How a Wood Lathe Works

Wood Lathe Structure

A wood lathe is a device for creating dowels, chair or table legs, and other perfectly round pieces of wood. Aside from the basic uses of turning a square cut piece of lumber into a round cylinder shape, a lathe can be used to add decoration and detail to one's work. Though they have existed in one form or other for many hundreds of years, the wood lathe has not changed in form or function all that much. It's composed of a wide table from which two structures protrude on either end. One is the head, the other is the tail. Between the two is area known as the lathe bed.

Depending on your lathe, your bed capacity will change. You will only be able to safely work wood that is as long as or shorter than the distance between the head and the tail, and as wide as the pins of the head or tail to the flat of the bed. The size of your woodwork will always be constrained by your lathe dimensions. The head of the lathe contains a large metal screw horizontal with the ground that is attached to an electric motor. The tail of the lathe contains a similar screw that will spin freely when touched. The controls should be on the side of the lathe head. Between the head and tail and resting on the side of the bed should be an adjustable horizontal metal bar, this is known as a tool rest.

Wood Lathe Use

Before the lathe can be used, the wood length one intends to turn on the lathe must be prepared. On either end devices called stock screws must be hammered into the wood at the center of its diameter. These screws will allow the wood, known as stock, to be attached to your lathe. First fit one end of the stock into the metal screw of the lathe head, fastening it down tightly. The lathe tail can be slid down the length of the bed to snug up against the other end of the wood stock, and be likewise attached. The lathe is then turned on, the electric motor spinning the wood at eye blurring speeds. When shaping the wood from squared to round you will need to use a wood turning tool called a gouger. This is essentially a large chisel. Place the tool rest alongside the spinning stock and hold the gouger firmly against the wood, making sure to travel up and down the length of the wood evenly. When the wood is rounded, one can shape it in a similar fashion using other woodturning tools until the stock and dimensions one needs. From here the lathe is turned off and the finished wood is removed.

Dangers of Wood Lathes

There is significant risk in operating a lathe. One should never wear loose clothing around a lathe as they can be caught and pulled in, causing severe injury. Also if the stock screws are not placed at the center of the wood's diameter or the wood is overly dry, it can crack and shatter when it is being worked. Another danger involves your woodturning chisels. The lathe will spin down, toward you. If you accidentally let go of your chisels they can thrown right back into your face. Alternately if you let the chisels lead too far forward or downward when holding them against the wood stock, they can catch between the stock and the tool rest, causing all sorts of damage to you, your stock, your lathe and your surroundings
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