Turning aluminum?

Karl Brogger

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Dennison, MN
Anyone ever turn aluminum on a wood lathe using regular knives/chisels? I've got a couple of real simple parts I would like to make for my boat. Is a jawed chuck for wood adequate for holding parts?
 

Roger Newby

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Syracuse, Nebraska
Short answer...NO. You need a solidly mounted tool, not hand held. I've been a Tool & Die Maker for 30+ years, so my recommendation is find someone with a metal working lathe and save yourself a lot of grief and potential harm.
 

Frank Fusco

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I have heard of it being done and there are some aluminum pen blanks on the market.
Personally, I wouldn't do it. Suggest you heed warnings of those who are experienced with metal on lathes.
To qualify my remarks. I do, on occasion, turn small brass items. I usually use broken files for my turning tools. These are usually gun related items and I have been doing it many years, originally with a clamped hand-held drill and make shift rest.
 

Karl Brogger

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Dennison, MN
Short answer...NO.
Kinda figured as much. I've got a couple of friends that are machinest's, they'd probably let me use a lathe to whip up the part I need. Basically just need to make a cap that goes on a pole. Simple stepped piece of round solid stock, with a bullnose on the exposed end. I'll spend more time driving to a lathe, than actually using it.

Thanks guys!
 
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Location
Bradford, Vermont
In fact... aluminum is a BREEZE to turn with ordinary woodturning tools. It's not nearly as easy as WOOD, but it likes the same cutting speeds & the same edge styles. I turned aluminum pulleys with my old one-tube Craftsman lathe, and I've turned aluminum pens from aluminum bolts. Just keep the toolrest right next to the work - don't overhang the toolrest any farther than you HAVE to.

Parting is an adventure - best to part down a short distance & then finish parting with a hacksaw.

Aluminum likes scrapers just fine, too.

EDIT: Aw, heck. Let's do the picture thing. :)









The globby stuff in the picture of the pen/pencil pair - at the ends of the pen... I have no idea what that was. Photo artifact, prob'ly, since it's not actually on the pen. Looks terrible in the picture, though.
 
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Great looking pullies and pens!! I have had a couple of students purchase and turn the aluminum pens. It is the one time I let a student wear skin tight gloves as the shavings are hot! High speed, sharp tools, cuts amazingly well! I would chuck it up and bring the tail stock up against until the last cuts to finish the top portion when you don't have much pressure against it. Also, wear a face shield with safety glasses underneath.
 

Brent Dowell

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I knew there was something vaguely futuristic about Tim.... Apparently, He's from the year 2045 and is able to use some sort of internet worm hole to converse with those of us still in his past....:D
 

Frank Fusco

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It seems this thread may not be proving useful to Karl.
Methinks one should go on the side of caution.
Not being a metallurgist type of guy, I do know, however, there is aluminum and then there are aluminum alloys and the nekkid eye often cannot tell the difference.
Only thing fer certain I can tell from here is that the double eye protection reccomendation is a good one. Keep the bandages handy too. :eek:
 

Tom Niemi

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Not being a turner I can not give advise, seems it goes both ways. But since you have machinist friends that have the equipment to turn metal, that may be the safe way to go. Good luck and be sure to show us the finished piece:)
 

Karl Brogger

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Dennison, MN
Here's what I need to make:




Maybe I will try it on the wood lathe. I think making that roundover on the inside would be easier to do by hand than with a pair of wheels.

I think I'd start by turning the necked down portion.
Cut to length
Drill the hole
Flip it in the chuck and do the outside, and inside edges. Polish it up with some emery cloth and it should be good to go.

Like I said, real simple project. It fits into a 1-1/2" tube so not real big either.
 

Vaughn McMillan

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I've (lightly) turned brass on a wood lathe, and it's generally harder than aluminum. Personally, I'd go for it for this little project.
 
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Bradford, Vermont
Yep, that's not something I'd hesitate to do - not for a moment. Use 6061 aluminum (cheap on eBay, or at SpeedyMetals, or at Industrial Metal Sales).


I've (lightly) turned brass on a wood lathe, and it's generally harder than aluminum. Personally, I'd go for it for this little project.
Brass is FUNNY on the wood lathe. It ONLY ONLY wants scrapers. If you try to peel it with a skew or gouge, it'll grab the tool & suck it in. Copper's even worse about that behavior. Brass scrapes prettily, but copper's just miserable to turn.
 

Dan Mooney

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Portland, Oregon
When I have to turn metal on the lathe, this is the tool I use.

I have had it for years, and I have absoutely no idea where I picked it up. Its just always been in my toolbox.

It has a carbide tip on the end of the bar. The whole thing, handle and all is about 6 inches long.

Works beautifully, but slowly.
 

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Bill Nicklaus

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35
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Long Island, NY
Turning Solid Aluminum Rod

I need to turn down a 3" section of an 8" aluminum rod. Rod diameter is 7/8" and the 3" section needs to be trimmed to 3/4". I WAS thinking of using my wood lathe, holding the rod between centers and using a steel file and micrometer to bring rod to dimension. Would this work, be too dangerous? I appreciate any info/guidance. BN
 
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Vaughn McMillan

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Bill, I don't see why that wouldn't work. Just be sure to wear proper eye and face protection and approach it with caution.

I realize you're planning to use a file in the standard way, and that should be fine as long as you don't get too heavy-handed. However, using a ground-down and sharpened file as a cutting tool is NOT a good idea, even on wood. Files are comparatively brittle and can shatter (producing sharp, dangerous shards) in the event of a bad catch.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Terry Vaughan

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London
I've turned aluminium, brass and mild steel in my wood lathe. It's interesting and sometimes useful. Freehand turning was once the only option for metal turning after all. There is information about it on my workshop pages.

You can use a bowl gouge or scrapers for ordinary soft aluminium. Only small items, take it slow, try to avoid interrupted cuts, make sure the work is very firmly held to reduce vibration and watch out for hot, sharp chips. The ribbon of swarf coming off aluminium can cut your hand.

But if you have access to a proper metal lathe with a slide rest, results will be a lot better.

Terry
 

Jim Burr

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Aluminium is easy on a wood lathe. Even in segmenting...it's turned all the time. On a large scale, brass, copper and aluminium are both turned all the time. It does heat up quickly so take care with that.
 
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