power tools

Thanks to Peter Fretwell for contributing this advice.

Note: Miniature power tools can cause serious injury, take care when using. Always wear a dust mask and eye protection. In general small items can be made on a large machine with appropriate tooling. However holding small items on a large machine can be very dangerous. Do take professional advice before buying, take some items to be machined along with you.


For turning wood and metal, main difference is in the type of cutting tools and the way they are used.

Wood Lathe: Uses hand held wood turning tools which are rested on a simple toolrest for support. All shaping is done free hand. Useful for making chair and table legs, spindles for staircases, table lamps, candle sticks, bowls and so on. For miniature work a lathe of around 9/12 inches between centres is ideal.

Additionally you will need:-

  1. Wood Turning tools. Sets of miniature turning tools are available consisting of at least a skew, finger gouge and parting off tools. For the finest detail work you will have to make some specials.
  2. Some means of sharpening tools. Ideally a double ended bench grinder, it must have a very fine grit wheel or tools will not last long. Could also be sharpened on a sanding disc or belt sander though not as good.
  3. Work holding chucks. Special universal chucks are available for most wood lathes. Drill chucks can only be used for small dia. round wood.

Metal Lathe: Uses metal turning tools fixed in a tool holder. Used to make small turned metal items such as candle sticks, door knobs and handles for kitchen utensils. Does not sound very much but can be invaluable for making special tools and fixtures. A suitable size would be 2inch swing and 12 inches between centres. Whilst a metal lathe can be used to shape wood using metal turning tools the finish will be very poor as it would be a scraping action. It is possible to adapt a metal lathe to incorporate a wood turning tool rest and have the best of both machines. Some manufacturers offer such an accessory e.g. UNIMAT from EMCO.

Additionally you will need:-

  1. Metal turning tools, available in sets or singly, to suit size of lathe. These are supplied ready to use.
  2. 3 and 4 jaw chucks for holding metal. Drill chuck for tailstock.
  3. Double ended bench grinder with a coarse and fine wheel.
  4. Metal Drills.
  5. Possibly taps and dies for serious work.

Table Saw/Circular Saw:

With a Tungsten Carbide tipped blade cutting across the grain should not require further treatment. Cutting down the grain may need slight finishing. Aim for a 3 to 4 inch blade if you want to do tenons and field panels on it ( may be difficult to obtain in small sizes only supplier I know is Proxxon.). If variable speed it should be possible to fit metal cutting and abrasive blades.

Scroll Saw:

Mainly for wood but some with variable speed can be used on metal. Will cut small intricate parts, again with appropriate blades no further finishing is required. Ideal for the miniaturist are the vibrating models ( most use a cam to provide cutting action) these will cut around 1/2 inch thick wood and are best with the thinnest wood.

Disc Sander:

In my opinion probably the most useful of all power tools. With a disc of 3 to 6 inches.( for very small parts you will need sandpaper of 360 grit or finer). Wood can be squared off ready for but joints and perfect mitres can be produced.

If I am fitting skirting/baseboards or ceiling mouldings I cut the mitres with a fine hand saw and mitre box and clean up on the disc sander. Disc sanders can be obtained along with a belt sander, in my opinion the belt sander is of little use apart from occasional sharpening of some tools.

If you have a lathe or power drill on a stand, a disc sander can easily be made (check to see if one is available as an accessory) a simple table can be made from wood and along with a mitre gauge perfection every time.

Band Saw:

If I was only allowed one power saw it would be a band saw. with this saw large sections of wood can be cut down to size with greater safety than with a circular saw.Finish however will not be as good, further work will certainly be required. With a narrow blade external curves can be cut. Get the largest one you can afford.

Bench/Pillar Drill:

Ensures that holes are square to base of material. Can be used to drill wood, metal and plastics. Use metal drills for all metals and where possible wood drills for wood and plastics ( unfortunately wood drills are only available in a limited range of sizes). If machine has a large chuck it may not hold the smallest drills in which case a special small drill chuck adapter will be required, this is then gripped in the larger chuck.

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