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Woodworking Lathe

philip in china

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The most simple and easy build design I have made is called a spring pole lathe.
Attached is a pretty good picture of an early design that I found.
I hope it helps you out. The down side is by its design, your cutting cycle will be be as you push down with your foot. Then, the "upstroke" is a dead cycle. It is a little slower and takes some getting used to, but it works just fine.



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Wood working lathes make full use of speed ranges. Generally, one works as fast as the work or process will allow.
A lathe made to use pens, because the diameter is small, needs to spin at rocket speeds, while a lathe designed to spin tire sized bowls will run quite slow. there are times when rotating the work really slow, one rpm, is to an advantage though only top end lathes spin that slow.

Rough wood will be spun slower due to weight and lack of balance, than a finish piece will be spun which will be lighter and more even, usually.

Finishing, like sanding, is best done as fast as the piece can handle. You want the surface to pass the sandpaper at a really fast speed.

There are two designs of lathes. Basically, one with a tailstock and one without. The tailstock allows you to work between centers. Some applications, such as bowl turning, does not need that feature as the work is usually attached to the face plate with screws so the bed to hold the tail stock is unnecessary and possibly disadvantage as many people turn bowls are bigger than the bed will allow..
For general turning, working between centers is an advantage as one can prepare the stock to attach to a chuck, or work with between center projects.

There is an advantage if the head of the lathe can either rotate on the bed to aim sideways or backwards, or if you can slide it on the bed. Either action will allow the lathe to handle projects with a bigger diameter than the bed would allow. Hang the work over the end and one can spin the work as big as the lathe can turn, though it might be frightening fast if the motor does not slow down enough. For big projects like that, slowing down to nearly nothing is an advantage.


Whether a lathe is made of wood or metal, the lathe should be stiff. That is why most lathes you buy are made in cast iron.
The tailstock should lock tightly and not slip under pressure. The same for the head if that moves. It is not fun to have a nearly finished piece come loose from the live center and break.

A big lathe can do anything a small lathe can do, but a small lathe cannot do big things. Many turners have several lathes of different sized or capabilities.

If one is making a treadle lathe, The flywheel design is generally the best. If it has a lot of mass, such as solid material, it will continue to spin even when one is not pumping or a heavy cut won't slow it down quite as much.
Continuous spin is preferred unless one is doing a period piece. Changing speeds, like with pulleys is a good idea. Most woodworkers will change speeds according to the needs.

A wide treadle has advantages over a narrow treadle in that one can change position to the work.

I have a book on lathes, based on a 1880s catalog. I don't have it here right now so I cannot give you the title. it has cast iron treadle lathes, drills, saws etc. They even have them for metal working with screw feeds and other accessories.

One should look at
David J Gingery Publishing
he publishes a catalog of how to books. I think he publishes the books too. He has plans for all sorts of kinds of lathes that might be used as a guide.

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  • 1 year later...

Any metal lathe can be used to work wood. It is common practice in a lot of pattern shops. The only problem is some of the older metal lathes do not go fast enough for smaller diameter work. If you want to do freehand turning you can make a toolrest that mounts on the toolpost, I have even used the toolbit holder as a toolrest when I have needed to just do a little freehand work on a turning.

I have two wood lathes in my shop. One is a Pattern lathe, which looks like a metal lathe only is not quite as heavy duty and runs faster. My other lathe is a faceplate lathe also known as a post lathe. It is a home built (not by me) lathe built out of 1/2" plate with a gearbox in it and two 3" pillow blocks with a shaft and a cast iron faceplate. The rest mounted to a heavy stand that sits on the floor. This type of lathe can turn extremely large turnings, although it can get quite dangerous for very large turnings.

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A lot of people use their metal lathes for wood work, and it is fine and can be done but the thing I hate is, metal lathes, if properly used and maintained, are very oily and when you add wood to an oily lathe you get a nasty mess to clean up and getting all that goo out of all the nooks and crannies is a pain in the back side, at least when your as obsessed as me with the condition of metal working machines.


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