Machinist to woodworker :)

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Forum topic by Loribama posted 01-28-2016 03:15 PM 1021 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 274 days

01-28-2016 03:15 PM

Topic tags/keywords: wood wood turning machinist machine technology help interested wood lathes tools hobby question tips crafts

I took Machine Technology in college. I’m kind of interested in working with wood instead of metal. What all would I need to have a setup and what kind of wood is used? Where would I get the wood from? Is there much money to be made making and selling wood crafts? I would think what I learned in college would help me if running a metal lathe or CNC is pretty similar to a wood lathe.

14 replies so far

View NicHartman's profile


45 posts in 571 days

#1 posted 01-28-2016 03:52 PM

I’m gonna tell you right now, there’s much more money in hobby machinist’s work than there is in hobby woodworking. However, looking past the money aspect, it is quite enjoyable to work with wood, and any kind will do really. Anything from 2×4’s from the home center at under $5 a pop to exotic woods at many times that price, it’s really all in what you’re willing to spend. Running a wood lathe is a definite difference from a metal lathe, it’s all freehand, but the same techniques can be used as far as I know. Good luck, and welcome to Lumberjocks.

View SirIrb's profile


1239 posts in 655 days

#2 posted 01-28-2016 03:57 PM

Your base is better because of precise measurements and that hate and disgust you will feel when it isnt just right.

Metal lathe to wood is a bit different as there is no lead screw and auto feed on wood lathes (patternmakers lathes sometimes have features like this but that is a different area). You have more of a freeform style with wood lathes.

There are over head routers which are similar to mills but still different.

Type of wood is your choice. Choo$e wisely. Start cheap.

There is money to be made but I would think that work is easier to find as a machinist / tool maker than cabinet / furniture maker.

I trained as a machinist, went down the wood road and ended up as a design engineer. I know the road you are on.

-- Don't blame me, I voted for no one.

View MadMark's profile


971 posts in 877 days

#3 posted 01-28-2016 04:27 PM

Wood: jatoba hard & stable, think 6061 alum. I’ve broken taps in it!

The fence is more important than the saw. My fence only cuts on 1/32” increments repeatable to +-.002”. Check out Incra


-- Madmark -

View Wildwood's profile


1854 posts in 1559 days

#4 posted 01-28-2016 05:34 PM

No there is a big difference between turning wood on a wood lathe than turning metal on metal lathe or using a CNC machine.

Really hard to answer all of your questions. Whatever facet of woodturning you attempt requires a learning curve acquiring a wood lathe, tools (chisels & gouges), accessories, (chuck, pen mandrels) and skills to be profitable. There are times turners want to use wet wood and times only dry wood will do. There are plenty of vendors catering to woodturning craft selling both domestic & exotic species of wood. Much cheaper to start with firewood or wood you find or buy locally.

To find out more about woodturning suggest find a local chapter of AAW in your area and attend a free meeting.

Good luck.

-- Bill

View MrUnix's profile


4054 posts in 1623 days

#5 posted 01-28-2016 06:50 PM

Metalworking and woodworking can co-exist nicely with each other. If you have the basics of metalworking, then woodworking will just be a natural extension of that. It will also let you do things that might have been either very difficult if not impossible to do in metal. For example, you don’t see very many metal hollow forms being made on the lathe, such as bowls and vases, but they are abundant in wood.

The concepts are pretty much the same, but the methods are slightly different… nothing that you should have any problem with though. Combining the two can produce some interesting results as well. Welding up a metal frame and skinning it with wood can make some impressive furniture that is substantially more robust than just wood alone, yet look more delicate. Adding decorative turned metal pieces to wood projects will set them apart from just wood only. With some creativity, the combined use of both can be spectacular. It’s only limited by your imagination and skill.


-- Brad in FL - To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid

View HornedWoodwork's profile


222 posts in 639 days

#6 posted 01-28-2016 09:04 PM

If you want to make money, I suggest you blend your passions. Metal and wood (can) work well together and you can sell pieces for big bucks once you are established. There are so many woods out there it is hard to recommend any. I would say that you should start with easy to obtain and inexpensive woods while you build your skill. I spent about 2 years working in pine and hemlock exclusively until I had better confidence. Then I went to cherry, oak, ash, walnut, butternut, and cypress.

-- Talent, brilliance, and humility are my virtues.

View JAAune's profile


1617 posts in 1741 days

#7 posted 01-29-2016 12:08 AM

Earning good pay in woodworking depends entirely upon finding a niche and getting really good at it. Wealthy woodworkers tend to be very good at marketing. Starving ones are often skilled craftsmen but terrible at selling.

But the OP question is really too broad to give a proper response. Woodworking encompasses more markets and skills than any single person could handle.

Obtaining wood is easy. I can’t tell you where to go as it’s dependent upon location. Try searching through

Woodturning is a field of it’s own and pretty alien to almost everything learned in a machine shop. Even most woodworking skills don’t contribute to making someone a good woodturner. That’s why there’s often a friendly rivalry between furniture-makers and turners.

-- See my work at and

View Nubsnstubs's profile


813 posts in 1154 days

#8 posted 01-29-2016 12:41 AM

I don’t think you’ll have any issues making the transition. The plans you currently use are more prescise whereas, if your finger will fit into the gap, you’re good to go with woodworking cuz drywall and paint will cover up any problems. heheheh

I owned a cabinet shop since ‘78, and just recently made 17 live centers and components from round stock on a lathe and mill. It was a piece of cake. So, if you have the desire, you can do it. I don’t know about making money at it, but the transition should be easy…...........Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View rick1955's profile


254 posts in 855 days

#9 posted 01-29-2016 02:45 PM

To make a million dollars in woodworking start with 2 million dollars. You don’t have a clue.

-- Working smarter with less tools is a true crafts person...

View Loribama's profile


2 posts in 274 days

#10 posted 02-04-2016 07:01 AM

Thanks everyone for the advice. I mainly wanted to to do this as a hobby not to get rich. I live in the south in the Blackbelt area and people here pay good money for locally made crafts so I don’t think I would have any problems getting rid of anything. Still looking into it because I’m just so interested in making something beautiful and one of a kind :)

View REO's profile


883 posts in 1498 days

#11 posted 02-04-2016 11:35 AM

here is a metal lathe that has been turning wood since 1949. My dad chose the same path:: from machinist to woodworker. Made a good living at it for over 60 years.

View bonesbr549's profile


1138 posts in 2491 days

#12 posted 02-04-2016 02:14 PM

Well welcome first! My son took similar classes and while I love the wood, he preferred the metal. I have been doing WW for over 30 years. I think you can do the transition fine, however wood as a medium is a little different as it is something that moves to adjust to its environments. So when you make a piece and cross grain issues if dealt with will be fine, but ignored will lead to frustration.

As to material, it will depend on your area and what you like. I prefer to work with cherry, and in my area I can get that easily. I like all wood and exotics to such as bubinga and others. woodweb is a good location to find wood and the last place I’d buy wood would be the big box stores. It’s crap and you pay through the nose.

Tools, unless you are wealthy will take time to accumulate. Hand tools are a good place to start, and some chisels, and learn to sharpen. Scary sharp method is cheap to get into and no issues. (google it).

Books and videos will also be helpful and videos.

I’ll be purchasing my first CNC machine this spring, so I’ll be learning all over again. If you love learning (from mistakes and accept those) you will be fine working with wood.

Good luck! Post pictures of your work we all love it.

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View HapHazzard's profile


92 posts in 292 days

#13 posted 02-13-2016 04:59 AM

If you’re a competent machinist and would like to pursue woodturning as a hobby, I think you’ll enjoy it as long as your expectations are reasonable. It takes a whole new set of skills, but if I can do both, I’m sure you can too.

I wanted to give you something else to think about though. If you want to learn from experienced woodturners in your area, as a machinist, you have something of value to offer them in return: everything from sharpening and re-grinding tools to overhauling lathes, and making custom tools. You might never achieve the level of craftsmanship of some folks you’ll meet, but you might create the perfect tool that lets someone else reach new heights of excellence, and for me that’s just as satisfying.

-- Unix programmers never die; they just > /dev/null

View Gentile's profile


248 posts in 1243 days

#14 posted 02-13-2016 05:20 PM

I had a buddy that is a machinist, he was obsessed with tight tolerances. He would get frustrated working with wood.
It was funny to watch him using machinist calipers and other tools for machinists. ” 1/16” is close enough, Frank.”

-- "I cut it twice and it's still too short"

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