Wood lathes are used to create wooden components such as toys, bowls, candlestick, and even functional furniture. These machines range in size and price, depending on whether they are designed for home use or professional activities and are an essential tool for anyone looking to add woodturning to their do-it-yourself arsenal.
What Is Woodturning
Woodturning is the process of carving a block of wood into a symmetrical object, using a lathe with a motor to spin the wood at high speed, while the cutting tools carve the desired object.
Steps for using a wood lathe
First and foremost, you must select a suitable wood lathe for your work. For small projects, you might want to consider benchtop lathes, while the larger machines are more suitable for furniture and larger projects.
What you need to know:
The distance between centers the maximum length of the stock that can be turned is referred to as bed length. The horsepowers indicate the quantity of torque made by the motor and how much pressure can be taken before overloading the machine.
The term swing is used to point the largest diameter stock that can be turned. RPMs indicate the revolutions per minute that occur during the turning process.
There are heavier machines that offer a solid and reliable platform to work on. However, they might be difficult to transport from one place to another. Heavier machines feature steel frames and cast iron beds for increased durability.
Select the proper cutting tool
The cutting tools of lathes are called chisels. They feature long and curved handles that offer a solid grip for increased control while minimizing the pressure on the turner. Some of the types of turning tools include:
- Gouges – These are made for specific cutting purposes such as making the edges smooth, curving the surface of a bowl or etc.
- Scrapers – Suitable for removing wood from flat of cylindrical shapes, the scraper is a slightly curved chisel.
- Parting tools – Thin, vee tipped tools for cutting off the woodwork.
- Spoon cutters – often used for shaping bowls as they have a spoon-shaped cutting edge
Components of a lathe
It is important to learn the most essential parts of the lathe. A basic wood lathe consists of the tailstock, headstock, a bed and tool rest. Here’s what each part serves for:
The headstock includes the motor, drive train, belts, pulleys, and a spindle. The spindle is mounted on the end of the headstock facing the tailstock.
The tailstock is the free spinning part of the lathe, where the tailstock spindle and cup center are located. It’s also the place for hand-wheel or features that secure the stock between the centers of the machine.
The tool rests resembles a mechanical arm that supports the chisel used for turning the wood piece. To adjust it, you have to slide the length of the bed at its base, with an arm that swings from parallel to perpendicular position to the bed, whereas the upper arm holds the actual rest bar.
Before starting any work, it is recommended to read the user’s manual for specific instructions with your model. It is a good idea to keep the manual handy for future references, especially if you’d like to purchase accessories.
Next, you have to choose a proper wood for the project. For example, softwoods such as lodge-pole pine, balsam fir or yellow spine are appropriate for beginners.
Look for wood with fewer knots and never turn a piece of stock with loose knots as they often separate during the process. Moreover, if you’re working with a 2X4 lumber, then it is recommended to make it in a square 2×2 shape.
For beginners, it is recommended to cut less than 2 feet (0.6 m) long. You must master your skills before switching to longer pieces that are a bit more difficult to manipulate.
When positioning the stock between the lathe centers, you must mark the center of each end of your stock. Slide it until it pushes the cup center into the tail end of your work when the tailstock is not locked. Then tighten the tailstock spindle to push the stock into the spur center.
Put the tool in a parallel position to the length of the workpiece, but far enough to allow rotation without hitting. An appropriate working distance is considered 3/4 of an inch.
Hand-turn the stock to ensure it can’t hit the tool rest. Choosing the right chisel for the operation is also essential. If you’d like to turn an irregular square into a round shape, then the roughing gouge is the one suitable for you.
Hold the tool on the tool rest, while your right arm is near the end of the handle and the left is on the metal blade behind the tool rest. For greater control, keep your elbows in against the body.
Then, turn the lathe on at the lowest speed setting. The cutting edge of the tool must be placed on the rest, then slowly begin going towards the wood piece. Move towards perpendicular to the stock. Moving too quickly will jam the tool into the wood.
Start by cutting small parts of the wood around 1/4 of an inch in length. Move the cutting edge parallel to the rotation, making a small cut along its length.
When using a roughing gouge, pitch the tool edge so the lumber is thrown at an angle and not towards you. Push the tool into the stock in turns, trying to remove equal amounts of wood with each. This would lead to the removal of angular corners, making your workpiece round or cylindrical.
Stop the lathe regularly to make check-ups on your progress. You might want to clear the debris on the bed and check for cracks. With a pair of calipers, you can determine the diameter of your wooden piece.
When you are done with the whole process, it is time to smooth the finished work by increasing the speed. When it’s finished, you can sand the work singlehandedly by turning it with caution.
Sanding occurs by turning the lathe off and swinging the tool rest away. Then choose sandpaper, turn it on and hold the paper against the wood, moving it back and forth. By doing this, you will ensure that you won’t cut a major piece at the end.
Author’s Note: Mark is a professional woodworker with over 20 years of experience in the industry.