Lathe Safety Checklist

Written by timothy sexton
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Lathe Safety Checklist
Some woods are toxic enough that a full respirator is recommended when using your lathe on them. (Portrait image by Vaida from

The primary safety concerns related to a lathe have less to do with severed fingers than with being hit by flying pieces of wood. Another common safety issue is the potential for clothing getting entangled in the spinning workpiece. As with all power appliances, your safety precautions should include steps to make sure children cannot start the device up unless they have adult supervision.

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Electrical Safety

Before you operate a lathe for the first time, ensure that the lathe is properly grounded and meets all municipal safety requirements. Unplug the motor any time you're performing maintenance, conducting repairs or moving the lathe to another location. Equip the lathe with a magnetic starting switch if your power service is frequently interrupted.

Mounting Safety

Inspect all pieces of wood for defects before mounting. Also make sure that the work to be turned is securely mounted on the lathe before you begin working. Start the lathe at the speed that's appropriate for the kind of work you're doing. A preventive safety measure that you should always adhere to is to consistently check the security of the mounted piece during the turning phase.

Wood Safety

The biggest danger in operating a lathe is when pieces of wood fly out, possibly striking you. For this reason, you should always wear goggles at the very least. A much more effective choice is a helmet with a clear face mask that protects your entire head.

Dust and Toxicity

If you don't wear a helmet with a face mask, you should at least wear a dust mask over your nose and mouth. The spinning of the lathe is capable of creating a significant amount of dust. Some species of wood can actually be toxic, especially tropical species. If you're using your lathe with these toxic species on a regular basis, you might consider using a respirator gas mask instead of just a paper dust mask.

Unusual Sounds

You should always listen to the sound your lathe is making to get a good idea of what it sounds like when running properly. This way, you'll be able to tell when your lathe may be malfunctioning. If your lathe does start making an unfamiliar sound, check to see if you can determine the cause.


One of the biggest safety issues when using a lathe is getting entangled in the machinery. Wear short sleeves or roll up long sleeves to avoid this problem. Remove jewellery and tie back long hair. Use a small rag when applying a finish to any piece of work. A rag larger than 2 inches square can result in your fingers being pulled in; a smaller rag will simply be quickly snatched away, according to "The Lathe Book: A Complete Guide for the Wood Craftsman."

Clear Head

Many safety issues are the result of lack of concentration. Be sure to take frequent breaks, and don't operate a lathe when you are tired. As with all power tools, never operate a lathe under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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