Treadle Lathe Construction:
The continuous action treadle lathe, also known as a flywheel treadle lathe, below is an old design. Leonardo Da Vinci was the first to design such a lathe. His design included a 6' flywheel to drive the spindle. Although highly effective and efficient, it is not practical for limited space.
Although it may appear crude and dated through the eyes of a 21st century woodworker, the continuous motion treadle lathe was a giant leap forward in its day. Da Vinci was arguably one of the greatest inventors of all time. Turning times where greatly decreased with such a design.
My introduction to treadle lathes was accidental and apparently, discovered through my research, happens quit the same way for many traditional turners. I was on a family trip in Williamsburg Virginia. This is a great colonial town to visit. Quant little shops on brick streets, people in period clothing, and best of all, old timing trade shops. I got my first look at a treadle lathe in a cabinetmakers shop. Even though I had never seen anything like it before, being an avid turner, I recognized it right away. I knew I had to have one to call my own.
When I returned home, I spent a great deal of time researching treadle lathes. I read every post and article I could find on every type of man-powered lathes including pole lathes, bow lathes, bungee lathes, and of course treadle lathes. I spent countless hours looking at photographs of both old and replica lathes. I decided on a treadle lathe with a few key ingredients.
My design is a collaboration of many designs and ideas. The basic design came from a great craftsman, Roy Underhill. Roy has a TV show on PPS called The Woodwright's Shop. His site can be found Here. While researching continuous action/ flywheel treadle lathes, I came across Roy's design. Although not as "pretty" as some, I liked the simplicity and easy of build that his design offered. A lot of the credit here goes to Roy and everyone else that has built a treadle lathe since Da Vinci. With that said, I would like to thank Da Vinci and anyone else who has built a treadle lathe.
I built this lathe with one goal. I wanted an eye-catching piece to take to craft shows to help sell my wares. This was not some stretch to remember the past, find my roots, or decrease my greenhouse gas output. Although I think all are important, this specific project was only for attention. I love to turn. When I go to the shop to do some woodturning, I will still be using my 2hp 220-volt electric motor to power my piece. Then, all I have to think about is turning wood. But when time permits, it is a lot of fun to turn on this lathe. There is definitely something to be said about creating something with man-power alone.
While in the designing phase of this lathe, I had several things in mind. First and foremost, I wanted a portable treadle lathe. Many of the designs that offered portability seemed to require too much setup/tear down time and the need for tools of some sort. My design had to incorporate fast setup times and require no tools except my hands. This lathe folds on hinges instead of disassembling it which provides for fast setup/teardown. I do have to use a few bolts when setting up the lathe. However, I turned some handles for them, essentially transforming them into knobs. Knobs, by definition, do not require any tools to install.
Secondly, the lathe, when collapsed, had to be small enough to fit in my micro-sized car. Going from a pickup truck to a small economy car has been a challenge. But I get to pass a lot of gas stations with it.
The last major item of concern for me was chucks. Yes, I want to use my chucks and live centers on the treadle lathe. I know it seems ironic. Building an old style lathe that uses new technology. I am a wood turner, not a historian. Therefore I feel no shame. I designed this lathe to use the same bearings and spindle that my grizzly lathe uses. In doing so, I was able to replace the bearings and spindle on my daily use lathe, making it function more smoothly. I was able to reuse the parts to build a treadle lathe. Furthermore, I saved some space in the landfill. However, if you want to go more traditional, you can replace the spindle with an ugly old steel rod pounded into a spur drive for the headstock.
The wood used in this project was scavenged from an old pavilion that I built out of pressure treated 2x4’s and 4x4’s. The ways where made of standard 2x6 pine.
None of the dimensions listed are critical. However, keep in mind, if you change one dimensions, it may affect one or more dimensions in the project.
2x4 Pressure Treated Pine
4x4 Pressure Treated Pine
2x6 Dimensional Pine
(2)Spindle Bearings : Grizzly Part Number: P6205-2RS BALL BEARING 6205 2RS
Spindle: Grizzly Part Number: P5979004
(2) ½” Solid shaft collar: Surplus Center Part Number: 1-2766-50
(2)1/2” 2 Bolt Flange Bearings: Surplus Center Part Number: 1-3031
Carriage bolts : 3/8" x 6", ½” x 7”
T-hinges or Strap hinges
½” Steel Rod
6” Piece of steel pipe
Building The Frame:
The main theme for this lathe is portability. I wanted to build this lathe to fit in the back of my car, a very small sedan, and do demonstrations at shows. I built the frame so that it would fold instead of coming apart. This makes for a speedy setup and teardown.
As mentioned in the parts list, I used scavenged wood. For most of the frame, I used pressure treated 2x4’s and 4x4’s from a pavilion that I just tore down. For the ways, I used standard 2x6 pine.
As with so many of my projects, I like to setup my 10” miter saw to cut all the equal length pieces at once. This ensures all the piece will come together squarely, as well as this is a great time saving step. Once I setup my stop, I don’t have to keep measuring every piece, mark, and then cut.
Cut (2) 2x4 to a length of 40”. These are labeled “A”. Next, cut (2) 4x4, labeled “B”, and (1) 2x4 labeled “C”, to a length of 29 ½”. Arrange the pieces as shown in the picture above. Wood screws are used to secure the pieces. However, we need to cut the mortises in the C and B pieces first. This can be done before or after the tenons are cut. I like to cut the mortises first, and then fit the tenons to them.
I used my table saw to make both the mortise and tenon parts. Since my dado blades are only 6” blades, I was unable to cut the mortise parts, the B and C’s, deep enough to except the full width of the tenon. I notched the back side of the tenon so the front of the tenon was flush with the mortise when the pieces where assembled.
Next, I cut the tenons on the 3 vertical members of the frame labeled D, D, and E. The tenons are 1 1/4" wide and 3 1/2" long on both of the 4x4 pieces. The tenon on the 2x4 labled E is 5/8" wide by 3 1/2" long.
The two picture below show the steps of tenon progression.
The first picture shows the tenon after the first cuts. This is how a normal tenon looks.
The second picture shows the tenon after I notched out the back side.
Here is an image of how my tenon and mortised pieces came together. As seen in the image, the mortise was not deep enough for the tenon. To notch the tenon to fit, trace a line around the exposed tenon. The blue line in the pictures shows your cut lines.
After notching out the tenon like the image below, the two pieces mate together so that the fronts of each are flush.
The next step is to attach the ways. I used standard dimensional 2x6 pine cut to 40” lengths. After cutting to length, I ran one long edge on the jointer. This just creates a smooth flat surface for the tool rest and tail stock to run against.
With the hinges attached, the lathe will fold up. When fully extended, the tenons will slide into the mortises snuggly. This greatly increases the lathes rigidity, and reduces lateral motion. To keep the lathe from folding while using it, and to give the wheel a place to attach, we will now add the diagonal supports.
The diagonal supports keep the lathe in the upright position, provide stability, and gives the wheel a place to attach. I designed these piece to form a separate unit that can be added and remove as such. This decreases the setup/teardown time by decreasing the number of parts that have to be assembled. In addition, the wheel stays fixed to this unit. The axel and shaft collars do not have to be removed. This means less tools are required to assemble the unit on site.
As seen in the pictures above, the diagonal supports are made up of (2) G’s and (2) H’s. All 4 pieces are dimensional 2x4’s. The (2) parts labeled “G” are 30” long and the ends are cut at 45 degrees. The (2) “H” are cut at 90 degrees and are 5 ½” long.
After cutting the parts, place the (2) “G” pieces onto the lathe as shown. Place the 2 “H” pieces between the 2 “G”s. Use clamps to hold the 4 pieces together. Wood screws are used to attach the H’s between the G’s.
The next step will easily secure the diagonal supports to the vertical and horizontal members. My method involves creating knobs to fasten them quickly, easily, and without tools on site. To make each knob, I use scrape wood, 7” long, 5/16 carriage bolts, a nut, and a t-nut. Turn the handle out of a 1 ½ square piece of wood about 2” long. You can make this any shape. While the knob is still on the lathe, use a Jacobs chuck and a drill bit to bore a recess for the bolt head. Next, drill a through hole for the bolt. Remove the knob from the lathe and drill another recess for the nut at the other end. I used an oversized diameter recess on the nut end to allow my socket to tighten the nut.
Once complete, insert the carriage bolt through one end. Tap lightly with a hammer to set the bolt. Add the nut to the opposite end and tighten snuggly. Here is what both ends should look like:
Next, use clamps to secure the diagonal support assemble to the lathe in the position that you want them to remain. Draw 2 vertical and horizontal lines on the two diagonal supports near the top and bottom as shown.
Once all the holes have been drilled, remove the clamps and diagonal assemble. Locate the 4 holes in the vertical and horizontal members of the lathe that you just drilled. Drill a recess on the vertical and horizontal members of the lathe for the t-nuts. Make sure it is deep enough to get the t-nut below the wood level.
After removing and dust from the holes and lathe, replace the diagonal support assemble. Insert the 4 knobs into the holes in the diagonal supports and tighten. You don’t need to tighten too much as this could cause the t-nuts to pull out.
The wheel is the only essential part of this style lathe. Without the wheel, the lathe is not a continuous motion lathe. The wheel provides the momentum force that will allow the turner the power needed to cut the wood. Additionally, the wheel provides a place to attach the treadle.
The wheel can be almost any size, and constructed or salvaged from any material. I have seen people use wheels from bicycles and wheel chairs. Most builders make their own wheel for such a project. Leonardo’s design called for a 6’ wheel. While this would provide an awesome amount of momentum, it would require a lot of space and would make this lathe impractical for traveling. My lathe has a 21” diameter wheel and functions very well.
Two things to remember when making your wheel: 1. Larger diameter wheels provide better momentum for your lathe. 2. Try to make the outer portion of your wheel heavier.
Next, I drew another circle with a radius of 9 3/16”. After this is done, I drilled a ½” hole in the center of both boards. I used a piece of ½ steel rod for an axel. The hole in the center of the 2 boards is for the axel.
Then, using a piece of 1x2 cherry, I cut 8 segments at 22 1/2 degrees x 8 9/16” long. Lay out the segments as shown below.
Next, I used a 1x2x2 piece of cherry to add support to the center of the wheel. I drilled a ½” hole in the center. I glued this piece, and all the segments to one of the 23x23 wheel boards making sure to line up the ½” hole at the center.
Then I ran glue over the top of the 8 segments and around the center support. I carefully laid the remaining 23x23 wheel board on top of the glue. I pused the ½” steel rod axel through the assemble to insure proper alignment. I added a few clamps around the parimeter while the glue set up. After letting the glue dry, I cut the wheel to a rough circle.
Once the recess was right, I placed the bearing on the wheel and drilled two holes straight through for the bearing bolts. I used a slightly larger diameter drill bit to allow some play in the bolts. I bolted a bearing on either side of the wheel. I inserted the axel into the center hole and tightened the set screws on the bearings to secure the wheel to the axel. Then I tightened the bearing bolts.
Mounting the wheel
to the lathe
To mount the wheel to the diagonals, I first marked and drilled holes through the diagonals where the axel will go. I measured 12” in from the outside of the vertical pieces, and 14” up from the bottom of the horizontal pieces. I used a ½” drill bit and drilled as shown.
Making the wheel
Although the wheel is roundish, you will find that when you spin it on its axis, it will not run smoothly. I have seen lots of ways to make the wheel run true. This is how I did it.
I decided to use a router with a straight bit to true my wheel. I built a platform to hold my router on the back side of the lathe.
Next, I built a cradle for my router. The cradle squeezes the sides of the router and the back plate allows the cradle to slide squarely against the top plate. The cradle sides are made from 2” thick scrape and are 8” long. I used a wood screw at the end of each cradle side to secure them to the back plate. This allows the sides to pivot on the screws and squeeze the router.
Once completed, I laid the router between the two sides and used a bar clamp to press them against the router. Next, I slowly moved the wheel around to find the highest point. I adjusted the router bit to cut about 1/16” deeper then the highest point on the wheel. I moved the router/cradle unit to one side of the wheel and turned the router on spinning the wheel slowly. I moved the router/cradle unit slowly across the wheel after each complete rotation. Working slowly, I would advance the router bit after each cut depth was achieved.
When the wheel was completely faced and true, I moved the router/cradle unit to the center of the wheel. I advance the bit and cut a groove in the center of the wheel to a depth of about 1/8” around the circumference of the wheel. The grove will later be used as place for the drive rope to sit and keep it on the wheel. Once complete, the router jig can be removed.
The treadle is the mechanical part of the lathe. Without this, you can’t get your wood to spin.
The first part of this project is the connecting spacer labeled “I” in the picture below. The only thing this part does is provide a space between the bearing, which sticks out past the face of the wheel, and the tie rod. You may need to adjust the thickness of this part depending on how much your bearing protrudes from the face of the wheel.
I used a piece of 1” thick cherry for this part. I ripped the piece down to 1 ½” wide and cut it to 4” long.
I drilled a series of holes using a drill press. The top and bottom holes I pre drilled for wood screws. The screws go through the connecting spacer and into the wooden wheel. The middle two holes are for a bolt. You only need one hole and one bolt. I made two holes to adjust the height of the treadle and thereby changing the mechanical advantage of the treadle.
This picture shows the front view of the connecting spacer.
A 7" long 1/2" bolt connects the tie rod to the connecting spacer. The extra length of this bolt is important. This allows the tie rod to be easily slid off the bolt when disassembling the lathe. A nut cannot be used do to the counter clock wise spin of the wheel. After a few turns, a nut on this bolt would continue to tighten, causing too much friction between the two washers and the tie rod. Using a short bolt would allow the tie rod to slip off the bolt unexpectedly.
The head of the carriage bolt is set on the side of the wheel closest to the diagonal support assemble. Tap the bolt head with a hammer to set. Place a nut on the other end and tighten. Add two washers and slide them against the nut. This will allow the tie rod clear the spacer block and decrease friction.
A 3/8" bolt connects the tie rod to the treadle. Set the head of this bolt into the treadle with a hammer. Add a nut on the opposite end of the bolt and tighten. Add two washers after the nut. Slide the bolt through the hole in the bottom of the tie rod. Add two more washers and a lock nut. Do not over tighten this lock nut. You want a little bit of space between the tie rod and the washers. The space will allow the tie rod to pivot on the 3/8” bolt freely.
The last component of the treadle mechanism is the treadle labeled “K”. This is the part that your foot pushes down to make the wheel spin. It measures 29” long, 3” wide, and ¾” thick. I made mine from cherry. This can be made wider, skinnier, or longer depending on your taste. As you can see from the picture below, a hole must be drilled through the side of the treadle to accept the bolt from the tie rod. I drilled mine 14 ½” from the hinge end of the treadle.
Once the treadle has been bolted to the tie rod, attach the strap hinge/ T-hinge to the treadle. Place the other end of the hinge down on the lathe base (Part A). Press down on the hinge with your hand to hold it in place. With the other hand, press down on the other end of the treadle. Give the wheel a few spins while watching the connection points of the wheel, tie rod, and treadle. Adjust the anchor point of the hinge if needed to achieve a smooth action. When you are satisfied with the results, secure the hinge to the lathe base with screws.
The Head Stock
The next part of the project is finishing the head stock. There were some key design details when I decided on this lathe. I wanted a fairly large swing and I wanted a standard spindle. I designed this lathe for a 16” swing using a 1”x8 TPI spindle. This will enable me to use my chucks and #2 morris taper attachments. The larger swing will allow for plates and platters, as well as spindle work. However, I wouldn’t want to do large heavy bowl blanks with this lathe.
These are both made of 2x4’s. The hole near the top of “L” is for the spindle. The spindle I purchased is 1” in diameter. The largest drill bit I have is a 1” spade bit. This allowed the spindle to slide into the hole. However, I wanted a little room between the spindle and the wood. I used a sanding drum and lightly sanding the interior diameter of the holes. You could, if you have one available, use a slightly larger diameter drill bit.
Next, I made two mounting blocks for the bearings, labeled “N”. These measure ¾” thick x 3 ½”x 3 ½” pine. I drilled a 2” diameter hole in the center of each. Next I drilled pilot holes and recesses for wood screws.
Setting the parts on the bench, slide one bearing onto the spindle. The spindle I used has a slightly larger diameter near the threads. I used a scrape piece of wood and hammer to tap it into place. As seen in the picture below, the bearing gets tapped down to the retaining nut that is welded to the spindle.
Slide the mounting block onto the shaft. This should take some light taps to get it over the bearing. I set mine so the back of the bearing was flush with the back of the mounting block. Doing it this way somewhat hides the bearing, making it more authentic. Although authenticity is not my main concern with this lathe, I thought it to be a nice touch.
Next, we need a pulley to make the spindle turn. I used my electric wood lathe to do this. First I mounted a piece of 4x4x6 oak between centers. I turned it down to a cylinder and made a chucking point on one side for my 4 jaw chuck.
I removed my spur center and installed my 4 jaw chuck on the lathe. I trued up all sides of the oak block. Then I measured 3” from the tailstock end. Using my parting tool, I cut a deep groove at the mark. This will be where I eventually part it off.
The last step before parting off the pulley, is to drill a hole for the set screw. The set screw will go through the side of the pulley and secure it to the spindle. The hole diameter should be smaller than the screw used. This will enable the screw to bite the wood. I measured 1” from the end and drilled down into the 1” center hole.
Now that all the parts have been made for the headstock, it’s time to assemble and complete.
First place the headstock part labeled “L” between the ways a few inches away from part “E”. Slide the spindle through the 1” spindle hole in part “L” until the bearing/bearing mounting block makes contact with the face of part “L”.
Take the second bearing and insert it into the other bearing mounting block. Slide the second bearing/bearing mounting block assemble onto the spindle so that the screw recess holes are facing the tailstock.
Use clamps to secure the mount blocks. Clamp one side of a small square to the front of the “L” piece and the other side of the square to the ways. Check that the spindle spins freely, there is a small amount of space between the pulley and the uprights, and that the front of the headstock is at 90 degrees to the ways. Make adjustments as necessary. Once everything is right, drill two holes through the ways and the tennon on part “L”. Insert bolts and tighten down.
Then insert your set screw. I placed mine so that the end of the screw would enter the key recess on the spindle. Since I didn’t use a key on the spindle, the recess is the perfect place for the set screw.
The last step, for me, was a top on the headstock. Although not necessary, it does add strength to the headstock. Additionally, to my eye, it looks more complete, as well as adds a surface to lay tools or wood.
Now you can attach your belt and give it a spin. I used some cotton rope I got at a local hardware store. Run the rope around the wheel, up over the top of the pulley, and down between the ways. Pull the rope taught and cut the rope to length. Remove the rope from the wheel and tie the rope securely. Place back over the wheel. If you made the rope to the correct length, it should be difficult to get the rope over the wheel. Once the rope is in position, press down on the treadle and give it a try. It takes some practice to get used to the rhythm, but it won’t be that long before you’ve got the hang of it.
Making the tailstock is very simple. It consists of 2 “O”, a “P”, a “Q”, and an “R”. The 2 “O’s” are almost exactly like the “L” we made earlier for the headstock. The only difference is the tennon is longer. On the “O”, the tennon needs to extend below the ways.
The last piece needed to make the tailstock work is the “R”. This is basically a wedge. I cut all the sides square. Then I cut a 15 degree angle at the bottom of the piece. When assembled, the 15 degree angles in the Q are R pieces are placed next to one another. When force is applied, with a wood mallet ect.., the wedge, part “R”, gets pressed against the bottom of the ways. This locks the entire tailstock in place.
Assemble the parts as shown below and use wood glue and clamps to secure the pieces. Place on your bench, 1 “O” piece. Place the “P” and “Q” pieces as shown. Add more glue on top of the “P” and “Q” pieces. Add the second “O” piece on top.
Once the tailstock was complete, I inserted my Jacobs chuck into the headstock with a ½” drill bit chucked in it. I brought the tailstock up to the tip of the bit and began to treadle. As I treadled, I applied pressure to the back of the tailstock causing a through hole to be drilled through the tailstock. A standard #2 morse taper live center can be pushed into the hole. However, using a rasp and sandpaper to create a cone shape that matches the morse taper will give you better results than a straight hole.
The Tool Rest
The last component of the lathe is the tool rest. Start with the base plate labeled “S”. I used a piece of maple ¾”x4”x8”. Then cut a ½” groove in the center of the piece. Leave 1” of wood on one end and 2” on the other as shown.
As seen in the picture above, the riser block has a ¾” hole drilled down through the end grain. This is for the ¾” steel pipe. This component will allow height and swivel adjustment to the tool rest.
Drill a ¾” recess on the face as shown above. Additionally, drill a 5/16 hole through the outer face of the board until it exits the ¾” hole. Insert a t-nut into the hole and recess. Attach part “T” on the side of the “S” where you left the 2” space using glue and wood screws. Insert your ¾” steel pipe into the top hole. Use a 5/16” carriage bolt in the t-nut to lock down the pipe.
Create the tool rest support labeled “U” using a 2x4 ripped down to 1 ½” x 1 ½” x 6”. Drill a ¾” hole in the center of the piece to a depth of about 1-1 ¼”. Using glue, attach the steel pipe into the center hole of part “U”.
The last part needed to complete the tool rest is the tool support labeled “V”.
This is made from a piece of maple ¾”x 1 ¾”x 6”. This is glue and secured with wood screws to part “U”. Notice the small offset between “U” and “V”. This will ensure the part “V” doesn’t come into contact with the riser block (part “T”).
To secure the tool rest to the ways, I used a 7” long carriage bolt, washer, wing nut, and a piece of scrap wood. Slide the washer onto the bolt and insert the bolt through the groove on the tool rest base plate. Take a scrape of wood, slightly wider than your ways, and drill a through hole in the center to form the bottom plate. Slide the wood onto the bolt that should be hanging below the ways. Add the wing nut and tighten. The bolt will compress the base plate and the bottom plate between the ways and cause the tool rest to maintain its position.
Thank you for sharing my experience with this treadle lathe build. It has been a rewarding challenge. Feel free to use this information in any way that you see fit. Share this link with friends. Please do not sell this information. I offer it freely. I will be adding many more free plans here on this site, so please stop back.