How To Use A Wood Lathe 

How To Use A Wood Lathe 

The very versatile wood lathe has been used in the last couple of years to handle various woodworking projects. Although being versatile, most people especially beginners have had a hard time making use of it.

The versatility of this machine has made it a must-have item for skilled workers and amateurs alike. When it’s about creating beautiful and amazing designs, a wood lathe is your go-to machine.

As mentioned earlier, making use of this item can be a difficult task for most people, and this is why this piece will discuss how you can efficiently make use of this advanced and versatile machine.

How To Use A Wood Lathe 

Components of a Wood Lathe

Like most people, if you are new to wood lathe and how these machines work, it is best that we discuss some of the core components of these machines to help you better understand how to make use of it. The components include:

Speed and Power

Since we’ve already established that a wood lathe is a powerful machine, capable of aiding your woodworking projects, it is really of no use if you can’t control the settings. Is it?

If you’re to efficiently use a wood lathe and enjoy all of the benefits associated with its usage, you would need to know how to control the speed and power control settings.

To give you the utmost control over the speed and power, most wood lathes have been designed to allow users to control speed and power settings in the form of a pulley and electric mechanism.

The electrical and mechanical mechanism of most wood lathes has been referred to as a variable speed feature that basically affords users the opportunity to dictate their operation speed.

These machines have a speed control setting of 500 to over 3,000 RPMs and one of the reasons why this singular feature is important in wood lathes is; the size and type of the wood you’re cutting. For example, smaller sized woodblocks will require a higher RPM for precise and accurate cuts.


Ideally, many consider tool-rests to be one of the most important components of a wood lathe. The reason for this is not far fetched — they offer a higher safety and convenience level.

If you’ve been following recent woodworking news, you would know how dangerous wood lathes can be if misused. You wouldn’t want to be another statistic, would you? This is why tool-rests are an important component of this powerful turning machine.

To further bolster the usefulness of this core component, we’ll use an example. Unlike any of the core components of this turning machine, tool-rests afford users (experts and amateurs alike) the rare opportunity of placing tool bits into the rest. This helps them make efficient cuts as easily as possible.

Interestingly, most modern wood lathes contain a four-positioned tool rest, making tool swap in between work as easy as possible. This also helps protect your fingers as well.

In addition to these vital features of this component, it is equally adjustable, meaning that you can move it to a position that’s ideal for the type of wood you’re working on.


Generally, with a motor, your lathe machine is as good as useless. Powered mainly by a socket that runs through a motor. This makes it a core component of this machine.

Most of the wood lathes in the market come in a variety of sizes, each with different Horse Power. Some, depending on the brand name.

You will find the motor of most lathe machines on the right side of this turning machine which is otherwise referred to as the “headstock”. Depending on the brand and type of lathe machine you own, the motor will either be found beneath or inside the headstock. You can read more about the headstock here.


The tailstock has to allow the spindle of this turning machine to remain at a position, thus ensuring that it can rotate evenly.

Since the tailstock can be easily adjusted, woodworkers working on various projects can carry out projects of all sizes.

How To Use A Wood Lathe

While we have discussed some of the core components of a wood lathe, we must discuss how you can use one of these powerful turning machines.

How To Use A Wood Lathe 

To efficiently make use of a wood lathe, these are the steps you have to follow.

Choose An Ideal Wood Lathe

While this may seem like the simplest step you can take, it has proven to be one of the most complicated ones. The problem here lies in choosing the best machine for your project.

Since there are tons of wood lathe machines available for purchase, you must remember that what works for one woodworking project may not entirely be suitable for another project. Further, bench lathe machines over time have been identified to be ideal for all small woodwork projects.

On the other hand, larger machines are ideal for the creation of spindles used in handrails and various furniture sets. Here are some of the factors you need to take into consideration when choosing a suitable wood lathe for your projects:

  • Weight and composition — Generally, heavier lathe machines offer a more solid platform, but depending on where you are working, you may find it difficult to move around.
  • RPMs — These are basically the “revolution per minute” the machine can be turned. It is important that you remember that most, if not all of the wood lathe machines in existence today have varying speed capabilities. Machines with greater RPM are capable of speeding up your entire work while ensuring that you are able to make lines easier.
  • Horsepower — This refers to the amount of torque the motor being a core component of a lathe machine develops. This also determines how much an item or woodblock can be turned without having to overload this vital component.
  • The Swing — This is another thing to take into consideration when choosing a lathe machine for any project at all. It is basically the largest stock that is capable of being turned.

You Need To Set It Up

The wood lathe must turn wood efficiently. To get started, you need to set it up first.

First, before you start it is of utmost importance that you turn off your wood lathe before making use of it. This is to prevent all forms of accidents that may occur. Since you would be making use of various woodworking tools, you need to keep them handy.

While setting up, you must make good use of the tool-rests component of this turning machine. Position all the relevant tools you will have to make use of on the tool-rests as this makes it incredibly easier for you to swaps tools.

One of the most important reasons for setting up your tools before getting started is; wrong tool selection is capable of damaging this powerful machine. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?

When selecting a tools-bit, ensure that it is sharp as dull tools are capable of causing serious damage to the machine. To explain better, if you use a dull tools-bit, you’re at risk of having your woodblock flying off the machine, and depending on how you position it, it may eventually fall on you, thereby inflicting pain. To prevent injury, we advise that you opt for a sharp tools-bit.

In addition to the tools-bit, blades are another important tool you should have and properly use. When it comes to choosing blades, it is important that you opt for high-steel blades. Why? They are durable and last longer.

Ordinarily, blades made from carbon steel get dull after a short period of time. Many believe this happens due to the inferior material. This is not the same with high-steel blades. They are known to be super durable and capable of getting the job done efficiently.

Another core aspect of setting up is finding the correct positioning. Generally, the perfect angle to cut woodblocks from is the 90 degrees angle. As you begin to learn more skills and become familiar with various positioning methods, this may change.

Select Woodblock for the Project

Since we’ve already discussed the various components of a wood lathe, the next step to take after setting it up would be to pick the best wood for the project.

If this is your first time using a wood lathe, choosing a softwood may be your best bet. Some of the best softwood to use of this project are; lodgepole pine, southern yellow pine, and balsam fir.

The woodblocks you should opt for are those with straight grain and lights and knots. It is important that you never opt for a split wood as it may break apart while you’re turning.

Assuming you’ve selected a suitable wood stock or block for this project, you need to ensure that it is right above the headstock’s spindle. Also, endeavor to carefully check that your stock is right before you start, to prevent it from flying off.

For the tools-rest, it should be at the same height and length as stock. However, there should be ample space between the tools-bit and the woodblock. Before using the machine, always double-check the positioning of the wood lathe pieces.

Once done, it is time to turn on your lathe machine. You should tune it to the lowest setting possible. When turning, one of the things you would notice is the amount of pressure or resistance that is pushed back at you as the tools-bit moves into the woodblock. This is a normal occurrence and should never wear you out.

As you continue to drive into the woodblock with your high-steel blade, you must cover every direction.

Safety Practices When Using a Wood Lathe

Being a dangerous machine (if uses wrongly), there are tons of safety practices that you should know and also take to heart if you’re to carry out woodwork projects without suffering injuries.

While most of these practices may be basic, they are equally important, and you should adhere to them.

  • When working on a wood lathe, you must wear only tight-fitting clothes. Loose-fitting clothing is not ideal for anyone working on a wood lathe. Why? When you wear loose clothes, some of the time, they may entangle with either the tools-bit, tools, woodblock, or the machine itself. This could be quite dangerous and may also damage your machine.
  • If you’ve shaved wood before using it, it is important that you clean it up before turning the machine. These lathes have been identified to be a potential fire risk. You do not want that, do you? By routinely cleaning it, you will have peace of mind.
  • Depending on the type of project you’re working on, you must wear ear gear to prevent noise.
  • Before turning on this powerful machine, it is of utmost importance that you rotate the workpiece. Why is that? When you rotate the workpiece either with your hand or other tools, you are clearing the tools-rest, thus, preventing an accident.
  • Always endeavor to start the machine first at a low speed before increasing it further.
  • Do not wear jewelry when working with a wood lathe.
  • If you have long hair, it is best that you tie it at the back. Like your loose clothing, your hair may get entangled.


Working with a wood lathe can be quite difficult for most people and this is because of the potential risks involved. No one wants to end up a statistic. This is specifically why this piece has discussed in full how you can use a wood lathe efficiently. By following these simple directions and adhering to this advice, you will create unique pieces using the wood lathe.

In addition to this, the piece also discusses some of the best practices you should adhere to when using this turning machine.