May 27, 2021

How To Use a Lathe Machine

Lathe machines shape, sand, and cut items from wood, metal, and other materials. This is done by using the machine’s rotation to cut an object using a rotary hand tool or sand the object using a stationary sanding wheel. Here’s our take on how to use a lathe machine.

Getting started

Identify the components of a wood lathe. That is the lathe motor, head, and tailstock. Proper setup is needed. The blades have to be sharp, and there has to be correct composition. I advise the use of high-speed steel. 

The blades are onto the tool rest at 90 degrees angle. You have to shave across the areas of the stock if you want to create a cylindrical piece. Setting up the lathe is the starting point, and the lathe has to be off before you start operating the lathe. A lathe comes with two ends. 

That is the headstock that spins and a tailstock that does not move but supports the workpiece. Two measurements play a pivotal role on a lathe machine, which is the distance between the center of the headstock and the tailstock moving it into the end. 

The center height is the other measurement, and that is the swing measurement between the center of the headstock and the bed. Modulated DC motors and three speeds make up metal lathes. Advanced lathes have gearboxes that are up to 6-speed gearboxes, and they rotate from 140 to 1710 rpm. 

What you need to use a lathe

Proper setup

Choose proper tools for the project. A wrong tool-bit is dangerous to the user since it causes an accident and it damages your machine. Your tool bits have to be sharp before use for maximum performance and accuracy. For your blades, I recommend high-speed steel.

Move the tailstock via the handwheel. It has to stay above the spindle of the headstock. Place your tool-bit onto the tool rest and turn the machine on. Prepare yourself to start woodturning. Understand how each component works. 


The lathe machine gets powered by electricity from a socket. The electricity runs through the motor. The motor is the heart of the lathe. The lathe motor ranges from ¾ to 2hp. The area where the lathe motor is the headstock, and it is in any area on the headstock. That depends on the model of the lathe.

Tool Rest

Make use of the tool rest as you cannot operate holding your tools. The tool rest ensures your safety and convenience. You place your tool-bits on the rest, and that gives you room to operate your lathe effectively. Tool Rests are adjustable.


For a small bench lathe, you need a sturdy bench for mounting. Already you would have set aside the material you want to work on. 

Pro Tip: You should also check How to make a watchmaker’s lathe.

Choosing a chisel

I advise you to use the roughing gouge since it turns an irregular workpiece into a round shape. Keep practicing while you hold the tool on the tool rest. The other hand has to be on the blade and the other on the handle. Keep your elbows in and braced against your body. That gives you control over the lathe. 

Using the lathe

Lathe machines for different projects such as cutting, drilling, and boring. Select a lathe suitable for your project. You need to pay attention to the lathe’s specifications, including the bed length, motor, speed, weight, and composition. Choose the task you are starting with. 

The largest diameter stock that the lathe turns has to be known.  Set up the lathe and the cutting tool that suits the conditions of the project. Mount the workpiece into the headstock using a jaw chuck. That is a holder used on a lathe. Put the chuck guard on and select the direction of the rotation. When you turn the lathe on, rotate it on the rpm of your choice. 

Slide the carriage depending on your preference. Set the cutting tool. Bear in mind that multiple cutting tools run different operations. The material on the surface of the mounted stock has to be removed. When you finish running the lathe tool, the workpiece moves towards the shape of your choice. 


Keep the 90 degree angle for turning. When moving the tailstock into position, use the tailstock wheel. The stock has to be above the spindle of the headstock and inside the spur center. The lathe stock has to be tight. It does not have to fly back at you because that will cause injuries. 

The chosen speed has to be appropriate with the type of wood or material you are cutting. Seek guidance on the lathe guides when you do not know the blade speed to use on your wood material. Lathes come with manuals with instructions, features, and informative safety instructions. 

The amount of resistance given when you move your tool-bit into the wood shows you the right speed. Cover all directions when you are driving into the stock. I advise the use of a high-quality tool-bit. You have to square the stock before cutting and cut the wood material to the desired length. Mark the center of each wood material and choose the chisel for the operation. 

Lubricate the lathe

Before you start operating the lathe, it has to be well-lubricated. That makes the machine run effectively and maintain accuracy. The lubricants have to be at proper levels. Use the manual for guidance. 

All the parts should receive lubricant from distribution tanks. The spindle bearings, headstock gearing, and shafts have to stay lubricated. The tank keeps and supplies the lubricant. The gearbox receives the lubricant from an oil tank, and the apron gears get lubricant from the apron tank. 

Ripping a plank

Feed your piece into the blade to a certain point. Lift it and bring it back. Feed it the other way and lift it. Keep your fingers off the blade and keep the piece down to avoid kickbacks. Feed the workpiece through the lathe blade and start cutting. Follow the path that has less resistance.

Turning a bowl

Use the headstock and the rear spindle to suspend a wood piece between the two. Turn along the length of the workpiece. That is spindle turning. If that is challenging, you connect your piece of wood to the headstock with the motor. In this case, you will be turning wooden owls. Both the inside and the outside of the bowl are turned without removing the wood from the headstock. 

Screwing a piece of wood

You use a screw chuck to secure wood pieces. The screw attaches wood to a lathe at a solo point. Locate the center of the blank and a hole drilled to allow the screw inside. A small hole makes the exercise challenging. 

Attaching pieces becomes impossible, and removing the blank to the lathe. A large gap allows the screw to slip and strip out the hole. The bowl spins and does not turn. Find the right size of the hole using a drill bit. Remove the screw chuck and position its square head.

Rules of safety

  • Do not operate the lathe without protective wear.
  • Avoid full sleeve shirts and dresses when operating the lathe.
  • Remove jewelry before you start the lathe.
  • Stop the lathe before you start making adjustments.
  • Never use your hands to remove chips. Use pliers.
  • You stop the machine when you want to change spindle speeds.
  • Protective eyewear is a must when using the lathe machine.
  • Remove wrenches and chuck keys before operating the machine.
  • Handle with care your sharp tools. These include sharp cutters, centers, and drills.
  • Concentrate on the operation to avoid accidents due to lack of focus.

What to do

  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Remove chips using pliers.
  • Follow instructions on the manual.
  • Adjust the tool while the machine is off.
  • Remove the chuck wrench after adjusting the chuck.
  • Guard power transmission parts.

What to avoid

  • Do not wear gloves (unless they are protective gloves) and jewelry.
  • Do not adjust the lathe machine while it is on.
  • Do not lean on the machine.
  • Do not place your hands-on work while the lathe is still running. 
  • Do not leave the lathe running unattended.
  • Do not use gauges on a workpiece while the machine is moving.


If you’re in woodworking and looking to add a lathe to your workshop, you’ll undoubtedly want to learn how to use a lathe machine. This guide will explain the basics of safely operating a lathe machine and give you the tools you need to get started. We’ll cover topics such as safety, essential lathe tools, the parts of a lathe, and how to use a lathe to do various projects. See how a wood lathe compares to a metal lathe.

David D. Hughes
Latest posts by David D. Hughes (see all)

Leave a Reply