How to Use a Wood Turning Lathe

Written by amanda dickerson
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How to Use a Wood Turning Lathe

Wood lathes make carving symmetrical woodworking projects possible. You can turn everything from a baseball bat to candlesticks to table legs with a wood turning lathe. With the smaller and less expensive wood turning lathes available, the popularity of wood carving has increased. Pen lathes are small enough to rest on a workbench, and yet large enough to work on medium-sized projects. Even novice carvers can produce precision pieces on a wood turning lathe. With practice, delicate designs and scroll work are possible.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Select the wood for your project that is the correct size and does not have any cracks or splits. Measure both ends of your spindle of wood to find the exact centre. If you are planning to carve specific designs in the wood, mark off the locations with a pencil so you have an indicator of where to place your tools as you are working later.

  2. 2

    Mount the wood between the centres of the lathe and snug it up tightly.

  3. 3

    Position the tool rest close to the wood. Ensure you have enough clearance so that the wood will not hit the rest.

  4. 4

    Turn on the lathe. Use your tools to shape the wood as desired. Begin with the gouge, which is a type of chisel with a round hollow nose that is used for making rough cuts. Once the wood is in the general shape desired, use the skew chisel for smoothing and shaping shoulders, and the spear and round nose chisels for making the finishing cuts.

  5. 5

    After the wood is cut to shape, lightly sand the wood by gently rubbing sandpaper to the top of the wood. Keep the sandpaper and your hands clear of the machinery.

  6. 6

    Turn off the lathe. Do not touch the wood until it comes to a complete stop. Remove the wood from the lathe.

Tips and warnings

  • Get instruction on how to use your lathe before attempting to use it on your own. Read the manual before use.
  • Wear safety goggles and a dust mask.
  • Never wear loose fitting clothing around a lathe. Gloves and rings can get caught in the machinery and should not be worn.

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