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Thread: Vacuum Chuck System – How I Built Mine

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    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 SawMill Creek 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.

    1 - Front Side.jpg2 - Back Side.jpg

    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.

    3 - Rotary Adapter.jpg

    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; 01-26-2009 at 4:17 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Harvey, Michigan
    Vacuum System continued…

    4 - Input Filter.jpg

    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.

    5 - T Configurations.jpg

    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.

    6 - Fuel Filter.jpg

    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.

    7 - Silencer.jpg

    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; 01-26-2009 at 4:18 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    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.

    Step 1 - Materials.jpg
    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.

    Step 2a - Rough Turn.jpg

    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.

    Step 2b - Roughed Shape.jpg

    The outside is now rounded over.

    Step 3 - Bore Hole.jpg

    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!

    Step 4 - Tap.jpg

    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; 01-26-2009 at 4:20 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Harvey, Michigan
    Making a chuck continued…

    Step 5 - Face.jpg
    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.

    Step 6a - Shoulder.jpg
    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.

    Step 6b - Dry Fit.jpg

    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.

    Step 8 - Rounded Over.jpg

    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; 01-26-2009 at 4:21 PM.

    “You never know what you got til it's gone!”
    Please don’t let that happen!
    Become a financial Contributor today!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Eureka, Mo.
    Steve that is a great how-to! The steps are explained very well and the photos add a lot of clarity for each step! This one is as good as your hollowing how-to! So, are you looking at a new profession! On-line how to"s.Great job and thank you for the excellent tutorial...Bill...

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Benton Falls, Maine
    Great presentation, Steve.

    Where the heck was this thing a few years ago when I needed it!

    PS: This thread will eventually get moved into the Articles Forum, but for now it's right here.
    Only the Blue Roads

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Roanoke Virginia
    Blog Entries
    Great info Steve, and a great job of assembling/presenting it.

    Turning comes easy to some folks .... wish I was one of them

    and only 958 miles SE of Steve Schlumpf

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Texas, ILL.
    One of the better ones Steve, Very nice, very informative, nice photos.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    University Place, Washington
    Very well done Steve. With your words and pic's, I may even attempt one. Thanks !
    Sometimes we see what we expect to see, and not what we are looking at! Scott

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Tacoma, Washington
    OK, Thats it! I've put this off for about a year and a half now. You show pictures of my lathe so I had to place the order this morning with the guys at surpluscenter for the vacuum pump. Looks like I'll be busy putting this little gem together shortly.

    Great how-to instructions along with clear pictures that show the details.

    One note on teflon tape, keep it back off of the first thread so it can't get into the air path after assembly.

  11. #11
    Wow! Yet another tutorial! Really nice description. I'll repeat what I said in the thread about HFs.... I'll store this for future use!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Goodland, Kansas
    Thanks Steve for the information.

    Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

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

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Douglasville, GA
    Thanks, Steve, another turning mystery unraveled. Thanks for the detailed explaination.

    Now, have you worked out the details of supplying these to the Creeker's who prefer to have an original made by the inventor? I'll take unit number # 2, as you obviously have claimed unit # 1.

    Paypal or Credit Card?

    Congrats on a great tutorial, Thanks, Tom
    Chapel Hills Turning Studio
    Douglasville, GA

    Hoosier by birth, Georgian by choice!

    Have blanks, will trade.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Midlands, SC- SW VA
    Steve you are a wonder!!! Not only is the ARTWORK you create fantastic, but your generosity with your time is truly great. I really appreciate this tutorial.
    Thanks Again, Hilel.
    No one has the right to demand aid, but everyone has a moral obligation to provide it-William Godwin

  15. #15

    great adapter

    Toms adapter is a great idea, Just remember if you have a power matic lath there can be some variation in the ID bore in the spindle. so measure carefully. Tom takes great steps to insure a propper fit.


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