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My list of useful info for woodturners



If you can, go for a lathe with thread size 33mm x 3.5mm as this seems to be a standard thread size now, but beware, a chuck for a smaller spindle size probably has an insert, this insert can be replaced so if you change your lathe you can keep your chuck by replacing the insert with a relevant thread size, however, a chuck with a dedicated 33mm x 3.5 thread will not take an insert, you can get an adapter but it puts the chuck 2 plus inches further away from the headstock, I’m not sure I like that idea from a mechanical prospective plus if your lathe bed is short then you restrict the length of anything you turn, drilling in through for a bud vase for example restricts the height of the vase.


If you buy or have a lathe that hasn’t got 33mm x 3.5 thread and 2 Morse taper then anything you buy for your lathe will possible have to be sold with it when you upgrade. You dont really get what things are worth when selling so the more items you have that are say, 33 x 3.5 and morse 2 taper the better as you can use these with your upgraded lathe.


Electric Motors


Most electric motors on lathes have a fan on one end, it blows cold air over the outside of the motor to cool it, 2 points to note here; -



This action of blowing cool air over the motor drags dust & shavings from turning over the motor towards and into and around the base of the head stock, in addition to this the drive belt creates turbulence to, together this fine dust is blown over anything to the left of your lathe and ends up all over your workshop, I’ve made and fitted a box tight up under my lathe bench, in the bottom of the box is a connection to my extraction, on the bench top behind the lathe is a hole into the box with a flexy duct taking the dust from turning, inside the headstock is another hole right through to the box below sucking the dust that’s blown towards it away, I’ve fitted a swivel/sliding shutter to the headstock hole so I can reduce the flow if required.




Some new lathes don’t have a cooling fan, although it may seem a good idea because now you don’t have all that dust blowing everywhere, however, be warned, these motors are going to get hot and either burn out or have a thermal cut out and will stop till they cool down, not good if your busy turning. So probably best to avoid lathes with these fan less motors. 


Either way keep shavings off the motor to keep a good air flow getting to the outer casing to remove the heat, check the end casing grill is not blocked regularly.


Variable Speed


Most lathes have multiple pulley drives to vary the speed, some also have variable speed, for some it’s a cone and belt with a lever to adjust the speed, on the latter only adjust the speed while running and when you finish turning something turn it to slow before stopping so when you put something new back on the lathe it will start slow, if you dont and its a big lumpy out of balance block then your lathe is going to dance all round your workshop or at worst launch your bit of wood.


Really the only variable speed that works is when a 3 phase motor is fitted with an inverter; these have much more power when on low revs and will probably have a reverse option, a single phase motor with a speed reducer will have very poor power/drive on low revs.


Some lathes have smaller motors but you can still turn large pieces, just take fine cuts and treat it with respect, once you get the worst of the material removed it’ll be much better.


My list of equipment.


Morse 2 x 7/8 Steb centre Drive


Morse 2 x 7/8 Steb revolving centre.


100mm Patriot chuck 33 x 3.5 thread, (comes with standard 45mm jaws only, screw chuck and key)


A hollow ring revolving centre 12mm approx dia ring and a 20mm approx dia ring, both with a removable centre point.


A basic set of tools will serve you well, once you’ve been turning a while you’ll know what else you need, be careful there’s a lot of tools out there that are just gimmick’s and you don’t need them. Robert Sorby sell an 8 piece set, one thing to note is most sets come with an oval Skew chisel, personally I don’t like these and I think beginners should go for a flat skew, it’s safer to use as very few people use a skew for beads etc anyway, the Sorby kit has a flat skew, just check for yourself before buying.


The grinds for my chisels are what works for me, most turners grind to suit themselves so there is no hard and fast rule on this, and manufacturers grind the tools knowing that the turner will change it right away so don’t think the new tool is the correct angle or is sharp.


Bowl Gouge and Scrapers 55 degs


Spindle Roughing Gouge and Parting Tools 45 degs


Spindle Gouge 35 degs


Skew 25 degs




Other accesseries.


 A Jacobs type Chuck 0 -13mm with Morse tapper.


 Face Plate, 3” is fine, 4”or 6” can come later if required.


 Callipers  0-100mm plus.


 6 Inch Ruby O’Donnell grinding wheels.


Grinding jigs, the Robert Sorby 445 fingernail jig for Spidle Gouges, all the other tools I use my home-made jig, Ill post a picture sometime soon, very easy and quick to obtain the correct angle, always use very sharp tools, sharpen the tool for the very last cut, you’ll get a nicer final finish before sanding.




For light coloured timbers I use 50/50 Chestnut Cellulose Sanding Sealer and Chestnut Cellulose thinners, Terry Smart from Chestnut Products say's no to thinning, I do agree with the principle but find it so much better to use thinned, I guess we are all still learning no matter how old we get, I will keep working at this to see if I get any better with neat sealer, when dry its sanded lightly with a very fine grit, note, it produces a fine white dust that discolours the darker/red coloured timbers, especially if it has any open grain, then follow this with 2 or 3 very light coats of Chestnut Woodwax 22, and I mean light coats, you dont want to get a big build up of wax as this will make your work look like its badly sanded.


For the darker timbers I use Shellac sanding sealer followed by 2 or 3 very light coats of Woodwax 22,


On anything, thats not just bowls, you can use Chestnut food safe oil, (no sanding sealer required here, you need the oil to soak well into the wood) let it soak in for a minute or 2 before you wipe the surface oil off, don’t let the oil dry or get sticky. The end grain will quickly soak up loads; make sure you keep plenty of oil on it till it stays well-oiled all over. The paper tissue with oil on it is a fire hazard, if you leave the tissue scrunched up the heat when drying will cause an exothermic reaction and could possibly burst into flames, open the tissue up and place outside on the floor till its dry.


DON’T EVER use rags, cloth or wire wool on the lathe, it will most likely catch violently and pull you in to the turning piece. Its possible you'll get bits of wire wool left dug into your timber.






You can use seasoned or fresh cut green timber to turn, green timber is easier to work and is virtually dust free, but remember to dry all your equipment properly afterwards, some timber will throw out water up to 8ft away because of centrifugal force so beware of water on electric motors and switching on and off. My last piece threw water 8ft in front and behind me the floor was very wet, my smock was wet and water ran over my left hand, a 30ma breaker is a must if turning real fresh wet wood plus cover the motor etc. Once you’ve turned your green wood bowl or piece, weigh it and record it, then place it in a carrier bag, put it somewhere where you can see it everyday, not in direct sunlight but a warm place, turn the bag inside out every day, the bag will be wet from the timber when you turn it inside out so putting it somewhere where this will dry off is good, when you turn it inside out the next day the bag will be dry inside ready to collect the water again. Check its weight every now and again and when the weight remains constant its reached its equilibrium, it will change shape but hopefully in most cases there will be no serious splitting, I’ve had nothing move enough to spoil it. You can of course turn the piece thicker so when its dried out you can return it to the lathe but remember to leave a centre point mark on the foot and in the bottom of the bowl, you can use these to centre hold the piece to true up the spigot. I suggest a wall thickness of at least 1.5 inches as it will go oval. Alternatively, you can seal the end grain which on a bowl is most of it all but the top rim and leave it somewhere for a year or more depending on size, recording weight and type on it is useful. What you have to remember about timber is its unpredictable, what works on a piece won’t necessarily work the same 3ft further along the same branch, you season 10 pieces and you may get 8 good pieces or you may only get 3, its not an exact science because it’s all relevant, you may have one piece closer to a draft or higher temperature to the others.

If you get a piece cut by whoever then when you get it home cut an inch or two off the ends, the reason for this is that piece has possibly been stood on its end on the ground, this is where it will pick up most of the millions of spoors that are everywhere, these will start the rotting process, leaving them there is fine as it will spalt and create some beautiful colouring in the wood, but beware, you need to get it dry enough to stop the process somewhere between a lovely piece of wood and porridge so keep an eye on it regularly. Either way you’ll need to seal the ends so the water comes out slowly through the bark, I use Finigans wax oil but PVA glue works ok.





Be aware that there is no British standard so one company’s 80 grit won’t necessarily be the same as another, if you have paper from different companies then note them for the order of grit grade.


Don’t make too big a leap from grit to grit as each grit has to remove the scratches from the last and if you leap to much the grit won’t be course enough and you’ll just use loads more paper and get your timber hot, yew for example does not like getting hot, it’ll show cracks very quickly.


I go from course 80-120-180-240-320-400 and in some cases especially with acrylic pens 600-800-1000 Acrylics are followed by a couple of coats of chestnut Burnishing Cream and a good buffing.


Any sand paper will quickly clog especially joinery pine, so don’t over use it or you will just heat up your timber and probably create more scratches, so check your paper after a few seconds of sanding and move to a fresh area right away, when worn bin it, don’t keep it as its shot and of no more use, seems harsh but that’s the reality.


The finer the grit the quicker it will clog, some timbers are resinous and will clog paper quicker so keep a close eye on the condition of the paper all the time and don’t over heat your timber, always sand at a lower speed.


Move your paper around as quickly as you can (side to side) or you will create noticeable scratches around the piece, dust off between grits to remove any bits of grit left on the timber.


Be careful of sharp corners/detail or edges as sandpaper will remove them and your lovely turned piece will not have the nice sharp mouldings/shapes you so patiently turned.


The Lathe in my workshop


This is the lathe I use all the time, Axminster AW1416VS its 2 Morse taper M33 x 3.5 Spindle thread, 400mm between centres, 350mm max diameter over the bed, it has 3 belt speeds plus electronic variable speed control. 41kg weight.

Its 865mm long x 330mm width x 415mm height, you can get a bed extension for longer turnings, its now 6 plus years old and still working fine, I love this lathe, I dont have it on a stand, its on a wheeled bench with brakes, there are boxes of loads of off cuts of seasoned timber underneath, no space is wasted in my workshop.


Useful tips


Blow through the Morse taper before you fit a tool in to make sure there is nothing there as it is a machine fit and must be a clean tight fit.


Keep the tool rest clean from resin and file out any deep cuts, sandpaper once in a while helps.


Unless you buy a chip extractor the Henry vacs are the best for dust collection, don’t use it for cleaning up as the bag inside can only take so much and will need replacing, just use it for the dust created when turning, I get my bags (20 at a time) from aidcleaning store on Ebay but be careful you get the genuine bags as the others are rubbish, look for the Numatic logo on the add, Warning! always pull out all the cable as the motor gets hot and so does the cable on the drum, if your using the vac in the workshop and nowhere else then consider shortening the cable to the longest length you need so you don’t have loads of cable in the way. .


I’ve made a micro filter box, that re circulates the workshop air, its fitted with the 2 fine filters from Axminster, the fan is taken out of an old kitchen extractor, I always have some here if you want one, once in a while take the filters out and knock the filter gently with a stick to knock the dust off, mine is 6 years old and still working ok, don’t make your box until you have the filters so you make the filters fit snug into your box, the electrostatic filter (Blue) is fitted after the main filter.


Main Filter Code is 400395


Electrostatic Filter (Blue) Code 708731


My chip extractor has a metal cartridge filter, it filters down to 1 micron, remember, most lathe motors have a fan blowing fine dust into the head stock, try and collect this with a vac if you can. You can always contact me for more information on any related subjects.




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