Gingery-style homemade metal lathe builds

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.


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.


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.


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!



I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan