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Light Metalwork on Wood Lathe


Aug 28, 2021
I would like to do some light metal work on my Jet JWL-1236 lathe. I can do graphite (messy) with the wood tools, but would like to do some small aluminum pieces which means I need a tool holder. I tried making a tool holder from a cross slide vice, but it had too much backlash to be useful.

Can anyone suggest a cross slide with about 2" of travel in both axial and transverse directions? Ideally it would also have the ability to rotate about the vertical axis for angled cuts, but I can find a way to make that part of the mount to the lathe bed.


Jan 15, 2002
West Coast, USA
Delta, back when their wood lathes were US-made, offered a metalworking compound. It had limited travel -- probably around 2" in X and Y -- and used rocker-style toolposts. It should OK (with a sharp tool) for light cuts in aluminum.

Might find one on Ebay.

neanderthal mach

Cast Iron
Dec 18, 2008
princeton b.c.
You don't necessarily need an actual cross and/or top slide for taper cuts, but it depends of course on what your attempting to do and the accuracy required. It's not uncommon to use what are known as gravers on watch making and other metal turning lathes while using pretty much what your standard wood turning tool rest already is. Use that "metal turning graver" term for either a Google or YouTube search.

And it also depends on how much time / money you want to invest. Probably the cheapest would be just buying a smaller worn out metal turning lathe and robbing it for parts. Sherline for example offer individual parts for there lathes that have around the size your looking for. There's also the (cough, cough) option of buying the parts you might need from an off shore mini lathe, Grizzly and Little Machine Shop in California would be two dealers that stock the parts. It still might end up just about as cost effective finding and buying a used complete mini lathe off Ebay though. The design and parts aren't great, but may be still ok for what your trying to do. But unless your parts are fairly small your bottom end available spindle speeds on your wood lathe will be working against you. And wood turning spindles aren't the most rigid compared to most metal turning lathe head stocks. Adapting cross and top slides to a wood working lathe isn't a new concept. Googling for a MDF Rose Engine Lathe will turn up examples of how they do it with many using off shore X,Y tables and sometimes adding a $800- $1,000 + Hardinge lathes top slide as well as a quick change tool holder. Like anything else, what do you want and how much money do you have?

richard newman

Jul 28, 2006
rochester, ny
Simplest solution is the Delta compound slide, as recommended by PeteM. They turn up on the OWWM site, in the classified section, go for around $200.

I teach a banjo making class at a woodworking school periodically, needed to adapt something to their Oneway lathe. Bought an old Atlas carriage w/ compound and gear rack from a local machine chop shop, made a bed for it to ride on, and bolted on the gear rack to be able to use the hand wheel feed. Mounted it to the Oneway bed, worked fine, but MAJOR time investment. Violated the KISS rule (keep it simple, stupid), paid the price.


Mar 21, 2020
Check out Proxon X Y tables. A tool post holder could be clamped to the T-slots in the table.
The table is about 2-3/4" wide and 7+ " long. If I recall it is under $75.00.
You can clamp a tool holder to the T- slots. The cutter has to be at center of the work, may require shimming the tool or the tool post.
If you think you may do a lot of this work then a metal lathe would be best.


Aug 5, 2005
One lathe that was sort made for this, primarily wood but could do metal, was the Goodell Pratt. I suspect the maker of mostly woodworking tools thought it would an great market shtick. What it was (as a metal working lathe) was a POS. One briefly went through my hands as part of bulk purchase. I'd be in the camp of suggesting get a small metal lathe instead.

having said that, like Neanderthal says, you don't need tool holder for some work. Almost all watch work for example is done with graver cutting hardened steel. Very fine toleranced fits can be done by hand via technique - i.e. turning a very slight taper to gauge fits (then straightening it) and so on. I've scaled this up and cut steel with a tool bit firmly held in a vise grip, using a large boring bore as a rest. Use zero rake so limit DOC (no dig in that way)

Another idea is put a flat plate on the bed. Mount an hss bit in a holder so its at centre height when sitting on the plate - the holder just floats on the plate. grab the holder and bring the tool to the work....safe hand turning

Examples below of hand turned work done using the boring bar tool rest idea, Schaublin and Levin. For the Schaublin, I had one lever as a pattern and needed a second so duplicated it (lots of filing) and for the Levin it was missing a handle. All work done free hand






Nov 22, 2004
Old thread, but I’d note this is already done with pattern makers lathes. We had one in the pattern shop at the foundry I worked in. You had the option of using a tool rest and wood lathe tools or a tool post (I can’t recall if it was QC or rocker.) very common to glue up a large blank of mahogany, often with dozens or hundreds of pieces, and attack with a roughing gouge. Then voids were filed in with a casting compound if required, and turning complete with metal lathe like precision.

Some parts were architectural, some mechanical. The final result would’ve be a combination of casting compound, mahogany, and aluminum, which would then be cast into an aluminum working pattern for production, or maybe one time iron finished piece.

The craziest thing was when they rented my sawmill and mounted a 6’ faceplate on it to rough turn something. We had dig out the pit arround the shaft end to accommodate it.
Google "Grizzly milling table" or "Grizzly cross slide"
Without the quotes.

Quite a few options in various sizes, none as expensive as the listed Palmgren. Some better, some worse. many with mic collars. Even some from other vendors. Is Palmgren even still made onshore? It is what we had in the old days to demonstrate how bad low grade import tooling could be....before there were actual import low grade tools.

PS: most cross slides have more or less backlash.
Learning to deal with it is part of the game.
My guess is that the cross-slide vise probably was too coarse pitch, and poor registration/thrust face(s)for easy uniform feed.



Cast Iron
Jan 3, 2016
Metal work on a wood lathe can be done with proper tool holding capabilities. Needs to be Rigid. This is not the best way. It is easy to do quality work on a metal cutting lathe. Not so easy on a wood lathe.



Dec 21, 2012
Brisbane Qld Australia
Check out videos of bell founders....freehand turning of bell bronze using long handled cutters held and guided entirely by hand ,with a close in rest bar.......I saw Indian engine makers cutting large threads just like this in the 70s for the Lister copy diesels.