August 22, 2022
Many of my woodworking students would often ask me why wood lathes are expensive? My succinct reply to them is: “It produces works of art.” Wood lathes with average quality, for example, would cost anywhere between $600 to $900. Average quality wood lathes, however, would cost around $1,000 to $2,000, while high-end wood lathes might perch at $4,000.
You might argue, however, that the painter’s brush also produces works of art, yet it is not that costly. Well, it would be absurd to compare the wood lathe with a painter’s brush. Besides, the wood lathe also comes with many other applications.
A wood lathe is an essential tool in the woodturning craft. It works either using a continuous or reciprocating revolution. Additionally, you can use the wood lathe to smooth and shape raw wood. Besides, using the wood lathe, you can transform a block of very raw and shapeless wood into a work of art with exquisite shape and design.
How Does Wood Lathe Work?
The use of a wood lathe might look fascinating to a non-woodturner. It might also look easy to use. Yet, there is a learning curve in working out the wood lathe. To operate it, you must insert the wood piece into a holder referred to as the center.
This center keeps the wood from falling and holds the wood to allow the turner to shape it. The turner (wood lathe user) utilizes various devices with a wide array of handheld blades to shape the wood.
You will also find wood lathes that can hold in place the blade. Hence, when using this blade, you don’t need to hold the blade as the headstock spins the wood.
You can equip the wood lathe with various blades with varying angles, widths, and shapes. Besides, the blade type can determine how the machine will cut the wood. You can also use wider blades with sharper angles to hollow out large portions of wood, while you can use pointier and sharper blades for detailed cuts.
You can use the wood lathe to help sand the wood surface. Instead of holding the sandpaper while you rub it on the wood surface, you can let the machine spin the wood piece while keeping the sandpaper piece against the wood. This process can speed up the sanding process and is less taxing to the user.
Furthermore, you can use the wood lathe to create a wide array of objects and products. For example, you can use it to make decorative spindles to create artistic table and chair legs. You can also use it to make baseball bats, cue sticks, wooden bowls, and other wooden objects requiring cylindrical shapes.
Main Applications of Wood Lathe
If you intend to buy a wood lathe, it will be best to know how it operates and its general functions. Besides, it will be best to know the following primary uses or applications of the wood lathe, so that you will be able to know what you can make and do with your wood lathe machine.
Woodturning is turning wood using a wood lathe to shape that wood into a wood product with an elaborate shape. It requires handheld tools to shape the wood into the desired shape as it rotates on its axis. The use of a wood lathe is somewhat similar to the use of a potter’s wheel. It is a straightforward machine designed to generate various wood forms.
The one who operates the wood lathe is called the turner, and the skill for turning the wood is called turnery. In the past, the woodturning skills were highly guarded, known only to turners. Nowadays, however, anyone with a wood lathe can engage in woodturning.
One specialized lathe type is the copying or duplicating lathe. This specialized lathe is called the Blanchard Lathe, named after its inventor, Thomas Blanchard. The water-powered Blanchard lathe were used to duplicate gun stocks since the 1850s. It could create identical standard shapes, revolutionizing the gun stock-making process eventually.
You can use the wood lathe to make patterns for foundries from wood and plastics. The patternmaker’s lathe appears like a heavy wood lathe. It also often comes with a turret with a lead screw and pinion for manually positioning the turret.
You can use the turret to make accurate straight-line cuts. Besides, patternmaker’s lathes often allow for turning large parts on the headstock’s end, utilizing a tool rest that is free-standing.
What Can Wood Lathe Create?
As mentioned above, there are many popular wood lathe projects you can make. You can use it to make plates and bowls. Moreover, to make beautiful items, you can hold the wood at the bottom by the lathe’s one side. Afterward, you can attach it to the metal face place connected to the spindle.
This operation usually happens on the headstock’s left side, which is bereft of rails for more clearance. With this setup, you can shape the wood piece inside and out. You can also use a specific curved tool rest for supporting tools while you shape the inside of the wood.
The items you can produce using the wood lathe include candlesticks, knobs, egg cups, tool handles, rolling pins, lamps, Christmas ornaments, cylindrical boxes, needle cases, knitting needles, chessmen, pens, legs, and spinning tops.
You can also make balusters, pegs for furniture, baseball bats, bowls, chair seats, platters, hollow forms for musical instruments, etc. You can produce a wide variety of items using only up to six simple tools. Turning bowl with wood lathe machine is the most straightforward project beginner should try.
The wood lathe is as ancient as any other old woodworking tool. In ancient Egypt, for example, lathes were already in use. Besides, in the medieval period, the wood lathe became the “go-to” tool whenever they needed wooden vessels for everyday use. Thus, the wood lathe has gone a long way since ancient times, but its functionality, mechanism, and dynamism remain the same.
The wood lathe, of course, is expensive because it creates fantastic items. Besides, it is a specialized tool for making excellent works of art. So, if you want to raise your woodworking skills a notch higher, it will be best in a reliable and durable wood lathe.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author 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.