DIY Vacuum Chuck

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Project by Matt posted 03-03-2009 11:54 PM 11384 views 19 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’m barely 1 day old on this site and don’t have any projects in a state that is ‘first pictures’ ready. I’m working on some cornices for the windows of my living room but, right now, they are simply boxes. For now, I thought I would post post a project I completed several months ago.

It all started a little more than a year ago. I bought my first lathe. I beautiful little Jet 1220. 1/3hp, 12 inch swing, and very well put together. I picked it up for $325.00. The price of these things has climbed quickly to more than $400.00 but that is another story.

I have happily turned pens and bowls all of this time. A few months ago, I got the opportunity to use a friend’s PM 3250. I was making a large-ish walnut bowl and was looking for a jam chuck or something to allow me to flip the bowl over and finish the foot. My friend says, ‘just use my vacuum chuck’. He proceeded to show it to me and go about setting it up. It made turning the foot on my bowl SOOOOO much easier, I knew there had to be a way to have this wonderful fixture on my Jet 1220. Here is my story.

This is the most expensive part of the project. It starts with the pump. You need a strong pump for this type of project. There are pre-built systems out there but be prepared to spend some money. Oneway sells a system and the pump alone costs nearly $400.00. I picked up the exact same pump, never run, for $100.00. I got it on Ebay and if you’re patient, you won’t spend more than $150.00. Here are a bunch Gast pumps (recommended). Make sure to get an oil-less model. Trust me.

My friend’s pump is a 220v, 1/4hp Gast unit that does a great job. My pump is the 120v version with 1/3 hp. It also moves approximately 4-5 CFM. This is important. For tight, dense, defect free wood, less CFM might prove adequate. When you get into the woods with a loose grain or even small holes, you’ll be glad you had the extra air.

Next, I turned (on the lathe) a fixture from walnut to hold a 1/4 inch male fitting and a double sealed bearing. I also turned the threads off of a brass male fitting to connect my air hose to.

This next part is important. The little black O-ring you see, gave me an extra 2 inches of vacuum. Don’t skip this part.

Here is a picture of it installed in my handwheel. There really isn’t any installation. If it fits, it fits. The vacuum actually holds it in place when you have a bowl or something sealing the chuck on the other side. Keep your tailstock in place until you get the vacuum running. Using the tailstock also helps you center up your bowl prior to turning on the lathe.

Now this is what we want to see. 20 inches of vacuum! I’m actually pulling close to 22-23 on a nice piece of wood. The key is making sure your system is as ‘leak proof’ as possible because you will lose some through the piece you’re working on. It’s a matter of physics. Wood is porous.

Here is a small chuck I made with a 1X8 spindle tap (just screw it onto the headstock), and some closed cell foam you find in the craft section of Wal-Mart.

Last but not least. This is a globe I was turning for a Christmas ornament. There’s not really enough surface area in this example to hold that piece in place for actually cutting with a chisel but it holds just fine for sanding and finishing. Larger vacuum chucks will hold with enough force to implode your workpiece if you get thin enough.

I have included a 3d model of the vacuum chuck adapter after a few questions about it. It’s not to scale. You will have to modify the size and shape after measuring your handwheel. It’s simply to show how the parts fit together. I hope it helps.

From left to right:
1. Air hose fitting.
2. Double rubber sealed searing
3. Wooden body
4. Headstock spindle fitting
5. Rubber O-ring.

Well, that’s it for now. Here are some additional things to keep in mind.

1. Seal up the adapter you created to hold your bearing, hose fittings, and O-rings. When in doubt, make it air tight!
2. Mind the thickness of your piece. To thin, too much vacuum, or too much surface area = Kablooey!
3. Seal the piece and let it dry one time before you start applying finishes while in the vacuum chuck. It will pull that stuff right through the headstock and into your filter (you do have an in-line filter right?) or worse, your pump.

-- Matt - My Websites - - Hand Tools :: - Small Shops

11 comments so far

View Mjbada's profile


16 posts in 3702 days

#1 posted 03-03-2009 11:58 PM

Great job!! Very impressive!!

View cabinetmaster's profile


10874 posts in 3553 days

#2 posted 03-04-2009 12:11 AM

yeppers…........I got to favorite this. Thanks for the post.

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3453 days

#3 posted 03-04-2009 12:40 AM

my handwheel spins… how do you keep the hose from spinning with it?

-- San Diego, CA

View Matt's profile


181 posts in 3367 days

#4 posted 03-04-2009 01:35 AM

In the picture with the adapter in the headstock you get a real clear shot of the double sealed bearing which we seated in the wooden adapter. Only the outside portion of the bearing gets glue/epoxied to the wood. The middle portion is allowed to turn freely. I turned the threads off of a male brass fitting and glued/epoxied the fitting into the inner portion of the bearing. The two can now spin relative to each other. That allows enough vacuum to chuck a workpiece, hold the adapter against the wheel, and spin at several thousand RPM’s. I hope that helps. I’m working on a 3D model of the adapter as I type this.

Thanks guys,

-- Matt - My Websites - - Hand Tools :: - Small Shops

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4395 days

#5 posted 03-04-2009 01:59 AM

Thanks for the post. I went looking for something like this about a month ago. I’ve not done one yet. I’m not sure if my lathe shaft is air tight. i think it is.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4395 days

#6 posted 03-04-2009 02:04 AM

Beall tools make spindle taps for tapping wood that will fit the shaft of your lathe.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Matt's profile


181 posts in 3367 days

#7 posted 03-04-2009 02:09 AM

Yes, Beall does make them. It’s the same one that I have. I am fairly new to the site and didn’t know the rules for linking out to other places. I just left it generic. It’s still a 1X8 TPI wood tap.

-- Matt - My Websites - - Hand Tools :: - Small Shops

View hairy's profile


2701 posts in 3527 days

#8 posted 03-04-2009 02:33 AM

Good job, Matt! You make it look easy.

-- My reality check bounced...

View TedM's profile


2002 posts in 3727 days

#9 posted 03-04-2009 04:31 AM

Great! Thanks for the post!

-- I'm a wood magician... I can turn fine lumber into firewood before your very eyes! - Please visit and sign up for my project updates!

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4322 days

#10 posted 03-04-2009 04:53 AM

great job at helping us MacGyver our lathes.
oh, and welcome to LJ’s!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Matt's profile


181 posts in 3367 days

#11 posted 03-09-2009 02:48 PM

Thanks guys. You really make a noobie feel welcome on this site. I’m getting ready to post another project. A set of window cornices I made with only pocket holes and a brad nailer.

Thanks again,

-- Matt - My Websites - - Hand Tools :: - Small Shops

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