Turning for Furniture Makers


Why almost every woodworker should own a lathe – and how to get started.
By Kevin Glen Drake
Pages: 42-44

From the November 2009 issue #179
Buy this issue now

Woodworkers and woodturners tend to travel in their own circles, but a lathe is a very useful tool, even for the occasional turner, as most woodworkers tend to be. Turning takes some practice, but it’s a little bit like riding a bicycle; once you get the hang of it, it stays with you forever.

Full-sized lathes can take up a lot of precious shop space though, and they can be expensive. But the new mini-lathes can be stored under a bench, and at about 10 percent of the cost of a full-sized lathe, they are far more affordable. The tooling and tools will cost about the same regardless of lathe size, but some of them can be made, or purchased as part of a package deal.

It depends on your needs, but a mini-lathe can generally do what most woodworkers need to have done. Some of the things you can turn to support your woodworking activities include:

  • Mallets and hammers
  • Tool handles
  • Pulls
  • Legs and spindles
  • Dowels, plugs and pegs

Plus you can turn gifts such as small bowls, lidded boxes and jewelry. With a little practice, you can turn a nice gift in less time than it would take to go shopping, and it will be unique as well as personal. You can even sign it.

A lathe is also a handy tool for restoration work, especially if you get called on to repair a chair with a broken spindle. And I frequently use my lathe as an auxiliary tool holder for finishing and polishing tools such as wire brushes, Scotch-Brite pads and sponge sanders.

Some projects will clearly fall outside of the capacity of a mini-lathe. An extension will increase the length but not the diameter (throw) of the work you can do, but turning for woodworking projects rarely falls outside the throw of even the smallest wood lathes. We’re not talking architectural turning here.

Online Extra

* Watch a video of Kevin Glen Drake turning a chisel handle and learn why he uses a skew chisel.


From the November 2009 issue #179
Buy this issue now