Knowing and being able to identify wood lathe parts is important, especially when first getting started.
I remember when I wasn’t sure what or where everything was or what it did on a wood lathe. This article will go over the lathe basics, plus will cover much more.
The goal is to help you identify wood lathe parts and accessories. So let’s dive in.
The Size of a Name
First off, there are different names for lathes based on size.
Mini lathes are small lathe versions designed for small projects, such as pen turning. These typically aren’t used to make wooden bowls. At least not full-sized wood bowls.
After the Mini lathes category comes the next size up name, Midi lathes. As you might be guessing, these are mid-sized lathes that aren’t super small but also aren’t too large. Most Midi lathes can be placed on a bench and do not come with a freestanding floor base unit.
Beyond the Mini and Midi categories come all other “regular” wood lathes. These lathes are typically larger and freestanding and come complete with a strong solid floor base or leg support system.
It seems the labels of Mini and Midi have been created by manufacturers to distinguish the very small lathes from the medium-sized lathes. The remaining full-size lathes perhaps don’t require any additional labeling.
The larger category of wood lathes doesn’t have a label exactly, but these lathes usually have a number in their name, like 1236. These numbers coorespond to the lathe’s bed length and swing diameter. More on that in a minute.
While some Midi lathes like the Jet 1221vs lathe (see full review) are ideal to make small to medium bowls, the regular-sized lathes are usually utilized in the production of wood bowl turning.
The nice thing is that all wood lathes, regardless of size, are designed about the same. And technically, any lathe can be used to make wood bowls.
Identify wood lathe parts
When we first look at a wood lathe it’s important to note that we’re always standing on the “working” side of the lathe. Although the lathe has access to both sides, very rarely does the opposite side come into play.
Although, that being said, on occasion it may become necessary to turn from the opposite side if you’re making a large curved wall bowl, but that is seldom. Ninety-nine percent of the time the turning work is only done from the front of the lathe.
In this position, the motor and drive mechanism is to the left side of the lathe. This area is called the head or headstock of the lathe.
I have seen people working from the opposite side of the lathe in some documentation. I’m not sure if this is a special setup or a standard in a different country. If you know more about this, please leave a comment and share below.
The head or headstock of a wood lathe is the business end of the lathe where all the power and action starts. On this end of the lathe we’ll find the motor, tension pulley(s) and drive belt.
Depending on the make and model lathe, there can be tension pulleys that allow the user to manually change between various pulley sizes to increase or decrease speed and torque. Usually there is also a tension release lever that, in many cases, physically lifts the motor, releasing tension from the drive belt and allowing it to easily shift the belt to a different pulley.
Most lathes also include a diagram and r.p.m. chart for each pulley near the drive belt. If a chart or guide is not present, check with your owners manual or manufacturer for details. Some lathes have a single drive belt and it is not necessary to make manual adjustments.
The threaded extrusion from the headstock is called the headstock spindle. The threaded spindle has two important measurements that are good to remember.
The first important measurement is the headstock spindle thread size and the thread count. The spindle threading is measured in diameter, such as 1” or 1 1/4” and then that is followed by the thread count, such as 12 TPI (threads per inch) or 8 TPI. A common spindle size, for instance, is 1” x 8 TPI.
The second measurement that is important on the headstock spindle is the Morse Taper. The inside of the headstock spindle is hollow to receive various accessories.
There are two typical Morse Taper sizes, MT-1 and MT-2. MT-2 is very popular.
It’s a good idea to check with your lathe manual or manufacturer to know which Morse Taper your lathe has when you purchase accessories that utilize this feature.
An important feature of any lathe is the distance from the headstock spindle to the lathe bed. The lathe bed is the two flat horizontal rails, sometimes called ways, that run along the length of the lathe.
The space between the headstock center and the top of the lathe bed is the radius of the lathe swing. The swing distance is important because it dictates how large a turned piece can be on that particular lathe.
The swing of a lathe is measured as the total diameter of a finished turned piece, such as a wood bowl. In other words, a lathe that has a 12” swing can turn a 12” bowl and the distance from the headstock center to the top of the bed is 6”, or the radius of the largest turned piece that specific lathe can handle.
On the left side of the headstock is the headstock hand wheel. This is a handy (pun intended) way to rotate the lathe effectively when the lathe is turned off to check if the wood piece will clear the tool rest.
Also, the hand wheel can be used to slow down the lathe after it has been turned off to bring it to a stop more quickly. Using the hand wheel to slow the lathe is the preferred method.
Never try to slow the lathe by holding the other end of the headstock spindle, chuck, or turning wood.
Most lathes have an indexing wheel located somewhere in the headstock. It may be located by the hand wheel, near the headstock spindle, or inside the headstock area itself.
The indexing wheel is a measuring guide with compass marks indicating degrees of rotation. Every manufacturer makes these a bit different.
An example would be 48 evenly marked and numbered dashes around the headstock wheel. Some lathes may have simple tick marks around a collar with no numbers.
In most cases, the headstock spindle can be locked in place corresponding to these marks using the index pin, which is usually threaded.
The index wheel is a more advanced feature that is used to mark turned pieces while still attached to the lathe with the lathe off.
Personally, I use the index wheel on my lathe to evenly mark the location of three feet on the bottom on some of my bowls. My lathe has 48 marks, so to mark the center of the three legs I divide 48 by 3, which is 16 and then advance the index wheel 16 spots to mark each leg.
Note, it’s important to loosen the index pin before turning on the lathe as it will prevent the drive belt from turning and can cause problems.
Also, on the headstock is the headstock spindle lock. This mechanism has a couple fixed locking set points and is not to be confused with the index pin.
The headstock spindle lock is designed to hold the spindle tight when attachments need to be removed from the lathe. This is most often used, for example, when a faceplate needs to be removed with a pair of long pliers or when a chuck needs to be pried off with a chuck key.
Like the index pin, the headstock lock must be loosened and disengaged before turning on the lathe.
Power and Speed Control
Depending on the manufacturer, the on/off and speed control switch may be located near the headstock in a fixed position.
Some models of lathes make the control switch corded to move close to your working location at all times. This prevents the need to step in front of the turning wood, a real safety issue, in the event something isn’t going right. Some models locate the power controls elsewhere on the lathe.
Along with the power switch, most models will also include speed control. The speed control adjustment is usually a rotating dial with numbered indicators or, on some models, a digital r.p.m. display.
Also, some models will include an optional switch to reverse the lathe rotation direction.
Moving away from the headstock area, to the right, on the lathe bed will be the tool rest support.
The tool rest support attached to the lathe bed has a few different names including; carriage and banjo. This is the support structure that holds the all-important tool rest.
The tool rest and the banjo each have their own locking lever to adjust and hold them in place in almost any position along the lathe bed.
On the far right side of the lathe is the tailstock. The tailstock mounts to the lathe bed rails and slides back and forth across the lathe bed.
The tailstock bed lock secures the tailstock firmly to the lathe rails or ways.
At the top left of the tailstock is where the live center, also called the quill or center are attached. This is the hollow Morse Taper hole or receiving hole that holds Morse Taper accessories such as live centers, Jacob Chucks, etc.
The tailstock spindle lock holds the tailstock spindle in place. On the far right side of the tailstock is the tailstock feed hand wheel. This is a precision threaded screw drive used to advance accessories placed in the tailstock spindle toward or away from the working wood material.
The tailstock is designed to hold material that is turned end to end, but in our case of bowl turning, the tailstock and live center add support in many turning situations.
At other times, the tailstock needs to be out of the way to access the bowl interior. In these cases, the tailstock can be loosened and slid off the end of the lathe bed and stored away.
A feature that I feel needs to be mentioned, but technically is not part of all lathe, is a good light. Some lathes do provide support structures to add light fixtures.
Whether attached directly to the lathe or freestanding, a good bright light source is an important accessory during the bowl turning process.
The lathe base is the foundation for stability. Whether you turn small handheld bowls or large decorative hollow forms, good stable support for the lathe is critical.
If the lathe is a Midi model and sits on a table or bench, that support surface needs to be strong enough to not vibrate when the lathe is rotating at high speeds, especially when a piece has an off-balance design, such as a natural edge or live edge bowl.
Likewise, if the lathe is a stand-alone model, the support legs or base need to be able to maintain vibration-free stability at bowl turning speeds that typically range up to 1000 rpm. See this article that deals with stopping lathe vibration.
Accessories that may come with a lathe include: a faceplate, knockout bar, wrench(es) to fit specific adjustment points, drive center and live, or rotating, center for the tailstock, and possibly an additional tool rest.
Wood Lathe Faceplate
A faceplate is an affordable and secure way to quickly attach wood to the lathe. Several screw holes allow wood screws to firmly affix to a wood bowl blank.
The threaded outside of the headstock receives the threaded center of the faceplate. The faceplate can be easily removed and used in different ways with numerous projects.
The lathe knockout bar is a shaft of metal with a handle and is used to knockout, as the name implies, an accessory that is installed in the headstock Morse Taper.
The friction connection of the tapered Morse Taper accessories requires a bit of convincing to disengage these accessories. The knockout bar is slid through the hollow headstock (or tailstock) center and used to tap the end of any Morse Taper accessories.
It’s a good idea to carefully hold the accessory, being aware of sharp edges, with your right hand to prevent it from flying when it becomes dislodged.
Each lathe has specific adjustment points that might require a wrench. In these cases, the manufacturer usually supplies these wrenches, usually along with some location on the lathe to store the wrenches.
Drive and Live Centers
Drive centers, such as spur chucks, are designed to transfer the drive energy of the headstock to turn the wood on the lathe. The drive center is inserted and used on the headstock Morse Taper end.
The live center, also called a rotating center, is used on the tailstock side of the lathe and holds the wood blank centered while rotating along with the wood.
These two tools are typically used with end-to-end spindle work, but can be used in the initial process of bowl turning as well.
Now that you can identify wood lathe parts, it’s time to look at wood lathe accessories. There are some additional lathe accessories that a wood bowl turner could use to make the bowl turning process smoother and more efficient.
The most important additional accessory for a wood bowl turner is a four-jaw chuck (read this article for more info). I recommend using a dovetail four-jaw chuck for a superior secure hold.
Long pliers give the needed leverage to loosen faceplates and other accessories. Here’s the Amazon link for a good pair of pliers.
Curved Tool Rest
Be sure to specify the correct size shaft diameter. One inch diameter is a common full-size lathe size; however, smaller lathes may use a 5/8″ diameter shaft as found on this 9″ inside curve tool rest .
Faceplates are the quickest way to attach a wood bowl blank to the lathe and they work great for making jigs and jam chucks. The only problem is there are never enough of them.
I recommend the following 1 1/4” x 8 TPI faceplate (Amazon check current price) or 1” x 8 TPI faceplate for making five- to 10-inch diameter wood bowls. Again, be sure to order the correct size to fit your lathe’s headstock spindle.
There you have it, the lathe parts are not too complex once their functions are understood. While each manufacturer makes their own slight variations, in general, all lathes function very similarly. It’s not too difficult to identify wood lathe parts.
Regular maintenance of the wood lathe is a very important routine to establish. To learn more about what needs to be done to take care of a wood lathe, check out this article about wood lathe maintenance.
If this article helped you understand the lathe a bit better, or if you’d like to add to this post, please leave me a comment below.
– For details of the equipment mentioned in this article see my Recommended Equipment Guide.
You may like to check these articles out as well:
• WOOD LATHE MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST – 7 AREAS TO MAINTAIN
• LATHE LIGHT – WHY YOU PROBABLY NEED MORE
• SAFE WOOD LATHE SPEED (CALCULATE, DETERMINE, ADJUST RPM)
• WOOD LATHE TOOL REST (HEIGHT, ADJUST, MAINTAIN)
Thanks and Happy Turning,