November 4, 2021

Is it hard to use a wood lathe? | How to Make the Most of It

I am often asked, “Is it hard to use a wood lathe?” Woodworking is one of those hobbies that can be very rewarding and time-consuming. There are quite a few different machines available for woodworking enthusiasts, each designed for a different type of work. We have previously looked at some of the top wood lathes.

Is it hard to use a wood lathe?

Using a wood lathe is easy, but it can be dangerous. The tool rest must be tight against the wood, locked firmly in place, and level with the axis of the wood. Turn the wood by hand and ensure it does not touch the tool. Avoid wearing clothing that can get caught in the turning wood.

It does not matter if you use a perfectly round wood since it can be off-balance. Always start spinning at low RPM and increase as you get used to the material and the lathe machine. Wear eyeglasses because wood chips come up and toward you as you operate the machine.

Take light cuts and always start at the wood’s largest diameter. The skew is a hard tool to use, and start with other lathe tools and work on them later. Easy wood tools come with carbide blades that you can rotate.

Lean into your work to ensure that you are safe. Set your rest as close to the part as possible without hitting. Operating the lathe when the rest is far, it becomes harder to keep a hold of the tool. Pushing too hard on the wood makes the part explode in your face, sending wood chips in every direction.

When holding the tool, put your body near the rest. Make sure you have no loose clothing. Push down on the handle with one hand on your side as you prevent it from flipping away if it gets away from you. That is why the handle is long. Use the other hand to guide the tip. Keep your hand behind the guide with the tool on the guild. Stick to this way to avoid injuries.

Once you set up, rotate the headstock a full turn by hand to make sure you have no obstructions. Set the tool post close to the workpiece, and hang on to that tool.

Turning wood is not difficult, but doing it accurately and quickly is a struggle. When turning delicate, thin, hollow forms, the chances are very low for pieces to come off in your direction. It happens if something comes off as it goes in the opposite direction. It would help if you had a way to process wood for turning and make it easy. 

You cannot just choose any gouge and approach the wood at any angle or direction, which will not work. You should know the perfect gouge and the right angle and direction so that you cut.

Stay focused so that you do not damage your workpiece. Making a perfect bowl even takes hours, and shifting your focus can destroy the bowl in seconds. 

Benefits of wood lathes

  • Working with a lathe allows you to be artistic.
  • It creates shapes while turning the wood. You are allowed to follow along with the given wood shape, or you can create your own.
  • Good surface finish.
  • It requires less energy and strength than other processes.
  • Collecting chips is easier.

How to use a wood lathe

Lathe machines for different projects such as cutting, drilling, and boring. Select a lathe suitable for your project. You must 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 and put the chuck guard on. Select the direction of the rotation. A jaw chuck is a holder used on a lathe. 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 90degree 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 resistance 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 cutting 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. The lubricants have to be at proper levels. That makes the machine run effectively and maintains accuracy. 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 lathe lubricant. The gearbox receives the lathe lubricant from an oil tank, and the apron gears get lathe 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 lathe 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, connect your piece of wood to the headstock with the motor. In this case, you will be turning wooden owls. The bowl’s inside and outside should be 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 difficult. 

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.

First things to know

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. 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 up to 6-speed gearboxes that rotate from 140 to 1710 rpm.

Things to avoid when using a wood lathe

  • Do not wear 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.

When to use a wood lathe

Lathes are for various purposes, such as shaping, drilling, sanding, knurling, turning, cutting, and deformation. Versatility makes it a necessary tool both woodworkers and metal workers cannot do without. Pick a project and choose the best lathe machine for your project, and you will not regret the results.

Is buying a wood lathe worth it?

Yes, it is worth it. What matters is all the parts are in good condition. Choose wisely as you give preference to your needs and future projects.

What can you do with a wood lathe?

  • Cutting
  • Sanding
  • Drilling
  • Facing
  • Turning
  • Deforming workpieces.

How big of a lathe do I need?

The size of the lathe is based on the length and diameter of the material to be turned over the lathe bed. A standard lathe comes with 36 inches between the centers to turn most table legs, which means a 15-inch lathe turns into a 15-inch diameter item.

How do you install a wood lathe?

Choose the proper tools for the project. Your tool bits must be sharp before use for maximum performance and accuracy. A wrong tool-bit is dangerous to the user since it causes an accident and damages your machine. 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.

David D. Hughes

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