How to Identify an Old Lathe Chuck

Written by rochelle leggett
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How to Identify an Old Lathe Chuck
Chucks are often used to hold materials securely on a lathe. (lathe image by Tomasz Plawski from

A chuck is an extremely useful tool which is often used to hold a piece of material, typically wood or metal, to a lathe, which allows a person to quickly make an object that is very symmetrical. Chucks are also used with drills to hold a drill bit in place. However, many varieties of chucks are used for many different types of materials and for making different objects. Looking at a few simple aspects of a chuck can help you to determine what kind of a chuck it most likely is.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • T-handle wrench
  • Ruler or measuring tape

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    Check the jaws. The jaws are the parts on the front of the chuck that move to hold an object in place; they are generally triangular in shape. You need to determine if they are individually adjustable or if they move all together. Look for adjustment holes around the outside of the chuck and test using a t-handle wrench. If the jaws move together, then you have a scroll chuck. If they are independently adjustable, you have an independent chuck. If the jaws move together but can be adjusted individually, then you have a combination chuck. If the jaws are drawn in and out by a hydraulic system, then it is a drawtube actuated chuck or a front mounted self-contained chuck.

  2. 2

    Count the number of jaws. Chucks are identified by the number of jaws that they have; as an example, a four-jaw chuck or a six-jaw chuck. Chucks have two, three, four, or six jaws, and certain types of chucks usually have a certain number of jaws. Independent-jaw chucks usually have four jaws, combination chucks usually have two or four, and scroll chucks usually have three or six.

  3. 3

    Measure the diameter of the chuck. Chucks come in many different sizes so that they can be used for different projects, and the size of a chuck will determine what size lathe it is designed for.

  1. 1

    Look at your chuck. Very early chucks are often made partially of wood and were used for woodturning.

  2. 2

    Look for a screw. Some early chucks used a screw to hold wood in place. A spindle chuck is long and thin, allowing a belt to turn it. A cup chuck is, as the name suggests, shaped like a cup and screws onto a lathe. It holds wood in place primarily by using friction.

  3. 3

    Look for teeth around the edge of the chuck. This is characteristic of spring chucks, which adjust by forcing a metal ring over the teeth of the chuck. This type is still used sometimes today.

Tips and warnings

  • These are tips to identify very common chucks and may not be useful for unusual or industrial chucks.

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