What is a WoodTurning Lathe?

Wood turning is the art of shaping a rotating piece of wood by the application of sharp tools. The machine that holds and rotates the wood is a lathe. The wood turning lathe is a simple workshop tool that can greatly expand your woodworking horizon. If you want to shape table legs, chair spindles, and bedposts or add embellishments to your furniture in the form of drawer pulls, cabinet knobs, and finials, then you need a lathe. And if you want to make bowls, plates, stool seats, tabletops, and lidded boxes, a lathe is an indispensable machine.

In spindle turning, the grain of the wood being turned runs between the centers of the lathe, that is, parallel to the axis of the lathe (see the illustration on the facing page ). You would spindle-turn table legs, porch columns, and chair rungs. In faceplate turning, however, the grain of the work runs at right angles to the axis of the lathe. You would faceplate-turn large drawer pulls and bowls.

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Most lathes are supplied with basic chucks-a set of centers and a faceplate. Some people mistakenly think the type of turning is dictated by the type of chuck used to hold the Add Media work. For example, many woodworkers associate turning between centers with spindle turning, but it’s possible to hold work between centers and yet be faceplate turning. Similarly, it’s possible to spindle-turn while having a piece screwed onto a faceplate. (The screws in this case would be into the end grain of the wood.) The important thing to remember is that the orientation of the grain, not how the work is held, dictates whether you are spindle or faceplate turning. It is imperative to understand this distinction because each type of work requires different tools and turning techniques. In fact, using spindle tools for faceplate work can be dangerous.

spindle turning vs faceplate turning

Lathes range in size from gigantic industrial machines for architectural turning to Lilliputian lathes for turning pens and dollhouse furniture. Knowing about the construction and anatomy will help you choose the right lathe and get it to work more effectively. The type of lathe you need will depend to a large extent on the kind of work (and the amount of turning) you plan to do. For example, if you occasionally want to turn a few chair legs, a light-duty lathe would be more than adequate, whereas heavy bowl turning would require a much sturdier and larger machine. However, there are certain desirable features you should look for in any lathe, so I’ve drawn attention to these throughout this section to help you make an intelligent buying decision.

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