Wood Lathe Vibration Main Image

Wood Lathe Vibration Solutions – Bowl Turning Smoothly

Wood lathe vibration can be a very frustrating and potentially dangerous experience. Not only is vibration unsafe, it usually causes tool marks and interferes with a quality turned wood bowl.

The potential sources for wood lathe vibration are numerous, and in this article, we will systematically move through and eliminate each possibility.

After all, what we are looking for is a smooth woodturning opportunity to make the most of each wood bowl blank. Vibration needs not to be part of your wood bowl turning process.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it can be to have my lathe, which I’ve taken a good deal of time leveling to the floor, start dancing and walking away because of an unbalanced bowl blank.

Here’s what I’ve discovered, mostly the hard way, and how I manage vibration on my lathe.

Wood Lathe Vibration Dry Run

With no wood or accessories, like a chuck attached to the lathe, start the lathe and let’s check for any vibrations.

If any vibrations occur at this point, address them before any wood is turned.

A wood lathe is essentially a motor driven platform to mount and rotate wood. The headstock only needs to revolve smoothly and be able to hold the weight of a bowl blank.

Vibration from a wood lathe itself, without a blank mounted, is a sign of a mechanical or structural issue.

Drive Train Check

Turn off the lathe and see if the belt can be moved smoothly by hand around the headstock pulley.

If the electric motor turns rough or makes noise, it could indicate that the motor needs repair or bearings need replacing.

Headstock Check

If the motor and belt seem to move smoothly, but the headstock vibrates or makes excessive noise when the lathe is turned on, the headstock bearings may need repair.

Depending on the wood lathe and the manufacturer, repairing or replacing the bearings may be relatively simple, or more complex.

Contact the manufacturer for information on repairing the headstock bearings. Until the bearings are fixed, turning wood isn’t the best idea.

Wood Lathe Vibration Solid Footing

So your motor, belt, and headstock checkout fine. That’s good news, but you still might have a wood lathe vibration.

Let’s look further, and downward. Without good footing, any lathe will vibrate and rattle during operation.

All four legs need to have a good reliable connection with the floor. If even one leg is off the floor, just a hair, it can cause vibration.

To make this simpler, be sure first thoroughly to clean the floor of any dust and debris.

Depending on your lathe, you might have adjustable leg settings. Each leg setting needs to be adjusted to anchor the leg to the floor.

Footing Check Trick

With no accessories or wood attached to the lathe, turn the lathe on and check for any vibration.

Get down close to each leg connected to the floor and see if you can slip a piece of paper under the lathe foot. If you can, that leg needs to be lowered or adjusted until it makes firm contact.

Don’t extend the foot too far, because one of the other legs might become dislodged in the process. Recheck all legs with the paper technique.

Wood Lathe Vibration Leg Anchor Test
Wood Lathe Vibration Leg Anchor Test

Headstock Connection

Now that the foundational components of the lathe have been checked and corrected for vibration, we need to look at the point of connection to your wood bowl blanks.

The point of contact at the headstock is the most critical point to remove and eliminate vibration.

Why is this?

Imagine having a long 20-foot thin fiberglass rod in your hand. If you hold still everything is fine. However, if you move your hand which is holding the rod at one end just a small amount, the corresponding vibration and movement out at the other end of the rod will be dramatic.

Wood Lathe Vibration Across Distance
Wood Lathe Vibration Across Distance

This is precisely what happens at the headstock as well. If even a tiny issue occurs at the headstock, by the time it magnifies through a four-jaw chuck or faceplate and into a bowl blank, the vibration can be significant.

Solid Faceplate Connection

No matter how you attach a bowl blank to the lathe, take your time and make sure the connection is solid and clean.

If you’re attaching the bowl blank to the lathe with a faceplate, be sure the faceplate is centered, flat to the blank surface and secured using all screw holes possible.

Also, be sure, no debris is lodged between the bowl blank and the faceplate before securing and tightening the faceplate screws.

Here is an article specifically about making proper use of the faceplate.

True Tenon Connection

Forming a well-sized and angled tenon is key to making a stable connection with a four-jaw chuck.

In the article about creating the perfect tenon, I cover all the details needed to make an ideal tenon that can hold tight and accurate to the lathe chuck.

Take your time when forming a tenon and be sure to make a nice flush shoulder and a dovetail that matches your chuck jaws angle.

Remember, any imperfections at the tenon can magnify out into the bowl blank and become an annoying vibration.

Wondering about what tenon imperfections might cause vibration issues? Check out this article next.

Sweat The Small Stuff

  • Take compressed air or an old toothbrush and clean the headstock threads and the receiving threads in all chucks and faceplates. Dust inside the headstock thread connection can cause the chuck or faceplate to shift a tiny bit off-center.
Wood Lathe Vibration Debris Removal
Wood Lathe Vibration Debris Removal
  • Be sure all chucks and faceplates seat entirely flush to the headstock shoulder. A gap, even a super-thin gap, may allow vibration to extend out to the bowl blank. Fill the gap with a plastic washer if needed.

  • Carefully thread all accessories onto the headstock threads slowly to avoid cross-threading. A chuck or faceplate mounted with cross-threads will most likely be off-axis and vibrate during operation. If cross-threads exists on the headstock, take time to file off any burrs to prevent future cross-threading. I use this very nice, small, angled metal file to correct any issues on my headstock threads

Dancing Wood Lathe Vibration

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see a silenced cell phone go off in vibrate mode and float across a desk surface, you witnessed exactly what an unbalanced lathe can do.

Believe it or not, the microdevice inside a cell phone that makes it vibrate is a rotating unbalanced cylinder, very much like a lathe with an unbalanced bowl blank.

Based on the size of the bowl blank, the amount of unbalanced mass, and the speed of the lathe, wood lathe vibration can make a lathe move uncontrollably and dangerously across the floor.

Weighted Response

Just like placing your hand on that vibrating phone and holding it down, so too can we add weight to reduce wood lathe vibration.

Some wood lathes, like Oneway lathes, have structural cavities that can be filled with sand to weigh them down.

Depending on the lathe design, placing sandbags on leg structures or a custom crossbeam can be made to hold weighed bags.

Weighing down a lathe will reduce and absorb vibration and allow for much less wood lathe vibration.

Working Irregular Pieces

Very few bowl blanks are perfectly centered and balanced precisely. Turning large blanks or asymmetrical bowl blanks can and will cause wood lathe vibration.

The key to working with irregular bowl blanks is patience. Start by slowing increasing the lathe speed until vibration occurs.

Sometimes, if the lathe is well anchored, it is possible to turn up the lathe speed just a bit past the vibration point, and the turning will smooth out.

If the bowl blank doesn’t smooth out by going a bit faster slow down. Back the speed down until the wood lathe vibration subsides and the bowl blank rotates smoothly.

No Set Speed

There is no exact ideal speed for turning wood bowls. Instead, the speed that doesn’t cause vibration is the best speed to begin turning a wood bowl blank.

Large bowl blanks can be especially problematic. Vibration from larger pieces can cause a lathe to dance and walk across the floor.

Keep the speed low or right below the vibration point and work the bowl blank into a more balanced shape.

I’ve found that if you take your time and true up the outside edge of a bowl blank, the lathe speed can usually be increased.

As each step of the bowl turning process is completed and more material is removed, speeds can be increased without new vibrations.

To help understand lathe speed better, read this article.

Wood Condition

Moisture, shape, internal structures will all affect the rotation and vibration present in a given bowl blank.

I’ve seen blanks that look perfectly cylindrical and well balanced, cause wood lathe vibration like crazy. Sometimes there is a mass of wood or moisture in one area of the blank that is imbalanced on the opposite side of the bowl blank.

Internal knots or voids can also cause imbalance and make a smooth bowl turning experience elusive.

Tailstock Support

No matter what, the tailstock is not only great insurance, it also mitigates overall bowl blanks vibration.

Think of that fiberglass rod example from earlier. When you engage the tailstock, it is as if the other end of the fiberglass rod is now anchored and centered as well as the end you’re holding.

The tailstock pins in, or bookends the bowl blank and reduces any wood lathe vibrations.

Always use the tailstock when possible, and most vibrations generally are reduced to insignificant issues that can be avoided by reducing the lathe speed just a touch.

Wood Lathe Vibration Tailstock Support
Wood Lathe Vibration Tailstock Support

Lathe Speed

The lathe I learned on had a nice RPM readout, and I found myself getting in the habit of turning around 800-1000 RPMs.

When I purchased my lathe, I was a bit disappointed that it did not have an RPM readout display. Instead, I needed to adjust the lathe speed by feel and sight.

In the long run, not having the readout is a blessing. I’m more in tune with what speed is best for each given bowl blank without being influenced by a readout display.

Wood lathe vibration doesn’t occur that much because I’m not trying to push the speed up to some arbitrary RPM number. Instead, I’m listening to the bowl blank and my machine and making the speed just right for each situation.

Wood Lathe Vibration Speed Control
Wood Lathe Vibration Speed Control

Wood Lathe Vibration Extreme Solution

In extreme situations, mounting the lathe to the floor is a possible vibration reduction solution. However, I would do everything in my power first to reduce the vibration by other means first.

If you are designing large offset turned bowls or other deliberately unbalanced pieces, then mounting to the floor might be a good solution.

Do your homework and possibly even consult a structural engineer to determine the best way to anchor your lathe to the floor safely.

So remember, just because a lathe mounts to the floor does not mean the forces of an unbalanced wood bowl blank aren’t affecting the lathe and its support base.

Work within reasonable lathe speeds and don’t push beyond safe turning conditions.

Bench Mounting Wood Lathe

Similar to mounting a standing lathe to the floor, a benchtop lathe model can be bolted to a work surface.

The one thing to keep in mind is that once the lathe is mounted to the work surface, all the vibration energy from the lathe can be transferred to the workbench.

If the benchtop is not stable or secured well, further vibrations can occur.

It’s a good idea to reinforce the workbench or benchtop that the lathe is attached to before mounting and using the lathe.

Working An Unstable Bowl Blank

I have found that taking your time and truing up the side of a bowl blank usually helps reduce vibration the most dramatically.

After the sides of the bowl blank are true, the faces of the blank can also be smoothed which further reduces most vibrations.

Usually, with a nice trued up round cylindrical bowl blank, I can back off the tailstock and bring the lathe speed up to a pretty quick pace and begin shaping the outside of the wood bowl.

Wood Lathe Vibration Pinterest Image

Wood Lathe Vibration Wrap

Without a smooth turning bowl blank on the lathe, it is almost impossible to create a smooth finished bowl shape without nasty tool marks and other imperfections that need further attention.

Not only will wood lathe vibration make bowl gouge tool performance difficult, but it also makes the whole process of wood bowl turning less enjoyable.

What wood lathe vibration issues have you had?

How have you managed to reduce or remove vibration from your turning process?

I’d be curious to know what has worked for you. Please leave a comment below.

Comments

  1. Hello,
    thanks much for the article. I have one vibration issue – at normal conditions the bowl is spinning well on its own,but when turning the inner space of the bowl,it starts to shake and vibrate after touching the tool,even at slight touch,not forcing the tool. This vibration increases with distance from the chuck and makes the work not enjoyable. This phenomenon in little form occurs also when spinning the spindle by hand,having the gouge in cutting contact with the wood. I have turned approx. 7 bowls so far (walnut,oak and plum wood) and I always used a mortise attachment to the chuck. I have a diy lathe,which original parts are only headstock,tailstock and tool rest. All other parts I made or bought on my own,like stand,motor with step pulley and chuck. I do not have a speed controller and I only can choose between 700,1200,1700,2300 and 3000 rpm. But it works well and I made a 23 cm diameter oak bowl easily with the 700 rpm. Only that unpleasant vibration…thank you for any advice
    Leroi

    1. Author

      Hello Feroi,

      Thanks for writing and for your question.

      Slight vibrations or unbalance are many times caused by poor chuck connections.

      If you are using a mortise, it can be difficult to see if the piece has shifted in the chuck. A small grab while turning can unseat the bowl blank from the chuck just a hair and that will cause an unbalanced situation.

      Be sure you are forming inside mortise walls that taper and conform to your chuck shape. I recommend using a dovetail chuck design. Periodically, stop and tighten the chuck just a bit to make sure nothing has moved.

      See if that helps and please let me know.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  2. Hi I’ve just acquired a very old Barnes lathe after a bit of TLC it works fine regarding speed control I used a heavy duty dimmer switch hope this helps.

    1. Author

      Brian,

      Thanks for writing.

      This sounds like an exciting way to turn.

      What year is the model you are turning?

      Kent

  3. I’ve only made about 10 bowls out of hard oak. I haven’t tried any other wood.
    I have vibration problems when trying to true the blanks. Using a gouge to true up the blank tends to generate an increasing high spot as I go from one end to the other. As I go from one end to the other the gouge starts to cut out-of-round and the out of round increases as the bevel gets bumped out of round on each rotation. It’s like the gouge cuts inconsistently through the rotation. I end up using a scraper to knock off the high spot (It’s been as much as 1/8 inch out of round) and true the cut. When using the trued flat surface the next cuts tend to cut evenly without the bumping but sometimes the out of round bump reappears and I have to use a scraper again to flatten it.
    I’ve tried sharpening, different angles of attack, different gouges, different speeds, different cut depths, and nothing seems to help cut a consistently round cut. I’m using a 4″ 4 jaw chuck and the blank is held very solid.
    Is the hard oak the problem or is there some technique I’m missing?

    1. Author

      Hello James,

      Great question. Thanks for writing.

      Oak can be a bit finicky to work with at times. From my experience, oak moves quickly and unpredictably.

      If the oak is green or has any moisture, there is a chance it is distorting even while you turn.

      When there are high spots, the problem is accentuated when we push the bowl gouge into the bowl blank. Instead, lock your arms up against your body and shift your body weight to glide the gouge across the tool rest without pressing into the bowl blank. Put downward force through the gouge onto the tool rest with your left hand.

      At first, you should here the “click, click” as the gouge engages the high spots. Make light thin passes and if the difference is only 1/8″ within a few seconds you should hear a solid continuous cut without clicking.

      Also, be sure the lathe is going as fast as safely possible without any vibrations. The quicker the speed, the smoother the cut.

      Turn the oak quickly and don’t let it set because there’s a good chance it will move again. Oak seems to have a life of its own when it comes to drying and moving. I think of oak more like leather than wood. It never seems to dry completely and it moves in all sorts of directions.

      James, here’s your massive bonus! Because you are learning to turn bowls initially using oak, you will be able to turn any wood, period! I know because I started making bowls with punky, hard, dry pecan. Eventually, I turned some sycamore and I about dropped my bowl gouge because it turned like a bar of soap. LOL

      Let me know if this helps.

      Enjoy and Happy Turning,
      Kent

  4. Kent
    I am a novice for bowl turning but not for unbalance or out of center turning.
    If the shape or the center of gravity is the cause of vibration you can remove part out of the center that is not necessary, with a multi tool e.g..
    Handel vibration problem as a car wheel that need to be balancing.
    Remove the drive belt if neccessary, the blank will turn and rest with heavy point down. Apply a counter weight opposite on the heavy point on the chuck (a clamp with holder for led pieces) or faceplate until this unbalance seems to be near the half.
    Start turning, the vibration will reduce when some material has been removed and will increase when continue because of the counter weight.
    Readjust counter weight when necessary until it can be removed.
    Ab. I hoop you understand mine english.

    1. Author

      Hello Ab,

      I like your explanation and logic.

      However, I don’t think I’d recommend adding any counterweights to a bowl blank. You run the risk of having objects flying off the lathe.

      If a piece of wood is that unbalanced, and you can’t stand the time it takes to slowly turn away the unbalanced areas, get another piece of wood.

      Please be safe,
      Kent

  5. Kent,
    This comment will run a bit long, but I’m sure will speak for many turners.

    I ran across your site on Etsy tonight around 10, and it is now 2 AM, and I’m going to continue reading after I send this note.
    I spent over two thousand dollars between travel, lodging, meals and the time spent (2 days) with a well known and respected “turner.” I have learned more after spending four hours with your well thought and written articles than two days with the in person teacher. For free, to boot!
    I’m one year shy of 80 years young, and retired six months ago as an owner/Founder/CEO of a small profitable business I founded almost 35 years ago. Time to move on…my best quality, as I continue my upward spiral in age, is wisdom. Someday, I’d like to meet you. I live in upstate NY, if I get to Florida in the not to distant future, i’ll Look you up.
    Last, I started turning a bowl or two a week 4-5 years ago- self taught except for that less than perfect experience a few months ago. I’ve started to get serious, as I believe I’ve become relatively good at what i’ve done. However! Every article I’ve read of yours has pointed out what I do wrong, or put anther way, do better. Free- wow! Thank you! I’ve given most all my bowls away, two urns, and one for myself-1’ll send you a picture or two.
    Let, keep em coming- Bill

    1. Author

      Hello Bill,

      Thanks for writing. Unfortunately, I didn’t respond quickly because your comment got tagged as spam. Not sure why, but I rescued it.

      I’m thrilled to hear you are learning plenty from this site. And yes, look me up if you come to Florida. As a matter of fact, I am considering offering half and full day individual workshops. See my “Shop” section in the menu bar when these become available.

      As I mention throughout my site, there are many different ways to get similar results. Don’t become discouraged if you have techniques that differ greatly from what I share here. If you are achieving the end results you desire, then all is good. If you’re struggling, then look for different approaches.

      Keep up the turning and send some pics. I’d love to see what you are turning.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  6. Your local hardware store should have plastic or nylon washers that can be used to fill the gap between the head stock and chuck.
    Look in the plumbing section.

  7. Regards filing burrs off the spindle threads: My first full sized lathe is an old Powermatic which I purchased used. It had vibration and spindle run out that I thought might be the result of worn bearings. After replacing both spindle bearings I still had the vibration which I ultimately found to be due to a circumferential crack located at the bottom of the spindle 1X8 spindle threads on the bed side of the headstock. The thickness of the spindle shaft between the bottom of the threads and the Morse taper was less than 1/64th inch caused by one or more of three things: 1. Poor spindle design 2. thread filing 3. Reaming the MT. The point I wish to make is be very cautious when removing any spindle metal to stay out of the thread bottom and avoid unnecessary MT ream/cleaning. Since replacement spindles could not be located, I spent 8 months waiting for a new custom turned spindle at considerable expense. Thanks for your well written presentations.

    1. Author

      Kenny,

      Thanks for the comment and sharing all those details.

      This is good information to keep in mind.

      Hopefully, you’re back to turning now.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  8. I have got JET (JWL-1440vs) LATHE.
    I have an EASY WOOD TOOLS chuck.

    It is suffering from vibration.
    The suspicious part is the gap of threads.
    Shake when joining chuck to spindle
    Until final combination. .
    It is assumed that there is a gap between the spindle thread and the chuck thread.
    I am seriously considering whether to replace the spindle or the chuck.
    More seriously, you can not buy spindle parts, from JET.
    I also contacted EASY WOOD TOOLS, but I do not have a reply.
    Thank you.

    1. Author

      Hello Kim,

      There are some chucks that do not seat properly on the headstock spindle.

      In this case use a hard plastic washer, like this one for 1″ spindle or this one for a 1-1/4″ spindle to fill in the gap.

      If the chuck seats all the way down to the base of the spindle but is still loose on the spindle, then I would recommend trying a different chuck. Replacing the spindle will be challenging.

      Please let me know if this helps.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  9. Great article got some good ideas. Only problem I have is the lack of a speed controller, changing the belt location can be very frustrating.
    Wish there was some way to find a controller for my lathe.

    1. Author

      Dan,

      Thanks for writing.

      Ah, yes, a lathe without variable speed control can be difficult to control. I would recommend staying on the speed that does not produce vibration and true up the bowl blank as much as possible. Then try a faster belt speed and see if the vibration is then diminished.

      Or, if you’re into electrical projects, I know there are ways to wire an adjustable control to the lathe power supply. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about that process to help, but I do know it’s possible.

      Hope that helps.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

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