How to drill a hole with a wood lathe

Written by aaron lehr
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How to drill a hole with a wood lathe
Use your wood lathe to drill a correctly centred hole. (drill bit image by Greg Pickens from

Using your wood lathe as a drill can produce consistent results when done correctly. You may want to use your lathe to drill a hole if your are making a pen from a kit, if you are turning a bowl, or creating another project that requires a hole directly in the centre of your work.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Centre finder
  • Awl
  • Pencil
  • Drill bit
  • Drill chuck
  • 3 or 4 jaw chuck
  • Beeswax or drill bit lubricant (optional)

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  1. 1

    Mark the centre of the wood with a pencil using a centre finder.

    How to drill a hole with a wood lathe
    Find your centre. (measuring tool image by Michalis Palis from
  2. 2

    Mark the centre with an awl or other sharp object. This will help guide the drill bit to the centre of your marking.

    How to drill a hole with a wood lathe
    Use an awl to start the hole. (old awl image by Stepanov from
  3. 3

    Place the drill bit in the drill chuck and tighten securely by inserting the chuck key into the chuck and rotating clockwise. Place the drill chuck in the tailstock of your lathe.

    How to drill a hole with a wood lathe
    Use a drill chuck to hold your drill bit. (mandrin image by thierry planche from
  4. 4

    Fasten the 3 or 4 jaw chuck to the headstock of the lathe. Place your wood in the centre of the jaw chuck and tighten the chuck using your chuck key. Test the wood for security by attempting to jiggle the wood, readjust as necessary to ensure it is firmly grasped by the chuck.

    How to drill a hole with a wood lathe
    Grab the wood with the chuck. (lathe image by Tomasz Plawski from
  5. 5

    Bring the tailstock, with the drill bit installed, to the wood, making sure that the tip of the drill bit is meeting the awl hole directly. This will ensure a centred hole. If the drill bit is not meeting the centre of the awl hole, loosen the 3 to 4 jaw chuck and readjust the wood as necessary.

    How to drill a hole with a wood lathe
    Center the drill bit. (target image by hans slegers from
  6. 6

    Adjust your lathe to the lowest possible speed setting and turn the lathe on. Slowly turn the tailstock handle to progress the drill bit into the spinning wood. Back track the drill bit out of the wood often to discharge built up sawdust. Drill no more than one or two drill-bit diameters before backing out.

    How to drill a hole with a wood lathe
    Back the drill bit out to emit sawdust. (drilling a hole studio isolated over white image by dinostock from

Tips and warnings

  • Wear eye protection and a respirator or dust mask.
  • Drill slowly to reduce the possibility of overheating and breakage.
  • Make a mark on the drill bit to measure the desired depth of the hole. Do not go past this mark when drilling.
  • Apply beeswax or drill bit lubricant while drilling to keep the bit sharp and prolong its life.
  • If you do not have a centre finder, use a tape measure to measure from all corners of the wood to the centre.
  • Unsecured wood may come loose and fly off the lathe at high speeds, injuring the operator. Tighten the chuck carefully.
  • Some wood dust, especially exotic wood dust, can be poisonous or allergenic.
  • Never wear dangling or loose jewellery while operating a lathe.

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