How to Turn Wood Without a Lathe


Most wood workers are familiar with the lathe and rely on their lathe to do a steady stream of functions. There are a lot of things the lathe can do. However, there comes a time when you may find yourself in a position with no lathe or perhaps you just don’t own a lathe.

Whatever the reason may be that you need to get something done and don’t have a wood lathe at your disposal, there are options! You can turn wood without a lathe. There may be some limitations and you may find that it can be difficult and time-consuming as well but if you’re willing to put in the effort, you will be just fine.

Cropped shot of craftsman in protective gloves shaking off wooden chips from hands at sawmill

In this guide, we will walk you through how to turn wood without a lathe. A little bit of ingenuity and effort will have you going in no time. These processes are best for smaller projects but they can certainly work when you need them to!

Can You Turn Wood Without a Lathe?

This is a common question and one that you will hear a lot of different answers to. So, let’s start by really getting the facts straight, shall we?

While most turning jobs will be much easier on the lathe, there are alternatives. If you’re doing simple projects, you can do them by hand or you can put some other tool to use for a similar function.


One of the most popular ways to turn wood without a lathe is to turn your drill into a mini lathe of sorts. The fact of the matter is that you still need that wood to turn so this makes a great workaround when you need it.

Most homes have a drill on hand or can acquire one easily so this makes a great alternative to a lathe. Again, you will have some limitations but you can do small projects and some simple things.

Take a look at this video tutorial on making a knob without a lathe for a good idea of things you can accomplish and how!

Related: Wood Lathe Ideas

Wood Turning Using a Drill

Your drill can come in incredibly handy without having to spend the big bucks on a lathe. The drill can handle an assortment of small projects and can even help you make things like spindles and dowels or chair legs.

Even if you are doing these types of projects all of the time, you can still just use your drill for them if you prefer. The drill works great for things like this. Remember that you may find limitations but it can handle these things quite well.

You can also get creative and use a drill press as a woodworking lathe as well. This will be vertical in nature but it can serve your purpose if you can adapt to that stance.

In order to use a drill for a wood lathe, you will want to create a platform to be able to turn it into a lathe of sorts. This will give you the best results and it’s pretty simple to do.

We’re going to focus on the steps to cut wood without a lathe, but you will find that this tutorial gives you extensive instruction on creating your own mini lathe using a power drill.

Here are the basic steps of creating a wood lathe using your power drill.

1.   Create a Base

Start by making a base. You will need something to hold and support the turning item from your drill. We recommend using plywood to approximately 35 L x 11 W in inches. You will also need some wooden blocks and screws to build this in.

We Think You’ll Like: Best Wood for Turning on Lathe

Once you’ve made your base cut, cut a slit into the base that is 10 inches long and about 1/2 an inch wide. Attach this to the wooden blocks you created that are the same length. You can use screws for attaching and it creates a bit of a stand for the base.

2.   Add Drill Support

You will need a section to support your drill. If you’re familiar with a lathe, this would typically be the headstock and motor area.

You may need to adjust these measurements depending on the size of the drill but on average, you can cut plywood into a single piece that measures 8-9 inches wide by 10 inches long. You will also need 2 cuts of plywood that are around 3.5 inches wide x 10 inches long.

The smaller pieces will be turned on their side to make a stand for the other piece here. Screw everything together to create a support stand for the drill.

3.   Create a Tailstock

The next part of your homemade lathe will be the tailstock, which is a part that can be moved as necessary. This is going to line up with that slit you cut in the base at the beginning.

You will need more cuts from your plywood. This includes 2 1-inch wooden strips that are about 1 inch long, some sort of end block piece you can cut to your liking, and bots. You also need a bolt with a fly nut and washer so you can move your “tailstock” as needed.

With the 1-inch wooden strips, you will mount a stock that you can fit the drill into on top of that landing from step 2. This will simply lock down the drill and help keep it in place. It needs to be something you can take your drill in and out of.

With your tailstock pieces, use your bolt and fly nuts to attach to the base. You can then loosen and tighten the fly nut in order to move the tailstock piece.

4.   Using the Lathe

There are several different ways you can go about using the lathe from here. You will need to use either a very long bit or use items that you can attach to each end of your wood. We recommend attaching something to each end of the wood.

We also recommend that you add some sort of tool rest using a block and maybe some tin or metal as turning wood is so much easier with a tool rest!

When you’re ready, attach the wood on each end and turn your drill on to get to work!


While using a wood lathe is the most ideal way to turn wood, there are other options. You don’t have to spend money on a lathe when you can create your own makeshift solutions and still end up with beautifully turned wood in the end.

Remember that there are limitations to just what you can do here but it can certainly be handy for simple things like spindles or even legs.

Amazon Recommends:

SaleBestseller No. 1
WEN LA3424 4.5-Amp 12-Inch by 18-Inch 5-Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe , Black
  • Attack workpieces up to 18 inches long and 12 inches wide
  • Switch between five different speeds: 520, 900, 1400, 2150, or 3400 RPM
  • Includes 3-1/8 inch faceplate for turning bowls, cups and other non-spindle workpieces
  • MT2 tailstock and headstock tapers allow for compatibility with a wide variety of lathe accessories
  • Features a 4.5A motor, an MT2 headstock spur center, an MT2 tailstock live center, an 8-inch tool rest, and an onboard accessory holder
SaleBestseller No. 2
SHOP FOX W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe
  • Motor: 1/3 HP, 2 Amp, 110V, Single-phase, 60 Hz
  • 12-inch distance between centers
  • 8-inch swing over bed
  • Cast iron construction and infinitely variable speed control
  • Includes two tool rests
Bestseller No. 3
RIKON Power Tools 70-105 10" x 18" 1/2 hp Mini Lathe
  • Rikon mini lathe: This Rikon mini lathe features a ½ motor that provides ample power for all turning needs. With a 10” swing and 18” between centers, this mini lathe also has a self ejecting tail stock and has easy access to speed change.
  • Sturdy and Dedicated: Designed specifically at the request of pen turners who wanted a sturdy, dedicated machine for their craft. This scaled-down, basic mini lathe is made from cast iron, so vibration is not a factor, unlike other lathes made of aluminum.
  • 5 speed ranger: This mini lathe has a 5 speed range that covers the bases for boring barrel holes, roughing out pen billets, turning to shape and finishing.
  • Includes: This lathe includes a live center, tool rest, knock-out bar, and wrenches.

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