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Throw a stone at any large gathering of makers, and you’re likely to hit somebody who owns a set of DIY-savant Dave Gingery’s classic books on building your own machine shop by casting scrap aluminum, melted in a charcoal-powered bucket furnace, into sand molds formed by wooden patterns. I’ve owned a set myself, for more than a decade, and “at least starting on the lathe,” which is the first tool in the series, has been on my someday list since the first time I ever saw the books advertised in Lindsay Technical Books’ classic ad in Popular Science.

Ask a thousand people who admit to owning the books, however, if they’ve actually made that start, and you’d be lucky to get one emphatic yes. Lionel Oliver II, on the other hand, whose amateur sandcrabbing website Backyard Metal Casting is probably the single greatest online resource for those interested in small home foundry work, has not only made a meaningful start, but gotten most of the way through the build. And, perhaps most importantly, he’s documented the process quite well.


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Mr. Oliver’s page has done a lot to inspire others around the web to take up the Gingery lathe project for themselves, but due credit has to go to folks like southern California resident Barry Workman, whose lathe, pictured above, was apparently complete as early as 1998. Barry also built the Gingery metal shaper from book 3 of the series.


Likewise for Nebraskan Bill R., whose build page was most recently updated in 1999 and includes this photo of his lathe turning a boring bar that will later be used to bore its own tailstock.


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Although he doesn’t have a working lathe yet, Xavier of My Heap has some good shots of his base and bed castings, the patterns he used to mold them, and the hand-scraping process that takes the rough bed casting down to dead flat.


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Finally, here’s a good set of pictures of raw castings and their patterns from member xlchainsaw of the Home Model Engine Machinist forum.

If you know of a good Gingery lathe build I may have missed, please take a minute and drop me a link in the comments!

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Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. Ric Berlin says:

    Wonderful Maker spirit in this article, but come on.

    Aluminum casting at home is a fine hobby. I had a cast metals class in college and it was a blast. You can make all sorts of fun and useful items by sand casting.

    That said, constructing a machine from raw castings doesn’t make sense. A quick search of Craigslist turns up plenty of wood lathes to choose from at $100 or so, even here in Nowheresville, Michigan. You would spend more than that on charcoal alone.

    Buy a used machine and be making things on it right away.

  2. Sean Michael Ragan says:

    They’re for turning metal with tolerances on the order of 0.001″. A wood lathe is a vastly simpler, cheaper, and less expensive beast.

  3. blubrick says:

    The point of the Gingery machines is not simply to acquire a lathe, shaper, mill, or drill press, etc. If you factor the financial cost of, and the time taken to get the raw materials, make the patterns and moulds, cast and finish the parts, and assemble them into a working machine, you would most likely have exceeded the purchase price of an equivalent secondhand machine – even at minimum wage.

    No, the point is to develop the knowledge, skill and mechanical understanding that such a project imparts. Posessing the machines themselves is a fortunate by-product of the process.

  4. Ron Bean says:

    I have about half the books (and will probably buy the rest eventually), even though I have no intention of building his designs. I find them worth reading anyway, because they contain a lot of information about doing precise work with minimal tooling.

    It would be nice to have access to a full machine shop, but Gingery demonstrates that it’s not really necessary, if you have the right attitude and some knowledge of what you’re doing. Gingery had both (as does his son Vince, who has carried on the tradition).

    If you do want to build his machines, the key is to get proficient at casting aluminum. If molding, melting, and casting haven’t become routine by the time you’re halfway through the first project, you’re in for a hard slog.

    But this demonstrates a general principle for Makers: you need to learn the basics of working your chosen materials, whether that’s wood, plastic, sheetmetal, or molten aluminum. That makes it easier to improvise for a given project. In fact, a lot of my projects use variations of techniques I developed by trial and error on earlier projects.

  5. Mike Reiner says:

    I built one starting in 2007 and I just started building number two to fix all of my little errors with Lathe number 1, These tools are the real deal and will do a great amount of good work. Mine has served me very well, Reading about Mr Gingery he built dozens of these so I’m not discouraged that Number one wasn’t perfect.

  6. I’ve been working on my ‘Gingery Style’ lathe on and off for a while now, finally getting to the tailstock. Instead of the countershaft I designed a digital controller that drives a 2hp treadmill motor. It has a PID control algorithm, encoder wheel, etc… It’s coming along quite nicely, and I look forward to finishing it up.

    I never intended to cast metal prior to building the lathe, however it has proven to be quite an advantageous skill to have, especially for prototyping parts ( and not having to machine them from a block of metal ). That being said with today’s CNC machines, it might be only beneficial at home if you have a manual mill / lathe to machine the castings.

    Another great benefit of building a lathe like this from scratch is that you really get an understanding of how it works, how it’s built, and how to fix it from the beginning on ( as you are building it from scratch ). I feel very confident at this point with regard to adjusting the slides, gibs, hand scraping, etc… Some of the techniques might be old, but for the home shop they are extremely practical.

    Anyways, if anyone is interested in checking out my own version of the Gingery Lathe you can follow my blog on my build here:
    http://morgandemers.com/?cat=6

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