I have always wanted to have a dedicated vacuum chuck for my lathe but didn’t want to pay the high cost. After doing a lot of research and talking to turners that had built their own system I decided build my own vacuum chuck. The two systems most used are the vacuum pump system and the vacuum generator system which uses an air compressor. I built my system with a vacuum pump. New vacuum pumps are $444.95 and rebuilt pumps are $150.00 and up. I picked up a 3/4 hp pump on Craigslist for $75.00 – it was like new!
A complete gauge kit is $92.95 from several online sources. I went to Home Depot and bought all the brass fittings, the PVC hose, pressure gauge and bleeder valve for $42.00. A vacuum adaptor kit is $56.95 from online stores. I picked up the 3/8×18 lamp rod, and bearing from Grainger Supply for $12.95. The lamp rod and bearing were attached to shop made mandrels to attach to the inboard and outboard sides of the head stock.
I made a stand for the vacuum motor and pressure gauge. A couple more shelves will be added to hold the vacuum chuck heads that I made.
I wanted to have the ability to switch the vacuum motor off and on and salvaged an old heavy duty multiple switch outlet center. This outlet center has five switchable outlets that I can use.
With the vacuum system complete it was time to make the vacuum chuck heads. A 3” chuck head is $57.95 on line and a 6” head is $68.95. While I was at Home Depot I picked up a 1 1/2×3 PVC fitting and a 1 1/2 by 6 PVC fitting for $10.00 I borrowed my wife’s Hobby Lobby coupon and bought a sheet of 12” x 18” funky foam for .66 cents. A piece of hard maple was turned to a spindle and then tapped with my 1×8 Beall Spindle Tap – this piece of hard maple will now thread onto my lathe headstock. With the hard maple threaded onto the headstock I created a tenon for the 1 1/2” end of the PVC. The PVC was then glued on with CA glue. I cut a piece of the funky foam 1/4” wide by 18 long and attached it to the other edge of the PVC with contact cement. This piece was trimmed to size and I will use the rest of it for another chuck head.
In this photo you can see the foam attached to the PVC pipe. In the very center of the PVC you can see the brass end of the lamp rod. This is secured with a hose washer, flat washer and plastic retaining nut.
With my 3” vacuum chuck head complete I gave the entire setup a test run. I have attached a platter to the vacuum chuck head.
Looked at the pressure gauge and I have 24 inches of vacuum – I was not able to pull the platter off with both hands. The bleeder valve is used to regulate the pressure and allows me to reposition the platter as needed.
I will make several different sized vacuum chuck heads to suit my purposes. All the brass fittings, PVC fittings, and other hardware items are stock items at most big box hardware stores. If you have any questions please let me know.
-- Those that say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.