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Wood Turning Lathes: A General Introduction

Wood lathes have not changed great deal through the years but it is good to learn the names of the parts and how they work.

All wood lathes are designed to take a piece of wood and turn it. Turners shape the circling wood. The general parts of a lathe are shown here. Their individual uses will be considered as we go on.

wood lathe parts

taken from A Course in Wood Turning, Milton and Wohlers, 1919
The full text is found here.

   When you think of buying a lathe, there are several considerations involved. First and foremost is the use to which you plan to put the machine. If you build flat work such as tables and chairs, you may wish something to turn the occasional chair spindle or table leg. On the other hand you may have seen some wooden pens around and think that this would be the majority of your turning. Still others may wish to turn mainly bowls and vases.

   How much space do you have to give over to the lathe? It has to go somewhere and you will likely want to leave it set up and ready to go. Mini lathes take up less space than a full size and most would consider a mini lathe to be a bench top tool while few would think of my 180 pound Craftsman as portable.

   While each variation in the result of the turning bears consideration, there is also the idea of where the turning is proposed to end. Is the aim one of a hobbyist who will make a few gifts for others and plans on a couple of hours turning now and then, or do you propose to be a professional turner spending eight to ten hours a day at the machine? The lathe suitable for the hobby turner may not stand up to the rigours of professional use.

   Finally there is the budget situation. Lathes can cost from about a hundred dollars to several thousand. Plus there are the necessary extras to purchase; tools, a grinder set up for lathe tools, and a face shield. Some turners consider a 4-jaw chuck a necessity. If you do not have a band saw or a chain saw, again some would consider these necessary.

   While the number of lathes on the market increases every year, let us take a look at my lathes to give an idea of what is available.