Beginner’s Guide to Woodturning

Woodturning is a type of woodworking. Woodturning is different than other types of woodworking, where the wood being altered remains stationary. In woodturning, the wood turns around the stationary tool. There are two main types of woodturning, known as faceplate turning and spindle. The difference? Mainly it comes down to the direction of the grain of the wood in relation to the axis of the lathe. The lathe is the main tool used in woodturning. Many beautiful things can be made with the craft, including bowls, bracelets, pens, goblets, and flowerpots.

Getting Started

Beginners can start woodturning after acquiring only three things: 1) a lathe (small or large), 2) some wood shaping tools, and 3) something to sharpen the tools (if traditional tools are purchased). It’s also important to have goggles as a safety measure. Luckily, the tools don’t need to be expensive or large. Some beginners even build their own lathes out of power drills!

What is the difference between small and large lathes? The size of the projects they are capable of handling is the biggest difference. Small lathes that sit on a desktop can usually only turn project about ten inches wide. Larger lathes can turn projects up to twenty-four inches. Another difference is the length of the bed. Larger lathes usually have longer beds, although some smaller lathes come with extendable beds to make them capable of handling longer projects like baseball bats. Usually, larger lathes are sturdier and can handle heavier pieces of wood. They are less prone to shaking or turning over accidentally. All lathes, though, can be anchored securely to help prevent shaking or destabilization.

Tools and Accessories

Beyond a lathe, there are a few accessories that every woodturner will need. Luckily, most lathes come with a spur center, live center, and faceplate. If a lathe does not, these things will need to be acquired as these accessories are must-haves.

Another tool many choose to purchase early on is a chuck. A chuck makes tasks like hollowing out wood or turning a bowl much easier. However, there are other ways to do these tasks and some woodturners make do without a chuck for a long time or even permanently.

There are two types of tools to consider, traditional tools and carbide cutting tools. Carbide cutting tools are easier to learn how to use. Traditional tools have a longer learning curve. Traditional tools also require a grinder to keep them sharp. They also require different techniques. Traditional tools, like roughing gauges, are held at an angle. Carbide tools require being held straight.

Steps to Using the Lathe

The first step is to unbox the lathe. Next, put in the spur center and the live center, making sure where they meet is properly centered. If it isn’t centered, it won’t turn correctly. Lubricate the bed to ensure it slides smoothly. It’s a good idea to apply the lubricant whenever the lathe is used. Desktop lathes should be screwed into place. The final step is to make sure the belts are set to the proper speeds.

How does a woodturner determine what speed to use? Start at a lower speed whenever a new piece of wood is being set up. If the lathe wobbles, go down in speed. Once the piece is properly centered, raise the speed. Wood that has cracks or any defects should also be started at a very low speed to prevent cracking.

What Type of Wood to Turn

Any sort of wood can be used in woodturning projects. However, most woodturners don’t use pressure-treated wood. It’s also a good idea to avoid tropical woods whose shavings can irritate and cause reactions for some people. The best practice is to always wear a respirator or mask whenever doing a project.

Although all different sorts of wood can be used, some are easier to work with than others. Framing lumber, for example, is a softwood. Walnut or maple, which are hardwoods, are harder. The hardest woods, like cherry or apple wood, turn very nicely and many woodturners enjoy working them more than other, softer woods.

What’s the difference between dry and wet woods? Dry woods are chosen when it’s important that the wood stay the same size after they are turned. Boxes, for example, need to stay the same size so the lids fit after they are made. Bowls are often made from wet (also known as green) woods. The bowl is first shaped when the wood is wet and then left to dry for a year or so when it is turned once more. Many woodturners enjoy working with wet wood, because of its softness and how easy it is to turn.

Why Get a Lathe?

A lathe allows a beginner to really try a lot of woodturning techniques. Many things are only possible with a lathe. Projects from baseball bats to table legs to bowls are really only possible with a lathe! Anyone interested in woodturning should seriously consider getting a lathe so they can take on more projects.

Further Reading and Resources