A lathe can be made from various materials for each component such as the lathe bed. Choosing the right materials to use is important for its stability and durability.
The materials that you use must be suitable for repeated use and durability. One of the primary considerations is damping. Working with a lathe causes vibrations that are caused by noise, mechanical oscillations, or alternating currents. Damping reduces vibrations by dissipating the energy.
The following goes over each material type you can use, its damping quality, and its advantages and disadvantages.
Cast iron is commonly used for machinery housings or bases due to the stable structure of the material. It is also known for holding its shape when it is subjected to contraction and expansion due to temperature fluctuations. This is ideal for a lathe bed and is also why it is used for pans for cooking.
This material offers good damping, it is easy to machine, and can be made in various sizes. Aging of the material can take up to a year and it can be more expensive than other materials available.
A variation of cast iron is Durabar. It has some of the same properties of regular cast iron but the material is pre-aged which makes it more expensive. It comes in standard sizes which can make it impractical for home use.
A wood lathe bed is constructed like a hollow box. It is easy to assemble and inexpensive to make. The material provides some natural damping.
Wood has some disadvantages as constructing a lathe bed requires drilling and tapping many holes. Wood can also warp when exposed to extreme temperatures or moisture.
Aluminum is an easy material to work and can be made in various sizes. Its lightweight property allows for the lathe to be easier to transport, however, it provides poor damping.
Using a steel shaft provides the lathe bed with a rigid and stable design. Sizing can be adjusted and it is quick and easy to assemble. Its cost is moderate and it does provide some damping.
You will need to do some precise boring of the tail, headstock, tail support, and carriage if you use this material for your lathe bed.
A concrete tube typically comes in a rectangle shape. This shape allows it to be very stable and rigid and come in various sizes. Lathe components can be attached easily. To provide damping, the hollow inside of the tube will need to be filled. The most effective method will be with concrete.
Granite is an inexpensive material for a lathe bed. It is very rigid and stable and provides good damping. However, as it is a natural stone, there may be defects within the stone that are unforeseen. For any lathe attachments, it will require anchors to be used.