Thursday , February 22 2018
Home > Lathe Projects > Video: How to make a Tailstock Dial Indicator Stop for your Lathe

Video: How to make a Tailstock Dial Indicator Stop for your Lathe

My lathe’s tailstock has a lot of backlash (.006), a short throw (1.500), and sixty graduations (a number that has never made any sense to me). I’ve always found it difficult to drill to accurate depths.

For example, 0.875 divided by .060 equals how many rotations of the tailstock handle? It’s ridiculous to me that I need to do math (even simple math) just to drill a hole to a depth of 0.875. If my tailstock had 100 graduations things would be a lot easier … but it doesn’t. It has 60.

60? Really?

Now, about the backlash. I know what you’re thinking. Who cares about backlash in a tailstock? Apparently I do. My psychiatrist and I are working on that …

And yes I realize that 99.9% of the time the depth of a hole isn’t a critical dimension – but I’d still wanted more control and accuracy out of my tailstock.

At least, that was the case. But no longer! With the exception of the short throw all the other issues with my tailstock were resolved with one simple stop that you can easily make in an evening.

This project is very simple. The only thing that I can see tripping someone up is remembering to create thread relief for the cap screw. When you drill and tap for the 1/4-20 cap screw, you’ll want to also drill a .250 thread relief  to the halfway point (where the slitting saw will eventually cut) so that the dial stop is only threaded on one of the two sides. If you thread both sides the two sides won’t draw together when you tighten the cap screw.

I didn’t draw up plans because of the simplicity of the project and because each person will need to scale the project up or down to fit the size of their lathe. I did, however, make a build video. Let me know what you think!

If you make your own please post pictures on the forum.



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About Tyler

Tyler is a hobby machinist and 3D printing aficionado. He teaches computer programming and web development at Highline College near Seattle. Tyler founded Projects In Metal in 2008 because he was frustrated by the lack of free plans available for hobby machinists.

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  1. Very nice, Tyler… Glad you were able to placate Sasquach with the redneck 'rita mixer on your camping trip :) Welcome back. This is a nice project. When I drilled out the body of the spring center, I kept having to periodically stop, back out the drill bit, slide the tailstock back for clearance, and measure the depth of the hole. The Mammoth hasn't figured out yet jsut how to understand and use the gradiations on the tailstock handwheel yet… eventually… :) hummm… soundsl ike a rainy-day project… :)  Ever smell a wet Mammoth??? :):):) A decent cigar helps with odor -control… :):):)

          – Don     'Even under American occupation, every Iraqi family can keep a full-auto rifle and ammo for protection… our Government doesn't trust our Citizens.'

  2. Slick little project.  I like making tools, especially one evening tools.  Good idea using the tool holder to hold the material.


  3. … The Mammoth hasn't figured out yet jsut how to understand and use the gradiations on the tailstock handwheel yet… 

    Wooly, I totally understand. If your tailstock has 50 or 100 graduations it makes it easier because you can start with your handle in a known position (like down). Then if you need to go .500 deep and you're tailstock has 50 graduations you know that you only need to make 10 turns of the handle. 

    I kept trying to use this strategy with my tailstock but it has 60 graduations and those extra 10 graduations kept messing me up. Hence the project. 

    @Dan, thanks! I was worried that a bunch of ol'timers were going to jump down my throat for being unconventional, but I was trying to show how a new lathe owner could get buy w/o a milling attachment or end mill holders. Anyway, I'm glad you appreciated the ingenuity!

    Where to find the mag base: Another member sent me an email asking where to find the mag base for the cheap dial indicator from Harbor Freight. HF doesn't carry the mag base, only the indicator. A local tool supply wholesaler sells the only one I've ever found that fits the cheap indicator from HF. I'm going to see if I can get a discount on some and sell them on the site. I'd need to know how much interest there is in them before I commit to buying them in quantity. So if you're interested in a mag base let me know. I should be able to sell them for around $15, but I need to double check on the price from the supplier first.

  4. Tyler, here is my 'stupid question' of the day… or at least the next 10 minutes .. :):) I understand and see the utility of the dial indicator project.. but doesn't the magnet base affect the innards of the dial indicator? Inquiring Mammoths want to know :)

         – Don     'Since the right brain controls the left side of the body, only us left-handed people are in our right minds!'  NOTE: SWMBO disagrees 110%!! :)

  5. I might be older, but I am not a professional machinist and appreciate people with ingenuity.  To address the mag mount:  Magnet will not effect “innards” of the dial indicator.  If you have a flat-top tail stock like yours, you could use double-stick foam tape.  If you have an irregular shape, like my Atlas, then you could just turn the stop to the front or rear and use a standard mag base on the cross slide or the ways. 

  6.      T hanks Clouseau, or should I say, “Inspector Clouseau?”  Fortunately no 'Pink Panthers' here to cause difficulties for any of us… ::):):)

         Like you, I found that the top of the tailstock has a bit of a curvature to it… on the BGT it is probably cut from the hatch of a Chinese tank :), and I was looking at the side where it is flat, thinking about mounting the indicator gauge on the side as you suggested. For the BGT, I would use Tyler's basic design for the 'stop' , but rotate in forward 90 degrees, rounding off the corners appropriately :)

         Actually don't know if I understood Tyler correctly or not… think I'd size the hole in the 'stop' to fit the cylindrical part of the Morse taper that the drill chuck is mounted on rather than the tailstock quill… but then I may have it all upside down and inside-out… wouldn't be the first time either… :)

         I'm even toying with the thought of making a mounting plate with a 90 degree post attached to it, to attach the gauge to, and drilling/tapping holes in the side of the tailstock to mount it… loosen a thumbscrew & remove the gauge when not needed… I realize that the holes/drilling/tapping/screws couldn't interfer with the free movement of the tailstock quill. More work than a magnet? Yes, but the permenance/stability appeal to us 'belt & suspenders' types.

         Thoughts, caveats???

             – Don     'Making easy things difficult since 1947!'

  7. Clouseau is correct, the mag base has a rack and pinion design with a spring – so no issues with the magnet. 

    Don, if your quill retracts completely into the tailstock before it pushes out an inserted piece of morse tooling than having the stop secured to the quill would be a bad idea (because it would interfere with your ability to change tooling). If it doesn't than there is no reason not to mount it on the quill. My quill still has almost an inch sticking out when I've fully retracted it, so there was plenty of room to secure the stop to the quill itself.

    Your idea of mounting the dial indicator directly to the tailstock is also completely fine, unless you're worried about altering your tailstock. 

    Also, did you see the versatile vise I posted a few weeks back? We talked about it a while ago when you were thinking about making a vise for your mill (or was it for your drill press?). Anyway, it's posted now.

  8. Thanks Ty and Clouseau re the magnet not interferring with the operation of the dial indicator… should have thought more about it first… after all, we use a strong magnet base for setting up dial indicators anyway… sigh… fingers type faster than the brain synapses fire!!! :):) or maybe the Mammoth just isn't hitting on all cylinders – but at least I don't have to worry about it now… :)

        Tyler, re the milling vise… eventually I'll have to build one to accomodate large pieces But for now, there IS a smallish one on the BGT!! :)  hiding on the opposite  end of the cross-slide from the tool post. Haven't used it yet, but while small, in the best Chinese manner [overbuilt, heavy, with un-radiused corners to skin your knuckles on] it does look like it will hold I-beams or engine blocks with ease… :):)

         – Don   finding the right way to do things after exploring most of the wrong ones

  9. Tyler said:

    …Also, did you see the versatile vise I posted a few weeks back? We talked about it a while ago when you were thinking about making a vise for your mill (or was it for your drill press?). Anyway, it's posted now.

    I'm going to have to try making that.  It'd be that many more things I could do without dragging out the clamping kit.   Been working on a mounting adapter plate for my BF-20 type mill to attach my Sherline rotary table.  Got some 6″ by 8″ flat plate from the metal scrap bin at the local metal outlet but I'm still having a hard time figureing out how I am going to face mill the top and bottom using the clamping hardware I have on hand.