Lathes are versatile tools that can be used to drill, sand, cut, and turn various materials. But the question is this: can you use a metal lathe for wood? To be fair, all lathes use the same mechanism, so it’s possible to use it to turn wood. However, it entails some adjustments to the toolset to achieve a smooth finish.
In this post, I will discuss how you can use a metal lathe for wood together with the adjustments you need to make. You also have to consider the type of wood you’re going to use on the metal lathe.
Wood lathe vs. metal lathe
Lathes are designed to accommodate various materials. This is why there’s a separate tool for turning wood and metal. While both look similar, each one has specific features that ensure the best results.
Wood lathes are smaller and have simpler mechanisms than those made for metals. And since wood is softer than metal, wood lathes have lower speeds than. It’s traditionally used to shape, polish, and cut wood with a basic pulley system.
On the other hand, metal lathes are hardy machines. They have higher rotation speeds and a more complicated system made to handle tough metals. Most metal lathes work aggressively to manipulate hard metals in conjunction with a special cutting tool. Also, metal lathes are large and cumbersome, which can also be challenging to maintain.
Can you turn wood on a metal lathe?
Technically, it’s possible to use a metal lathe to turn wood. However, you have to consider a few complications here.
First, metal lathes don’t give a smooth finish to the wood. While you can cut and shape wood in it, you’ll end up with a rough surface. If you want a better result, you need to use different techniques and tools.
Aside from that, wood dust and chips will fly everywhere when you use a metal lathe. Its high rotation speed will give you an additional cleaning task.
You also have to think about the type of wood you’re planning to turn using a metal lathe. For example, if you have teak or mahogany in mind, there are some problems that may arise.
First, teak and mahogany have high levels of silica grains. Such characteristic makes it less ideal to turn on metalworking machines. Aside from that, silica dust is harmful to a person’s health when inhaled.
It’s best to use a plastic film or any type of protector to isolate the wood dust. You should also consider setting up a vacuum cleaner as well to suck the sawdust immediately.
Using a metal lathe to turn wood will dull your woodworking tools faster. Even with a different technique, you’ll surely notice your tools losing their edge quicker than usual.
Using the right chisels
If you’re turning wood on a metal lathe, you have to use the right chisels. Normal chisels can easily break and dull.
You need chisels with long handles so that they won’t be ripped from your hands by the force of the lathe. This scenario is dangerous as the chisel can be thrown into the air and potentially harm a person nearby.
For the best results, you should use gouges or two-handed lathe chisels. These tools have a better length that can tolerate the speed of metal lathes better. It will also prevent catches, which happen when the tool grips the wood fibers instead of expelling them.
Tips in turning wood on a metal lathe
If you’re turning wood on a metal lathe, there are a few things to keep in mind. The following are some useful tips to achieve smooth results.
- Use the right tool rest support. Rest support acts as a guide on your woodworking tools as you scrape the turning wood. Without it, your chisel will be thrown into the air, or you’ll encounter nasty catches that are difficult to fix.
- Cut along the wood grain. One thing you should avoid when turning wood on a metal lathe is cutting against the grain. This will create a very rough finish, and it will also lead to catches.
- Always keep your tools sharp. You’ll get better results on a metal lathe if your tools are razor sharp at all times. You should also check for chips on the edge that could impact the finish of your workpiece.
- Wear eye protection. Metal lathes can be more dangerous than wood lathes. This is why you should always wear suitable eye protection. It will shield your peepers from sawdust.
- Don’t wear loose clothes. Remember that metal lathes are high-speed machines. If your loose hem or sleeve gets caught on it, you’ll figure in a freak accident. Baggy clothes can also get snagged on the spindle of the lathe.
- Observe proper lighting. Poor lighting can lead to rough finishes and a higher risk of accidents. You’d want to see clearly what you’re doing to prevent this.
Can I use a drill as a lathe?
If you don’t have space and budget for a lathe, you can improvise using your drill press. This works for small woodworking projects like corbels, chisel handles, chess pieces, and so on. However, you should observe proper caution as this requires proper setup.
You can also make a mini latte by gearing up a cordless drill, as shown in this video. It’s perfect for hobbyists and small projects.
Can I turn wood without a lathe?
Without a lathe, it would be extremely difficult to turn wood. You can improvise a drill, but it can only do so much. If you want to work on large wood pieces, you need to invest in a wood lathe. You can also use a metal lathe, but this will require a lot of practice and configuration.
Are lathes dangerous?
Any woodworking tool can be dangerous when used by the wrong hands. Proper maintenance, caution, and practice should keep you safe while handling lathes.
If you’re sick or drunk, you should never operate lathes or any woodworking machines for that matter. No matter how small wood lathes are, they can cause serious injuries and even death if used haphazardly.
Moreover, you should place the lathe on a well-lit and stable surface. You should also prevent children and pets from accessing your workshop.
What is the best lathe size for woodworking?
The answer to this depends on the size of wood you plan to work on. If you’re planning to create table legs, the general lathe size you need is one with 36” between the centers. There are also bigger lathes with up to 40” between the centers for larger woodworking projects.
For hobbyists, mini lathes with 15” between centers are also good choices. It’s compact and won’t consume too much space on a home workshop.
Aside from that, you should know that lathes can be bought in varying swing ranges between 10” and 17”. This is a crucial consideration if you’re working on wood pieces with large diameters.
Can you use a metal lathe for wood? Yes, you can use this tool to turn wood, but with a few caveats. Metal lathes are high-powered, which can lead to rough finishes. But with the right technique and tools, you can make it work. Make sure that you observe proper caution at all times.