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How To Use A Wood Lathe

If you are new to the concept of woodturning, you may be wondering where to start.

Woodturning involves the use of a wood lathe, which at first glance can look like quite a daunting machine to operate.

Many different components make up a wood lathe, all serving different, but equally important purposes.

To help you along on your woodturning journey, we will be discussing all the basics on how to use a wood lathe.

We will be going into detail about what a wood lathe is, and talking you through all of the different components and their purpose. We will then be breaking down how to a wood lathe into some easy steps for you to follow.

We hope you will feel confident using one after reading this article.

What Is A Wood Lathe?

Put simply, it is a machine that is used to shape wood.

A wood lathe has many functions and you can cut, shape, sand down, and drill wood and metal. It works by continuously rotating the stock of wood you are working on. As the lathe is turning your wood, you place your tools on the tool rest and push them against the wood to shape it.

You can make many different items using a wood lathe, such as bowls, table legs, and even candlesticks. 

Wood Lathe Components

Before we discuss how to use a wood lathe, it is best to become well acquainted with the different parts of the machine and their purpose.

Once you have an understanding of this, using the wood lathe will be a much simpler task.


The headstock is on the left-hand side of your wooden lathe.

It is home to the motor, belt, pulleys, and the spindle. The headstock is the part of the power tool that controls the speed of the spindle and the power inputting into the machine.


The tailstock can be found on the opposite end of the lathe to the headstock on the right-hand side.

It allows the wood to rotate at the same pace as the headstock and helps to support the object you are crafting. It ensures that your spindle always stays central and can be adjusted to sit closer to the headstock if you are using a smaller piece of wood. You secure your wood using the tailstock and handwheel attached.


The motor can be found either inside the headstock or just outside of it, depending on your lathe’s make and model.

It is connected to electricity and is what powers the wood lathe.


The bed is the beam that is horizontally placed at the bottom of the machine.

It attaches the headstock to the tailstock and provides the tool-rest with movement between both ends of the machine.

Tool Rest

This is a vital part of the machine. This is where you will rest the tool you are using to carve the wood.

It helps to provide accuracy when carving and also acts as a safety feature too. It keeps the tool nice and secure to avoid any potential accidents and gives you something to lean on as you are woodturning. The tool-rest can be moved and adjusted to be placed anywhere across the length of the lathe.


The majority of wood lathes have different speed settings to suit the type of work you want to carry out.

It is important to note that you will need to use different speeds depending on the stock you are carving. The speed you will want to use all depends on the size of your wood stock. If you have a larger piece of wood you will need to a slower speed and if you have a smaller piece of wood, a higher speed would be more suitable.

How To Use A Wood Lathe

Now that you have some basic knowledge of the wood lathe components, we will be discussing how to use a wood lathe.

While there are many different things you can create using a wood lathe, we will be focusing on the basics for this article. We will be explaining how you turn your square stock into a rounded piece of wood.

Setting Up Your Wood Lathe

Before you begin to use your wood lathe, it is extremely important that you set it up correctly and are comfortable knowing where all of the components are.

At this point, you will need to gather all of the tools you will need to complete your project. It is always best to do this so that you have all of the tools you will need to hand.

If you are unsure of what types of tools you may need, we have provided a useful list of some tools that may be useful to use.

  • Gouges
  • Chisels 
  • Spoon cutters
  • Hollowing tools
  • Parting tools 

All of these are useful depending on the type of woodwork you are doing. For this article, we recommend using a chisel with a straight edge to help create the rounded stock. Always ensure that you are not using blunt tools. They will not be effective and could damage your wood.

Sharp tools provide much better results. Once you have chosen your tools, you will then need to ensure the wood stock you are going to turn is the desired length. The wood you are using should be completely intact and not split at all as it could potentially break the lathe.

Now you are ready to place the stock in the machine. Please ensure that your machine is turned off before doing so, to prevent any injuries from occurring.

Using Your Wood Lathe

The stock you are using must be placed just above the spindle. You will need to use the handwheel on the tailstock to secure your piece of wood in place. Preferably the wood should be placed at a right angle as this is the optimum degree level to carve the wood for a beginner, making the process easier for you. 

Before you begin, you always need to ensure that your wood is tightly secured and inside the center of the spur. If your wood is not properly secured it could become loose when the lathe is in use, which is potentially very dangerous. 

You want your tool rest to be placed parallel to the piece of wood for ease of use. Ideally, it should not be placed too close to the stock otherwise it will stop it from being able to rotate properly. Around three-quarters of an inch away from the stock is suffice. You still want the tool you are using to be able to reach the wood.

After your wood is secure, you will next need to turn on your lathe machine. For this article, we recommend choosing the slowest rotation setting on your machine. This will give you more control to practice using the lathe. As you become more comfortable using the lathe, you can choose the correct speed setting for the length and size of the stock you are turning.

Once you are comfortable with the speed and controls, you can begin to carve your wood. To do this, you will need to take the chisel of your choice, place it on the tool rest, and push it against the wood. You will want to use some force but not too much. You will feel some resistance as your chisel begins to shape your stock. Wood shavings should also start to come off the wood. 

You will need to keep repeating this process until you are happy with the piece you are carving. The stock will be ready when all of the wood has been carved evenly and is completely rounded. This may take a while to master, but remember you can move your tool rest along the lathe bed to reach all of the wood evenly.

Once you begin to feel more comfortable with the basics, you can then progress to using tools such as gouges and scrapers to create patterns on the woodwork. The most important thing to remember when using a wood lathe for the first time is to take things slowly and do not rush. Always ensure that the lathe is switched off before removing your finished carved wood. 

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has helped you learn the basics of how to use a wood lathe.

As you can see, once you know the basics, it is quite an easy machine to operate. The more confident you become, the more intricate your wood designs will become. It is always important to get to know the machine parts and study your user manual before you attempt to use your lathe.

Please remember that a lathe is a power tool that can cause significant injuries and damage when used incorrectly. It is always important to consult your user manual if you are unsure of how to operate your model.

Always ensure you are wearing safety goggles and keep all loose hair or clothing tied back and out of reach of the lathe.
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