A wood lathe is a machine that is ancient in its simplest form. And yet, today can incorporate more technology than most think is possible. It’s for this reason that the skills used to operate them aren’t generally thought of as being easy to come by. However, there really isn’t that much to them.

Learning how to use a wood lathe may just be one of the most rewarding skills you ever gained. There are so many projects to create and with each one comes some slightly different techniques or tips to use. None are too difficult to master. Here we will share some of the most basic ones with you. Some are simple tips for problem-solving issues that many woodworkers come into contact with frequently.

But first, some basic info on the trade.

What is a Wood Lathe?

Wood turning outdoors on a lathe - wood lathe

The wood lathe is the first machine tool ever to be used. And it leads to the invention of all other machine tools. It’s, for this reason, it’s known as the “mother of machine tools.” Its use dates back to ancient Egypt. The lathe, in general terms, is a tool that rotates the workpiece on an axis to apply certain aspects or characteristics to it. Today they are commonly used for metal working, thermal spraying, pottery (potter’s wheel), glass working. And as we will discuss in more depth here, woodworking or woodturning.

Here’s A Video On Amazing Modern Wood Lathe Machine in Action, Fastest CNC Technology Woodworking Machines

Most Common Form

Wood lathes, in their most common form, are comprised of a headstock which, in the modern day, house spinning bearings. In the center of the bearings is a spindle or a horizontal axis. That allows for work-holding accessories such as a chuck or faceplate to be added. Most also have a horizontal metal rail, known as the tool rest. That allows for the positioning of hand-held tools. This tool rest sits in between the spinning wood piece and the operator.

These tools are braced against the rest and levered into the woodworking piece to create a shape or other dimensions. Some higher-end models may come with a specialized stand or legs while some are simply allowed to set on a workbench or table. There are extra components that may be added, such as a tailstock which sits at the opposite end of the headstock. But can be moved by sliding it closer to or farther away from the headstock. This is used to hold the other end of your wood piece in place most commonly. However, it can also be used to hold special tools in place such as a drill bit for drilling holes into the wood piece being turned.

What Are Wood Lathe Used For?

working on a wood lathe

Wood lathes are used for a number of different projects. They can be used to make bowls, plates, candlestick holders, table legs, baseball bats, gun barrels, cue sticks, woodwind musical instruments and much more.

A piece of wood is attached to the headstock and then set into motion by the operator. The woodworker can then design and shape the wood using various tools. They can hollow it out, create bevels and notches, or add different dimensions to create a unique piece of art. However, there are wood lathes that are computer operated and are set to certain specifications so it can create multiple pieces that exactly the same. These are often owned by factories or work sites that consistently sell a certain product that is required to have the same characteristics no matter who is buying them. Such as gun barrels and baseball bats. While it’s possible to create your own product of this nature without a CNC operated lathe. It has revolutionized the commercial industry of such items.

It’s All In The Wrist | Tips, Techniques, & More

An artisan carves a piece of wood using a manual wood lathe.

There are lots of different ways to use a lathe to get the response from it you want. Some methods and techniques are fairly widespread and used by most woodworkers or woodturners. However, there are those that are seldom used or require a greater skill with the wood lathe than not all practitioners have acquired. Below we have listed some techniques we think are basic and that every woodworker should know. These will come in handy for multiple scenarios and can be learned quickly and easily, with the practice of course.

1. How To Free A Stuck Faceplate

Woodturners using a rotating clamp to turn the wood - wood lathe

One of the best things about the use of a faceplate can sometimes also be the worst thing about it. They spin in the same direction they tighten. This comes in very handy when you are trying to keep your bowl blank or workpiece on the lathe. However, it can be a serious pain for taking it off. The more you turn it, the tighter it gets, making it even more difficult to get it loose. This quickly leads to frustration and all too often something becoming broken or bent because you are trying to pry it off.

Many faceplates are designed with a hole in them somewhere so you can insert a rod into it for leverage. Others may be faceted for a wrench to be attached. These are very handy, however, not all faceplates have these nice additions, or there may not be appropriate tools on hand for this. However, we have found something that continuously works. Enter, the oil filter wrench. Most people have these in their garage and would not usually think of them for this use. They are designed to grab and hold on to round things. It also offers the perfect amount of leverage for you to get the faceplate loose and off in no time.

2. How To Overcome “Chatter”

Worker processes a wooden part on an industrial wood lathe

Lathe chatter can be one of the most annoying things woodworker may encounter. A lathe is designed, so you turn or spin just about anything is round as long as fits within the dimensions that your lathe can handle. The longer and thinner your workpiece becomes, the more likely you are going to see it vibrate due to the pressure of your lathe chisel.

For Smooth and Even

These vibrations cause uneven movements that make for uneven work. The idea of woodworking in this way is to make your workpiece smooth and even. However, this “chatter” causes the surface to become much more rough and dull. Many a woodworker will sharpen their tool or chisel at this point or try a different one. Some try to apply more pressure as well. But it doesn’t help. This chatter happens when the wood is allowed to flex or move will spinning. This most often is noticed near the center of your workpiece, in between the support offered by the headstock and that same support from the tailstock. The center of your piece doesn’t have enough support and therefore is moving more than it should.

Steady Rest

This is why the best way to eliminate chatter is to apply the support and pressure it needs in the center. This can be done by purchasing what is called a steady rest. This product applies even pressure at varying increments around the circumference of your workpiece. They can be commercially found in numerous places. However, you can also be a steady rest. There are ways in which you can use your hand to support your workpiece in the area that is needs. However, this action must be taken seriously and demands focus and attention. Before you try this on your own, we suggest that you find a tutorial video or something similar to get you ready for the task and teach the basics.

3. Separating A Paper Glue Joint

turning a plate - wood lathe

No one likes screw holes in the bottom of their bowls or other projects. Nor do they like worrying about accidentally hitting screws that are attaching the bowl blank to the lathe as they are hollowing out their project. The solution is simple. Use paper joints. These provide a way to fasten the back of your bowl or project to dummy or sacrificial boards without using screws that could damage your work. However, this method poses its own problem.

Once the piece is finished or ready to be taken off of the lathe, it can be difficult to remove your bowl from the dummy board and separating the paper glue joint. A few things to keep in mind while trying this. Go slow. Be patient and work carefully and slowly around the bowl. If you go too quickly, you risk breaking something easily. The best tool to use is a wide bench chisel. However, it is important to note here that the angle of the chisel’s bevel makes all the difference. Always use it to wedge, not to pry.

4. Turning With A 4-Jaw Chuck

wood carving using a wood lathe

The addition of a four-jaw chuck to your lathe can make turning more efficient and increase the capacity of your lathe. However, it is important to get a good steady grip on the bowl or blank being used to allow for safe and speedy turning while in operation. This especially comes in handy when you are hollowing out your project. The best way to do this is to create a tenon that will be inserted into the claws on your chuck. To do this, you will need to mount your blank using a screw chuck.

You may also need to use your tailstock to stabilize the workpiece if it is large and unwieldy. Then you will need to round your blank. Doing this ensures that it will be balanced on your lathe for future woodworking. Next, you create your tenon. This should be made, so it fits appropriately into the chuck jaws you are using. Lastly, you can mount the newly created tenon into the chuck. When you do this, make sure you have bottomed out the blank on the chuck jaws instead of at the end of the tenon. This will give you added support and stability while turning for the duration of your project.

5. Sharpening Chisels And Plane Irons

tools for wood lathe

You will find as you turn you will often have to sharpen your lathe chisel and other tools several times during a single project. The sharper and more precise your tools are, the safer and easier they are to use. They will give you the results you need and want time and time again if you keep them sharp and in good shape. However, it can be nerve-wracking to do it yourself. Many woodturners shy away from the act altogether fearing they will ruin their tools.

This job doesn’t have to be difficult or taxing though. With the right system, it can be done safely and quickly with no harm done to your tools. Quality tool sharpening systems give you an excellent way to work your way through different grits from coarse to fine. This will then allow you to reshape and even hone your cutting edges. They also provide several platforms that are used to rest the tools on to get the perfect angle needed every time. These systems are a great way to take all the guesswork and worry out of sharpening your tools, making you want to do it more often than most do without them.

The Wood Lathe – Conclusion

Turning wood parts on a wood lathe

Working with a wood lathe provides you with a hobby that gives you instant gratification. You can immediately see the work of your hands coming to life right in front of you. And they can be used to create so many things. Whether you use one for work or just a hobby, there are several ways to use them depending on the project you are making. And it isn’t difficult to learn. With some practice and the use of tried-and-true techniques like the ones we have shared here, you will be well on your way to becoming an expert.

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