//Top Tips on Wood Lathing for Beginners
Man Using Wood Lathe

Top Tips on Wood Lathing for Beginners

A wood lathe is a machine used for shaping pieces of material e.g. timber by rapid rotation along its axis while pressing abrading or a cutting tool against it. Wood lathing is the act of using a wood lathe in timber shaping to attain a specific or desired shape.

For beginners, to learn simple wood lathing tips, it is firstly recommended to get accustomed to the wood lathe machine and other cutting tools. The following are important wood lathe machine parts

  • Tailstock Barrel; can be turned by a hand wheel to provide fine positional control to the work piece.

  • Spindle; mounted to the headstock with bearings, it’s what a powered motor rotates

  • Motor; it’s what powers the lathe machine, causing rotation of the spindle

  • Saddle; provides support to the tool rest

  • Lathe Bed; offers supports to the tailstock and headstock. It is important in keeping all other lathe components aligned

  • Headstock; consists of a motor, belts, pulleys, spindle and the drive train.

  • Tail Stock; located at the end of the lathe bed and contains a tailstock spindle, a hand-wheel and the cup centre. It offers support to the end of work piece

  1. Basics of wood turning

It is so inspiring to watch an experienced wood turner come up with a shaped wood form raw wood material. The secret is to know how to use the lathe safely and constant practice coupled by simple knowledge of lathe tools. The following are simple basics and tips to help improve on wood lathing skills. After learning the basics, similar wood turning techniques are used to obtain table legs and bedposts not forgetting stair rail spindles.

  • Choice of Tools; Sharp tools are usually safe. Sharpened skew chisels, gouges and scrapers cut cleaner and are much easier to work with compared to the unsharpened or blunt ones. Sharpening can be done on a bench grinder or a wet sharpener. The curve of a sharpening wheel will help maintain the concave edges of tools.

  • Wood Turning Speed; Lathe machines have variable speeds that can be regulated from about 500RPM to 4000 RPM. The rule to be adhered to is; the wider the work piece, the slower the speed

Narrower stocks of approximately 2-1/2 inches in thickness can be turned from 1500 RPM to 2000RPM. Thicker ones should be turned at half the above speed.

  • Hand Positioning; ensure your hands are kept at safer positions for tools control. If right handed, place the left hand against the tool rest and use the right hand in holding the tool. The left hand should be placed in such a way that the forefingers are under the tool resting against the tool rest side with the thumb on the tool for that steady holding. If you are left hander, observe the above but with reserved hands i.e. left hand for the right and vice versa.
  • Tools and Tool Rest; when wood lathing, the tools i.e. chisels, gouges or scrapers should always be in contact with the tool rest before the wood.

Consequently, the point of contact between the tool, the tool rest and the wood should be of limited distance. The bigger the distance, the lower the support provided by the tool

  • Use of Bevel; for safe wood turning, the bevel should always be kept behind the sharp edge of the tool that is resting on wood. This will prevent the tool from taking too much at any given time.

If using a gouge, with the tool on the tool rest, ensure the back edge of the tool is on the spinning wood to create a point of contact behind or on the bevel. With safe contact, your right hand should be tasked with sliding the tool away from the lathe machine but towards the body until the cutting edge starts cutting. For the entire cutting duration, the bevel should be in contact with the wood.

  • Cutting With the Grain; the rule is to ‘always cut with the grain’ when lathing. Cutting with the grain is always regarded as downhill cutting. It is usually recommended to cut from the edges towards the centre. uphill cutting i.e. from the centre outwards is more difficult to control at the same time keeping the tool bevel on the wood.

Wood Sculpture

  • Leading Cutters and Trailing Scrapers; Cutters refer to chisels, parting tools and gouges. When working with them, the fore hand should be kept higher to the rear hand. I.e. the hand on the tool rest should be kept higher than that on the handle. When using scrapers, the opposite of the above is observed, i.e. the forehand should be lower than the rear hand to allow the scraper’s cutting edge to be beneath the tool rest thus taking a trailing position in scraping the wood.
  • Always Practice; constant practising will lead to perfection. Every experienced wood turner was once a novice who developed his skilled through constant and continuous practise.

Focus should also be turned to following above tips and having firm grips on tools. After sometime, one begins to relax and at that time, lathing significantly becomes easy. It is only a question of continuous practise and patience

  1. Safety Measures

Wood lathing involves the use of machinery and sharp tools that can cause harm and fatality if safety precautions are not observed. By practising the following safety rules and turning them into a habit, wood turning processes can be fun.

  • Following Safety Rules and Precautions, severe injuries can be caused by failure of reading safety instructions. Therefore, like in any tool, read and follow the recommended safety rules.
  • Wearing Safety Glasses, A Face Shield and Respirators: When wood turning, be assured that debris and wood chips will fly in all directions. Therefore, for face and eyes protection, a face shield and safety glasses are of utmost importance. A face shield also protects from distraction. Respirators will protect from inhalation of dust particles that may affect the mucous membrane and long term lung irritation.
  • Wearing Proper Work Attire; it is recommended to be in a long sleeved shirt and pants to protect the body from flying debris. Loose fitting clothes might be entangled in the machine and should therefore be avoided at all costs.
  • Always Observe Use of Tool Rest; never ever should you ‘free hand’ a tool into the turning wood. A tool can get ripped off your hand while free handing. Flying tools can cause immense injuries. For proper use of lathe therefore, the tool rest should be kept close to the work and proper tightening done.
  • Consider Stock Sizes When Turning Speed; as earlier discussed, lathe speed varies from 500RPM to 4000 RPM. Regulation of speed depends on the stock size. The higher the stock size, the lower the recommended speed and vice versa. Always set the speed of lathe before turning on the lathe motor

Other Important Safety Measures Include;

  • Not using a finger to check on the roundness and smoothness of wood work while the lathe is still running
  • Cleaning the sawdust and shavings as they are potential fire hazards
  • Not leaving the lathe unattended and unplugging it from power source when not in use
  • Not wearing lose fitting clothes or jewellery
  • Protecting ears with ear muffs or plugs
  • Having an easily accessible first aid kit around
  1. Wood Turning Tools and Shapes

Basic shapes when wood turning include; Hollow, Ogee, V-Cut, Fillet, Bead, Cove and flat among others. For the above shapes to be attained, specific tools are required. These tools include; the skew chisel, parting tool, the spindle gouge and roughing gouge. Different widths of spindle gouges are used to create coves of different widths and depths.

Using a Roughing Gouge

A roughing gouge is usually the very first tool employed when wood turning. It is used in the initial stage of turning to round over raw stock into a piece that can be easily worked on by other tools. Sometimes it is used for hollowing. Basic rules should be followed so as to be free from injury and not to damage the work piece.

Before using a roughing gouge, ensure the tool is on a tool rest before engaging the wood. The tool rest should be positioned within a quarter inch of the wood and the heel of the gouge placed on the rest. At this point, the handle should be below the work piece and by raising the handle slightly, the heel will be allowed to engage the wood.

To stabilize the gouge, place your free hand under the heel with the forefingers against the tool rest base then ease the tool downwards keeping it in close contact with the work piece and the tool rest. now angle the tool approximately about 15 degrees to the direction you want the gouge to travel and move your rear hand, off hand and gouge evenly to the right taking off small amounts of wood stock. Repeat the above process until desired level of smoothness and roundness is attained.

Using Skew Chisel

A skew chisel is the most dangerous of the wood turning tools. Any slight misstep can cause injury and damage to the wood piece. Therefore great care and caution must be adhered to when dealing with this tool.

A skew chisel has two parts,

  • Toe; the long part of the cutting edge
  • Heel; the shortest part of the cutting edge.

Before using the skew chisel, it is important to learn how to use it safely. In most cases, the toe should not be in direct contact with the wood as this might cause dig INS. For proper use of the skew chisel, one should be conversant with the following;

  • Smoothing; a Skew Chisel can be used for that fine smooth finish. This is attained by the use of the central portion of the chisel. Holding the chisel handle with the right hand and the left on the rest, tilt it about 25 degrees with the heel side on the tool rest ensuring only the centre of the skew chisel edge is in contact with the spindle. To get rid of dig INS, the toe should be kept off the spindle. While maintaining the 25 degrees angle, work from right to left to smooth the spindle. (Proper care should be taken to ensure the toe does not come to contact with the spindle).
  • Tapers; making long tapers is almost the same as smoothing. It works with the heel part of the skew chisel. a parting tool is firstly used to make grooves on the spindle with the skew chisel used in obtaining the desired shape.
  • Beads and V-cuts; both are attained by using the toe of a skew chisel. With the tip eased into the wood, rolling the tool to one side creates a V-cut or bead. This being a learned skill, repetition and constant practice will eventually lead to perfection.

Using Parting a Tool

The parting tool is used to remove finished parts from a spindle. It can also be used for making grooves of specified depths. When using this tool, the front hand should guide the tool into the wood stock. This will be successful if the parting tool is kept square to spindle axis.

As you use the parting tool, it is important to keep checking the thickness of stock that remains in the groove with the help of a vernier. Just ease the parting tool forward and use the free hand to check thickness.

Keeping the parting tool sharp is also vital. Sharpening should be done for a few seconds with a bench grinder. When sharpening a proper angle should be ensured to the tool rest.

Wood lathing Skills can be developed by constant practise. Also follow the above simple tips and in a short span of time, wood turning will be a hobby, difficult to turn away from.

I'm Doug or Benny as my friends refer to me. I am a retired carpenter and I love to research, design and play around with all things in the home. I like sculpting wood but I also love anything which requires time and effort to forge into something more useful or decorative.