Wood Lathe Tips

Using a Wood Lathe

Do you like to work with wood and make things? Woodworking is a great hobby or something you can take seriously if you wish. Now chances are you will want to use a wood lathe. A wood lathe really isn’t that difficult to use when you know how. This hub has some tips on using a wood lathe

Wood Lathe Tips

1. Select a lathe suitable for your project. Benchtop lathes can be ideal for turning small projects like ink pens and yo-yos, larger machines may be used for making spindles used in furniture and handrail styles.

2. Select the correct cutting tools for your objective. Lathe tools are called knives or chisels, sometimes interchangeably. They feature long, round, curved handles to afford a solid grip and sufficient leverage to enable the turner to control the cutting edge accurately with minimal fatigue. Common wood chisels simply are too short and are ill-designed for this purpose

3. Learn the components of your lathe. A basic wood lathe consists of a bed, headstock, tailstock, and tool rest.

4. Read your owner's manual before proceeding with actual lathe work for specific instructions, features and detailed safety instructions. Keep your owner's manual handy for reference if you decide to purchase accessories for your particular lathe, for maintenance instructions, and for reference to capacities and specifications for your machine.

5. Choose the lathe operation you are going to begin with. A simple task might be to turn a square or irregularly shaped piece of wood to a true cylindrical shape, often the first step to forming a spindle or other round item.

6. Select a suitable piece of wood for your project. For a beginner, using a softwood like southern yellow pine, lodgepole pine, or balsam fir may be a good idea. Look for a piece with fairly straight grain, and few, tight, knots. Never turn a split piece of stock, or one with loose knots, these may separate during turning, and become projectiles traveling at a significant speed.

7. Square the stock. For example, if you are going to begin with a piece of 2X4 lumber, rip it to a nominally square shape, such as 2X2. You can then chamfer, or bevel the square corners, effectively creating an octagonal piece, which will reduce the amount of wood that must be removed to reach your desired cylindrical shape.

8. Cut the stock to the desired length. For a beginner, starting with a relatively short length, less than 2 foot long for an intermediate, or medium sized lathe, is a good choice. Longer workpieces are difficult to true, and maintaining a uniform diameter along the length of a longer piece can take a lot of work.

9. Mark the center of each end of your stock, and position it between the lathe centers. Assuming the tailstock is not locked in position, slide this until it pushes the cup center into the tail end of your workpiece. Using the handcrank, tighten the tailstock spindle so that it pushes the stock into the spur center, mounted on the headstock spindle. Make sure the workpiece is securely held, and all clamps are tightened, otherwise, the workpiece may fly off the lathe while you are turning.

10. Position the tool rest parallel to the length of the workpiece, keeping it far enough back to allow the workpiece to rotate without hitting it, but as close as possible. A good working distance is about 3/4 of an inch. Remember, the closer the tool rest is to the turning workpiece, the more leverage and better control you will have with your knife (chisel).

11. Free spin, or hand turn the workpiece to make sure it doesn't hit the tool rest. It is a good practice to always turn a workpiece by hand before turning the lathe on, making sure it has sufficient clearance.

12. Choose the knife you will use for the turning operation. A roughing gouge is a good choice for beginning to turn an irregular or square workpiece down to a round shape. Practice holding the knife on the tool rest, using your left (again, for right handed persons) hand on the metal blade behind the tool rest, and your right near the end of the handle. Keeping your elbows in, and braced against your body will give you better control of the tool.

13. Turn the lathe on, making sure it is at the lowest speed setting. Place the cutting edge of the tool on the rest, keeping clear of the rotating workpiece, check your grip, and slowly begin easing it toward the workpiece. You want to move in toward it perpendicular to the workpiece, until the cutting edge just touches the wood. Forcing it or moving too quickly will cause the tool to jam into the wood, and it will either break off, or you will lose your grip on the tool if the lathe doesn't stall out. This is one of the most dangerous steps in beginning turning.

14. Feel the resistance of the cutting edge and watch the size of the chips being cut from the workpiece. When truing, you will want to cut small chips, less than 1/4 of an inch in length.

15. Begin moving the cutting edge parallel to the rotation of the workpiece, continuing to make a light cut along its length. When using a roughing gouge or similar tool, you can cant, or pitch the tool edge so chips are thrown at an angle from the workpiece, so you do not become covered with them while you turn. Twist the tool slightly and observe the flight path of the chips to adjust it so they fly away from you to your right or left.

16. Continue pushing the tool into the stock gradually, in passes, so that you remove a roughly equal amount of wood with each pass. This will eventually cut away the angular corners, leaving your workpiece round, and with practice, cylindrical in shape.

17. Stop the lathe frequently when you are just beginning, to check your progress, look for stress cracks in the wood, and clear debris which may begin to accumulate on the lathe bed. You may want to use a pair of calipers to check the diameter of your workpiece along its length so you finish with the desired diameter.

18. Smooth the finished round workpiece by increasing your lathe speed, and holding your cutting tool so it barely contacts the wood, then moving it slowly along the workpiece's length. The slower your tool movement, and finer, or lighter the cut, the smoother the finished cut will be.

19. Sand the workpiece when you are finished cutting if desired. You can sand the stock by hand while it is turning if you use caution. Turn the lathe off, and swing the tool rest out of the way, then select a suitable grit and type of sandpaper for this process. Turn the lathe back on, and hold the paper lightly against the wood, moving it back and forth to prevent removing too much wood from one area of the workpiece.
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