Wood turning a great workshop hobby
Hold a stationary chisel against a spinning piece of wood and good things can happen. This is what turning wood on a lathe is all about. Working on a lathe is at least as fun as any other kind of woodworking, and the equipment you need isn’t complicated, expensive or large. If you ever wanted to get into woodworking in a small, quiet, satisfying way, turning could be the start of something great for you.
Of all the lathes out there, a medium-sized benchtop lathe makes sense for most home woodworkers. The Delta 46-455 midi lathe is a great machine that’s earned an enviable track record over the 10 years I’ve owned it. Besides being small enough to store out of the way, portable lathes like this one allow both small and large items to be turned. You can make anything from a wooden writing pen to a large lamp body or salad bowl. In the case of this Delta and related models, you can also add as many bed extensions as you want, allowing virtually unlimited lengths of wood to be turned.
There are several ways to hold wood in a lathe as it spins, and the popular cross-shaped fitting that comes with new lathes is called a spur centre. It’s connected to the lathe’s motor and drives the spinning action of the wood. Another option is a round attachment called a faceplate. It allows wood to be fastened with screws and supported only at one end while turning. Regardless of how you support and propel wood on the left side of the lathe, the right-hand end is supported on a simple circular centre as it rotates. This centre is held by something called the tailstock. It can be adjusted from side-to-side and locked to accommodate different lengths of wood.
I don’t know of a better way to introduce kids to woodworking than with a lathe. It’s one of the safest woodworking power tools, yet it also works fast enough that you can’t get bored.
Any length of wood you turn that’s larger than a one inch by one inch cross section should be sawn into an octagonal profile on a tablesaw before mounting in your lathe. Smaller items are OK left square. Either way, begin turning with two things in mind.
Slow speeds and gentle cuts are the way to begin turning any rough blank, especially if you’re new to lathe work. Lathe speed is adjusted by moving rubber drive belts to different pulleys — just like the way speed is varied on a drill press. Start with one of the slower settings, then speed things up as your turning becomes smaller and better balanced. It’ll take some turning before your wood becomes smooth and round, so you need to go gently at first as the faceted shape of your blank gets refined.
Choosing the right tools is the single biggest advantage you can give yourself as a novice wood turner. Traditional high speed steel chisels work well when they’re sharpened properly, but sharpening turning tools is a pretty challenging skill in and of itself. You can master turning more quickly if you use chisels that are ready to use right out of the box. This is why I really like Easy Wood turning tools. Besides coming impressively sharp, the cutting tips are made of replaceable carbide that keeps cutting for a long time. I use the Ci1 Easy Rougher, Ci3 Mini Finisher and Ci4 Mini Detailer most often. You can turn with them for hours and they seem just as sharp as new.
Fast and beautiful creative opportunities.
These are what lathes deliver, and no matter how much I use one, I’m always amazed by what these tools can do.
House Works by Canada’s Handiest Man’ Steve Maxwell features DIY tips, how-to videos and tool product reviews.
This medium-sized benchtop woodturning lathe is one of a category called “midi lathes”. It combines the power to do large turnings with the finesse and small size of smaller models.
Carbide turning tools like these make is easier for beginners to get good results on the lathe. They come sharp and ready to use and the cutting tips are easily replaced.
This child’s toy is called a capirucho and is a popular in South and Central America. Steve turned it from some scrap tropical hardwood deck lumber.
Here a blank piece of wood is being turned on a faceplate to make a capirucho child’s toy.