Definitive Guide to Wood Lathes: How to Use One For Real

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  Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, 

 wood lathes are a must for woodworking

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There is no doubt that some accessories or machines are essential, especially at the time of designing our favorite pieces. Wood lathe is one of the most popular machines used today to help shape the wood into desired shapes, such as spindle, bowl,  designing other decorative items, deform, and so on. 

Woodturning is an amazing hobby that is like a mystery for many woodcutters. The wood lathe is an important and versatile tool that is used in manufacturing industries to perform a variety of woodworks. Sometimes, working with wood is difficult and is confusing, as woodcutting or turning shapes needs to be perfect with smooth corners. You need to have a good lathe and some other parting tools to learn the method of woodturning. 

Lathes are designed in a way that they can grasp the pieces of wood. In milling machines, we expose an immobilized piece of work to a rotating cutting wool, while on lathes, we expose a rotating cutting tool to an immobilized cutting tool. All the brands of lathes work on this same operation. Firstly, the piece of wood is placed on the lathe. In the next step, it starts to revolve against an immoveable cutting tool. Lathes are of two types of ‘wood’ or metal.

 Let’s discuss. 

FAQsEssential InfoGuidelines
What is a Wood Lathe machine?Important specs and featuresHow to use a Wood lathe ( for a Beginner) 
What does a lathe do? SizeProject ideas
How does a wood lathe work?SpeedMaintenance for your wood lathe
WeightSafety guidelines
Other specifications
How much is a wood lathe worth?
What are some top wood lathe brands?
What should I look for in a wood lathe?

What is a Wood Lathe machine?

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It is designed specifically to perform the woodturning applications. A lathe is used for cutting the wood or deform wooden workpieces into several desired shapes. They are not appropriate for harder workpieces including the pieces made from metals. Wood lathes are designed simply and are small in size as compared to the metal lathes. A basic pulley system is used to rotate the workpieces in lathes. The power of wooden lathes is not as much as compared to the metal lathes, but wooden lathes are considered as highly effective at handling wooden workpieces. 

Due to its ancient history, it is one of the most conventional and popular types of lathe. The design of the wood lathes is very simple that has a versatile horizontal metal rail. It revolves around its centerline to carry out all of its functions. You place your wooden piece between the two sides of the rail, it revolves around and gives you a chance to control it according to your wish. 

You can get flawless and more smooth results by having a good authority on your piece of work. The wooden lathe consists of four parts that include a bed, Headstock, tailstock, and the tool rest. Most of the work performed on the lathes is manual, you just need to mold your workpiece according to your wish. 

What does a lathe do? 

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A trained operator of lathes can turn the wooden parts into beautiful and flawless finished products without the involvement of human, once the operation is initiated. Lathes can be used in a variety of projects of woodturning applications. This is the reason it has earned huge popularity in professional workshops. 

Turning of homemade bowls and wooden pens are the most common use of a wooden lathe. The majority of the wooden work hobbyists preferred to design their things by using a lathe that is considered as more satisfying. 

Similarly, some other projects are most commonly undertaken by the woodworkers with the help of lathes, such as replacing the furniture with the legs of tables or chairs. Replacement projects with the help of lathes work well with older furniture, in case when you just need to replace some furniture legs by considering your budget. Besides replacing, lathes are used in designing different shapes such as for making plates and bowls.  

This type of lathe is used to design shapes according to the standard patterns. There is another type of lathe that is used to design the shape of foundries. They cut the accurately straight lines for different projects. 

In short, lathes are used for making replacement parts. Craftsmen are using lathes to create unique pieces of epoxy, wood, and nearly every other material. 

On an industrial scale, lathes are used to produce several different parts such as driveshafts on cars. Turning a giant metal or disc is employed by the large scale lathes while cutting of metal chess pieces is done by the small scale machines. 

On an industrial scale, lathes are larger, but most of them are somewhat smaller in size. Industrial lathes are fully automated right now unlike the lathes of the past, which means that the heads of lathes can hold more than one bits and can perform numerous processes. Such as, grinding of materials, refining or smoothing the wooden parts, and polishing etc. 

How does a wood lathe work?

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Wood lathes are used to manufacture beautiful decorative products of wood. These machines range from hobby models to professional industrial sized. The role of the lathe machine is to remove materials from the wood to mold it in a desired shape and size. Let’s start by setting up your machine and the piece of wood you are working on. 

First of all, completely switch off the wood lathe to avoid any accident. Organize and set up the tools and use the positional holding of the tool rest. Setting up your tools is important as the wrong selection can lead to serious damage to your wood piece. Ensure that your tools are sharp, otherwise, they can also cause damage. 

It is recommended to use high-speed steel for blades. The reason is that blades are designed from carbon steel that becomes dull after some time. It can cause inconvenience at the time of turning. 

90 degrees angle is considered as perfect to cut the wood for optimal performance. However, it depends on the type of project and application. The stock of the wooden piece should be placed at the underside of the center. It will get into its position automatically when you revolve the wheel of the tailstock. 

In the next step, it is important to note that your stock is tight. Otherwise, it can cause damage to yourself. Now, it’s the perfect time to turn your lathe on at a slow speed. You will notice a certain amount of resistance against you at the time when your workpiece moves into the tool. After that, you will see your lathe at its best as the process of falling off of bits starts now. If you want a perfect cylindrical shape, it is important to cover all the directions. Now that we know how a wood lathe works, let’s move ahead. 

Important specs and features

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There are hundreds of features of wood lathes that can overwhelm you at the time of shopping. All the models of wood lathes have their unique pros and cons for the user. 


Lathes have been divided into different types according to their size. Mini lathes are manufactured for the small works of wood, such as pen turning. Mini lathes are not used in larger projects. Such as in wooden bowls.

Midi lathes are the medium-sized lathes that are not too small and not too large. It does not come with a floor base unit that is freestanding, however; it can be placed on a bench. 


The speed should be appropriate according to the pieces of wood. The typical speed of the wood lathe varies from 500RPM to 4000RPM. The speed should be lower for the wide piece of wood. Besides, a narrow stock can be turned at a speed of 1500 to 2000RPM, while half of that speed is considered as best to turn the thicker pieces. Typically, the controller of the on and off switch is located near the headstock, but it depends on its construction. 


The normal wooden lathes weight around 1500 to 3500. The weight of the larger lathes vary around several tons. The overall weight of the lathes without the motor is 9kg or 20lbs. 


It is recommended to use an induction motor with 1450 or 1750RPM with a power of 1/4hp to 1/2hp. You can also use furnace blower motors, washer motors of top-loading, dryer motors of old clothes. Universal motors( motor with brushes) are not recommended, as the speed of such motors is very fast. However, it can be powered directly with a hand-drilled from the back of the drive shaft. 

Other specifications

The maximum length of the workpiece is 43.4cm ( 17 inches). The maximum diameter of the bowl is 26cm (10 inches). The overall dimensions of the wooden lathe without motor is 92 into 27 into 18cm. 

How much is a wood lathe worth?

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The cost of the cheapest wooden lathes ranges from $200 to $400. The cost of the mid-range lathes ranges from $400 to $800. It costs thousands of dollars for the high-end ones. An entry-level lathes would be best for you if you have turned wood before, but have never used a wooden lathe. You will learn the basics from the entry-level lathes. Entry-level lathes are considered as best for the home users. Woodturners or professionals use home level or commercial level wood lathes. However, High-end lathes are perfect for people who want to work on a commercial scale.

What are some top wood lathe brands?

There are thousands of wooden brands out there, but some of them are top manufacturers and reliable brands of wooden lathes. You should buy from the top manufacturers to design efficient and innovative designs. Here we have discussed some top brands of wooden lathes. 



Image of a Jet wood lathe

This market leader has been around since 1958 and has consistently delivered quality along with innovation in the woodworking industry. If you ask any seasoned woodworker as to what company is the best, the most probable answer would be Jet.


PSI Woodworking

Image of a PSI Woodworking wood lathe


If you are looking for the affordable and compact mini-lathes, PSI woodworking manufacturers would be best for you. They are the best to manufacture small projects such as kits, bowls etc. They carry the most award-winning lathes and the best value around. 

Grizzly Industrial Inc

Image of a Grizzly Industrial Inc wood lathe

Grizzly Industrial Inc is one of the leading companies of different kinds of lathes in the USA.  They are specialized in the manufacturing of Light Duty, Medium Duty, Heavy Duty, and Oversize lathe machines. They manufacture the modern lathe machines and undergo strict inspections to check the quality and performance. 

Delta Wood, Lathe Manufacturing Enterprise

Image of a delta wood lathe

Delta wood company is known for a long time for manufacturing lathe machines. Their main aim is to focus on the high precision and low volume parts. Designing, manufacturing, and distributing woodworking tools from smaller, and larger projects, Delts company is stronger at developing lathes for the home and commercial users.

What should I look for in a wood lathe?

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You must have a good quality lathe if you want to start your career in woodturning. Besides, woodturning tools are also important. You can surely start to work in this field with this equipment. First of all, your main focus should be on getting a good lathe. Here, we have discussed some of the factors that you need to take care of, while purchasing a wood lathe. 

A sturdy base

To produce good quality turned objects, the wood lathe must have a solid foundation. The bed of the lathe should be stronger to have a solid foundation. The bed of a lathe means the horizontal base that is designed by cast iron. The reason behind the sturdy base is that the vibrations are minimized when the wood is revolved around the motor. Vibrations are not good while the workpiece is in operation as they can make it difficult to handle. 

Specifications of motor

The motor of the lathe is another essential factor that you need to keep in mind. Normally, the range of lathes motor ranges from 1/8 HP to 3 HP. Higher powered motors can turn the larger pieces of wood. The speed of the motor also plays an important role in the good quality of lathes. Variable speed control should range between 400 to 3000 RPM or more. 

Tool rest

Tool rest is another important factor to consider at the time of buying a lathe machine. It is essential to rest the tool against the tool rest when it comes to turning. Tool rest must get locked into a certain position when it gets set and it should also allow some vertical adjustments. The rest should be made of cast iron and its length needs be around 10 inches. Construction of tool rest with cast iron minimizes the vibrations. 

The Headstock and Tailstock

The headstock is made and threaded for various accessories of lathe, such as chunks etc. Ensure that the thread on the headstock is of good quality. Make sure that the threaded accessories can be used even after you upgrade the system of your lathe. 

The rotating pin at the other end of the lathe is called the tailstock that functions to keep the spindle at the center position. Ensure that it gets locked in any position along the bed as it has an important role at the time of turning procedures. It ensure that you can install a range of other tools and you do not need to keep restricted to the original manufacturer that makes your lathe versatile. 

Power switch

The majority of the people do not focus on the position of the power switch on the lathe. However, the position of the power switch plays an important role in operation. The position of the power switch ensures that you can easily turn it on in the middle of the operation without any disturbance.

How to use a Wood lathe ( for a Beginner) 

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Using a lathe to manufacture pens, bowls, or other decorative accessories from a raw wood can be an extremely enjoyable work and give you the feeling of accomplishments. There is no doubt that it takes many years of practice to become a truly outstanding woodturner. However, knowing where to start woodturning work can be quite confusing for beginners. Here are few tips for the beginners for using a wood lathe. 


Wood lathe can be dangerous power tools and they can cause injuries. Protecting your eyes and face from wood chips is the most important consideration for the beginners. Wear eye goggles and face shields to protect your eyes and face. 

Choose the right lathe

Select the lathe machine according to the type of work that you want to do. For designing small ornaments, mini lathes are considered as best. Besides, larges lathes are perfect for turning larger furniture and bowls. 

Work in the right light

Proper lighting is essential at the working location as it allows you to see the details of the turning angles. It is recommended to use a moveable lamp at the working location because it allows you to see imperfections that otherwise are difficult to spot. 

Have the right tools

You do not need to have an extensive range of tools for woodturning. There are a few main tools required in woodturning such as scrapers, gouges, skew chisel, parting tools, and so on. Buy good quality of tools by yourself to start your work. 

Learn to use the main chisels

Once you get the kit of your tools, learn how to use it in the right way. For example, roughing gouge is used to give a basic shape to a raw wood. Learn the basic skills of how to use it for giving the shape. 

Practice the basic techniques

Spend time in learning the basic woodturning procedures if you are a beginner. You can go for the challenging patterns of designs once you are confident with the basics. 

Project ideas

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If you want to learn the skills of woodturning and are serious about it, then it is essential to start practicing on it. In the beginning, do not go for the complex projects. Here are some of the simple project ideas that you can start with. 

  • Handles of Kitchen Tools
  • Wooden Bowl
  • Tea light holder
  • Wooden rings
  • Square Serving Trays
  • Mini candle Stool
  • Rolling pin
  • Ring Minder
  • Weed pots
  • Chopsticks
  • Wall clock
  • Wooden Faceplate
  • Lazy Susan

All of the above projects are very simple and can be carried out with basic woodturning skills. 

Maintenance for your wood lathe

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You can do the following little things to maintain your wood lathes. 

Clean out the Morse Taper

Morse tapers include the tailstock and headstock. They should be cleaned out properly. The center and the drive spur should be properly aligned which is very important for a detailed and small work. 

Wax your tool rest

The waxing procedure keeps the edge smooth. Irregular and inconsistent edges lead to difficult turns to perform long cuts. 

Wipe it down

Use the silicone spray to wipe out the different parts of your lathe machine. Silicon spray reduces friction and makes the lathe parts smooth. 

Clean the threads of Headstock

Threads of the headstock holds the faceplate secured at its place. Cleaning the threads of the headstock maintains the sequence with the tailstock. To get rid of the dust in thread, you can use the simple old toothbrush. 

Safety guidelines

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  1. Keep a distance from the working lathe machine to prevent yourself from fall against the moving parts. Do not use much force to perform actions on the working machine. 
  2. Turn the switch off before performing any cleaning actions. Use a brush to clean any dust or debris instead to use your hands. 
  3. Keep your hands away from chunks or faceplate, otherwise; it can cause serious harm. 
  4. Do not work on the lathe machine under the influence of drugs or when you are feeling tired. 
  5. Remove the chuck key immediately after using the lathe. 


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Woodturning is a creative and amazing work that makes you feel happy. Wood is not only used to create boards, beams, or other building materials. It is also used to design ornamental, beautiful crafts and decoration pieces. Woodturning also makes you creative. You can independently create a lot of decorative things for your home with the help of lathes. 

Doug is a passionate woodworking enthusiast and the founding editor of the popular woodworking blog WoodyManReviews. With a deep appreciation for craftsmanship and a love for working with wood, Doug has dedicated his career to sharing knowledge and expertise with fellow woodworking enthusiasts. To this day, he still leads writing efforts on the blog, supervising the team of talented writers at his disposal.​
Doug Mahoney

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