Tooling for woodworking on metalworking lathe

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Forum topic by Woodworker123 posted 03-09-2011 07:32 PM 2228 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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89 posts in 2878 days

03-09-2011 07:32 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe tooling

What sort of cutting tool should I use on a metalworking lathe? Buying a woodworking lathe is out of the question at the moment, and I probably don’t even want to setup a tool post just yet.

In older, related posts, people said they’ve had luck turning wood on metalworking lathes, using the x-y controls and tool holder. I typically use carbide insert or HSS cutting tools with metal, but I’m guessing the geometry of the cutting tool is more important than the material for wood.

12 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10476 posts in 3672 days

#1 posted 03-09-2011 07:44 PM

Wood lathe work is pretty forgiving if you’re just learning and wanting to
fool around. When you get to the point where you’re trying to make
stuff come as clean off the tool as possible in order to get the work out
faster, then there is a lot of skill to it.

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 2978 days

#2 posted 03-09-2011 08:45 PM

I have turned pens on a small metal lathe with great success. Just use a sharp, properly ground HSS bit and it will skin the wood off smooth as a whistle. In fact, I much prefer the little metal lathe to my large wood lathe for making smaller items like pens and fly-rod ferrules. I have not used my large metal lathe for wood work, but it should work as well. You can make a tool post holder for a hand held tool also if you wish. No mystery to it at all. For turned spindles and the like, the hand held chisel is necessary to get the proper shapes, thus requiring a suitable tool post.

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2996 days

#3 posted 03-09-2011 08:51 PM

Are you talking freehand wood turning like you do on a wood lathe, and just using the metal lathe for holding and spinning the workpiece? If so, I think that should be no problem at all. I have been cutting wax patterns, very similar to wood, using that method for years. The only thing you need to add is a toolpost mounted rest and some woodturning tools; assuming you already have a live center and a way to mount your work on the chuck.

On the other hand, if you are talking about cutting wood with all the x-y movement of the metal cutting type tools controled by the lathe drive screws, then that’s another matter all together. Short answer, based on my limited experience, yes it can be done, but no the results will not be pretty. You can only do scraping type cuts and the workpiece will have a rough finish. Nice, smooth, sliced cuts are very much a learned art using skew and gouge type tools; freehand.

But, like I said, my experience is limited. Perhaps others out there would be able to elaborate and relate other views.

View Woodworker123's profile


89 posts in 2878 days

#4 posted 03-09-2011 10:27 PM

Thanks for the input.

I did mean with the x-y controlled movement tools, and metal cutting tools, but it doesn’t sound like that is a very sure thing. I’ll give it a shot without expecting great results, and consider making a tool post and buying some tools if I want to get better results.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3023 days

#5 posted 03-10-2011 02:12 AM

The geometry for cutting wood is a bit different than for metal. You can grind a finer edge than is usable in metal. Other than that, it works just fine. The whole differentiation of metal lathes and wood lathes is a modern invention.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3165 posts in 3134 days

#6 posted 03-10-2011 05:10 AM

I just made a set of ebony plugs for a project on my metal lathe. I don’t have a chuck for my wood lathe, just face plates (that I made on a mill and a metal lathe). So I filed off the big corners and turned the wood down. I don’t recommend this for a small number of plugs, you’d go broke.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

226 posts in 2715 days

#7 posted 03-11-2011 04:04 AM

Jack, I use an Imperial pattern maker’s lathe and an Albus Hapfo 140 hydraulic tracing lathe. There is a special cutter used. The high speed steel cutter is often made with a chip deflector, the available (or shop made carbide tipped is always built without the deflector (looks like a speedboat just went by making a huge rooster tail). I have a goodly supply of these cutters, I use them all of the time. Tomorrow I’ll try to make up a drawing that I can get to you, with the geometry, angles, specs. Crank49 above is wrong about only scraping cuts being made. With the proper cutting tool, rpms and feed rate perfect shear cuts are easily attained, resulting in great cuts requiring little sanding. I’ll post drawings here tomorrow, plus give a few pointers on how to go about the use of.

Regards, Stephen

-- Stephen Mines (

View Woodworker123's profile


89 posts in 2878 days

#8 posted 03-11-2011 04:21 AM

Great, that’d be a lot of help, I’ve got plenty of the carbide tools I could try to grind. I also have the ceramic inserts, but I’d guess they would be worth than a custom ground tool optimized for wood.

I tried using a carbide cemented/tipped tool today, and it worked, just not great. Plenty of tearout that had to be sanding down afterwards. Now that I think about it, it was roughly a 45 degree tip, as in, the shape it came in. It only occurs to me now, they probably don’t come very sharp.

I think we decided we’ll make a tool post and invest in a cheap set of hand turning tools, but I’d still love to be able to use it the other way. For certain work, e.g. perfectly cylindrical dowels or repeating a specific patter, I think it’d be more ideal.

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

226 posts in 2715 days

#9 posted 03-11-2011 05:34 AM

Jack, Here is a photo. The picture is a closeup of the cutter, seen from the bottom. They are generally made out of 3/4” square tool stock, ground properly, and hardened to Rockwell 62. The 2nd picture is from the back of the lathe. The cutter is against the wood taking a BIG cut. The forward cutting edge is generally about 1.5” in length. To take that kind of a bite you need 3 main things: Very sharp cutting tool, high RPMs, plenty of power (and good spurs on your dog/driving spindle). Tallking about 1,000 to 4,200 RPM on parts 5” or so and under. You probably won’t get enough info from this, but it might set you on the right track. Maybe take a look through my projects and try to find a shot of one of my lathes in the cutting/turning mode. Let me know if I can be of more help.
Best Regards, Stephen Mines

-- Stephen Mines (

View Woodworker123's profile


89 posts in 2878 days

#10 posted 03-11-2011 05:55 AM

That looks just like what you described. I’ll give it a go next week and see what I can do. I’ve never been very good at grinding my own tools but I found a guide to grinding tools, so, wish me luck.

Thanks for the info!

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3011 days

#11 posted 03-11-2011 06:20 AM

I have, once or twice, thrown a piece of wood into my (metal/plastic) lathe and it worked out okay. Harder/denser wood worked out better than, say, spruce. I don’t have any wood-lathe tooling, just whatever is around for the metal work.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2996 days

#12 posted 03-13-2011 06:30 PM

Stephen, thanks for the input. Like I said, ” my experience is limited. Perhaps others out there would be able to elaborate and relate other views.” My experience is based on cutting hard wax patterns for investment casting. That material cuts much better by hand with wood cutting tools so I was hoping someone would chime in with actual experience cutting wood with (modified) metal cutting tools.

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