Ball Turner

Some time back I watched a video on you tube of someone turning a ball on a small lathe, what a novel idea but never considered making one until recently. I can see some benefits other than turning balls so I began looking for some sort of print to build one. No prints that I could find so I decided to build one on the fly using elements of what the internet offered in pictures. I have a friend that has his own machining business and I get his bar ends so with free materials in hand (if it doesn’t cost anything it makes it that much better) off we go. I have to mention that I lost some pictures so some operations won’t be shown; I tried to clear them up but was unable.

I had saved the original cross slide from my S.B. which came in handy for measuring and fitting the dovetail portion of this ball turner, shown in the pic is what I started with, sorry about the pic being blurry but it is the best I could do.

Raw materials

I guess the next major purchase will be a power hacksaw, you will see why as we go, the stock is pretty good size and requires a lot of turning to get to this point. I contemplated using a ball bearing in the base but scrapped that idea and went with a metal to metal shielded base instead, just keep it well oiled.

The two main pieces of the body

The next pic I took a 4 ½ inch round, turned it to ½ inch thick then began to whittle away. Slice a piece off with a hacksaw, mill it flat, and mill one end to square the bottom with one side. Rather than using the hacksaw for the rest I decided to cut it out with the mill until I ended up with this L shaped piece for the cutter bar, this was copied from several different designs.

Beginnings of the cutter bar

Shaping cutter bar

Roughed out cutter bar

This is where I lost some pictures, this is the only one that turned out is after the ½ inch slot was milled thru the center, the side milled off so it can be drilled and tapped for set-screws to hold the cutter bar. The handle needed to be drilled and tapped at what I determined a 5 degree angle up so when turning your hand isn’t hitting the cross slide. I made a mock set-up of how I accomplished that, 2 pieces of aluminum opposite of each other to wedge the turret in the vise at an angle, it took some tinkering to find what would give me a 5 degree angle.

Slot milled, machined turret so the holes for set screws could be drilled/taped


Shims to drill hole at 5% angle for handle

How I accomplished holding the work at 5% angle

Next I had to find my centerline so the inserts could be milled at center height; I marked the cutter bar with a center in the tail stock, milled it and rechecked, marked the hole locations, drilled and tapped for screws. Next the relief for the inserts was milled on the cutter bar; I did this last so I could adjust for any misalignment from drilling/tapping the insert holes. This may not be the correct way to do things but working without dimensions and a print it sure is much easier.


Establishing center line


Inserts installed ready for contouring



Finished contour for cutter relief

Here are all the parts that make up the Ball Turner, I did drill an oil hole in the cutter bar slot so the base doesn’t have to be dissembled to lubricate. I am still experimenting with what lube to use between the mating surfaces, but so far 30 weight oil seems to work quite well.


All components

The first turning, at this point I am impressed on how it cuts, better than what I had expected.


Trial run

Last item on the agenda, seeing that rusting is a problem in most environments and storage is a problem for all the parts it really needs a case. I had just enough scrap Walnut to put this box together, a rusty piano hinge and a couple discarded latches. In the bottom the 2 rods are mandrels that were made, one for ¼-20 thread and the other 3/8-16, these were in another pic that I lost.


Fitted case

Completed project

Thanks for looking……… 


2 thoughts on “Ball Turner

  1. Wow Rick, thought I had read all your posts/projects. THis one is way cool and I gotta love your anal retentive approach to these projects. You definitly believe in doing it right the first time. Awesome tooling job..


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