Most Requested Question: How to Use a Lathe Step by Step?

How to Use a Lathe Step by Step

The lathe mystery is no new thing in woodworking. Many pro woodworkers are not yet quite familiar with the secrets and tactics of using a lathe. And that’s something that used to stress me out a lot back when I was learning more about woodworking.

However, my interest in lathe never really stop and so one day I got a tiny one to work with the curiosity. Gratefully, I had my opportunities to consult and talk with some of the major experienced woodturners that really helped.

Recently, thought of sharing some of the basics about lathe usage came into my mind. And guess what, here I am writing down how to use a lathe step by step while answering questions that most people ask. Keep on Reading!

Step by Step Discussion: Sorting Your Lathe Confusion

Owning your best budget wood lathe is not always the only ticket to learn woodturning. You need to have patience and keep on trying. And I believe, whatever we’ll discuss today will clear out a lot of things for you.

Starting from the absolute basics we’ll move on to advanced sections where I’ll be answering questions gradually.

Step-1: Getting General Idea to Start.

The very first thing that people seem to ask is what kind of lathe do they need to get started. Well, actually you don’t need a big or heavy-duty lathe for your beginning days. You can simply get a tiny one and that’s going to play beautifully for your learning days.

If you have DIYing skills then maybe making one for yourself is not also a bad idea. You are going to need a drill or drill-press to get started with the adventure.

Now after clarifying what type of lathe you’ll need, there should be some information about the differences between these sizes. Basically, it’s just the capacity. For huge working pieces, you will need the large size lathe. However, if you are starting with a ten inches diameter piece than a smaller lathe will be just the right size.

Sometimes the bed length also makes a differing point between small and large lathes. But these days, there are extensions available to add with small lathe and it’s actually not a huge differing point anymore.

It’s also true that big sized lathes are excellent in sturdiness. You can easily handle substantial pieces of wood using large lathes. Also, there will be less amount of vibration going on this way. However, if you maintain a proper anchoring and use reasonable wood sizes then this issue won’t be a problem with any type of lathe.

Step-2: Focusing on The Things You’ll Need.

Usually, you don’t need anything more than a live center, spur middle, and faceplate on the lathe. This is the most basic and sort of enough setup for a beginner. Now some people like to use chuck. Do you really need to?

Well, it depends on preference wise. There are certain elements that will feel easier to work with when you are using a proper chuck. For example, bowls or hollow out boxes. However, there are also stuffs that don’t exactly need this additional chuck.

There’s also confusion related to traditional tools and carbide cutting elements. Here main differing point is surely the learning curve. If you know how to use a traditional tool then go for it. But some people find it conventional and outdated. Also, it’s quite difficult for just starters. So, in such cases, carbide cutting tools sound more convincing.

Traditional tools also need sharpening quite often. This is due to the grinder included usage which you can’t really ignore. But with a carbide cutting tool, you don’t have to face that trouble since replacing dull parts are what they need. So technically, carbide cutting tools are more promising efficiency wise.

Step-3: Setting Up & Understanding Speed.

Now that you know some of the basics and general ideas regarding lathe, it’s time to unbox and set up your newly bought piece. Of course, there’s a way to assemble everything properly. And to learn proper usage, you can’t miss this out.

So basically, you start unboxing and deal with the spur center. Also, you need to tackle live center at the same time. You place them as like they are meeting in middle of the center. This is one very important point where you need to pay attention to. Because this part really relates to a good spindle turning.

One thing I like to do is use certain lubricants for bed. Often times I simply bring out the W40 from garage. These are great for preparing the bed and making slide smoother. With every time of turning, applying lubricant is an essential point.

You surely need to bolt down when dealing with a desktop lather. Never forget to have a look at your belts. They need to be at a proper speed for accomplishing the task you’re doing.

There are enough queries about different speeds as well. What I like to suggest is starting at low speed when setting up. This is because at the beginning lathes are quite wobbly. And so, starting with lower speed really helps.

Once you feel like the piece has settled down on center, pace up speed. Here’s another point that you need to know about. And it’s related to using defected wood pieces. These types of pieces need your extra attention and care. You must never start with fast speed in such cases. It’s surely going to crack on you otherwise.

Step-4: Idea About Materials to Use.

Actually, there’s no hard and fast rule on what wood material you can use. But people who have better experience share this one common thought. And that’s about not starting with anything pressure treated.

Also, it is likely better to not go for cocobolo or rosewood. Basically, I’m talking about certain tropical woods. These have a bad reputation for being irritant. There are folks who suffer from strong reactions and damage due these.

No matter what type of wood you are using, there’s a great rule of thumb to follow. Never inhale the dust. This happens when you turn a lot with any kind of wood. A respirator or mask can save you from such disasters.

Oh, also there’s a doubt about materials working differently. Well, yes, they do turn in distinct ways. Usually, there are two types. The first type is quite simple to turn with softer motions. While others need pretty hard turning.

For example, maple and walnut fall under the category of hard-turn materials. Hardwoods are often demanding and that’s why you need tough motions. On the other hand, if you are working with softwoods such as framing lumber, things are different. You can go softly and steadily. There are worse cases of hard turning like applewood or cherry. However, they make outputs that are worth your effort.

Step-5: Wet or Dry Turning.

There’s also concern regarding using wet or dry wood. Once the turning is done, you certainly won’t need any more movement. That’s the right time to use dry wood. For example, when working with boxes you don’t want the lid to shrink. And so dry wood come handy.

On the other hand, wet woods (also known as green wood) are turned rough at first and left to get dry for one year. These are the right choices for bowl turning. Then you turn it once again, but this time the wood is dried. Wet woods are pretty soft to turn and easier as well. They are also super fun to work with.

For Safety Concern!

  • Proper attire is really important. Take off any ring, watch or accessories before working. Also, roll the sleeves above your elbows.
  • If you are making adjustments then do it after stopping the lathe.
  • Let the lathe stop completely before you change spindle speed.
  • Be very careful with drills, centers, and sharp cutters.
  • There should be no wrenches or chuck key attached while working.
  • A block of wood can help to keep the lathe ways protected.
  • Figure out the emergency stop position before starting with operation.
  • Keep your hands safe from removing chips or swarf. Pliers or brushes can help.
  • There should be no leaning position when using a lathe. It’s dangerous!
  • While the lathe is turning, you should never measure pieces.
  • While sanding the workpiece make sure to use both of your hands. Don’t wrap the workpiece with emery cloth or sandpaper.


Yes, you have made it! Thank you for having this much patience. Probably now you don’t have any hard confusion. I hope my guide on how to use a lathe step by step with the basics was helpful. I really wish you implement these ideas when working with woodturning.

It’s one beautiful art that really should get involved with creatives worldwide. Just know that you can do it as long as patience is your key.

One Fine Day You’ll Find A Master Wood Turner Formed Inside Yourself Creating Aesthetic Pieces.

About Sam Maxi

Hi, this is Sam Maxi. I love talking about woodwork tools and my reviews are mostly based on the experience I have from my work. Apart from reviewing, I am a huge fan of surfing. Also, I love watching horror genre movies.

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