10 tips for your turning set-up

Comments Comments


Above: Make sure your lathe set-up suits your needs.

Words and photos: Richard Raffan

1. Invest wisely

The lathe. Get the best you can afford. On a tight budget, look for a good mini-lathe with cast iron com- ponents and locking levers for the rests and tailstock. Avoid larger lightweight lathes constructed of sheet steel, with wrenches to tighten locknuts on the ad- justable components. If it’s very easy to lift it’s probably worth avoiding. Names to look for include Jet, Vicmarc, Wood- fast, Teknatool, Nova.

Tools. Most new turners purchase tools they will never use, so unless you’re a serious tool junky hell-bent on supporting struggling manufacturers, buy tools as you need them. Inexpensive boxed sets are rarely worth the money unless you want the box.

2. Create your nest

In 42 years of professional woodturning I’ve had at least a dozen workshops. My nesting instinct had me constantly rearranging each one in search of my perfect workstation, but the arrangement shown below works well.

• Grinders, abrasives, and ancillary tools like dividers, chucks, and rulers should be to the left of the headstock where fewer shavings land.

•It’sgoodtotakeasteportwotothe grinder, and good to reach for tools and abrasives so you stretch your muscles a bit. I keep gouges and other tools in use either on the bench between the wall and the lathe, or the bench behind me. Which bench depends on the job and if I’m using the tailstock. Never reach over or under spinning wood for a tool!

3. Set up the lathe

Don’t put the lathe too near a wall: mine is at an angle so I can use long handles when undercutting bowl rims or hollowing vessels.
• Ensure you can fit the knock-out bar into the headstock spindle from the left-hand side.
• Set up the lathe with centre at elbow height. Put a couple of hardwood riser blocks under the lathe if you’re tall. If your elbow is below centre, stand on a sheet or two of plywood or make a plat- form. Rubber mats are good on concrete. A 1160mm centre height is ideal for me for centrework, but 20mm lower suits me for facework so I stand on a 20mm board. Personal comfort is paramount
• A lathe cannot be heavy enough or bolted down firmly enough. Aim to eliminate all vibration. If you have a bench model, use a solid stand like the one shown opposite below. This is made from recycled plywood and hardwood boards on 70mm square legs. The wood stored below adds extra weight.
• Before tightening bolts, fill any gaps between the lathe base and the floor or bench you are bolting to, otherwise you risk twisting the bed and throwing the tail centre out of alignment.


Bolt the lathe in place to eliminate vibration. Bench models need to be placed on a substantial stand.

4. Breathe easy

 Dust is a major health and fire hazard and dust extraction is expensive but worth it. A small dust extractor can remove most fine dust coming off the job if intakes are on both sides of the head-stock. Shavings get everywhere, so you need to calculate where most will landand how you’ll collect them.
• Consider installing an air filter unit to remove the fine dust you can barely see: it’s especially bad for your lungs. Set up a dust extractor to collect dust as you turn and particularly when you use abrasives. At the very least invest in a dust mask and wear it.
• Don’t use a dust collector to trap the heavier shavings. Most of mine end up on the floor behind the lathe from where I rake them around to the end and shovel them into bags. I use the 125mm tube shown in the photo to vauum up the rest.
• File the top of your toolrest so it’s smooth and straight.

5. Spare eyes

• Spare eyes are still in short supply, so eye protection is essential. At the very least wear shatter-proof glasses. However glasses tend to mist-up used with a dust mask, so a dust helmet is a better option.
• For lots of facework like bowls an im- pact resistant face-shield is recommended. You need to defend your face because one day the wood will fly off the lathe and you can sustain a serious injury. I know: been there, done that. Several times. Lots of stitches and lots of blood.

6.Brighten up

You need good overall lighting, and a spotlight that can be adjusted all around the lathe. Strong light casts shadows that help you discern the smoothness of curves.

7. Enjoy the daily grind

• Gouges, scrapers and skew chisels don’t come sharp from manufacturers and many need shaping as well.
• Hone flutes and the tops of scrapers before grinding. Use gouges and skew chisels straight off the grinder.
• Grind tools often to keep them really sharp so set up your grinder nearby.

8 Make friends

• Join a club – some help is usually better than no help and you might be lucky enough to find someone who really knows what they’re doing and is willing to help you.
• Attend a few hands-on workshops and watch other woodturners turn. You can learn a lot even if they end up showing you what not to do!

9. Read a good book

Read a few books and watch some videos. (As an author I suggest you also buy them or at least borrow them from your local public library so we au- thors get a royalty.)


Left to right, a good basic kit:
1. 30mm bowl scraper: for finishing the inside of bowls.
2. 1⁄2” deep fluted bowl gouge: for bowls over 50mm deep.
3. 3/8”deep-flutedbowlgouge:hollowing up to 50mm deep.
4. 3/8”spindlegouge:usedforjustabout any fine detail like beads.
5. 1⁄2” spindle gouge: essential!!! If you can afford only one tool, this is it.
6. 3⁄4” skew chisel: essential for spindles. Square section best; can later be ground to a scraper if not used as skew.
7. Parting tool: essential for spindle turning.
8. 3⁄4” Square-end scraper: essential all- round tool for hollowing and detail.
9. 3⁄4” round-nose scraper: essential for endgrain projects like boxes and goblets.

10. Tool up

The tools shown will enable you to turn just about anything. Brands (l–r) to look for are Hamlet, P&N, Sorby, Henry Taylor. Avoid cheap high-speed steel: it rarely is.

Richard Raffan is a well known woodturner and author of several books and DVDs, see www.richardraffan.com






comments powered by Disqus