A lathe is generally not one of the first power tools that new woodworkers buy, which requires woodworkers to get creative when making round table legs. Several methods can produce round table legs without a lathe, and our quick guide details some of these options.
There are several ways round table legs can be made without a lathe.
- Use a large diameter wood dowel. Create a lathe from a hand drill and a chisel.
- Use a drill press and a chisel as a lathe.
- Build a jig to use a table saw as a lathe.
- Use a router as a makeshift lathe.
If a lathe is not currently part of your woodworking shop power tool inventory, creating round table legs can pose an interesting dilemma! However, you can use several alternative methods to get a similar result using other current tools in your woodworking workshop. Some options are easy to use, while others may require a little groundwork first.
Can You Make Round Table Legs Without A Lathe?
A lather is a bulky power tool that takes up space in the workshop, and it can be a high cost for the woodworker as well. Some beginner woodworkers do not have the budget to purchase a lathe early on, while others may not have the space to consider purchasing a lathe.
Whatever your reason for not having a lathe, you still have the challenge of creating round table legs without the luxury of this piece of equipment.
A lathe is convenient and quick, but it’s certainly possible to get quality results using alternative methods, with a little additional time investment.
The alternative method that you choose to use to create round table legs will largely depend on the power tools you currently have at your disposal in your workshop.
Some methods require building a jig to use with other power tools, and while this may require some time investment initially, once the jig is made, it will be ready to use the next time you need it.
How To Make Round Table Legs If You Don’t Have A Lathe
The tools and methods required to achieve round table legs without a lathe range from basic power tools that can be found in most household garages to woodworking-specific tools that may be available in your workshop.
We will offer a range of solutions to turn your round table legs using various tools and methods, which means you should find at least one of these options suitable for your requirements!
1. Buy A Large Dowel Instead Of Turning Round Table Legs
This alternative to turning round table legs on a lathe is probably the easiest method. However, it will have limited application, depending on the size of your project and dowel availability.
Some woodworking supply stores sell large diameter dowel rods. Suppose your project is smaller, and the diameter of these larger dowels will be sufficient. In that case, it is a quick and easy solution to the problem.
While this method may be a quick fix, there are some considerations you need to take into account before deciding on this route.
- Quality timber. It may be difficult to source large dowels made from high-quality timber.
- Matching the wood color of your project. If you cannot get dowels in the same wood species as your project, it may be challenging to match the colors of the dowel legs to the rest of the project.
- Sourcing the right size dowel. Not all timber suppliers stock large diameter dowels, which may pose an availability problem, depending on the diameter of the legs you want on your table.
Despite some of the challenges of sourcing the right size dowel made from the correct type of wood, it still may be a viable alternative. This method does not require any specialized power tools or creating jigs to convert other power tools to do the job.
However, it is unlikely that you want straight-up-and-down cylindrical table legs. The most common table leg styles usually have a taper from top to bottom to improve the project’s aesthetic appeal.
While you can achieve this taper using hand tools and sandpaper, it would be much quicker to use one of the other methods detailed below to achieve the taper. However, having a round dowel as your base stock will help make the process easier.
2. Use A Hand Drill Instead Of A Lathe
A hand power drill is a very common tool in most household garages. The likelihood of a woodworker having a power drill available is very high, making it a valuable alternative to a lathe.
Using a hand power drill will require creating a jig to hold the drill in place and secure the workpiece. There are a variety of jig designs available to turn your drill into a lathe alternative, from simple jigs to complex jigs.
We will detail one of the simpler jigs here. This requires a minimum of additional parts, some scrap wood, and can be completed in about an hour. This simple jig will need the following components.
- 2 x 5/16 or 8mm bolts or the same diameter threaded rod.
- 8 x 5/16 inch or 8mm nuts to match the bolts or threaded rod.
- 1 x 5/16 inch or 8mm “T” nut
- 4 x skateboard wheel bearings
- 6 pieces of hardwood 3.5 inches by 4.5 inches, or 89mm by 114mm
- A 3.5 inch or 89mm wide piece of hardwood for a tool rest. The thickness of the wood does not really matter, and the length should be the length of the table legs you need to make.
- 1 x corded power drill
The 6 pieces of hardwood blocks will be the main frame of the supports for the workpiece. The frame will be 2 x “L” shaped pieces, with a single piece as the horizontal foot and two pieces glued together to form the vertical piece.
Start by gluing 2 of the 6 pieces of hardwood together to form one vertical piece. Repeat the process with another two pieces so that you have two vertical pieces.
You should have two of the 3.5 inches by 4.5 inches hardwood pieces left. These will form the base for each of the vertical pieces. Countersink and screw these base pieces to each of the vertical pieces. You should now have an L-shaped piece for your drill-powered lathe’s headstock and tailstock.
Mark a center point on the face of each vertical piece, slightly higher than the piece of wood you will be using as the tool rest. Countersink a hole on each face of the vertical piece the same diameter as the skateboard wheel bearings. Then drill a suitably sized hole all the way through the wood to accommodate the threaded rod.
Fit the bearings in the countersunk holes on each face of the vertical pieces, one on each side of the vertical pieces. On one vertical piece, pus the threaded rod through both bearings and secure them in place with 2 nuts on each bearing side. This will be the tailpiece of the lathe jig.
On the other vertical piece, the headpiece, secure the threaded rod through the bearings with 2 nuts on the outside and one nut on the workpiece side. Then on the workpiece side, screw the T-nut on and lock it against the other nut. Use pliers to bend the T-nut tines to point in the opposite direction towards, away from, the vertical end.
To use the jig, screw the vertical pieces down to your workbench the same distance apart as the length of the wood you need to turn. Drill holes into the ends of your workpiece and thread them onto the bolts going through the bearings.
Screw the tool rest to your workbench in position next to the workpiece. Connect your corded drill to the threaded rod at the headstock and use the drill to spin the workpiece.
Turning chisels or regular wood chisels can be used to shape the wood into round table legs and place decorative designs on the workpiece.
Pro Tip: It is recommended to use a corded drill to drive your makeshift lathe. Battery-powered drill motors could burn out from continuous use.
3. Use A Drill Press Instead Of A Lathe
A drill press can also be used to double as a lathe. The disadvantage of this is that you need to work the wood vertically rather than horizontally. This may be challenging for woodworkers who prefer the horizontal orientation of the workpiece.
A drill press is fairly easy to convert into a makeshift lathe, and the advantage of the adjustable table allows for easy adjustment to different size workpieces.
Most drill press tables have several holes in them for securing a vice and the center hole in the table for the drill bit to pass through. These holes will be used to our advantage to use the drill press as a lathe.
Select a bolt that will fit through the center hole on the drill press table and file the end of the bolt into a sharp point. Place a washer on the bolt to prevent the bolt from passing entirely through the hole in the drill press table.
Pass the bolt through the center hole from underneath the table, place another washer on top, and put an appropriate nut on the bolt to hold it in place in the center hole of the table.
Use another bolt for the top headstock end and screw an appropriately sized nut onto the bolt. Then screw a T-nut onto the bolt, with the tines pointing down. Secure the T-nut in place with the nut you have already put on the bolt.
Tap the T-nut into the end of the workpiece and chuck it up into the drill. Center the workpiece over the point of the sharpened nut in the center hole and lock the head of the drill press in place.
For the tool rest, use a longer bolt or threaded rod that will fit through one of the other holes in the drill press table near the workpiece. Bolt this threaded rod in place on the drill press table.
Startup the drill press and use a woodworking chisel or a turning chisel to create round table legs.
4. Use A Table Saw Instead Of A Lathe
Many woodworkers purchase a table saw before considering buying a wood lathe. Consequently, many woodworkers have access to this useful tool. A table saw can be used to turn round table legs, and depending on the method used, you can produce tapered legs.
You can use several methods to convert your table saw into a wood lathe and turn round table legs. You can build a jig yourself to turn your table saw into a lathe, or you can use a commercial product.
A US company called Carpenter Innovations produces a commercially manufactured jig that you can use as an add-on to any table saw. The jig is called the Cylinder Mill and can be used to create round table legs up to 12 inches in diameter and has greater flexibility with length than many of the other options.
If you do not require a lathe regularly, this could be a good option since you can use your table saw with this jig, which is a fraction of the cost of a wood lathe.
Another method to use your table saw is to build a jig yourself. You can use several different designs, but always ensure the jig will be safe when used with a table saw.
We can recommend a lathe jig for the table saw based on a similar design to the commercial Cylinder Mill. The advantage of this table saw jig is that you can create repeatable round or tapered table legs.
The details on building the table saw jig can be found in the video below.
5. Using a Router As A Lathe
A router is another common tool that most woodworkers will have available in their workshop to double as a basic lathe.
Essentially, this method also requires the building of a jig to be used with the router to turn the round table legs. It is a relatively easy build, which can be completed in about an hour.
The basic idea is to build a plywood box long enough and wide enough to house your stock material. Center holes will be drilled in either side of the box ends to hold the centering hardware for the makeshift lathe. The centering hardware at the tailstock end will be a sharpened bolt that will fit in a dimple on the tail end of the stock.
The headstock end will also use a bolt but will have a large washer on the end, which can be hot glued to the stock, or you can use a T-nut to secure the workpiece. This end can be manually rotated with a handle that you can build or use a drill to rotate the workpiece.
A sled is then built to hold the router on top of the box holding the stock. The sled has a hole in the middle for the router bit to pass through. It also has stops to prevent the sled from traveling beyond the box edges.
Once the stock is mounted in the box, it can be rotated while the sled is moved slowly up and down the length of the stock to remove the waste material.
This is an easy way to produce a round table leg without using a lathe for the process. The box can be built to the size that you need, and a router is certainly cheaper than a lathe!
A lathe is an expensive power tool that many woodworkers do not have in their workshops. Many wood lathes are not big enough to accommodate the length required to make table legs.
Either way, alternative methods can work to complete your project and produce well-made, concentric round table legs! All it takes is a some insight and a little innovation to use the tools you already have in an unorthodox manner!
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