Using Lathe for pickup winder

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James Gates
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Joined: Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:52 pm

Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by James Gates »

I am struck with fear again.
I just bought a Harbor Freight variable speed mini lathe to use for making guitar pickups.
I don't know how to make pickups and am looking for suggestions for converting the lathe.
I do have two copies of Jason Lollars book ver 2 and 3 both signed by Jason.

I obviously have to make a jig to hold the bobbin on the faceplate and wonder if the spindle can be use to prevent the bobbin from spinning off.
Anyway, lacking experience am looking to you for advice, mods and experience.

Doing anything new is fearful,

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Charlie Schultz
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Re: Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by Charlie Schultz »

Hi James and welcome. I know this was discussed on 2-3 months ago, but that discussion is gone now. You might try posting the question over there again. I do not recall all of it, but some of the concerns were getting the lathe to go slow enough and preventing the wire from breaking at start up. I would think the tailstock could be used to keep the bobbin from falling off. Alternatively, get a drill chuck for the headstock and chuck in a bolt and use nuts to keep the bobbin in place.

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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by Peter Wilcox »

James - Doesn't your lathe have a chuck? My Harbor Freight mini-lathe came with one.

I just ran a bolt through a piece of wood, and taped the pickup bobbin to it. I made a counter out of a calculator. I only ran it at about 150 RPM, so it took an about a couple hours to wind (9000 wraps) with frequent rest stops. I was afraid if I went much faster I'd break the wire, then have to repair that or start over.
Maybe I can't fix it, but I can fix it so no one can fix it

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Mark Swanson
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Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan USA

Re: Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by Mark Swanson »

You can use double-stick tape to attach the bobbins for winding, works just fine.
It's a balancing act between the speed of winding and the tension on the wire. Too little tension will produce a loose coil, and too much speed with not enough tension will cause the wind to be sloppy and all over the place....too much tension will cause the bobbin to warp and compress, a bad thing! It's all something that you will need to get the feel of doing. So don't expect to get a perfect pickup on your first wind. Don't over-analyze it, just get some wire and attaach the bobbin with the tape and start winding. Check often to inspect the winds and see how you're doing, and if the wind is not right then stop and start over, don't waste the wire by continuing on.
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Steve Graves
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Joined: Wed Nov 28, 2012 5:05 pm

Re: Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by Steve Graves »

Mark is right don't over think this. Hardly anyone does it the same. I've velcroed my bobbins and now I trap them with the headstock and use a small piece of double sided tape for safety. I do not put my spool on a spindle. I set it on the floor in front of me and between my legs. Just wind a bundle of pickups and have fun.

Al Dodson
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Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 9:51 am

Re: Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by Al Dodson »

" I made a counter out of a calculator."

That is brilliant. I think I understand but could you please elaborate. Thanks

Bob Hammond
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Re: Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by Bob Hammond »


In the picture that Peter posted, the calculator is embedded in the block of wood that is clamped on the bed ways. I'd guess that the button on the block is a dowel that transmits a push on to the 'equal' (or M+ could be used) key of the calculator. So when the lathe turns the coil mounting block, the screwhead that is visible on the end pushes down on the button. The screw is adjusted in or out as needed to set the travel depth of the dowel-button to the keypad. In use, Peter enters '1' then '+' on the calculator, and then starts the lathe, and then every revolution of the lathe spindle increments the count on the calculator by one. It might be necessary to install a return spring on the dowel-button to prevent excessive wear on the calculator key.

David King
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Re: Using Lathe for pickup winder

Post by David King »

I don't think this wood lathe the OP has bought comes with a three jaw chuck unless it was an add-on.
It would be helpful if the OP would link to the item in question or jot down it's specifics so we can give useful advice.
Calculator "counter"s are for the birds.
Get yourself a "preset" counter aka totalizer on ebay. The preset allows you to program in the number of turns and have the lathe stop when that number of turns has been reached.
Look for an affordable Sestos 12V-24V counter (ships from Hong Kong). You can also look for used USA made counters from Red Lion, Omron, Durant and many other brands.
There are even cheaper kit counters available starting at around $8 which will put the calculator counter to shame but they will only have 4 digits so 9999 turns max.

Get an optical sensor to drive the counter. I'm using a reflective sensor but there are also transmissive types like you have at the bottom of your garage door opening.

Fairchild's QRD 1114 is a reasonable and easy to implement sensor.
(You can even get a free sample if you know how to use the sample request pages.)

I would turn a birch ply backplate right on the lathe staring with a threaded collar that fits the spindle threads or use the backplate that came with the lathe. You can attach your reflective stripe to the back of the back plate for the counter sensor.

Your counter will supply the power for the sensor but you will have to add a resistor to drop the 12V DC down to the 1.65V @ 20mA that the infrared LED uses. There are LED supply voltage drop calculators all over the web like this one

Regarding winding speeds, typical is 1000-1500RPM. You can go faster with AWG43 than with 42 and on shorter bobbins because the centripetal forces is less.
You will want to make a tensioner if you don't want to tension by hand (by hand takes some practice and will result in a quite a bit of wasted wire until you get a feel for it.)
My tensioner is dremel 2 felt polishing discs with a washer, a spring and a screw going through the whole stack. You'll want your tensioner as far from the bobbin you are winding as practicable. At least a foot away. You'll want your wire path to have as few turns as possible. The wire must feed off the end of the spool with the spool upright and stationary. Never try to unspool with the spool spinning.

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