What You Need to Know to Start Turning


What You Need to Know to Start Turning:
Mark Baker tells us about the essentials of woodturning.

Mark Baker tells us about the essentials of woodturning

Turning is a fascinating and endlessly absorbing hobby for many people. But, it is, like many subjects and hobbies, one which has a lot of terminology that can confuse people, and also kit and tools that people might think they have to own to start with. This short series is prompted by a Record Power turning starter kit valued at over £1000. Our aim is to cut through the chaff and directly deal with what is really needed and why, focusing on what to buy to give you the maximum flexibility to tackle a wide variety of projects.

The Record Power starter kit

Types of turning
There are two fundamental types of plain turning. Plain turning means work done on a standard turning lathe, and ornamental turning is capable of allowing you to create numerous decorative effects which are
not covered here, and they are faceplate turning and spindle turning.

Some of the wide variety of turned work that can be produced on a lathe

Spindle turning
This type of turning has the grain of the timber running parallel with the axis of the lathe. Typical spindle work projects include:
• Chair legs
• Stair baluster and similar such spindles
• Honey dippers
• Boxes
• Vases
• Spatulas
• Light pulls
• Wine bottle stoppers
• Door stops
• Spinning tops
• Door knobs
• Drawer pulls
• Finials
• Candlesticks
• Tool handles
• Goblets
• Scoops
• Cups
• Pen bodies
• Wands
• Skittles
• And many more!

A spindle grain blank of wood mounted on the lathe

Faceplate turning
The term ‘faceplate projects’ came from when a faceplate was the primary method of mounting this type of work on the lathe. We have more mounting options now of this type of work. This type of turning has the grain of the timber running at 90° to the axis of the lathe. Typical faceplate projects include:
• Bowls
• Platters
• Dishes
• Clock faces
• Lidded bowls
• Tealight holders

A faceplate grain bowl blank mounted on the lathe, ready for turning

Lathes from different manufacturers vary a little but their primary purpose is always to provide a stable platform on which to hold the wood. The lathe is used to make the wood rotate in a controlled manner while you are working on it. Lathes have various speed options to give you control over how fast the work spins – large work needs lower speeds and smaller diameter work is turned at higher speeds. Most lathes have five or six fixed speed settings and some lathes have electronic variable speed as well. The electronic speed control is nice to have but increases the cost of lathes considerably. Lathes vary greatly in size and weight. Typically, the larger the lathe the heavier it is and the larger the size of work that can be done on it. Having said that, most people rarely tackle projects larger than 300–350mm in diameter so this size range for the maximum diameter turning capacity is ideal for a lathe for many people. With spindle work, you need to hold pieces along the length of the lathe. Unless you need to turn stair spindles or table legs at about 1m in length, a lathe that can hold about 350–600mm between centres will suit most people not needing to turn stair spindle-length work.
Lathes can be bench top mounted, mounted on a purpose built stand or, come complete on their own integral stand. Bench mounted lathes suit many people well and start from about £250–300 in price. There are of course bigger and much more expensive lathes. 

DML305 midi lathe that has a 300mm diameter capacity

Key points
• You should be able to stand at the lathe and work at a comfortable height that does not cause you to hurt your back when turning.
• A quick way to find the position that is suitable for you is to stand at the headstock end of the lathe and then bend your arm at 90° to the spindle.
• The lathe should be at elbow height, give or take an inch or so.
• You can adjust it a little either way to suit your requirements, but this is a useful guide.

Just a few projects (using a variety of timbers) that can be turned on a lathe. We will look at useful timbers and learn to turn another time


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