Owning a lathe can make a lot of jobs incredibly easy, such as threading, turning, and performing even sanding around a cylindrical object. Learning to use a potter’s wheel (one of the most basic types of lathe) is relatively simple, but mastering a wood or metal lathe is a lot harder.
The following are some wood and metal projects that are not only excellent for practice, but can also make some nice conversation pieces. As some of these are good projects for teaching older kids to use a lathe (and some are actually used in schools for that purpose), we’ll mark the family-friendly projects so you can spot them easily.
Easy Wood Lathe Projects
It might be hard to believe, but the modern wood lathe had its origins thousands of years ago in Egypt. A very simple two-person design was slightly refined by the Romans and again during the Middle Ages. Due to the softer material involved, wood lathing remained well ahead of metal lathe technology up until the US Industrial Revolution.
Here are five great beginner wood lathe projects for you and your family to try.
Fashion Classic: Wooden Bangles
What girl hasn’t gone around sporting a bunch of bangles when the chance arose? Although rubber bracelets have become the current fashion trend, bangles remain a staple in jewelry. A good deal of the process can be done with your kids, although a few steps may require an adult’s precision.
A polished or stained bangle makes for a great gift. They’re quite durable and can have designs woodburned into them to make more unique pieces. Instructables has an excellent guide on making these wonderful pieces of jewelry.
Little Treasures: Weed Pots
The name of these cute little crafts can be a little misleading. They’re actually miniature vases designed for displaying dandelions and other weed flowers. Unlike a larger vase, the hole is drilled instead of hollowed out, so they can’t keep the displayed plant alive for long periods.
Younger kids will think these little vases are a cool way to display the random flowers they bring home, while older kids might use them to display origami or tissue-craft flowers. An easy-to-follow guide on making weed pots can be found on Instructables.
Practical Necessity: Wooden Spoons
As any grandmother or four-star chef will tell you, wooden spoons are one of the most valuable tools in the kitchen. When used for pasta sauces and other acidic foods, wood doesn’t cause a reaction that alters the taste, as some metal utensils are known to do. Additionally, metal utensils can ruin dough and other foods that include yeasts or bacteria.
Woodturning allows for very simple or ornate spoons, even at the beginner level. This is perfect for teaching your children how to use a lathe, as it requires very little skill to produce good results. Sam DeRose provides a nice guide for one of the many methods used in making beautiful wooden spoons.
Romantic Touch: Candle Stools/Doll Furniture
This is one of the easiest projects you can do with your kids, and the result is a very functional piece. Depending upon the size you make it, the stool can make for a romantic evening or seating for dolls. Also, as it consists of four simple parts, there’s plenty of room for kids to practice.
Of the many projects in this list, these stools is one of the quickest to create, and one of the most versatile designs. Whether used for candles, dolls, or even to elevate plant pots, this is one of the best beginner projects out there. A detailed guide can be found on Instructables.
Show Stopper: Staved Goblets
While they can be used for holding liquids, these wooden goblets are so beautiful that most people prefer to display them or give them as gifts. This is probably one of the most satisfying wood turning projects out there, and requires far less skill that the finished project suggests.
Many different types of wood can be used and for this particular project, cherry is used. The result, after polishing, is seamless and stunning. An excellent video tutorial by Alex Harris can be found on YouTube.
Easy Metal Lathe Projects
Oh, if only a good metal lathe had existed in the Middle Ages! Back then, almost everything was nailed because threading was such a complicated process unless they were using wood. By 1772, a better boring process had been invented which used steam power, but it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century that metal lathing became the joy it is today.
The following six metal lathe projects use a variety of techniques and will get you started on the joys of machining.
Children’s Puzzle: The Captive Nut
This project has gone by many names and is a very popular, yet simple puzzle. Not only does it captivate children, but adults are also fascinated by this basic toy. The trick is that a well-done piece will have a nut trapped on a threaded core with two ends too large to remove it. So how did the nut get on there?
Over the years, many variations have been made of this project, often aesthetically, although one advanced version notoriously allows you to turn the nut one direction, but not the other. Not only is this an excellent way to practice threading, it makes for a great gift idea. One of our favorite guides on how to make this incredible project was made by Frank Ford.
Forever Yours: Titanium Ring
Diamonds might say forever, but titanium provides some serious competition. Making rings out of titanium takes a lot longer than with softer metals, but the finished product is one that lasts. Best of all, these rings are more resistant to temperature and impact than gold or silver.
As with most rings, this project will focus heavily upon the lathe. While tough to initially cut, titanium polishes up beautifully, and you can try engraving it for a more advanced project. Instructables has a really nice guide available.
Classy and Cool: Steel Jewelry Box
When looking for things to make, practical gifts are some of the best ideas. This steel jewelry box might take a little time, but the finished, polished product is something that’s full of class. Best of all, it’s not nearly as difficult to make as it appears!
The box is made of easily-found materials and has some room for error. Additionally, many of the techniques used can be applied to more advanced projects. A guide for this project can be found over at Instructables.
Funky Fun: Glow-in-the-Dark Keyring
This is an interesting project for your teenager to practice their metalworking skills on. A shaft contains glow-in-the-dark powder, allowing you to find your keys much easier. The design itself has a unique feel that’s both futuristic and slightly steampunk at the same time.
You’ll find a few versions of the instructions online, but the one we recommend has been adapted for younger teen metalworkers. You’ll find the well-illustrated guide over at Instructables.
More for Less: Barbells for Body Piercings
Getting a barbell piercing can be a lot more expensive when it comes time to buying new jewelry. Unlike earrings, a good barbell can set your budget back quite a bit. Thankfully, you can make your own for a much smaller price.
While this is a project suitable for beginners, note that the small scale means these piercings will take a lot more patience to perfect. Once you master this project, however, you have a highly marketable skill. A guide on how to make these piercing accessories is available at Instructables.
With Sincerity: Letter Seal
Long ago, nobles, merchants, and gildmasters would seal their letters using stamped wax. This allowed the recipient to spot signs of tampering. The unique seal would also be a mark of authenticity to prove it wasn’t forged.
This simple project might take a few tries to perfect, but the result is something that can last for generations. It also makes for a conversation piece and can be adapted to make a ring seal. Instructables once again offers a great guide for this project.
Where to Find More Great Beginner Lathe Projects
It should come as no surprise that we love Instructables. This free website has guides for all sorts of projects ranging from beginner to advanced. You’ll even find guides on how to make accessories for your lathe. Most of these guides are highly illustrated, give detailed instructions, and sometimes also include videos.
Another great source for metal lathe projects is Projects In Metal. We chose not to include selections from the site here, as instructions are downloadable but require (free) registration to access. That’s not to say we don’t love the site, and it has quite a range of projects available. Go check it out for some truly wonderful ideas.