Shop Made Steady Rest Parts #1 and #2 - JB

Shop Made Steady Rest Part #1 of Two


Simple... Simple enough that a beginner and/or a person with basic tools could make it
Easy to Make---No fancy cuts, no complex fitting or joinery
Convenient Size and Easy to Store
Made from scraps---Typical Shop Cut-offs
Easy Sanding
Fairly Rapid Construction

Do not let all of this text make you shy away from making this. See the unit assembled photos near the end. This proves the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

If you design your own unit keep in mind that all of the dimensions used must work to keep the center of rotation of the wood approximately in the center of the steady rest.

Each of my “Wheel Units” consist of a wheel, a knob or machine screw with a 1/4 x 20 shaft, a 1/4 guide pin, two inserts with 1/4 x 20 threads, and a piece of 1 5/8 x 4 x 1/4 pressed temper board (Masonite).

I used 7/8 inch nylon shower door wheels from the big box hardware store. In my mind I questioned their ability to function well. I used them because I could not find anything better. They are still working fine. However, since the unit is new, I have not used them much.

The “guide” pins job is to keep the wheel arms from moving in undesired ways. These pins were made by cutting the heads off of 1/4 x 20 stove bolts.

Off Topic Note: The reason the nut is in the picture is my father. When I was a very young kid, Dad told me to always put a nut on any threaded device that I was going to shorten. That way after cutting it off, I could run the nut off clearing the threads of burrs, etc. I chose bolts that had a smooth collar below the head and the cut off the other end to the desired length. This gave me guides with smooth sides to slide through the wheel unit’s adjusting slots.

Sort of Off Topic: This pic shows inserting the insert using the drill press for a nice “true to the world” insertion of the insert. When I was a kid there was a very famous comedian named Bob Hope (I met him once). In one of Bob’s movies his character’s name was Lawrence, Lawrence, Lawrence. The character said that it was because his mother didn’t have any imagination. I guess I really could have used my imagination and said, “Placing” for a couple of the “inserts.”

My insertion tool is a sawed off, cheap screwdriver ground to fit the slot in the insert. By using the drill press I could put steady, very firm, straight down pressure with my right hand while turning the chuck slowly with my left hand. This makes a very neat, true insertion and does not raise any of the surface of the wood (DAMHIKT). Also guess why I made the custom screwdriver for this kind of job.

The rod with the red handle fits into the chuck-key hole. The rod makes it easier to turn the chuck while down pressure is applied via the drill press.


To locate the most critical point of the steady rest do the following:

Notice that the headstock has a “pointy” drive in place...A pointy center in the tailstock would work just as well.

Obtain a piece of three-quarter, void-free, plywood that is larger than you will need. Be sure it has at least one straight, 90 degree to the surface, edge (for my lathe 9 1/2 in. front to back edge felt right).

In the case of the five and a half inch opening for wood in my 12 1/2 inch swing Delta 46-460 the plywood piece was eleven inches tall by nine and a half front to back. The position of the drive center on your lathe will be in a different position in relation to the lathe bed than mine. The next step marks the position of YOUR wood turning center onto the vertical for YOUR lathe.

Position the vertical member on your lathe bed lightly touching the “pointy” part of the drive center or the tailstock center. It should be spaced so that approximately half of the ply is in front of the turning center of the lathe and half of the ply is in back of that center.

Use your fist and bang the ply against the point. This will leave an indentation in the plywood. From this mark you will lay out the position of the wheel arms, guide pins and the center of the turning wood. For my Delta 46-460 the indentation was up approximately 6 inches from the bottom and centered front to back.

Everything else that you do now is aimed at keeping the spot you just made located where the center of spinning wood will be in your finished product. All of the wheel units will be placed so that they are aimed at this spot when they are adjusted for the size of the wood in use.

DO NOT CUT THE STEADY REST SHAPE OUT UNTIL YOU HAVE THE LOCATION OF ALL PARTS IN RELATION TO THIS SPOT. Be absolutely sure you have knob and guide insert locations marked while you still have this reference point. It is a mess to try marking these if the reference point has been sawn away as waste.

Here are some pics showing the process I went through.

Notice the compass point is in the dent in the ply made by the pointed center in the lathe. This pic is for clarity. Actually I placed paper over the ply, put the compass point through the paper and into the dent in the plywood.

The paper I laid over the ply was marked with three lines 120 degrees apart. 120 is not a critical measurement. The center where the three lines met was laid over the pointy dent in the vertical plywood; this needs to be fairly accurate. I have found no reason to use any position other than the top wheel directly above the lathe’s turning axis. If any of you long time turners know of a reason to change the position, please let me know and I will add the information to this tutorial.

I went through the process of checking the wheel unit angles to be sure none of the wheel units would be obstructed in their movement in and out. I cannot see why a few degrees rotation in either direction, for any of the wheel units, would make any difference in using the steady rest. However, check yours out. There could be a problem like having the lower right wheel unit’s adjustment being stopped by hitting the base. Don’t get sloppy just because I said a few degrees shouldn’t matter. You DO want each of the wheel units pointed to the center of the wood rotation. If you goof a bit, it probably will not hurt. However, it will make the smallest center opening a little larger. That means that the smallest piece that the unit works on will be a bit larger.

This is continued in thread "Continuation of Steady Rest Post JB
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Shop Made Steady Rest Part #1 of Two JB

Shop Made Steady Rest Part #2 of Two---- See Number 1 First

Mark the centers to drill for the inserts. You can use a sharp awl before or after you cut the vertical shape out of the paper template. The guide insert centers are one-half inch from the edge of the ply. The knob and the guide insert centers are one inch apart, center to center. The centers MUST be on the radial lines pointing to the center.

Here is a view from the tailstock end of the lathe. The camera was level with the base. The photo shows you how simple the device is in spite of all of my words. The next pic is the unit lying on its side. The base is very clear in this photo. There are a few of you who will realize that the photo shows a good view of the “Emperor’s Clothes” the rest of you, other than curiosity, it does not affect anything you are doing with this project.

The base is two pieces of approximately three-quarter inch thick wood. I used a white oak cutoff. Each piece is one and a half inches wide and the length is the horizontal measurement of the vertical. They are butt glued to the vertical. Notice the crosspiece glued across the bottom of the base. It adds strength to the base. Its real job is to fit in the slot between the ways and keep the entire unit 90 degrees to the lathe bed. It fits just loose enough to slide in and out easily.

Note the two rare earth magnets in the picture of the cross piece that holds the steady rest to the lathe. There will be more on this a bit later.

This pic is the tail end of my lathe. It shows the bolt (mine is 4 in. x 5/16) going down through the bottom of the vertical member, through the base, through the 90 degree alignment block, through the hold down block and into the Tee Nut.

The next photo is a close-up of the same. Near the top you see the piece of wood that runs crosswise to the base. Below that you see the bolt. The bolt goes through the crosspiece and threads into the Tee Nut.

The small piece, on the bolt, below all of the rest of the stuff, is the piece that turns crosswise to hold the unit down onto the lathe. This piece turns freely on the 5/16 bolt. Once the crosspiece is fed down between the ways, the two one-quarter-by-one-quarter inch earth magnets will rotate the piece crosswise. The magnets are set flush with the surface (see photo). The crosspiece will jump up and stick to the bottom of the ways. Then you tighten the bolt; you do not have to hold the piece in position when the bolt is tightened. This may not sound like a big deal---But it is if space for your hand is limited.

When you want to move the steady rest to another position, loosen the bolt and drag the unit. The magnets will hang on a bit, however it is no problem.

And here it is in use. Well, actually, I grabbed a dowel and stuck it between centers for this photo.

The round opening for the turning wood to pass through is 5 1/2 inches in diameter on my unit. You do not get to use all of that diameter for wood. The useful opening is reduced by the diameter of a wheel (or approximately two wheel radii). My five and a half inch circle will take wood up to approximately four and a half inches in diameter. I think this is way over-kill for me. I cannot think of turning anything on this lathe that has a four-inch plus diameter and is apt to flex. I have seen photos of bowl or hollow forms being turned using a large steady rest. I have never done that. If anyone reading this has information that should be added to this let me know and I will insert it or append it at the end and give you a by-line.

Think in terms of what you do. If you are doing six-foot spindles, you might get some flex at four-inch diameter. If you do drumsticks your unit could be smaller. If you do decorative columns your unit will have to be much larger and more rugged.

And for a chuckle; remember you cannot have enough clamps. The clamps hold the two base pieces to the vertical. I ended up with three on each side. Four other clamps hold the base to a piece of MDF (covered with waxed paper) so the base would be nice and flat when the glue dried.

The hold-down (my terminology) crosspiece needs to be narrow enough to slip down between the ways when mounting the steady rest to the lathe. As you can see from the photo, it is then turned crosswise to hold the steady rest down onto the lathe bed. The hold-down needs to be long enough to catch on the front and back of the lathe ways. However, you must also be sure that it is short enough and thin enough that it can slide between the cast braces manufactured on the lathe bed. Another method would be to have the crosspiece be long enough to go clear across the bottom of the lathe bed. This would require a longer vertical bolt.

In my case there is a 4-inch, 5 / 16 diameter bolt which goes thru the steady rest, between the rails, through the anti-rotation block, through the cross-piece hold down and into a Tee Nut. Now you know why there was a notch cut in the a socket or open-end wrench can lock the unit into the desired place on the lathe while there is wood between the centers.

There will probably be specific questions...If you have one or more, PM Jim C Bradley.



Vaughn McMillan

Staff member
Very nice, Jim. Thanks for taking the trouble to document the process so well. :thumb: I'll be putting a copy of this (and the other installments) in the Tips and Tutorials area.

Would you also like me to merge Parts 1 and 2 into a single thread? I'll make it easier for others to find the whole story in one place in the future. :)

Chuck Ellis

Tellico Plains, Tennessee
Loved your tutorial... I even copied the parts of it and put it in a text document and converted to a PDF for my tutorial file... this looks like the simplest and easiest steady rest to build of all the one I've saved..... thanks for posting.
Very nice, Jim. I'll be putting a copy of this (and the other installments) in the Tips and Tutorials area.

Would you also like me to merge Parts 1 and 2 into a single thread? I'll make it easier for others to find the whole story in one place in the future. :)
Yes! I would really like you to do that. I screwed-up.

Somehow part 1 did not get into FWW with my first try. I tried to find it and could not. I did part 2 figuring, that like some phone messages, part 1 would show up later. It did not show. So I did it again and have not a clue how to merge them.

The first thread, the one that started all of this, could be dumped as far as I am concerned. I think it could confuse people.

Did you get the part about the Emperor's Clothes?




Paul Douglass

S E Washington State
Thanks for putting this together, Jim. I would like to have a steady rest, but don't want to over kill or over spend. Your set up looks like it would really fit my purposes. Oh, boy another project!!