If you would ask me what a wood lathe is, I would casually say that it is a relatively simple machine that lets you turn chunks of wood into artistic shapes and artifacts that you would surely love to look at. It has an extended iron bed with a motor underneath it. The motor drives the headstock and lets you fix the workpiece on its rotating spindle. You can shape the workpiece into whatever shape you desire using various special tools.
The wood lathe is comparable to the potter’s wheel, allowing you to generate different forms in the workpiece. You can kickstart your woodturning and bowl turning career with the wood lathe and engage in various woodturning projects.
The items you can make out of the use of the Lathe include candlesticks, tool handles, egg cups, lamps, knobs, cylindrical boxes, rolling pins, Christmas ornaments, knitting needles, bodkins, needle cases, pens, thimbles, spinning tops, chessmen, legs, pegs, spindles, balusters, and many more. Your only limit, of course, when it comes to using the Lathe is your imagination and creativity.
Table of Contents
Applications of Wood Lathe Machine
The woodturning lathe is generally used to shape and craft wood pieces into rounded and cylindrical profiles. As mentioned above, you can create different ornamental forms using the Lathe. The machine consists of securing and fixturing devices for securing the workpiece. It also comes with a moveable tool rest for supporting your tools while you work on the spinning wood. The handheld tools you would usually use with the Lathe include the handled gouges, scrapers, skews, and parting tools.
You can also avail of specialty tooling sets for surface development and internal shaping. With the wood lathe, you can perform various types of cuts on your workpiece while it spins. Such types of cuts include parting, planing, cove, bead, and hollowing. Parting cut lets you separate the wood from its holding device. Planing can be done using a tool wherein the cutting-edge bevel supports wood fibers. Beads let you make a convex shape, and coves allow you to create a concave shape. Hallowing techniques, on the other hand, combine drilling and scooping out of materials.
Limitations of Wood Lathes
The wood lathe is not all-around do-it-all equipment for shaping wooden pieces. You can only shape wood pieces either as a solid wood stock piece or glued up. Moreover, the Lathe’s physical geometry and the fixturing methods at hand limit the workpiece’s size.
The center-to-center distance determines the length of the workpiece, and the chuck’s diameter and the distance between the lathe bed and the spindle determine its width. Besides, the wood you can work on using the Lathe should be devoid of knots, splits, and voids. Plus, you need to prepare the wood by doing pre-lathe preparation like cutting using a table saw to make the wood adequate for the Lathe’s size.
Different Types of Traditional Wood Lathe
The wood lathe has an ancient origin, and throughout the centuries, the wood lathe had evolved at a gradual pace. At present, you will find several types of wood lathes in the market today:
1) Strap Lathe
The strap lathe belongs to the earliest forms of the Lathe. Technically, you will need another person to make this lathe work, the other person seated while he assists. The turner and the assistant had to work in synchrony to transform the item into a bowl. One person needed to pull the strap back and forth to render a reciprocating motion that provided power to the Lathe. The other person controlled the strap while the other engaged in the carving of the wood piece. This type of Lathe was in use in ancient Egypt.
2) Bow Lathe
The bow lathe is almost the same as the strap lathe in the way it received its power. Nevertheless, it is an improvement over the strap lathe. It also had nearly the same design as the strap lathe, though it needed a bow’s string wrapped around the workpiece to complete any turning. It was an improvement over the strap lathe because it only required one person to operate. It has less motive power than the strap lathe, being run only by one person, with the turner running the control with only one hand.
For this reason, many turners used their feet to keep the bow lathe steady, and hence, the bow lathe transitioned into a footing tool. The Romans got the credit for developing the bow lathe. With the bow lathe, many small beautiful items were created in the past. Yet, since it operated using foot, only small items were made using this Lathe.
Modern Wood Lathe Types
The Industrial Revolution’s onset had brought about rapid innovations in many tools, especially to the wood lathes design. At present, you will find the following types of wood lathes in the market today:
1) Pen Turning Lathe
The pen-turning Lathe is a typical benchtop model of a lathe with a higher upper-speed range. It is compact and is ideal for smaller workshops. You can use this Lathe for pen turning and other small spindle projects. Most pen-turning lathes are not expensive.
If you find a wood lathe with a distance between centers (DBC) of 20 inches or less, it is probably a benchtop or mini-lathe. Mini or benchtop lathes also have a swing over the bed (SOB) of around 12 inches or less. The DBC refers to the maximum wood length, while the SOB refers to the maximum wood diameter that you can spin on your Lathe.
The mini wood lathe is smaller in size than the full-size and midi wood lathes. Hence, it is a good choice if you want to engage in small woodturning projects and you have small workspaces. It is also the most affordable among the many types of wood lathes.
3) Center Wood Lathe
The most widely used Lathe is the center wood lathe. It is an accurate tool that lets you position your workpiece accurately on an axis. It offers concentric work and enables the workpiece to transfer between machining operations without loss of accuracy. It has a gear transmission that can accurately grasp the main shaft’s speed. With the main shaft positioned horizontally, the center wood lathe is also a horizontal lathe. It is also referred to as a notched lathe machine if it has a notched bed surface.
4) Midi Lathe
You will also find midi wood lathes in the market today. This lathe type falls between a mini wood lathe and a full-size wood lathe in both size and power. Moreover, it features the design of a benchtop wood lathe and the capability of the full-size Lathe. Hence, with the midi, you can engage in larger projects without sacrificing floor space. It also has a wide range of DBC below 20 inches in length and 12 inches and SOB of 12 inches. It is also more expensive than the mini-lathes but is cheaper than the full-size Lathe.
5) Full-size Lathe
The full-size Lathe has a powerful motor. It also takes a lot of space in the workshop because of its size. It has a height of 4 feet, allowing you to have easy access to your project. It also has wide DBC, ranging from 45″ in length with an SOB of 15″ or more in diameter.
You can use the full-size Lathe for your different woodturning projects. You can also make detailed table legs and even baseball bats with this Lathe. Nevertheless, since it is more powerful than the smaller ones, it is also more expensive.
6) CNC Wood Lathe
With the advent of the computer age, it is not far beyond to think of a lathe machine run by computer. The CNC wood lathe, of course, is something run by a computer. CNC refers to a computer numerical controlled wood lathe. The CNC machine tool is suited for processing huge quantities of wood projects that require high-precision and complex designs. CNC lathes have also primarily replaced most engine lathes in many production machining setups. It offers powerful axis drives, feedback control, consistent tool positioning, and fast repetition of complicated machine motions. Once the program has been made, you can quickly set up the operation without the need for tedious and frequent manual adjustments. It also performs exceptionally well when cutting curved contours sans the use of special tools. The CNC performs this preprogrammed modification of the tow motion axes and the spindle’s speed simultaneously. The engine lathe will indeed find such an operation incapable of performing.
7) Turret Lathe
The turret lathe is also called the hexagon lathe. It is engineered to replace the ordinary or tailstock Lathe with the addition of the hexagonal rotating turret. It is also best suited for many projects involving varying processing procedures that include drilling reaming, and boring. It is also suited for mass production. Production shops use the turret lathe in which a series of sequential operations is necessary on a workpiece.
With the turret lathe, there is no longer any need to remove the workpiece from one machine to another. Thus, production shops can avoid the usual errors that come with removing and reholding a workpiece. It also has a rotating turret, and for this reason, you can also call it the turret lathe. This rotating turret is mounted on the carriage to ensure that it will bring another tool into its working position if done with the operation with one tool. The workpiece is machined once more without removing it from the collet or chuck. With this Lathe, you can perform eight or more operations on a single workpiece without removing the piece.
If you already have the other equipment like the table saw, miter saw, circular saw, and many other helpful woodworking tools, you might as well add the wood lathe to your arsenal. It will surely come in handy if you intend to raise your woodworking skills a notch higher. With the Lathe, you can carve, form, shape, cut, and sand wood pieces to create some of the most exquisite wood projects you will ever make in your workshop. Choosing the right wood lathe for your workshop, of course, can be a bit confusing, given the myriads of wood lathes in the market today. Knowing the different wood lathe types will help you zero in on the right wood lathes for your needs.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker and carpenter who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.