How to Use a Wood Lathe Machine

A lathe is a machine that is used for turning any simple material into a useful piece with a proper geometric shape. There are different types of lathe machine out there for different materials. Today we are going to talk about the wood lathe….the techniques of using it.

For everyone’s knowledge, the wood lathe is an apparatus which takes a wood stock for the task and shapes it into a certain piece of craft. For example, a wooden bowl, wooden handles for different uses, serving tray or a rolling pin.

If you want, you can also learn the tactics for using a wood lathe. The skill can come handy if you are thinking of doing a new business, or you can make wooden things for your own use. The main thing is, if you are reading this article, we can assume that you want to learn about the techniques of using a wood lathe and don’t worry, we’re here to help.

Our main target is to describe the tactics in the easiest way possible so that everybody can learn. Below we tried to explain the techniques to use a wood lathe properly in easy words so that if you are a beginner, you don’t have to face any difficulty to understand the machine.

How to use a wood lathe Machine Beginner Guide:

1. Choose your project.

The use of the lathe mainly depends on your project. So, decide first, what you want to make. Because there are different types of lathe for different projects. If you have decided what you are going to make, it’ll be easy for you to choose your lathe type.

2. Choose the appropriate lathe.

As we mentioned before, there are different types of lathe for different projects. So, choose the one that is suitable for your project. Among all the types, basics are mentioned below-

  • Stationary lathe
  • Bench top lathe
  • Mini lathe
  • Midi lathe
  • Specialty lathe

Stationary lathe:

Stationary lathes are the heaviest and the most expensive ones. If you are not using for industrial use, I’ll advise you not to buy this. But it’s working capacity is amazing. If you are thinking of working on a project that includes making spindles for furniture or things like that which need a really smooth finishing, these lathes are a perfect choice. Again, if you are working because of a hobby, it’d be better not to use this. In addition, because of it’s heavyweight, it’s difficult to move to places.

Benchtop lathe:

Benchtop lathe is the most used lathe and also a pretty common choice for the most woodworkers. Easy to move. Sometimes comes with a set of legs. Mostly used to make small things, like toys.

Mini Lathe:

Mini lathes are perfect for turning the wood for the smallest things; like brackets, wine stops, e.t.c. You can easily work on the projects which are difficult to work on with bigger machines. It’s actually a small version of midi lathe.

Midi Lathe:

It’s a machine smaller than the bench tops and bigger than the mini lathes, to make things which are too big for the mini lathe or too small for the bench top lathe. Actually it is used for the projects which involve the sizes between the capacity of a bench top and a mini lathe. Also less expensive than the top bench lathe and takes a little less working space too.

Specialty lathe:

Specialty lathes are not actually one of a type like the ones mentioned above. A lathe for one particular purpose is addressed with the certain name. For example – Bowl turning lathes.

The basic types are discussed above. Learn the differences and choose the best one for your project.

3. Choose your beginning step.

When you are about to start, you must have to choose an operation, to begin with. For example, take an irregularly shaped piece of wood and start with shaping it into a cylindrical object, which would become a spindle.

4. Choose the correct cutting tool.

There are different types of projects, which demands different types of shapes. You can’t use just any cutting tool for shaping. The cutting tool for the following work is called chisel. There are different types of chisels-

  • Scrapers – For roughing out a shape or removing extra wood from the stuff.
  • Gouges – With particular cutting edges for smoothing the shape or giving complex and special cuts.
  • Spoon cutters – Often used for shaping bowls.
  • Parting tools – For cutting off the pieces.

5. Check your lathe properly.

An ideal lathe should have all of these parts-

  • Bed
  • Headstock
  • Tailstock
  • Tool rest

Make sure, your lathe’s all of these parts are present and working well.

6. Follow the manual.

When you purchased the lathe, an owner’s manual came with the package for sure. Grab it and follow it properly. Because-

  • When you have to buy fittings for your machine, you will know about the recommended one.
  • It will give you instructions for turning it.
  • The manual can also save you from causing any trouble for the machine and doing it wrong.
  • It will provide you with hints about the things you can make with it.

7. Don’t just choose any wood.

Select an ideal piece of wood for your work. For example, willow, popular are the best choices for curving spoon and birch, lime for bowl. If you don’t use the correct kind of wood, you won’t be able to get the perfect shape or the product won’t last long.

Not only the kind, the figure also matters. Piece of wood with almost straight grain and tight knots is the best choice. Don’t use one with a split or loose knots.

8. Cut your wood and shape it before putting under the lathe.

For this-

  • Before you start, make your woodstock square. Then you can make it in octagonal shape by cutting the edges properly if you want. By doing this, less of your wood will be wasted.
  • Longer pieces are difficult to work with. So, cut them short to an adjustable size.

9. Place the stock in the lathe.

Now it’s time for placing the stock. Take a look at the centre of each end of the stock and place it between the centre of the lathe. Make sure your stock’s both ends are perfectly positioned and locked into the cup center so that it doesn’t get replaced when you start turning.

10. Set the lathe.

For this-

  • Set the tool rest parallel to the size of the stock and maintain an ideal gap between the tool rest and the woodstock, otherwise you won’t be able to turn the stock properly.
  • Check the stock by turning it with your hand before lathe turning. Make sure rotating path is clear.
  • Take a roughing gouge for shaping the piece when you will start turning. Or take any other cutting tool suitable for your project.
  • Now turn the lathe on. Keep in mind that the speed should be the lowest.
  1. Move the cutting edge.

Start moving the cutting edge parallel to the rotation of the stock. Watch for the chips that are being cut off and make sure that the tiniest bits are being cut off. While you are moving the cutting edge, hold your cutting tool awry so that the chips, which are being chopped off, won’t hit your body.

  1. Push the tool.

Push the tool continuously into the stock and remove wood to make your stock eventually cylindrical shaped.

  1. Keep a check on your progress.

From time to time, stop your lathe, as you are a beginner. Stop and check the progress, the cutting and shaping; and if any rift has been occurred. Also clear the rubbish. Sometimes the little chips and tiny flinders block the turning.

  1. Don’t forget to smooth.

For this-

  • Speed up your lathe for a smooth finish.
  • Take the tool. Push it slowly and smooth along the stock’s length.
  • Do the whole procedure slowly, so that you get a smooth finished cut in the end.
  1. Sandpaper.

After the finishing, stop the lathe and take the tool rest away carefully.  Now take the spindle or the object you shaped out. Grab a sandpaper and start the machine again. Rub the sand paper lightly over the whole surface and get a smooth piece. But don’t rub too hard, otherwise, it will remove unnecessary wood and ruin the shape.



Above, we described the techniques as easily as possible. Hoping that you will find it helpful.