Thursday , February 22 2018
Home > Lathe Projects > Portable Coolant / Lube System for the Lathe or Mill

Portable Coolant / Lube System for the Lathe or Mill

by Russ Harman

Here we go fair hobby machinists, this is my first attempt at writing an article to share a rather simple idea to help my fellow brethren. Something I missed from my first Grizzly mill was the installed coolant system. Although rather messy to use it sure helped extend tool life and improve surface finish at times. I would also use a makeshift drip system on my lathe just to fling coolant on the wall if nothing else. However the parting operation was greatly enhanced.

My coolant system went away when I sold the mill. It now lives in Walla Walla at the home of a rather talented knife maker. One of his last projects was a single shot .22 rimfire pistol/knife combination. A very cool, functional and well-made (almost artsy) item. I am always envious of people with such patience and talent. Me? I call myself “Old Hack & Whack”. Measure with a micrometer, mark with chalk, cut with an axe and adjust with a sledge. That’s me! On to the project at hand.

The coolant system is not something I use all the time, so rather than buying or building one for every shop tool I made mine portable. As with any do-all system there are some tradeoffs and some pluses. On the plus side, there is only one bucket of fluid to maintain. On the negative side, my coolant mix is rather “rich” using more soluble oil than necessary for most jobs. This is because it was necessary to mix the coolant in the percentages for the most demanding job. However, I use it so little the extra mix is not really wasted and adds a little more rust protection to my project.

I use my portable coolant system on the Bridgeport, lathes, and drill presses. My horizontal saw came with its own and the Delta vertical has never required coolant.

On To The Build

I kept the materials list to a minimum by using materials I had on hand. The main purchased item was the pump itself. I got mine from Grainger, but Harbor Freight, MSC, and others advertise them. They are not hard to find. Remember, low pressure, high volume.

I will tell you what I used and you adapt to what you have or care to purchase.

  • empty 30lb kitty litter bucket – I liked how the semi rectangular shape fit the pump. (Fig 2)
  • plastic hose 1/4 and 5/8”
  • hose barbs
  • quick disconnect air fittings
  • sheet metal
  • fasteners
  • electrical fittings
  • empty corn can.
Fig 1: The Kitty Litter bucket.

All fittings, fluid and electrical are secured to two pieces of sheet metal about 3”x5”.  As you can see in the photo all fittings are laid out and tacked to one piece of 18ga metal punched with the appropriate size holes.  (Fig 3, 6) I used couplings to standardize the hole sizes and make all items removable.  Cut matching holes in the lid and bolt through to second matching sheet metal piece for a backer with a thin rubber gasket between.  Screw in appropriate fittings for electrical, fluid in/out, and the pièce de résistance, a cheap pressure gauge.  My OFF-ON indicator is necessary because the pump is so quiet you can barely hear it run.

Fig 2: Submersable Pump at home.

Assemble hoses and electrical with just enough slack to easily remove the bucket lid for filling and any down-the-road maintenance. The corn can secret! The 5/8” vinyl hose is the drain/return line so I hung a corn can under the lid so the hose would dump into the can (Fig 3). Any swarf in the fluid is caught in the can which overflows into the bucket. Pretty cleaver, huh?

Fig 3: The corn can swarf trap.

A switch can be placed in line with the cord or as I did a separate switched receptacle was mounted and used for the pump (Fig 4).  The switch is conveniently located with the FOR/REV OFF switches for the machine.   I used an illuminated selector switch so I could see from a distance if the pump was left running.  It’s really quiet, remember?  Yes, in my previous life I designed and built custom electrical control cabinets so it was kind of neat to actually use some of my old skills for myself.

Fig 4: Illuminated selector switch.

 Really affordable ¼” coil hoses are readily available so one was chosen to go from bucket to machine.

Fig 5: Flow valve and directional flow
nozzel on the radial drill.

A piece of 1 ½” square by 3” long stock was drilled and tapped to hold the quick connect, flow control valve and nozzle for machine mounting.  (Fig 5)  A hole went through for a bolt for a “T” nut to hold it in position.  A cheap ¼” gate valve was used to adjust flow.  Grainger has a flexible coolant/air delivery system with snap on nozzles for anything from squirt to flood.  The air delivery is nice when working with wood or plastic.  And for about eight bucks you can’t go wrong.

Fig 6: Action Center – The “Ins” and “Outs”
Electrical, Drain, Press Gage, Supply

Fluid collection and drain connection are totally in your department as I have no clue what your situation may demand.  Just play plumber. It all goes downhill and makes a mess if not done right.  Just collect it in a pan and drain back to bucket via the ¾” drain tube into the corn can.  No rocket science here.

 If you want to get real cleaver you can make a  sight glass from a piece of plastic tubing.   (Fig 7)

Fig 7: Sight Plastic aka Sight Glass

It is easy to fabricate as there is no pressure to contain and the sole purpose is to let you check fluid level without prying the lid off.  I used a couple blocks of 1” x 1” x 1” aluminum, (Fig 5)  two ¼” hose barbs and a couple 3/8” bolts and washers.  Drill a small hole, (3/16”) the full length of the 3/8” bolt.  Drill and tap one hole in each for the hose barbs (1/4” NPT) move to an adjacent (90°) side and drill and tap for 3/8” bolt.  The holes intersect in the middle of course.  Drill a couple holes in the side of your plastic bucket, Teflon tape the bolts, insert through washers and a rubber gasket into the block.  Connect the two barbs with a left over piece of plastic tube and you are in business.  A non-breakable sight plastic.

 I spent the money to try some of that new paint for plastic so I would not have to always see the cute little kitty label on the bucket.  It was not a paper label but something kind of bonded to the plastic.  I could not even scratch it off so I opted for the paint.  That and my pressure gauge was my only extravagant expenditure for this project.

My biggest loss seems to be from evaporation as the mixture seems to thicken with time but a quart or two of water from time to time fixes that.  This is the major reason I tried to make a sealed system.  It is close to two years old now and gets used somewhat frequently and the fluid still shows no indications of being worn out yet.  So it seems to be rather economical to run, fluid wise anyway.

 I hope someone out there finds this project useful and gives it a go. I also hope I was literate enough on my first try to get my point across.  But then I understand that that is what pictures and editors are for.

As they say “Keep on, keeping on”, and keep the “SWARF”  a flying.

Love that word!


Is there anyone out there as fascinated with those little Atlas Shapers as me?  Don’t have a clue what I would use it for as my mill is so much more practical but it’s just something about them.  Watched gigantic ones in the shipyards in Boston but never actually used one myself.  After all, anything with a “CLAPPER BOX” can’t be all bad!

– Russ About the Author



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About Uncle Russ

Retired electrical contractor. Really always wanted to be a machinist so I am self teaching and having a great time.

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  1. Great another project to add to my never ending list. Smile Thanks!

    I love my little atlas shaper. I have collected lots of info on them if you are interested.…

  2. Nice site you’ve put together. I’m going to bookmark it. Thanks for sharing the link!