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Thread: Vacuum Chuck System – How I Built Mine

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Harvey, Michigan

    Vacuum Chuck System – How I Built Mine

    While there is a lot of info on the subject of vacuum systems that can be located on the various forums, not many walk you through the process of putting one together. I researched vacuum systems, read every post I could on the subject and tried to get an idea of what it would take to put together an affordable system. While I am sure there are many different ways to construct a vac system, here is a simple system that works and cost less than $200.

    The normal disclaimer: I have learned what I know through active participation here on Family Woodworking & SawMill Creek forums and trial and error. The following photos offer only a few of the many possible ways to hook up a vacuum system. Most importantly, if something doesn’t look or ‘feel’ safe to you – DON’T do it!

    At this point I want to give credit to two folks who helped make my vac system become a reality:

    Vaughn McMillan, ( from whom I borrowed the design of the cart, and

    Tom Steyer, ( who not only listed and sourced the individual components I needed but designed and built a custom rotary adapter to fit my Jet 1642 lathe. Thanks Tom! Without your detailed assistance my vac system would still be in the research stage! Tom makes adapters for several popular lathe models. You can
    contact Tom at or through Sawmill Creek.

    The following items were obtained from Surplus Center (

    (in the form of Description, Item No., Qty)

    Gast 0523 220VAC Vacuum Pump, # 4-1540, qty 1
    Air Filter, # 4-1565, qty 2
    Vacuum Gauge, # 21-1583-CA, qty 1
    Ό” NPT Brass Ball Valve, # 20-1486, qty 1
    1/8” NPT Air Silencer, # 4-1657, qty 1
    Bushing Ό”x1/8” NPTF, # 455-HH, qty 1

    The following items were obtained from Menards:

    3/8” ID x 20’ Vinyl Tubing, # 6840442, qty 1
    ½” ID x 10’ Vinyl Tubing, # 6840455, qty 1
    Ό” NPT x 3/8” ID Hose Barb, # 6801821, qty 7
    3/8” NPT x ½” ID Hose Barb, # 6801847, qty 2
    3/8” x Ό” Brass Adapter, # 6805940, qty 2
    Ό” Brass Elbow, # 6805827, qty 1
    Ό” Brass T - Female Threads, # 6805115, qty 2
    Ό” NPT Brass Barrel, qty 1
    9/16” to 1” Hose Clamps, qty 10
    20A/250V Standard Plug, # 3635362, qty 1
    20A Double Pole Switch , # 3637535, qty 1
    20A/250V Single Receptacle, # 3638974, qty 1
    2” Rigid Casters, # 2171995, qty 2

    I also picked up a Fram G2 fuel filter from Wal-Mart for less than $3. It’s used as an small air filter for the relief valve. There are a few other parts such as junction boxes, PVC conduit, outlet covers, etc that you can pick up at your local home improvement store as needed.

    I wanted the vac system to be portable so that when finished using it I could store it out of the way of my lathe. I modified Vaughn’s idea of a cart/hand truck and used scrap pieces of lumber I had on hand. I am sure with a little thought and planning you can come up with something that fits your needs.

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    Building the System

    I installed the Gast pump such that the input/output were oriented to the left which placed the pump wiring close to the wall of the cart and out of the way. The pump was mounted to the Ύ” plywood using Ό” bolts and lock washers so it wouldn’t vibrate loose.

    On the front side I installed a junction box (for power) at the location I wanted the pump wires to come through the wall. A Ύ” hole was drilled through the junction box and plywood wall for the wiring. A second junction box (for the on/off switch) was then installed directly above the power box. I installed a short piece of ½” PVC conduit that I just happened to have left over from installing the 220 VAC drop for my lathe.

    For the power hookup I used pieces of an old 50’ 16-3 outdoor extension cord. I cut a piece about 12’ long and installed the 220V standard plug on one end and routed the other end through the pump side of the wall and into the power junction box. From there I threaded it through the conduit and into the on/off switch box. A 3’ piece of the extension cord was then run from the on/off switch box back through the conduit and into the power junction box.

    The on/off switch (220VAC double pole/single throw) was then wired with the long power cord connected to the input side of the switch and the short 3’ piece connected to the output side of the switch. Pulled all the excess wiring back down into the power junction box, installed the switch in the box and attached the cover plate.

    Next, using wire nuts, I wired the Gast pump to the 3’ piece of orange extension cord. Made sure all the connections were secure - then installed the cover. If you have to ask how to wire the pump to a 220 VAC line – PLEASE get someone qualified to make the connection for you! While I have no problems showing you how to make point to point connections on the vacuum lines (worse that can happen is you lose vacuum), if you hook up the 220 VAC wrong and it could get serious!

    This is where the fun begins as there are any number of ways you can route the vac lines. A simple overview of what we are going to do - connect the lathe to the vacuum pump, provide a filter to keep the wood dust out of the pump, install a gauge to monitor the vacuum and provide a means to regulate that vacuum.

    Starting at the lathe we have to use a special vacuum chuck. These need to be different sizes and can be either bought or made in your shop. I will give an example later of a simple homemade chuck that works great.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    In addition to the pump you need an adapter that provides a means to attach the vacuum hose to the spindle. There are a number of adapters out there that fit different lathes but I decided to go with the adapter Tom Steyer designed as it allows me to just plug it into the handwheel without having to bolt it on or buy yet another threaded adapter. I also love the fact that when I am done using the vac system I simply pull the adapter from the handwheel and wheel the vac system away!

    Step 1: Connect the rotary adapter to the input air filter using the 3/8” ID vinyl tubing. I used about 4’ of tubing but the amount is up to you.

    Remember to use pipe tape for all your threaded connections!

    I installed a Ό” NPT elbow at the adapter in order to route the vinyl tube away from the lathe. I then connected a Ό” to 3/8” barb to that elbow so I could connect the vinyl tubing.

    The air filter has a Ό” NPT input connection but a ½” output barb – don’t ask me why they are different cause I don’t know. I installed a Ό” to 3/8” barb on the input and slid on the vinyl tubing. I actually used a hair dryer to warm the vinyl tube before sliding it on the barb and it helped a lot! I then secured both tube connections with small hose clamps.
    Last edited by Steve Schlumpf; 02-03-2008 at 09:08 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Harvey, Michigan
    Vacuum System continued…

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    Step 2: Secure the air filter to the 3/8” plywood wall. I figured where I wanted the filter and drilled a few holes through the plywood and held the filter in place with tie-wraps. Real Hi-Tech!

    Step 3: Connect the output of the air filter to vacuum relief valve. The output barb of the filter is for ½” ID tubing. I heated the end of the ½ vinyl tubing, pushed it on the barb and secured it with a hose clamp. I then moved the tubing around until I found an area I wanted to place the relief valve and vac gauge. I cut the tubing at that length leaving just a little extra.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Step 4: Connecting the ½” tube to the rest of the system required an adapter that went from a ½” barb to 3/8” NPT. Then an adapter that went from 3/8” NPT to Ό” NPT. The Ό” NPT threaded into one end of the first Ό” T.

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    Step 5: Connect the Relief Valve to the T and then attach the small air filter to the bottom end of the Relief Valve. The small air filter is to prevent dust from entering the system when regulating vacuum. I also used the Ό” rubber hoses that came with the filter – just because they look really cool!

    Step 6: Connect the Ό” barrel to the T and then connect to the remaining Ό” T. Attach the Vacuum Gauge as shown and then attach another Ό” NPT to 3/8” barb so you can connect to the 3/8” ID vinyl tubing.

    Step 7: Run a length of tubing from the Ό” T to the input of the pump. The input and outputs of the pump are labeled on that end of the pump. Cut the tubing to length and install a Ό” to 3/8” barb into the pump. MAKE sure you attach the 3/8” vinyl tube to the input side. Secure with a small hose clamp.

    Step 8: You are going to connect some 3/8 ID tubing to the output of the pump but first you must figure out where you want the output air filter located. Drill a few holes and secure the output filter with tie-wraps.

    Step 9: Install a Ό” NPT to 3/8” Barb to the output side of the pump and another one to the input of the air filter. Cut a piece of 3/8” ID vinyl tubing to length and install between the pump and air filter. Secure with hose clamps.

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    Step 10: Determine location for Silencer and attach to the structure. Connect the output air filter to the Silencer using ½” ID vinyl tubing and adapters as listed in photo.

    At this point the construction of the vacuum system is complete. All you need now is a vacuum chuck!
    Last edited by Steve Schlumpf; 02-03-2008 at 05:26 PM. Reason: add content

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Harvey, Michigan
    Making your own vacuum chuck

    The following is a simple vacuum chuck and is only one example of some of the materials you can use for chucks.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Step 1: The wood is rough cut cherry approximately 1” thick and the PVC is a 4” coupler. I surfaced one side of the cherry, cut the piece in half and glued the pieces together using Elmer’s Ultimate High Performance Glue. It’s one of those glues where you wet the surface of both pieces of wood, spread the glue and then clamp it overnight. The glue expands and fills all the small areas between the two boards that could potentially cause a vacuum leak.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Step 2: You can use a faceplate to mount the vac chuck to your lathe but I use the Beall Spindle Tap and will demo how I use it to make my own faceplates.

    Mount the glued up wood between centers and round the outside such that it can fit into the jaws of your chuck. I have a Talon chuck and use the larger #3 jaws to hold the blank for the next step.

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    The outside is now rounded over.

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    Step 3: Mount the blank in your chuck and bore a hole 1/8” less than the finished tap size – meaning 1/8” less than the size of your spindle. In my case I drilled a
    1 1/8” hole all the way through the blank. There is enough room for the forstner bit to clear the chuck once it cuts through the blank – however – it is a good idea to watch closely and not ruin your drill bit!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Step 4: Following the instructions for the Beall Spindle Tap, I start the tap into the wood and have the back of the tap supported with the tailstock. The spindle of the lathe is locked so that the blank cannot move. I use a crescent wrench to turn the tap a ½ turn and then snug up the tailstock center. Repeat until the tap is fully inside the wood and the tailstock is no longer needed to help keep the tap traveling straight. Tap the wood all the way through. Unlock the spindle!
    Last edited by Steve Schlumpf; 02-03-2008 at 05:29 PM. Reason: add content

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Harvey, Michigan
    making a chuck continued…

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    Step 5: Remove the blank from the chuck and then remove the chuck from the lathe. Thread the blank onto the spindle and true up both faces of the blank.

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    Step 6: The idea here is to turn a shoulder area that will support the PVC coupler. You want to make this a fairly snug fit and should take your time when you get close to the final size.

    I dry fit the PVC often until it makes contact on the shoulder as well as the inner tenon area.

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    Once you have a good dry fit I clean up the shoulder area with a parting tool – just to make sure I have a good 90* angle between the shoulder and the inner tenon.

    Note: make sure the PVC is clean and it’s edges are smooth so as to make good physical contact with the wooden faceplate.

    Step 7 (no photo): Glue the PVC coupler and the wooden faceplate together. I use hot melt glue and finds it works very well. I run a bead of glue along the shoulder/tenon junction and then seat the coupler while the glue is still hot. I then run a bead of glue along the inside of the chuck at the PVC – wood joint and also along the outside joint. The glue cures very fast but I usually let them sit for an hour or so before returning the chuck to the lathe.

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    Step 8: With the chuck mounted on the lathe, use a bowl gouge and true up the PVC and round the edge over. Use sandpaper to clean up any tool marks.

    Also, I highly recommend the use of a closed cell foam gasket on the rim of the chuck to help provide a good seal and protect the turning. Any number of different closed cell materials can be used. You can find 1/8” craft foam (with self-adhesive back) at Hobby Lobby, Michael's, and other craft stores. Use white or light colors to avoid possible stains on your work.

    Congrats – you just made your own vacuum chuck!

    Remember, there are many different ways to achieve the same results. The steps I’ve listed here are simply what I did to build my system. As we are all learning, please feel free to ask questions, offer suggestions or comment.

    For those interested, I have made a PDF copy of this tutorial – please PM me with your email address and I will forward you a copy.
    Last edited by Steve Schlumpf; 02-03-2008 at 05:32 PM. Reason: add content

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Boise, Idaho
    Couldn't have come at a more timely moment. I"ve been somewhat perplexed about how to put together an entire system and here it is.

    Many thanks for this outstanding tutorial!


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Mason Michigan
    Does NASA know about you?

    Wonderful job!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Tokiwadai, Japan
    WOW! Steve...what a great service you have done for the members...

    Just what we needed...and great detail!

    Thanks much. A "must have" thread for the Reference section.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
    Another awesome job, Steve.
    You could make a living writing tutorials.
    Thank you so much for going to the work to turn this one out.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Goodland, Kansas
    Steve thanks for the great info. I am in the process of thinking about on of those although my cole jaws and donut chucks work fine.
    Bernie W.

    Retirement: That’s when you return from work one day
    and say, “Hi, Honey, I’m home – forever.”

    To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funnybone.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Central Iowa
    Very nice tutorial and one I will reference many times in the future. I didn't understand why this was needed until I went to a demo by another turner in our club and he used the vacuum chuck. If you are doing lots of bowls, it really speeds up the process. Pop off the 4way chuck, pop on the vacuum chuck, hit the switch and mount the bowl and you are ready to do the bottom and any cleanup on the outside of the bowl. Probably took 45 seconds for him to make the change. Much quicker than cole jaws or donut chucks although more expensive as well.

    Thanks for all your hard work Steve

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