Week 8: Wood Lathe


We will be introduced to the lathe, learn the basics of spindle turning techniques, and become familiar with turning chisels.

Turned wooden piece on lathe

The lathe can produce work unlike any other tool in the shop. Wooden bowls, table legs, lamps, tool handles — basically round objects.

The lathe dates back to ancient Egypt, it’s the original power tool. But unlike a drill or table saw, the lathe spins the work piece while the tool stays stationary.

OkaHitoshi of Naruko system Kokeshi / Kokeshi a true master at work.


Anatomy of the Lathe

Anatomy of the lathe

Anatomy of the lathe

The Bed – the base everything sits on

The Head Stock – the motorized end that spins the work piece

The Tail Stock – the adjustable supporting end

The Banjo and Tool Rest – where you place your chisels

A work piece is mounted to the headstock, the motor spins it, and chisels are used to remove material and shape the piece.


Mounting Material

How material is mounted to the lathe has a big impact on what kind of parts can be made.  Our shop has the following ways:

  • Face Plate – a flat disk that attaches to the work piece via screws
  • Drive Center or Spur – a spike to “grab” the wood
  • 4 Jaw Chuck – compresses on to the piece, similar to a drill chuck

Faceplate, drive center, and 4 jaw chuck


A Face Plate is screwed to one end of the material.  The part of the material that has screws in it is sacrificial, it can not be part of your turning.

Face plate and wooden blankAttaching face plate to wooden blank with screws

A 4 Jaw Chuck is similar to a drill chuck, it can clamp down on part of the material, but it can also expand inside of a recess turned in the material.

Wood blank attached to lathe with 4 jaw chuck

Wooden blank with tenonWooden blank with recess

4 Jaw chuck attached to tenon4 jaw chuck attached to recess

A Drive Center digs into and spins the material.  An imprint will be left in the material.

Drive center mark on wood


Spindle Turning/Between Centers

When using the drive center and the live center — the material is held between to points — this is called spindle turning.

Wood spindle mounted on lathe

Different stages of baseball bat turning



Lathe chisels

There are numerous types of chisels used for turning. We will focus on gouges, scrapers, and parting tools.  Gouges are used to rough out a piece, scrapers for finer details, and parting tools for trimming.

Turning chisels are specifically designed for the lathe and should NOT be used as typical wood working chisels, and vice versa.


Sharpening Chisels

The universal rule of chisels applies here: keep them sharp. Sharper chisels equal better results. Lathe chisels dull quickly from use, a bench grinder is usually kept close for repetitive sharpening.

We will have a hands on demo on how to sharpen chisels properly.  This is a skill that takes some time to master.


Lathe Swing

Swing refers to the maximum diameter the lathe can handle.  Our lathe has a swing of 12″.


Safety Equipment

Face shield and dust mask

Eye protection should ALWAYS be worn at all times while turning. In fact, I recommend a full face shield. Wood chips and shavings can fly all over the place. A dust mask or respirator is a good idea as well, the lathe can create a lot of dust.

Note: Motor speed is also a key to safety. When beginning a new piece always start at the slowest possible motor speed. As the piece become more round, speed can be increased.


Useful Tools

Center Finder



Inside Diameter Calipers


In Class Demo

We will go over the following in the demo:

  • Lathe Basics
  • Mounting material, spindle turning, finishing
  • Sharpening Chisels
  • Drill Jig making
  • Drilling round stock: drill flat stock before rounded, drill while on lathe using drill jig, drill after on drill press using v-block fixture.


Mid-way Survey

Please take a few minutes to fill out the mid-way survey.  I look at these and consider all of the feedback.



For Next Class

Skill Builder

Spindle Turning – Get comfortable with the basics of spindle turning before you turn your assignment.


Turning a mallet.  You will create two turned parts that will make up a mallet, a hammer head and a handle.



Related Reading/Viewing

Woodturning on Pinterest

Turning a Wooden Mallet on the Lathe

Turn Canvas Bag into Lathe Chisel Carrier

Carved by Kutarq Studio

Turning a Lamp Shade

Custom Sculpting Tools

Sharpening Woodturning Tools Properly Changes Everything 

Drilling Into a Pipe

Skill Set: Understanding the Lathe