and unplug it from the socket when installing. 

Using a Drill Press with a Live Center

  • Step 1: Forming a Similar Lathe Machine

You can use a router bearing that has the same diameter at the bottom of your workpiece, or you can purchase a Lathe attachment that’s something like routes.

It includes a rod that acts as a guide, a live center for the bottom, a spur center for the headstock attached at the chuck of a Drill Press, and a mini screw. Take note that it may be limited only for small projects.

  • Step 2: Setting Up the Drill Press to a Lathe

Get a 2×4 scrap of wood, and clamp it to your Drill Press table. Then, drill a hole that would snugly fit your bearing of about 1/4 inches deep. Also, drill a 1/6 inches clearance hole wider than your shaft width. Attach a screw center at the chuck of your Drill Press. If you’re going to use a Lathe attachment, all you need to do is to install the provided tools into your Drill Press.

  • Step 3: Insert the Workpiece

Create a hole by pre-drilling the bottom and top of the workpiece. Make sure that it fits into the live center, and above for the spur or screw center. Tighten the chuck, and make sure that both ends of the workpiece go inside the bearing or the Lathe attachments. Lock the wood in place, and turn on your drill press, and check if it spins smoothly. You can drop some oil or lubricant on the bearing to help the live center spin better.

  • Step 4: Start Lathing

Start shaping your wood based on your desired cylindrical shape. Use a chisel and other lathing tools, but be mindful of the pressure at the tip as it may kick the workpiece out of the drill press. Take your time to shape or turn your wood slowly, and put your complete attention to avoid any mistakes. You can only do it once because your workpiece spins rapidly.

  • Step 5: Sanding

You can use a 60 to 80 grit sandpaper for initial shaping. Once you have your desired shape, switch to rougher sandpaper. Fold a strip of finer-grit paper (120–220) and smooth the surface. Take it slowly, stay focused, and avoid your fingers or tip of any tool too close. Then, check your work or make some necessary adjustments.

Using a Drill Press with a Dead Center

  • Step 1: Use Some Fundamental Hardware

For Lathe with a Dead Center, you can use some hardware like two bolts with different sizes – one smaller and one bigger. Take the one bolt over on a belt sander, and shape it to a point. Get another lock and a knot to tighten it against a tee-knot on its end and cut off its head. 

  • Step 2: Install the Bolts

Attach the pointed bolt with some offender washers at the center of your Drill Press table. It will serve as the Dead Center. Meanwhile, install the tee-nut into the chuck of the drill press (where it holds drill bits), and it becomes the spur center.

  • Step 3: Pre-drilling a Hole

Create a hole by pre-drilling the bottom and top of the workpiece. Align it to the live center, and above for the spur or screw center. Make sure to fit the workpiece by pre-drilling the bottom and top of the workpiece. Create holes that match with the tee-nut and the pointed bolt. This setup ensures that your workpiece is secure even the center below it is not rotating.

  • Step 4: Mount Your Wood

Mount your workpiece, and tighten the wood between the tee-nut assembly and the pointed bolt underneath. It would be helpful to put some lubricants on the installed locks to remove noisy sound and for a smoother run.

  • Step 5: Start Lathing

Take lathing slow, and shape your workpiece depending on the shape that you want to achieve. You can use a sharp chisel in the absence of any lathe tools like gouges, scrapers, or parting tools. Remember to keep the flat side into the turning wood, and the beveled side away. Once done, check if the result is satisfying or make some necessary adjustments.

What are the Other uses of a Drill Press?

No wonder Drill Presses are one of the most versatile power tools in woodworking. It helps many woodworkers to create other significant tasks more than just drilling a hole. Aside from lathing, here are some other uses of a drill press to make the most out of it.

  1. Drill at Any Angle. A Drill Press may look too stiff, but it can allow you to drill at any angle with a movable table at variable angles. Some drill presses have that feature, together with an adjustable height.
  2. Mortising. In case you don’t have mortising tools like a chisel, a Drill Press can do it for you. Some types come with mortising attachments for square or rectangular shape materials.
  3. Smooth Sanding. Drill Press is suitable for sanding both the interior and exterior of newly drilled holes. You can use the mentioned we’ve explained by sandpaper, or choose a drill press that comes with various sanding attachments called sanding drums. You can insert them inside the chuck and create a sanding pool.
  4. Fast-Moving Boring. More often, a Drill Press can perform a high-speed boring. Always make sure to use a dialer to set the right size that you want to drill, the correct needle size, and the proper machine speed.
  5. Screw and Unscrewing Bolts. Some Drill Press helps you screw and unscrew bolts, just like what a hand drill can do. It may not be a surprise, but most amateurs beginners forget about it. The technique is to set the machine speed to the lowest, and use an adapter if the material requires. Then, use a needle that matches your bolt. Screw and Unscrewing Bolts using a Drill Press is faster than a hand drill.

Types of Drill Press that You Should Know

With its versatility, a Drill Press comes in various types for specific applications. It’s helpful to understand its kind to determine when and where to use in a particular project.

1. Portable Drilling Machine

It is the most popular kind and a top pick for most woodworkers who don’t have a considerable working station. It is perfect for almost all applications, including lathing. Additionally, it is more convenient, compact, small, and lightweight. Portable Drilling Machine is also compatible with different drill sizes of up to 12 mm.

2. Sensitive Drilling Machine

It is a particular type of Drill Press known for its spindle head with a belt drive. It is usually a small machine used for tiny holes. Why experts call it “Sensitive”? It’s because it only comes with a manual version, wherein you can appreciate its sensitive drilling action. It is perfect for light to moderate projects and can use drills from 1.5 to 15.5 mm diameters.

  • Bench Mounting. It’s a small, light, and characterized by a footswitch. As the name suggests, ‘it’s a bench mounting drill press mounted on a workbench — ideal for working on light projects.
  • Floor Mounting. It can handle more demanding projects; however, be aware that there may be some issues encountered using this type – its portability.

3. Upright Drilling Machine

It is notable for the spindle head that features a gear drive. Vertical Drilling Machine allows you to choose between automatic and manual modes, making it perfect for large holes. There are two types based on its purpose – Round Column Section, and Box Column Section Machine.

  • Round Column Section. It features a circular column for doing lighter projects. Avoid using it to heavy-duty materials because it has less strength than other drilling machine types.
  • Box Column Section Machine. In contrast to the first one, it has a box column section for working on more rigid and demanding projects.

4. Radial Drilling Machine

It is another popular type of drilling machine and a favorite for most woodworkers. It’s because of its flexibility, versatility, and dominance in drilling larger and large projects. There are three kinds of Radial Drilling Machine – Plain, Semi-universal, and Universal drill press. 

  • Plain Radial Drilling Machine. It is suitable for making vertical, horizontal, and circular column arm movements.
  • Semi-Universal Radial Drilling Machine. It is the updated version of the first type. Same features with the addition of head swinging movement around the horizontal axis. 
  • Universal Radial Drilling Machine. It is excellent in performing a rotation of the drill head arm and even angled drilling. ‘It’s probably the most expensive type for it is still suitable for projects that most machines ‘can’t do even CNC machines.

5. Gang Drilling Machine

This type is unusual for its numerous single spindle columns located on the same machine base, but the purpose of this is to allow various operations on different positions of the worktable. The perfect drill for industrial purposes and mass production.

  • Multiple Spindle Drilling Machine. It is the best type if you need a drilling machine that can drill many holes at the same time, with high accuracy and efficiency. Like a Gang Drilling Machine, it is also ideal for industrial mass production.
  • Automatic Drilling Machine. Automatic Drilling Machines are suitable for repetitive and automatized production. It has an adjustable swing mechanism for better results. Most woodworkers love it because it can produce identical results on similar pieces of material.


What to Do With Uneven Lathing?

There are two primary reasons for uneven lathing – first imbalance pressure and lack of experience. Once your shaping tool touches with the wood, it is crucial to maintain even pressure to get even proportions. Experience is another common reason most beginners struggle with unequal lathing. The only solution for it is to lathe more to understand better how it works. 

What to Do With Tearouts Inside My Workpiece?

Some factors that lead to tearing out is the type of wood that you’re working and dull tools. So, it’s better to use denser woods as they are less prone to tear-outs, and make sure that all of your tools are sharp.

Is Lathing Dangerous?

Anything that uses electric power to produce fast revolving action is dangerous. However, it is still safe for as long as you follow safety protocols. Don’t forget to wear safety gloves and goggles. Avoid wearing loose clothing as it ay caught in the machine. Safety is all about how you respect the use of your device.

Final Words

Woodworking helps you maximize your creativity. Just because you’re missing on some tools or devices, doesn’t mean that you can’t do a specific operation. A Drill Press, for example, can operate many things and lathing is one of them. Open up your eyes, explore your Drill Press capacity, and test it out for yourself.

Most of all, always wear gloves and safety glasses as Drill Press is still dangerous even without drill bits. Keep your hands behind the tool rest, and don’t press your tool too much on the piece. Precision and control is your key to successful lathing.

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