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What is wood turning?

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

What is wood turning? A skill that produces intricate wood designs and products

What is wood turning? A skill that produces intricate wood designs and products

A form of wood working called wood turning is a process where wooden objects are created using a lathe, which is a machine that is used to contour a piece of wood. The lathe grips the wood in a special apparatus. The wood then rotates.

The main difference in wood turning in comparison to other types of wood working is that the wood moves while an immobile tool is used to cut and shape the wood. Accomplished wood turners can create out extraordinarily complex and beautiful designs and shapes.

The most characteristic methods of wood turning include faceplate turning and spindle turning. When the woodworker uses faceplate turning, he secures the wood to a faceplate. When making wooden vessels such as bowls the faceplate turn technique is often used.

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Spindle turning requires that the wood is fixed in place between two points. The direction in which the wood is cut differs depending on the process used. Spindle turning cuts are done from high points toward the axis on the outer side of the piece that is being turned. Cuts are then made from the axis in the direction of the outside when the wood is hollowed.

When a wood worker uses faceplate turning, the reverse method applies. When a wood worker wants to create chair legs, spindles for beds or legs for tables, he uses the spindle turning method. Kits for turning handles, whistles and pens are popular in woodworking.

Wood turning requires the use of very sharp tools, which can be a challenge, and even dangerous, for novices. These tools must be sharpened recurrently. If the tools are not kept sharp they can?t do their job. 


Wood turning is not new. It goes back as far as 1300 BC when a two-person lathe was developed by the Egyptians. Of course, this required that one person turned the wood using a rope while the other person cut shapes into the wooden object using sharp tools.

The process improved over the years. A pedal was incorporated so that the wood worker?s hands were free, and he could use his hands to grasp his tools.

When a pedal is used, rather than turning the objects by hand-operated methods, this is referred to as a spring pole lathe. Another type of lathe that was developed was called a great lathe, which is a two-person lathe. As the wood worker cut the piece, his assistant would turn the crank so that the wooden piece could turn constantly.

Wood turning safety

There are safety precautions that must be taken when turning wood. It is far too easy to get clothing, jewelry or long hair caught in the machinery that revolves, and that creates serious problems for the wood worker. Injuries can occur.

The speed of the lathe should not be changed, nor should any part of the apparatus be changed while the lathe is operating. The operator must wear safety glasses and dust masks because a lot of dust is kicked up, and this is potentially hazardous to the wood worker.

The basic rules of wood turning include the speed of the lathe, which must be set to accommodate the length, size balance, and condition of the wood that is being turned. If you have a large piece, the lathe speed needs to be slower. Sometimes wood items are not in balance so you have to start slowly until the piece becomes more balanced. 

When working with a piece that is quite long in correlation to its diameter if the lathe speed is set too high this can cause the piece to whirr or whip. If the wood that you are working with isn?t in good shape and is showing signs of deterioration or decay, the wood may be unsafe to work with.

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