After going over the best lathes of 2018, we have realized that it would be a good time to take a step back and go over the fundamentals. This post with address the question of what exactly is a lathe, what are some of the components of a lathe as well as what their purpose is. Lastly, we will take a deeper dive into the different accessories and auxiliary tools which can and should be used in conjunction with a wood lathe.
Basic Wood Lathe Components
The lathe is an ancient tool. In fact, the beginnings of its use can be traced back to ancient Egypt. That being said, the lathe we know today has evolved significantly. This evolution spawned a lot of extra features, accessories and other upgrades. However, it is important to recognize the fact that very few changes have been made to the core elements which make the tool function the way it does. After all, the main goal of a wood lathe has always been to spin a log in a reliable fashion.
The most common parts & tools of a lathe can be summed up in a short list. These elements are essential to a lathe and the work it provides the user with.
The headstock is the fixed portion of the lathe directly responsible for rotating the material. It is typically located on the left side looking from the control panel. The headstock will feature a spindle with a chuck which will clamp onto the material you are working on. Finally, the headstock is the portion of the lathe which is driven by the motor and typically holds the belt & pulley mechanism inside of it.
The tailstock will be the movable part of the lathe which sits on top of the lathe bed. It is primarily responsible for supporting the piece of material one is working with. It will slide back and fourth in order to ensure an adequate grip. It also features a spindle which can either clamp onto the wood or simply press against it. The tailstock will spin at the same rate as the headstock in order to provide maximum stability. Although the tailstock is not driven by anything, it keeps up with the transfer of motion with a well lubricated bearing.
The spindle is the crown of the headstock. In other words, it is the portion of the headstock which is being driven by the motor and will be rotating during operation. Typically, people will refer to the entire rotating assembly as the spindle, but in reality, it is only the shaft and the head.
There will be two spindles on a typical lathe: one for the headstock and one for the tailstock. However, many projects (ex: Bowl Turning) will only require one side of the lathe and thus only a single spindle.
The Lathe Bed
The lathe bed is the area above which your piece of wood is turning. It also acts as support for the headstock, tailstock as well as the tool rest. This portion of the lathe is generally heavy in order to maintain stability and restrict any movement or vibration during normal operation. Lastly, you will often see the term “swing over bed” which refers to the shortest distance between the center of the spindle to the bed. It indicates how big of a piece you can turn for your project.
The Tool Rest
The tool rest is a very important component of your lathe. It is the stand which is used to support your tool during the carving process. The primary objective it aims to accomplish is redirecting the downward force subjected by the tool into the lathe bed. In other words, it acts as a support for when you are carving and prevents the tool to dig into the wood and cause damage.
It is not tricky to use the tool rest properly. You need to think of your tool as a lever. The longer the portion from the wood to the tool rest, the more force will be applied and the more difficult it will be for you to work with the wood. Similarly, if that distance is shortened, it becomes much easier and allows you to focus on carving rather than fighting the downward force. Therefore, it is recommended to keep that distance as small as possible by bringing the tool rest closer to the wood or material you are working on.
The Tailstock Quill
The tailstock quill is the portion of the tailstock which holds different attachments. The most common ones are drill bits. Although it may not be needed by every project, most drills come equipped with this handy tool.
Wood Lathe Speed Changes
Changing the speed of a lathe is quite important for different projects and materials. It is a process woodworkers must learn and master in order to fully leverage their tool. Some of the newer high end models come with variable speed drives which allow the users to change the speed of the spindle with a simple knob. However, the simpler lathes and those we have seen throughout most of history, come with a belt driven system. Although some may argue that this approach is archaic, it is important to recognize its ingenuity and simplicity. Experienced woodworkers will know exactly how to work with this system, but it may appear puzzling to newcomers at first.
Think on a linear scale as you look at the pulley driven by the motor. As the smallest portion completes a single revolution, a small portion of the belt leaves the system. If this belt was placed on the bigger pulley, the motor would release a bigger distance of the same belt. Conversely, on the spindle size, a lesser portion of the belt is required when driving the small pulley and a larger one when driving the bigger pulley. By varying the belt configuration, one can easily achieve the desired speed of their wood lathe.