A homemade long tool rest can be a useful accessory. It’s a great help if the tool rest is longer than the spindle you are turning by at least 25 mm at each end. This extra length gives tool access to the ends of the spindle, and it’s much easier to turn sweeping curves accurately if you don’t have to keep moving a short tool rest. Lathes don’t usually come with a very long tool rest as standard. One can often be bought as an accessory, at substantial cost. Over a certain length, a long rest needs two stems to keep it rigid and stop chatter.
It’s quite easy to put together a homemade long tool rest and a second holder to support it using hardwood. A wooden tool rest is pleasant to use, and was standard in past times. You will need to remove the sharp side edges on skew chisels to protect the wood. But that’s necessary for steel rests too. If the rest gets a lot of use, you may have to plane or sand the top smooth from time to time.
Make the two stems of round steel bar. One needs to fit your existing tool rest holder. The other can be any size because you will drill the holder to fit. The length should bring the top of the rest to the proper height when it is fitted into the wooden holder.
I made mine by drilling a hole in one end of each bar, using a tapping drill that matched a bit of threaded rod. I tapped the thread and screwed in a short bit of the rod. It was tight in the hole so it would stay secure. Inserting the rod about 25 mm deep and projecting about the same distance seemed about right. If you don’t have a tap, you could drill a larger hole and use adhesive to keep the threaded rod in place.
More simply, the steel rod could just be glued into a hole in the wooden rest.
My homemade long tool rest began life as an oak table leg, about 600 mm long, 40 mm thick and 50 mm deep. I find it quite strong enough. I planed the front to make a slope. Drill two tapping size blind holes in the wood for the threaded rod, about a quarter of the way along from each end. Screw in the stems.
You could tap the holes, but most hardwoods will not make a good thread using an engineer’s tap. If you cut the end of the threaded rod cleanly, the rod should make its own thread in the wood. This is the method I used. You could drill the holes larger and use epoxy instead, or glue the stems into the wood without using threaded rod at all. The main thing is to make sure the stems are parallel to each other and securely held in the wood.
The holder (banjo)
Use hardwood, say 60 mm thick, and drill a blind hole, say 45 mm deep, at one end for the second stem. Wood will probably not be strong enough to take a locking screw that will hold the stem firmly, so that limits height adjustment. You can raise the rest a little by putting a spacer in the hole under the stem.
Saw a slot in the holder that will fit over a clamping screw to hold it on the lathe bed.
A steel version of this holder could have a locking screw to allow easier height adjustment.
Now make a clamping block that will fit your lathe bed. Its design will vary because all lathes are different. Mine is made of thick MDF and fits between the ways. It has a projecting lip underneath. A bolt passes through the block and is long enough to reach up through the wooden holder. A washer and nut clamps the holder in place on the bed.