I should start this post by stating clearly that this is absolutely new territory for me. I know very little about Japanese lathes other than what I’ve learned via the blog posts and Instagram posts of Jarrod Dahl. Jarrod is the first person I am aware of to have made a Japanese style electric lathe in the west. He has travelled to Japan to research the lathes, tools and turning techniques of Japanese production turners and has been using one now for quite some time, along with a pole lathe and a standard western style electric lathe. Go to his blog and search through his Instagram if you’ve not already done so. There is a wealth of inspiration and information to be found there. I’m grateful to Jarrod for bringing this style of wood turning to our attention via his writings and work.
I know next to nothing about motors, inverters, pulleys, bearings and drive belts other than what I’ve learned over the last few weeks as I attempted to put all these components together. I was once described as a Luddite by one of my friends, which is probably not too far from the truth. So please bear that in mind. As I write this I’ve only used the lathe a couple of times. I have no idea whether it will fall apart, or become damaged due to incorrect assembly or through using inappropriate parts etc. Please do your own research before buying any of the parts listed below and make your own decisions about whether other parts or products might make a better machine. Or wait a year or so and see how mine fares after that time!
I am indebted to the kind generosity of Owen Thomas, who invited myself, Yoav Elkayam and Matt Whittaker to his workshop to see the Japanese style lathe he built. Without that invitation and a chance to look at Owens lathe, ask him questions and have a go to see how it works it would have taken me absolutely ages to work out how to build one. I’d never used an electric lathe of any sort before that day, so was completely in the dark at that point and utterly clueless. Any mistakes I’ve made with mine are entirely my own fault and nothing to do with Owen! Most of what I bought is exactly the same as he has used with the exception of the pillow blocks and bearings. See below for more on that.
Now that’s all out of the way I’ll get on with the point of this post. Essentially it’s nothing more than a response to many questions I’ve received after posting about my electric lathe build on Instagram. Several people have asked if there is any info online about how to put one together, and about the various parts, motor spec etc. At the time of writing this there is not, although Jarrod is fortunately planning on writing about these lathes soon. It just made sense for me to write it here rather than answer lots of individual questions on Instagram via DM.
I hope it provides an interesting project for you if you’re one of those people interested in making one. Another, simpler option would be to buy a second hand western electric bowl lathe and simply mount that on a work surface. But if that’s too easy, then read on..
The following spec for motor, inverter and controller are all copied and pasted from the sales blurb online. These three items were bought as a package on eBay. Link to page here;
Motor Specifications (Taken from the sales blurb)
Universal IE2 0.75kW (1HP) three phase 4 pole B3 Foot mounting 80 frame AC Induction Motor for 400V 3 phase supply. Suitable for use with a Variable Frequency Inverter Drive.
Output: 750W (1HP) x 1410rpm at 230V or 400V x 50Hz 3ph.Speed Range from an Inverter Supply: 15:1 Range from 141rpm to 2115rpm for 5Hz to 75Hz, when de-rated at the lower speeds.Constant Power Speed Range: 1410rpm to 2115rpm continuously.
Dimensions: 163mm wide x 290mm long x 213mm high overall.Mounting: Foot mount on 10mm holes at 125mm wide x 100mm centres 50mm back from the shaft shoulder.Shaft: 19mm diameter, 40mm long with 6mm key.Construction: AluminiumWeight: 10.50kg.
OutputVoltage Regulation Mode:PWM control
Start -Stop – Forward – Reverse – Variable Speed Dial.
Start Momentary Push button – Acts as a No-Volt-Release function.
Stop Push button
Forward /Reverse Rotary switch – To change motor direction
VariableSpeed Potentiometer – To infinitely vary the speed of the motor.
The spindle is a replacement shaft for Record Power CL series lathes. Stiles and Bates sell a complete shaft and bearing assembly kit, which includes the main spindle, plus an inner headstock bronze bearing, 2 locking rings, outer headstock bearing and replacement belt. Owen Thomas bought this kit and made wooden pillow blocks to house the bearings. This option is good from the point of view of having the exact correct bearing size for the spindle. However I didn’t want to use a bronze bearing, and didn’t want the hassle of making wooden housings for the bearings. So I bought pillow blocks and bearings separately and bought just the spindle alone direct from Record Power.
Note that the spindle diameter changes along its length and at the threaded end is not a standard size. This means that the closest standard bearing which will fit that end is slightly too big. To solve this problem I experimented with different size steel shims bought off eBay and found that a steel shim with 0.005 thickness was about the correct size to take up any obvious free play once cut to size and used between the bearing and spindle at the threaded end. You may find it better to do some research and source a different spindle which has a standard diameter to fit easily available bearings.
This is to lock the pulley to the spindle. I bought a pack of 6mmx6mmx20mm round end key steels off eBay and ground a bit off each end as the slot in the spindle is 19mm. It would be easy enough to make one up from some mild steel.
The following photo is my invoice from Simply Bearings Ltd where I bought all the other bits, pillow blocks, bearings, tapered locking bushes, v-belt, pulley etc.
That’s about it. The motor, VFD and controller all come with detailed notes on how to wire it all up and how to use it, and there are videos on YouTube which go in to detail on all the many functions and settings of the VFD. It’s quite an amazing bit of kit.
I’ve had lots of suggestions about how to make an adjustable system for tensioning the belt. It was something my father was insisting I should do, (he was a great help during a visit here with his engineering brain as I made a start on the build), but I chose not to in the end. The mounting holes in the pillow blocks are designed to allow movement, so I simply tension the belt by hand by pulling the blocks away from the motor and then tightening the nuts when the belt feels right. It seems to be fine, but I’m sure it would be useful to go the extra mile and design some sort of sliding plate and tensioning lever as my father was suggesting.
The whole thing needs to be protected somehow to keep the shavings off the moving parts. Mostly people make a wooden box for this, but I used a battered antique chest which my partner Fern found. Someone was about to throw it in to a skip so she rescued it and I re-purposed it. It’s probably about one hundred years old and I’m rather fond of it. it all needs to be secured to the work surface somehow. I’m using L shaped brackets to keep it stationary while in use, attached to the wooden base through the chest and then to the surface of the table.
The Japanese hook tools are very different to the hooks we use on our pole lathes. But I know very little about those right now. Lots of experiments on the horizon. For now I’m using my pole lathe hooks.
Someone asked if I’d be making it clear when I sell bowls or cups now whether they’ve been made on the pole lathe or this electric lathe. I hope it goes without saying that I would never try to sell an electric lathe bowl as a pole lathe bowl. All will be sold for what they are. They both have different qualities anyway and I’ve no intention of abandoning my pole lathe. I’m a pole lathe turner at heart and couldn’t stop using that archaic machine even if I wanted to. If I go even a few days without getting behind the pole lathe I start getting jittery! It is my hope that these two style of turning will in time compliment each other and inform my work in new ways. For now it’s a new journey of discovery for me, lots of learning and fun. I do feel that the last decade of pole lathe turning has enabled me to grasp a different style with a certain amount of ease. The fundamental principles are basically the same after all. Hopefully it will continue to stand me in good stead as I explore more of the possibilities these new (to me) techniques have to offer.