Wood Lathe Safety: Keep Your Lathe In Good Condition

Power tools such as table saws and wood lathes are inherently dangerous although the wood lathe is likely one the safest of the larger power tools in the woodworking shop. Yet there are some considerations in the maintenance of a wood lathe that keep safety standards high.
Maintenance for the wood lathe may be channeled into three categories, long term, regular and steady. For the amateur wood turner this can for all intents and purposes be thought of as yearly, monthly, and by the session. With a little thought and preparation, this need not be a tedious set of procedures but simply a part of the wood turning experience. Too often we ignore the bigger parts of a lathe until they break. This causes frustration an interruption in work flow that may last for weeks waiting for parts.
Yearly maintenance looks at the overall health of the lathe. Wood lathes rotate wood between head stocks and tail stocks while allowing the turner to move tools back and forth to remove wood. This means there are bearings for things that rotate, motors that drive the rotations, belts to move power from one location to another, and metal sliding on metal to allow tools to move.
The simplest of these to check is the sliding of tools rests and tailstocks over the ways of a lathe to manoeuvre tools and hold wood. If there is hesitation in the movement of either it is usually due to rust on the ways or finishes that have hardened on the metal. Remove the tailstock and the tool rest banjo from the lathe and check for either on the bottom of each. Clean rust and finish from the ways, banjo and tailstock with fine sandpaper, steel wool or cleaner and apply wax to the ways for easier movement and rust prevention before replacing the tailstock and banjo.
Check belts for wear and replace them from spare belts that you have on hand. Belts tend to be the inexpensive side of lathe repair and it is good to have a spare one in the shop. Likewise, bearing will likely announce incipient wear with noise or movement and should be ordered before demanding replacement. Each lathe is slightly different for bearing replacement so follow your manufacturers advice.
At least monthly blow any dust out of the motor and inspect the wiring for good repair. Mounting bolts can loosen with vibration from turning wood and should be checked for tightness. This is a good time to look at belts and bearings for wear and to order new ones for the annual checkup.
Before every turning session make sure that the lathe is not crowded with other tools and there is plenty of room to move around it while turning. Be sure all tools are sharp and the sharpening station is ready to go with a cleaned wheel. Just before turning the lathe on check one more time to be certain the moving wood will clear the tool rest and all parts of the lathe are tightened down.
Very quickly this all becomes second nature and adds to the enjoyment of turning wood. The satisfaction of knowing the tools are in order will only add to the satisfaction and pleasure of the wood turning experience.
Darrell Felt mate is a juries wood turner whose web site, Around the Woods, contains detailed information about wood turning for the novice or experienced turner as well as a collection of turnings for your viewing pleasure. You too can learn to turn wood, here is the place to start. Wondering what it looks like? There are many free videos on the site dealing with everything from sharpening to making a bowl.

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