Adding a Lathe Crane to Your Woodturning Studio

"The Beast" -- my dual arm lathe crane
mounted on the 17" inbound bed extension.


There is a commercial running occasionally on the Telly for an office supply store where they show an office supply related problem that someone has and a big red “Easy” button. When pressed, the easy button easily solves all of your office supply needs… These days I’m looking for an easier way to do many things as well... After all, I’m not twenty anymore! One of my continuing challenges has always been getting heavy, bulky or awkwardly shaped project blanks on the lathe.

Many years ago when I first opened my studio, I just man handled heavy items on the lathe. It was hard backbreaking work and I suffered a plethora of strained muscles, but when you’re a one-man studio it comes with the territory from time to time. Back then, I was turning on a Woodfast 910V lathe, which had a 20” swing over the bedway on the inbound side of the headstock. That small size limitation reduced my heavy lifting quite a bit, as I did not turn anything on the larger outbound side of the headstock.

It was not long before I decided to upgrade to a Oneway 2436, which offered a 3hp motor and 24” over the inbound bedway and 48” over the outbound bedway with the large outbound turning attachment installed. As the size of my lathe increased, so did the weight of my project blanks (funny how that happens). When I would get an especially heavy blank, I used ramps and blocks to get it up onto the spindle.

It was hard work for sure and one of the least glamorous parts of being a woodturner. Whilst I made it work, I always dreamed of finding a better way to get heavy and awkwardly shaped items mounted. Flash forward to today and I have to admit, I’m no Spring chicken anymore and I wanted to find a cost effective lifting solution, sort of a woodturning “Easy” button if you like…

Lathe Crane: Options Abound

Since I don’t have any WWE professional wrestlers living nearby, I needed to find an easy inexpensive way to lift heavy items and get them mounted on the lathe. I talked to lots of my woodturning friends and looked at how they approached this problem in their own studios. Unfortunately, my studio only sports an 8’ ceiling height, which limited some of the options my friends were using like large overhead gantry cranes. I also have an overall space problem in my 1,000 square foot studio (who doesn’t) and I needed a solution that was ultra compact, inexpensive and lathe mountable.

Although I could have mounted a trolley rail to the ceiling, I did not care to… There is enough up there at the moment. That limited my choices considerably, but I was determined to find the right solution for my needs. Several friends were using engine hoists with manual or electric hoists. Engine hoists are a great option if you have the space, but even the folding units are just too bloody large for my available free space. I looked into having something custom made, but that turned out to be too expensive.

Lathe Crane: Problem Solved

Since I currently lack any welding equipment to fabricate something on my own, I moved on to looking for a hoist or a lathe crane that I could modify to suit my needs. Since my needs dictated a unit that I could mount to my lathe, I needed to find something that would work with the available space from the bedway to the ceiling. After a bit of searching, I found a local tool company (Harbor Freight Tools) had a manual crane hoist made for lorries (pickup trucks)… Sweet!

The lathe crane (lower right) uses a hydraulic jack to
manually raise and lower the boom extension.

It was just the right size and offered a moveable upper section so I could pick up loads from either side of the lathe. This lathe crane has a maximum load rating of 1,000lbs with the boom retracted, which is adequate for my needs. However, when the boom is fully extended, its load capacity is reduced to only 500lbs. This crane is designed to mount into the bed of a lorry, so I had to fabricate a better solution for mounting it to my lathe.

Lathe Crane: Mounting The Beast

The lathe crane is mounted on Oneway's 17" bed extension.

My Oneway 2436 lathe is equipped with a 17” inbound bed extension that would make a great mounting location for a lathe crane. Unfortunately, the mounting holes in the crane base did not line up with the open areas between my bed rails. I could have just drilled holes into the bedway and mounted it, but I did not care to do this. Instead, I opted for a more robust and larger steel plate mounting.

After a bit of Googling, I found an online steel distributor that would sell small quantities and I ordered some 1/2” thick A36 Hot Rolled Steel plate (8” x 14”) to extend the 9.5” x 7.125” x 9/16” steel base plate on the crane. I also ordered four 3” x ½” x 8” A36 Hot Rolled steel flat bars as well. Two of these flat bars are mounted under the 8” x 14” base plate to raise it up enough so the bolt heads do not touch the bedways. The remaining two flat bars are placed under the rails of the bed to lock the entire assembly onto the lathe bedway using Grade 8 hardened steel bolts, nuts and washers.

My custom-made base for mounting the crane to my lathe.

This mounting turned out to be a great solution as it did not require any welding, but I did have to drill numerous holes in the plates for the bolts. Humm… I’m glad I had a drill bit sharpener to keep my bits sharp. I gained a new respect for metalworkers drilling all of those ½” holes through ½” thick steel. Luckily, my new Tormek drill bit sharpener made quick work of resharpening the ½” drill bit.

The steel used for the lathe crane base plates is 1/2" thick.

Lathe Crane: Painting The Beast

The last thing I needed to do was paint the crane, since I did not like the crane’s original powder coat orange colour, which was beyond the pale. Luckily, my local big box store carries an appliance epoxy paint in an off-white colour called Biscuit. The colour is a bit lighter than the original Oneway colour, but it works.

When you paint over powder coat you need to rough it up a wee bit beforehand. I used 150-grit Aluminum Oxide abrasive and went over the entire crane unit, which dismantled very easily. Once the sanding was completed, I rinsed the surface with Acetone to remove any residual dust and surface oils.

The epoxy paint manufacturer did not recommend priming the surface, so I was ready to spray. Epoxy paint sprays on very easily and it lays down beautifully. Once everything was painted, I let it fully cure for one week before assembly. The only remaining challenge (I know, I’m never satisfied…) is that the crane is manually operated via a hand winch. That’s ok for some things, but I’m looking for that elusive woodturning "Easy” button, so I kept mulling over ways to improve the crane.

Lathe Crane: Going Whole Hog Bruddah

This electric hoist is capable
of lifting up to 880 pounds.

Ok, you all know me well enough by now to know that I’m not going to let the story end here… Why not mount an electric hoist to my crane? Press a button and the blank goes up, press another button and it goes down. Now that’s what I call “Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy.” I already had an electric hoist that I had bought a few years ago and never installed, so that part was easy.

I looked at replacing the manual winch with the electric hoist, but that created a new set of challenges. I would need to have a new bracket welded onto my crane arm and I did not want to spend a few days looking for a bloke who could weld my bracket.

The DOM tube for the electric hoist
mounting bracket is mounted inside the crane tube.

What I wanted was to find a way to mount my electric hoist without the need for welded supports, or giving up my manual winch. Lifting manually has its advantages at times, so I wanted to keep that accessory functional. Mulling over my idea, I thought why not just place a round pole into the centre of my existing crane body tube (through a hole in the top section) and use that for mounting the electric hoist? That would keep everything simple and no new mounting plates would be needed.

The hoist manufacturer recommended a 50mm (2”) diameter round pole and some type of hoist support arm for mounting the unit. I found a great heavy-duty support arm at a local sporting goods store that was manufactured for mounting electric hoists. It however, required a 48mm diameter round pole for the upright mounting support brackets.

Looking online again, I found another supplier that carried DOM (drawn over mandrel) high strength steel tubing. I ordered a section 56.5” long with a 3/8” thick inner wall. Since the DOM tubing was 2”OD and not 48mm, I mounted the tube between centres on the lathe and used a right angle grinder with a 36-grit flap grinding disk to reduce its diameter to 48mm in the two locations where the hoist braces would be mounted. The remaining parts of the DOM tubing were not altered.

Lathe Crane: Mounting the Electric Hoist

To install the DOM tube, I drilled a 2” diameter hole in the top plate of my cranes upper body. The DOM tube is inserted through this hole and it rests on the bottom of the 8” x 14” x ½” steel base plate. To keep the 2” pole centered inside of the larger 3” pipe on the base of the crane, I installed two 12” long sections of angle iron inside the lower pipe. These angle iron sections are tightly wedged on either side of the pole in the bottom of the crane tube, so everything remains in proper alignment. This turned out to be a very simple solution.

The mounting arm for the electric hoist works great and is just what I wanted. With this support arm, I can also rotate the electric hoist 180 degrees for easier lifting. Since the support arm for the electric hoist is inside of the manual crane body, I’m not sacrificing any more of my bedway space either, which is sweet! With this modified setup, I can use either the electric hoist (880 pound limit) or the manual winch (1,000 pound limit), depending on my specific needs.

Lathe Crane: Bottom Line

The total weight for my dual arm lathe crane with everything installed is approximately 250lbs. This raises the weight of my lathe and installed components to around 1,350lbs. Total cost for the lorry crane, electric hoist, hoist support bracket, mounting plate steel, grade 8 bolts, nuts and washers and the epoxy paint was approximately $450.00.

This dual arm setup (manual hand winch/electric hoist) gives me a lot of flexibility to mount items on the lathe that are too heavy, large, or just too awkwardly shaped to easily mount by hand. I can also slide the crane down the bedway, to allow blanks to be mounted on the large 48” diameter outbound turning side. No more back aches from lifting green timber for this bloke.

Now that’s what I call “Easy.” If you’re lifting large blanks by hand now, take a look at your options and find a lifting solution that fits your studio space and your pocketbook. You and your back will be glad you did!

Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.

Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.