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By Stephen H. Blenk
Rounding Out Your Woodworking Options
A lathe provides an enjoyable way to turn out a wide array of round wooden projects, from bowls to table legs and balustrade parts.
Most things round and wooden were born on a wood lathe. This time-honored tool provides a world of woodworking project options: chair and balustrade parts, custom table legs, finials and split-turned moldings, bowls, vessels, toys, cabinet pulls, and more. Lathes are versatile and fun to use, and the working principle is simple. You shape the workpiece as it spins, cutting into it with a variety of sharp tools.
The body of a lathe is basically made up of three parts: the headstoek, the tailstock, and the bed. The headstoek, which holds a powered shaft, or spindle, is fixed to one end of the bed. The tailstock, adjustable along the length of the bed, holds an unpowered spindle. 'Hie bed provides clamping surface along its length for the tool rest.
Serious turners should look for a machine with a cast-iron body—important for its great rigidity and vibration-dampening qualities. Lathes with beds of steel angle or pipe will flex in use, causing vibration and frustrating smooth cutting. Lathe stands need to be solid as well, whether commercial or shop-made.
A lathe's size is designated by the swing, the maximum diameter of work it will handle. The spindles on a 12-in. lathe are centered 6 in.
above the lathe bed. The distance between centers refers to the longest stock that the tool will handle with the tailstock at maximum extension. Before buying a lathe, consider the largest-diameter bowl and the longest spindle you're likely to turn. For those just starting out and unclear on their future needs, I recommend a 12-in. general-purpose lathe with at least 36 in. between centers.
For those primarily interested in faceplate turning, there are short-bed or no-bed lathes designed to swing large-diameter work. These feature lower variable-speed ranges, larger-diameter spindles, and specialized tool rests. Some general-purpose lathes have outboard turning capability, which means you can turn large faceplate work on the outer end of the headstoek spindle. (Outboard turning spins the work in the opposite direction and requires left-hand-threaded faceplates.) Avoid outboard-capacity lathes that don't provide an attached extension bed for the tool rest; freestanding rests are dangerous and hard to use.
Those mainly interested in spindle turning might want one of the longer-bed, smaller-swing lathes with an upper speed range of 3,000 to 4,000 rpm. (See chart, page 96.) Very long stoek can be turned on a lathe such as the Conover, its headstoek and tailstock are designed to be mounted on a wood beam of any length.
Look for a lathe with tapered spindles. The tapers, conical-shaped recesses in the ends of the spindles, acccpt interchangeable centers between which the workpiccc is mounted. A No. 2 Morse taper will accept many common accessories, including drive centers, live centers and chucks.
The drive spindle is threaded on the outside to acccpt faceplates and chucks. I like the l-in.-dia., 8-th reads-per-in. (tpi) spindle—the standard Delta/Rockwell thread. It s time-tested and accommodates many accessories.
Lower turning speeds are better for large bowl work; spindle work requires higher speeds. For general turning, get a machine with a range from 400 rpm (or less) to 2,500 rpm
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