How to Use a Wood Lathe?

A wood lathe is a handy woodworking tool that uses a cutting tool to remove wood uniformly from the diameter of a rotating workpiece. You can carry out a variety of woodworking jobs using the machine in the discussion. Whether you’re a tool enthusiast or a woodworker, knowing how to use a wood lathe will go a long way in helping you fulfill your routine tasks.

So, once you have met all the prerequisites of the turning process, such as making sure that the blades are sharp and have the right composition, the cutting angle is 90 degrees, the tool-bits are away from yourself to avoid fly-offs, turn on the wood lathe. For a cylindrical shape of the workpiece, shave across all sides evenly. As a safety precaution, keep all loose or dangling items away from the workspace.

Having said that, let’s go into the details of all the steps involved in using a wood lathe. However, before we do that, it’s integral for you to be aware of the main components of the wood lathe and understand their respective features.

Primary Components of a Wood Lathe

Wood Lathe


The motor is the most crucial component of your wood lathe. It obtains electricity from the socket and converts it into power that is then used to drive your wood lathe. The motor rests on the left of the lathe, in the area known as headstock. Depending on the model of the wood lathe, it can be either inside the headstock or beneath it.

Since wood lathes come in different sizes, the motors they carry also vary. Generally, the horsepower of these motors is within the range of ¾ to 2 HP.

Power and Speed Monitoring

While the wood lathe is a powerful tool, it can be of little use if it’s not used the right way. To use it properly and benefit from it fully, you need to operate it at different speeds, depending on the type of wood you’re cutting and the size of the application. To get a rough idea, keep in mind that a smaller piece of wood requires a higher speed to be cut more efficiently.

In different wood lathes, you’ll find varying options for speed control, such as a belt pulley, or an electric and mechanical mechanism. Whichever speed controlling option your wood lathe features, its speed usually ranges from 500 to 3000 RPMs.


As mentioned before, the headstock is located on the left of the wood lathe and oversees the conversion of the power supplied by the motor to the selected spindle speed (the spindle is the component that makes your wood piece rotate).


The tailstock is located opposite to the headstock, i.e., to the right of the wood lathe. However, unlike the headstock, you can adjust its position according to your convenience.

Now, coming to the function of the tailstock, not only does it allow the spindle to stay in a central position, but also, it makes sure that the spindle keeps on rotating evenly.


Reaching an RPM of over 2500 with sharp tool-bits, a wood lathe can be a dangerous tool to use. For your safety and convenience, the tool-rest is added as another feature of the unit.

The tool-rest allows you to place your tool-bits onto the rests so that the cuts that you make can be more effective. Better still, in some wood lathes, you get access to a tool rest of up to four positions, making the swapping of tool-bits even more convenient. 

On top of that, like the tailstock, tool-rests are adjustable, meaning that you can position it according to the type of wood, and the point of application you’re working on.


The bed is a horizontal beam that connects the headstock with the machine. It also allows parallel motion of the tailstock on the axis of the spindle.

Using a Wood Lathe

Now that you’ve gotten the basic knowledge of the main parts of a wood lathe along with their functions, it is far easier for you to understand how a wood lathe works. So, without further ado, let’s get straight into it!

Set Up the Work Space

  • As you begin setting up, make sure your wood lathe is turned off to avoid any unforeseen accidents.
  • Organize your tools and make use of the holding space provided by the tool rest. It is so that you can easily choose the right tool-bit for your workpiece during the turning process.
  • Make sure that you have sharp tool bits in possession as dull bits can prove damaging to your wood piece.
  • Secure the workpiece tightly with the wood lathe as otherwise, the wood lathe can send your piece flying off.
  • High-speed steel blades are recommended as blades crafted from other types of steel can get dull in a relatively shorter span of time.
  • Set up the cutting angle at 90 as it’s the most efficient angle for cutting. As you get more experienced and depending upon the point of application as well as the type of wood, you may need to cut from a different angle.
  • Make sure that the tool-rest is in line with your workpiece, with a reasonable distance between the tool bit and the piece; around ¾ inches should be just fine.

Commence the Woodturning Process

Now that everything is set up, begin the turning exercise.

  • Using the moveable tailstock, position the workpiece, that you’re going to work on, above the spindle of the headstock and inside of the spur center.
  • Now, turn the wood lathe on and use a low speed. Once you get a hang of the machine, make sure that its speed is in tune with the type of wood you’re cutting (you may have a speed guide along with your wood lathe machine, otherwise, feel free to research on the internet; you’ll find plenty of relevant data).
  • You’ll notice resistance offered by the workpiece as the tool-bit penetrates it. Keep the turning going.
  • Keep the movement of the tool-bit slow. The slower you go, the better will be the output.
  • Soon, you’ll notice bits of your workpiece falling off.
  • For a perfectly cylindrical shape, make sure that your blade covers all the required directions.
  • For a smooth shape, bump up your lathe speed. However, don’t increase the movement speed of the tool-bit.
  • Once the cutting process is finished, sand the workpiece by hand while the turning process continues.
  • Make sure that you hold the sandpaper lightly against the workpiece so that too much wood is not removed from one place.

Safety Considerations


The woodturning process calls for several safety considerations. The first one is that before you turn on the wood lathe, rotate the workpiece with your hand to clear the tool rest.

During the turning process, it’s common for small bits of wood to fly off so do put on the safety glasses beforehand. Similarly, the large amount of sawdust produced during this exercise can be detrimental if inhaled so to counter that, use a face mask. Also, keep cleaning the wood shavings during the process as they can potentially result in a fire.

Apart from that, keep the workspace free of all sorts of loose items, such as hair, jewelry, and clothes, as they are likely to get caught in the wood lathe and get damaged.

Final Verdict

If you’ve carefully read everything in this guide, you may have realized that the whole procedure of using a wood lathe is quite easy. As you practice more and more on this machine, you’ll learn that you’ve been stressing over it for nothing.

However, keep in mind that no matter how proficient you get, you should never ignore the necessary safety protocols.

Happy Woodworking!

Liam Weissman

Hello and welcome to PowerToolGenius! My name is Liam and for the last 9 years, I have worked extensively with various power tools and accessories. I have tested hundreds of different brands and models and understand the industry extensively and have been working with tools my entire life!

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