Benchtop Lathe Stand

A sturdy horse with knock-down capability

I first built a version of this stand when I was developing a turning program for the high school where I was teaching. I had enough money in my budget for five mini lathes and an assortment of tools, but not enough for stands. No worries. A few sketches and a bit of scrounged plywood later, I had a set of serviceable, knock-down stands that actually outlasted the electronics in those mini lathes. (If you want to test anything for durability, just put it in room full of adolescents…) Making those stands knock-down was important because I needed to be able to store them flat on a shelf when not in use. Knowing that few of us have enough shop space, keeping that feature seemed like a good idea when I revisited the design. The stand parts slot together, with the splayed legs both adding stability and locking the structure tight. For additional rigidity, you could also drive in a few pocket screws if you don’t need the stand to come apart. Add a little paint along with a laminated top and shelf and, for a fraction of the cost of a commercial stand, you’ll be up and turning in no time.

Notched stretchers slot into splayed legs

All parts are cut from 3/4” BC plywood except the edging around the top and shelf and the grooved stiffeners running up the sides of the legs. These are made from hardwood—I used ash. Both sets of stretchers are slotted to fit in matching slots cut in the A-shaped legs. Because the legs are splayed, you’ll need to lay out the slots in the stretchers very accurately so everything fits together as it should. The top is a double layer of plywood covered on both sides with plastic laminate. The edging is glued and screwed in place with plugs covering the screw heads. The shelf is a single layer of laminated plywood with hardwood edging that is glued and pinned in place. Both the top and shelf have cleats screwed to their undersides to register them in place between the stretchers.

Make the legs

Cut two pieces of plywood to 21 × 30”. On one of the pieces, lay out the leg’s tapered shape along with the inside cutout and notches as shown in the Leg Pattern above. Leave the extra length at the top. Chuck a 3/8” spiral upcut (or straight) bit in your router table. Add a long extension to the router table’s fence and clamp it 9” away from the bit. Note, I had to rotate my table and run the fence across its shorter dimension to have enough clearance. Mark the bit’s location on the fence as shown. You’ll need to repeat this process each time you move the fence. Transfer the starting and stopping points for the interior cutout and slots to the piece’s edges. Rout the bottom edge of the interior cutout, then reposition the fence and make the top cut. Cut the slots in two passes by running the long edge of the piece along the fence, adding a spacer before making the second pass. To calculate the thickness of the spacer, measure the thickness of the plywood with a caliper and subtract the bit diameter. Taper the piece with a track saw, then finish the interior and foot cutouts at the router table. Trace the first leg onto the second plywood piece and rough cut it to shape with a jig saw. Then screw the two pieces together and rout the second leg to match the first with a flush trim bit.

Touch and mark. With the fence clamped in position, hold the workpiece against it touching the bit. Mark the fence to indicate the bit’s location. Repeat with the workpiece on the other side of the bit.

Make the bottom cut. Align the layout marks with the bit location marks and clamp stops to the fence to control the cut’s start and stop points. Plunge the piece onto the spinning bit and feed from right to left to make the cut.

Cut the notches. Make the notch cuts with the same 38” bit. After making the first pass, add a spacer between the workpiece and the fence, then cut again. Clamp stops to the fence to control the lengths of the cuts.

Taper the sides. Clamp a saw track along the slanted layout lines and make the tapering cuts with a circular saw.

Make the stretchers, top, and shelf

Cut the stretchers to width, but leave them about 40” long for now. Also cut the pieces for the top and shelf, leaving the top pieces 1/4” oversize in both length and width. Rout both slots in one of the upper stretchers, and one of the slots in one of the lower stretchers. Partially assemble the stand to determine the location of the second slot in the bottom stretcher. Rout the second slot, then cut the two notched stretchers to length and shape their ends. Screw the stretchers to their unnotched counterparts and pattern rout to make the second stretchers match the first ones. Face glue and screw the two top pieces together, then cut to final size on the table saw. Apply laminate to both surfaces of the top and shelf and flush trim the edges. For more on working with laminate, see onlineEXTRAS. Attach the edging to both the top and shelf. Ease the edges of the top with a 1/4” roundover bit at the router table.

Rout the notches. Screw together a simple router fence to guide your router as you cut the notches in the stretchers. Rout the notches with the same bit/spacer combination you used for the notches in the legs.

Locate the second notch. Install the two notched stretchers in one leg. Slot the second lower stretcher into the notch at the free end of the upper stretcher and clamp it so the two installed stretchers are parallel. Mark the installed lower stretcher for its second notch.

Apply the edging. Cut the top edging overwide, then glue and screw it in place. Hand plane it to make the overhang flush with the surfaces. Repeat the process for the shelf, but with brads in lieu of screws.

Finish up

Install both upper stretchers and mark the top of the legs for length. Bevel the top of the legs at 5˚ to make them flush with the surface defined by the tops of the upper stretchers. Cut the stiffeners to size and groove them to fit on the legs. Bevel their ends to match the leg splay. Round over the edges of the stiffeners, as well as the edges of the inside openings on the legs, the bottom of the legs, and the ends and lower edges of the stretchers. Sand everything. Paint the legs and stretchers, leaving the outside edges of the legs bare so you can glue the stiffeners to them. I went with General Finishes Basil Milk Paint. Apply finish to the stiffeners and edges of the shelf—I used Watco Danish Oil. Glue and pin the stiffeners to the legs. Slot the stretchers into the legs. Screw the cleats to the underside of the top and shelf to hold them in place. Set up your lathe and get to work.

Find your groove. Rather than trying to match the width of the dado blade to the plywood thickness, set up a 12” dado and make the cuts in two passes, adjusting the fence position in between to dial in a perfect fit.

Bevel the ends. Bevel the stiffener ends with the blade tilted to 10° and the miter gauge angled at 5°. Cut two stiffeners with the groove up and two with the groove down. Then shift the miter gauge to the other side of the blade to cut the other ends.

One leg at a time. To assemble, install all four stretchers on one leg, then slot them into the second leg all at once.

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