Lathe - Wood

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We have two wood lathes that are essentially identical.

Central Machinery CM 12x36

Jet 1236

Penn State Industries 4 jaw chuck

Penn State Industries Mandrel Saver Pen Mandrel

Full size and mini chisel/gouge sets

The wood lathe lets you take a piece of wood (either a block or long piece), clamp it in place, spin it and apply cutting tools to the surface to shape it. Simple enough. The headstock end has the motor and is what spins the wood. The tailstock end is strictly for support of the far end and for drilling. The tool rest gives you an even support for the tools. Tools are held in your hand and carefully applied to the wood surface.

Manuals & Documents

Safety Classification




There are many good instructional videos on the web and youtube. Here is a good place to start:

Potential Hazards

  • Improper mounting of the wood causing it to become a projectile.
  • The cutting edges of the chisels should be sharp enough to cut a person with improper handling.
  • Getting loose clothes, jewelry, long hair, or fingers caught in moving parts.
  • Being hit, especially in the face, by debris flying from point of operation.
  • Contact with the cut or drive center.
  • Inhalation of dust and particles.
  • Dropping objects onto foot.
  • Electrical shock.

Specific Controls

  • DO NOT wear gloves while using the wood lathe.

Operating Precautions

  • Always be sure the wood is secured. Whenever possible, use a tailstock support in addition to the mounting method for the headstock.
  • Always cut at the centerline of the wood or higher.
  • Always keep the toolrest as close to the surface of the wood as possible.
  • Turn the wood by hand before powering up the lathe to be sure it doesn't hit anything.
  • Stand to the side when you power up the lathe so that if the wood goes flying, you aren't stopping it with something you are attached to.
  • Use slow speeds when the wood isn't well balanced. If it is way off, consider rounding it a bit on the bandsaw.
  • Use sharp tools.
  • Use safety glasses or a face shield. No long sleeves, hair pulled back.
  • Always cut with the center of the tool edge. Never let a corner of the tool touch the wood.
  • Cut downhill - from the thicker part of the wood to the thinner part. If the grain runs parallel to the bed, this should have you cutting with the grain.

Current Status

Installed and operational. Available for use by trained users.

Parts of the Lathe

Tool Rest The tool rest position is set by loosening the front lever by a half turn. This will allow the rest to move around. Lock it firmly when it is in the right position. The small black lever adjusts the height of the tool post. It should be at about the centerline of the wood or just below so that the tool always cuts at or above the centerline.

Lathe Tailstock The lever on the back of the tailstock will allow it to slide along the bed. Any time the tailstock is being used, it should be locked down so it cannot move. The handwheel moves the barrel in and out for final tightening and for drilling.

Chuck No, not his name, his function. The pair of red handled rods (Tommy bars, again function, not name) are inserted into the adjacent pair of holes and either pried together or apart to move the jaws of the chuck. The wood should be firmly seated into the chuck before tightening. The jaws can be swapped with other sets in the box. The chuck screws onto the headstock. If it is stuck, there is a flat wrench that will fit over the headstock end bolt and pressure can be applied to a Tommy bar. If that is not enough, chuck a piece of wood in the chuck and twist that while holding the headstock stationary with the wrench. The headstock has a Morse taper #2 hole in it. Other work holders such as a center can be put into the headstock. Be sure that both the center and the headstock hole are dust free. You remove the center by putting a rod in the hole in the other end of the headstock hole, tap the rod with a mallet and hold the center so it doesn’t become airborne once loosened.

Box of Tools On top of the box are a pen mandrel in the red case, Tommy bars, small tools, parting tool, live center and large tools in the flat box. The left-hand drawer has finished supplies and the lathe manual. The right-hand drawer and the chuck parts, mallet, centers and a crappy chuck you shouldn’t use.

Operator Tips

Rounding/Centering the Wood If you are starting with round wood, use a 45 degree center finder or 45 degree head on a scale, mark two diameters and the place where they meet is the center. For non-round wood, approximate the center, turn it slowing and use a roughing gouge until it spins smoothly.

Spindle Turning Spindle turning requires that the wood be trapped between a drive at the headstock (chuck or spur drive) and a live center in the tailstock. A quick note - to remove anything from the tailstock, crank the handwheel to retract the chuck or center and keep going. Near the end of the retraction, it will release from the morse taper. Calipers can be used to match diameters.

Pen Turning Pen turning is generally done on a mandrel with bushings that are specific to a pen kit. They set the diameter of each part. The basic steps are: 1. Center drill the blank 2. Glue in a tube 3. Square the end 4. Assemble the blanks and bushings on the mandrel 5. Turn the wood to size 6. Sand 7. Apply finish 8. Press together

Bowl Turning (and other solids) Typically, bowls are turned shaping their outside profile first. This allows you to use a faceplate screwed to the waste on the inside of the bowl while the outside face and a recess for the chuck to grab are cut. Keep a tailstock center on the wood as long as possible, go at a fairly slow speed, especially while the bowl is not balanced. Be sure the recess for the chuck allows the jaws to grab the full depth. Then you can turn it around and cut the inside, being sure never to cut below center or the upward turning side.

You can turn the inside first if you use the large jaws of the chuck to grip the outside edge of the bowl but I am only comfortable doing this for cleaning up the base and finishing.

Drilling Mount the wood in the chuck and put a drill chuck in the tailstock. Be sure the drill bit is tightened well. Lock the tailstock in place and advance the bit with the handwheel. The first part of the drilling should be done with light pecks to be sure the bit doesn't flex. Retract the bit regularly to clear any sawdust from the hole - if it binds it will snap the bit.

Sanding Sanding is done on the lathe. There are some rolls of sandpaper in the storage box below the lathe. Don't skip grits, it doesn't save time. Wear a mask if there is no way to prop the shop vac hose to catch the dust. Always be aware of what will happen if the sandpaper wraps around the turning - will it take your hand with it? Be sure your sleeves are well away from the work.

Clean Up Turning is messy. Put the tools away and start at the top and work your way to the floor brushing off the chips and sawdust. Vacuum the floor. Be excellent to each other.