Turning of a Different Sort
by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX
Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.
I recently began learning how to turn metal! I have been interested in turning metal for some time. My first experience turning metal was on Roy Underhill's treadle lathe. That was a very limited introduction, however it was enough to pique my interest.
I am very fortunate to have a TechShop about 6 miles from my shop. This facility offers an amazing array of tools and equipment including several metal lathes.
They also have a woodshop with a Powermatic 4224B lathe, SawStop and bandsaw. TechShop has a full metal shop with welding equipment, large metal cutting tools, sandblasting and a powder coating system. The list of equipment also includes milling machines, 3D printers and laser cutters. They also have a plastics and electronic departments.
There are only 8 TechShops round the US. TechShop is a membership based facility. They offer various plans from monthly to lifetime. For more information see
. This is a very creative place. It is exciting to see all the projects other members are creating.
The metal lathe has many of the same elements as a wood lathe. However, it is also vastly different. The obvious differences are all the dials and controls (see below).
The cutting tools, of course, are not hand held but secured in the tool holder. The automation and precision of the metal lathe is amazing. The ability to machine down to the thousands of an inch with precision makes wood turning look more like rough carpentry. I am kidding of course.
The things that felt familiar to me were how speed and feed rates impact cutting and the surface finish. The chuck while massive, was certainly familiar as were the collet chucks. The metal lathe creates shavings similar to a wood lathe. However, I had to remind myself not to dust off the shavings with my bare hands. Otherwise, I would have risked a deep cut from the razor sharp shavings.
The learning curve for me will be developing the eye hand coordination while using the manual controls. There is also much to learn about the different types of metals and how to machine them.
My First Project
I took a basic class at TechShop on how to use the metal lathe. The class project was to turn a refrigerator magnet out of aluminum (see above). This project could easily be adapted to create a wooden magnet.
I began by mounting an aluminum rod into the collet chuck:
The first cuts were facing cuts to true up the blank. Sounds familiar right? Then I began to remove material down to the required diameter. I used both manual and auto feed controls.
Then a section was turned down to a smaller diameter to serve as the top or handle. I then used a small curved HSS cutter to form the cove.
I also made several cuts to create chamfers to remove the sharp edges. I then parted off the piece:
The piece was reverse mounted in the collet. Next the face was trued. Then I installed the keyless chuck in the tail stock. I used a pilot bit to drill a small starter hole:
This was to prevent the drill bit from wandering at the start of the cut. Next, I mounted a drill bit and drilled a shallow hole to receive the magnet:
Finally, the magnet was press fit into the aluminum. I am happy to report that my first real project on the metal lathe was successful!
So far, I have enjoyed learning a new skill. I hope to add a few metal elements to my wood turned projects. Only time will tell how the two come together.
Curtis was the 2012 President of
Central Texas Woodturners
, a member of the
American Association of Woodturners
, and a member of
Fine Woodworkers of Austin
. Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives and works in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at