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Wax lathes

i am looking into speeding up my carving time and i am interested in
purchasing a lathe. i have a few questions maybe i can get some input
on it.

#1    what kind of pieces besides wedding bands can you do on a lathe?
#2    what kind of lathe would you get.
#3    how do i learn how to use it, and are there videos?
#4    how much should i expect to spend.
#5    any other helpful suggestions

thank you,

Mathew, This will surprise you. I do rings on my lathe, plus some
complex wire winding on it. I dropped about 5 grand or so on my
lathe. It’s a 14 x 40 Jet belt drive lathe. I do other work on it as
that my studio does other art forms.

Videos, I don’t know, I was trained by a retiring machining, they
are video available. Try getting a copy of the Home Shop Machinist
or the Machinist Workshop at your local news stand. Lots of great
ideas and machines in that magazine.


The carving waxes are so easy to machine that any lathe will work. I
think you should consider what other things you will want to do with
it. You will be entering a new (for you) and wonderful world full of
fantastic possibilities. With all of the accessories available they
become very versatile machines. One thing I have not seen mentioned on
Orchid is the use of expanding manderels on the lathe, not cheap but
very useful. They are available from quality machine tool suppliers.
Be sure the maximum center distance on the lathe is over about 9
inches if you want to use them. Sherline has a good book on getting
started, after that the more you do the better you will get. John

Hi Matthew,

i am looking into speeding up my carving time and i am interested in
purchasing a lathe. i have a few questions maybe i can get some input
on it.

#1 what kind of pieces besides wedding bands can you do on a lathe?
#2 what kind of lathe would you get.
#3 how do i learn how to use it, and are there videos?
#4 how much should i expect to spend.
#5 any other helpful suggestion

Depending on how many pieces you want to make a day, you may already
have most of a lathe.

If you’ve got a Foredom with a #30 handpiece, all you need to get is
the MATT wax lathe listed on page 382 of the 2005 Rio Grande

As for what you can do with a lathe, alot depends on the material
you’re working with wax or metal & what kind of metal, & what the
tolerances are.

The best place to learn about running a lathe is from a machinist or
machine shop. There’s a company ( that has a number
of books, some old & out of print & some new ones on lathes & lots
of other stuff. It’s worth ordering their catalog.

Depending on your set up, a lathe can be used for lots of
applications beside turning round items. It can be used to turn
ovals, & space out holes/marks evenly around the circumference, face
flat pieces & bore holes or step cuts just for starters. It’s use is
limited only by you imagination & tooling.


Hi Matthew, There is a simple way to turn waxes using a Fordom
handpiece clamped in a hobby vise. The cutting tools are simple
tools available in a ceramic or hobby shop. I have written a photo
illustrated paper on how to turn wax the simple way. I will send
you a copy if you are interested. I turn pieces of wax up to 3 1/2
by 3 inches into pottery. You might be interested in giving this
simple process a try.

Lee Epperson

First question - and the easy one. The best single book about a
lathe is “How to run a Lathe”, published by South Bend Lathe
starting many years ago. It’s a sturdy paperback, still available,
costs like $5.00. Lindsay books, for one, has it. It doesn’t get
exotic - it doesn’t address modern concepts (no indexable cutters,
for instance), but it clearly lays out the basic chores a lathe is
used for - and workholding and such. The #1 book for a start. What
lathe? I agonized over that question myself. “Real” lathes, aside
from the cost, can dominate a two car garage, although that’s what I
learned on. The dremel lathe attachments are literally toys, and I
finally dumped my old Unimat that cost me $800 years ago - it was
tiny and felt like it was made out of rubber bands - zero rigidity.
If you truly just want to turn some wax rings, then the flex shaft
thing might do it for you. Ask yourself, though, if that’s what
you’re going to do. Or are you going to be like most humans, “Well,
since I have a lathe, I should be able to turn a brass punch, or
repair this machine by turning a shoulder on this bolt.” All of the
things a lathe is for. I found the perfect thing, though. If you
go to , click on all products, and there
is a link for “Mini-Lathes”, though they don’t sell it. There are
various versions - Harbor Freight, Homier, Central Machinery. A 7"
x 10" lathe that takes standard tooling, with longitudinal auto-feed
and screw cutting w/change gears for $299.99 brand new in the box.
It takes about 2 feet of bench space, and I have cut titanium on
mine. Yes, it’s Chinese. Yes, it’s joke compared to a 10" Logan.
Recently I turned a 12mm, size 11 stainless steel ring just as nice
as you please - Check it out, it’s a great buy for an entry level
hobby lathe. I bought mine from an E-Bay dealer, but I don’t find
it there now. They are for sale here and there, though.

Hello Matt: I have for many years been using a low-tech lathe called
the Matt wax lathe. I use it to cut the inner most and outer most
diameters and the outer most width of every ring I make. I half and
quarter the ring blank and work my way in evenly removing everything
that isn’t the ring. I use it to make wax bezels for rounds, ovals
and marquise’s. I use it to make channels also. I make many tools
for patterns. It is a cheep lathe and does require some finesse to
get everything even but I love it. Every ring on my web site started
on my lathe. Mike Mathews

Check out harbor freight mill-drill-lathe…

Lee, I am very interested in a copy of your paper. I’d love to try
some lathe ideas I have and of course I’ve got a Fordom…


 Sherline has a good book on getting started... 

I’m sure I am not alone in preferring to take a workshop than to
figure things out from scratch, even with a book (though I will
resort to that, if necessary). How about one of you
jeweler/machinists out there offering a class to get folks started?
Next year’s SNAG conference might be a possible venue-- it is here
in Chicago, convenient for me ;>) ! I’m not on any of the
committees, but I know the folks who are, so if someone wants to do
it, I could facilitate the contact.

A while back, I bought an old “jeweler’s lathe” at an estate
sale… don’t know how to use it, and the wire to the motor has been
cut… One of these days, I’d like to get it up and running. As my
husband and I like to joke, I’m just too busy lying around eating


I’ve made a very simple and quick bench lathe set-up that I’ve
taught my advanced students how to create practically for free.

Using old/dull burs that are about 5mm in diameter is a good place
to start. Cut four small sections out of the bur head with a
separating disk to create a sort of “4 slices of pie” style head.
Next, while holding the bur shank in a pair of tweezers and heating
it up with a alcohol lamp is an old fashioned way of doing things, I
found it to be fast and clean. Next, press the bur head into a
roughed out block no larger than 12 - 15 mm in diameter (with the
center marked). Keep checkin that you’re at the 90 degree angle

When it is cool enough you can insert it into your handpiece, sping
it at a medium speed and use a file to get the correct
circumference. Though, I use this method mostly to create custom
bezels, semi-bezels, beads and crowns. I’ll work on a pictoral
step-by-step to show you all how great it works ! It is very simple
if you do your production blanks ahead of time and set up about a
dozen to have on hand in a hurry.


I’ve only really begun experimenting with the lathe in the past
year, but the possibilities really excite me! One of my “casting
buddies” just completed an absolutely incredible sterling silver
chess set on the lathe. The largest piece is about 1/2" high and
all of the pieces are incredibly detailed – even down to the bricks
on the rook and pupils in the eye of the knight. He used a very
hard carving wax to start with, then went to a mid-range green as he
realized it was a bit too brittle.

I found a lathe made by Penn State Industries - the Turncrafter
Plus. It’s a cast-iron mini-lathe with a 1/3 HP motor, 750 - 3200
RPM and a 3/4" x 16tpi headstock with #1 Morse Taper. It
accommodates 12-1/2" between centers and has a swing (max radius of
a piece) of 7-1/2" It includes both a 4-1/2" and 7" toolroest, 2"
faceplace, spur center and live tailstock center, plus the wrenches
and knockouts you’ll need.

It retails for $139.95 plus $18 shipping via UPS.

According to my machinist-oriented buddies, it’s really an ideal
lathe to get started with and expand with in lathing wax. Because
it accepts Morse Taper head-stocks, you can use a wide variety of
chucks with it if you don’t want to use the faceplate. I’ve gotten
a self-centering 4-jaw chuck that can be used to grip a wax rod from
the outside or a ring blank rod from the inside. It seems ideal for
the types of things I’m doing (pendants, rings, and other component

In addition to the lathe, you’ll need chisels (buy a small set as a
starter, then make some and adapt some as you develop your style and
techniques) - expect to pay about $60 for a good starter set of 8
chisels. You’ll want a bench grinder or some type of sharpener ($30

    1. for the chisels, if you don’t have one. And, of course, some
      type of shop-vac or targetable dust collector.

Penn State Industries is located just outside of Philadelphia in
Huntingdon Valley, where they have an outlet store (great place for
any of you in the area - they have everything from dust collectors to
pen components and used lathes, routers, milling machines, etc.).
They also have books, videos, and CD-ROMs showing various techniques.

You can find them online at or via email at and phone at 800-377-7297. They are really
friendly and great at giving technical support and advice, both in
the shop and on the phone.

Good luck!
Karen Goeller
No Limitations Designs

Hi Mathew, I use lathes to carve waxes. I bought a shureline lathe
for about $450.00. It not as robust as the larger lathe but what I
was interested mostly in waxes and models anyway. Using the lathe, I
get the finger size and the width to the exact measurement I want. I
use a shureline mill to make signet tops to the exact dimension by
using a right angle jig. I know that its absolutely level. This
saves a lot of time = money. The other nice thing about such small
lathes and mills is that they can be clean up and maintained by just
unscrewing four screws. You can clean them top to bottom and then
just screw them back on the bench. Unless you want to go CNC so as
to make the whole ring, just being able to establish three primary
measurements helps a lot for wax carver. Jim Zimmerman Alpine Custom
Jewellers & Repair

Can you do wax model rings other than just a simple band? Do you
use a solid wax cylinder to start? What sort of measuring tools do
you use for the I.D., O.D.? Thanks for whatever you
care to share. Ed 

Hi Ed, That’s mostly what I use it for is nonsymmetrical shapes. Yes,
I start from solid ring toobs.I use digital calipers for O.D. and
I.D., I use a combination of digital caliper and a T gauge. The T
gauge is a tool with two spring driven piston and lock in the
handle. You compress the piston and release them inside the wax and
then you relock the gauge You measure the new distance with your
calipers and that’s your inside diameter. They are available at
Industrial supply houses.

Jim Zimmerman
Alpine Custom Jewellers & Repair
Jim Zimmerman