How to drill a hole with a wood lathe

Updated July 19, 2017

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Things You'll Need

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

After developing skills in woodworking, songwriting, music recording, fine food and fine arts, Aaron Lehr returned to school to get an education degree from St. Edwards University in Texas. As assistant to a county judge, he has researched and written about many important local topics.