Wood Lathes

Wood turning can be a satisfying and addictive experience, it is in itself a complete unit capable of producing finished work. You can duplicate parts to repair chairs, dig into a burl to make a bowl or make your own custom candle sticks. Wood lathes come in many sizes, from small pen lathes to huge bowl turning machines. They are designated according to the maximum diameter of material that can be swung over the bed. A lathe capable of turning an 11-inch diameter disk is referred to as an 11-inch lathe. The other dimension to be concerned with is the center to center measurement, this determines the maximum length of material that can be mounted between the headstock and tailstock.

Types of Lathes

Pen Lathe

Small specialized lathe, usually limited to maximum 2" swing, ideal for pen turning.

Pen Making Supplies from Woodcraft.com

Mini Lathe

A good starting out lathe, fits into limited space, extension to lengthen bed is available.

Floor Lathe

Heavy duty lathe, bed is more rigid than lighter models, this is a machine for serious turners.

Shop and Compare

Lathes at Amazon.com

Lathes at Woodcraft.com

Wood Lathe History


Thomas Blanchard patented the first copy lathe in 1820, really more of a shaper for producing irregular shaped wooden objects such as gunstocks and shoe lasts. Patent Print

Another example of an early copy lathe from 1884, used to make spirals. The object is slowly rotated and advanced under the revolving cutter head. Patent Print

This is a 1934 Delta "Copy Attachment" for their lathe, in this case the object rotates and a gouge is used to form the profile following the attached template.



A Course In Wood Turning By Archie S. Milton and Otto K. Wohlers

Published in 1919, an oldie but comprehensive book on wood turning. The ultimate aim of this book is to give, through the exercises and problems, a thorough understanding of the principles of wood turning by gradually developing the confidence of the pupil in the complete control of his tools, at the same time suggesting harmonious lines in design which will lead to other ideas in designing problems.


Safety Equipment

Parts of a Lathe

Headstock - The drive end of the lathe. Spindle may be hollow or solid, internally tapered, and externally threaded. Material is held using a spur center in the taper or a chuck or backing plate threaded onto the spindle

Bed - The rails on which the tool rest and tailstock sit on. May be flat machined cast or steel, some models use round tubing.

Tool Rest - An adjustable bar used to rest cutting tools on.

Tailstock - Has three adjustments, along the bed, limited movement across the bed, spindle can be projected or retracted. Material is held with a cup center that fits into the tapered spindle.

Common Tools

Gouge - A round nose hollow chisel. Used for roughing cuts.

Skew Chisel - A double ground flat chisel with the end ground at an angle. Used for smoothing, cutting shoulders.

Spear Chisel - Flat ground to a point.

Round Nose Chisel - Flat with point rounded.

Parting Chisel - Double ground chisel, used for cutting-off.


Set of Sorby Tools

Order from Woodcraft.com

Speciality Tools

These taps are machined in lathe
spindle sizes so that after you have
drilled and tapped a wooden block,
you simply mount the block on
your lathe spindle.

Order from Woodcraft.com

Everything you need to square the ends of most popular pen kit blanks and tubes!

Order from Woodcraft.com


Start a Christmas Tradition

Before disposing of your live tree after Christmas save some of the trunk to turn ornaments, mark the year and share them with friends and family.

Absolutely Free Plans has a page with Christmas projects for inspiration.


1. Always wear eye protection, a full face shield is recommended.

2. Turn material over by hand before starting machine.

3. Never wear loose fitting clothing, tie long hair back.

4. Hold turning tools securely on tool rest, always use a slower speed when starting until the piece is balanced.

5. Exercise caution when using stock with cracks, splits, checks, bark, knots or irregular shapes.

6. Make sure material is fastened properly and securely in chuck or between centers.

7. Remove chuck key immediately after using it, make this a habit.

8. Keep tools sharp, never force a dull tool to do the job.

9. Remove tool rest before sanding or polishing.

10. Keep your eyes on the job, don't look away while cutting.

11. Don't leave lathe running unattended.

13 X 19 Shop Poster

download free .pdf image

Safety rules on 1884 Foster & Holman lathe
original patent drawing background.