I'd appreciate some advice before my first attempt at lathe turning a large table leg.

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Forum topic by David Grimes posted 09-10-2011 07:59 AM 2096 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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David Grimes

2078 posts in 2063 days

09-10-2011 07:59 AM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe turning table legs lathe tool sharpening

I’ve searched this site, but there’s not a lot of how-to on lathe set up, actual turning and sharpening of the tools.

I’ll get my lathe tools Wednesday, so I’ve been watching tons of Youtube videos on lathe turning. Of course I’ll practice on some junk until I can ramp up the skills I need to go farther, but my first real project will be to turn a 4” maple dining table leg. I plan to start gluing that up this weekend.

Then projects 2 – 4 will be to duplicate what I have done on the first one ;=).

Any advisement is truly needed and appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

13 replies so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16229 posts in 3641 days

#1 posted 09-10-2011 02:52 PM

David, You are really jumping in with both feet to make a set of table legs. Turning a single unique item is one thing, but turning four exactly alike is a whole ‘nother ball game. :-)

I have not attempted this yet myself, but one thing I know you will need is calipers for comparing the one you are working on to the finished one(s).

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2497 days

#2 posted 09-10-2011 05:14 PM

For a beginner turner, I don’t think anything is better than the Easy Tools. As the name implies, they are very easy to work with.

I encourage you to check out the website link below and pay special attention to the videos.

I only use the Easy Rougher. Despite it’s name, you can also get a very fine finish with this tool. Easy Tools have several products and, eventually, you may want more than the Easy Rougher. However, I suggest you start with just the Easy Rougher and go from there.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2421 days

#3 posted 09-10-2011 05:36 PM


Make sure that the headstock center and the tailstock center are in line. The center of the spindle should match the point on the tailstock center. Point to point.

Make sure you can easily tighten tailstock and toolrest so they don’t move.

Make sure talistock can lock.

Make sure you don’t have any lumps on the toolrest that keep the tools from sliding easily along it.

Triple check that all fasteners are tight. (Do this often. Vibration will loosen stuff quickly. Locktite is your friend.)

Mounting workpiece:

Carefully mark the center of the workpiece so you don’t run out of wood. :)

Make sure that the drive center and tailstock center are well set into the wood so they don’t spin or wobble.

Don’t overtighten the tailstock ram and make the workpiece bow out in the middle.

Turn the workpiece a few times by hand (ALL THE WAY AROUND) to make sure it won’t hit anything when spinning under power.

No loose clothes or hair that can get caught. No rings or gloves either. People only survive being sucked through machines in cartoons. In real life, it’s not so funny. Eye protection is mandatory. Some prefer full face shields. Remember a lot of woods are toxic. Standard precautions for dust and skin exposure.


Do some cutting on scrap but get used to turning to a plan instead of just slicing off wood. Practice cutting to dimension.

Make a story stick with each critical dimension that you can transfer to the legs. Once you have the workpiece round, transfer the dimensions while the workpiece is spinning. Hold the story stick near the wood with one hand and pencil in the other. Touch the pencil at each critical dimension and let it mark all the way around so you can see it. Dark wood? Use a scribe or a light colored pencil. Then using a parting tool to cut down to diameter at each point. Use calipers to check.

Spin it slow until you get it round. Don’t be afraid to knock off the corners with a chisel, drawknife, or plane (or something). The most dangerous time is when things are not round yet. Interrupted cuts like turning from square stock or natural edges can be dangerous. High impact forces when the chisel hits the corner can split off big pieces. Take small cuts with light pressure so you don’t move the tool in too deep on the face and then hit the corner hard and too deep. If it is going whack, whack, whack, whack and your tool is jumping in your hand, it is too deep. It should sound like shh, shh, shh and tool should be steady.

Cutting is by feel. If you don’t have nice clean chips coming off when cutting, you either have a bad grind on the tool or you are holding it at the wrong angle. Turning green wood can be like taking a shower in spaghetti. The angle you are holding it is more important than the grind angle. Sharpening is like any other cutting tool except you have a steeper angle to withstand the higher cutting forces. Dull tools tear out the wood, sharp tools slice it. If you are not cutting, you are just creating friction and overheating your tools.

Keep the tool rest close to the workpiece. The closer the better.

Listen to what is going on. You hear weird noises like humming, creaking ,or snapping, get the hell out of the way and turn it off. Inspect later. Things can happen really fast. Much faster than you can react.

Hold tools firmly. but you don’t need a death grip. The spinning workpiece will keep the tool down on the toolrest. When the toolrest is near the workpiece, you have a huge amount of leverage on the cutting edge.

Learn to ignore anything falling. Don’t reach for it. Let it go. Turn off the lathe and then when it stops, pick up whatever fell later. Look around the area every few seconds. Turning can be hypnotic. People walking up will surprise you.

Work from the middle to the ends. There is less support in the middle and it will deflect more. Do the work there when you have more wood to support it. Turn down the critical dimensions first and then connect the dots for the other features. Move up and down the workpiece with your body and legs rather than moving your arms. Keep the handle of the tool up close to your body.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 2473 days

#4 posted 09-10-2011 06:19 PM


Thankyou. I didn’t ask the question, but I learned a lot. You put things in focus clearly and succintly. You must have done this before.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View xwingace's profile


214 posts in 2011 days

#5 posted 09-10-2011 06:27 PM

I would recommend either buying or making a sharpening jig for your tools. I got a Wolverine a few months ago, and it’s made all the difference in the world.
You really should practice making some spindles before you jump into those table legs!
Dave, nice list! I second the safety talk, one of my friends has a pretty funky looking finger from when he got his hand sucked into the lathe because he had long sleeves on. There may be times when you are tempted to reach over the top of your workpiece, don’t do it or turn the lathe off first.

-- I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was.

View jim C's profile

jim C

1467 posts in 2521 days

#6 posted 09-10-2011 11:07 PM

No long sleeve shirts, rings, watches etc.
When you first mount the billet, jog the machine on and off for a sense of balance/runout. Too much vibration can make the lathe commit hairy kary.
Check often while turning that the headstock/tailstock are holding the piece firmly and nothing has loosened up.
David is dead-on right and very knowledgable. (I wrote this before I read his post. Sorry if it’s repetitive)
I ran metal working lathes for many years and I can tell you this machine is extremely dangerous if you get complacent. There have been many documented deaths and dismemberments since the machine was converted to power from hand turning.
Be careful!

-- When I was a boy, I was told "anyone can be President", now I'm beginning to believe it!

View mafe's profile


11061 posts in 2512 days

#7 posted 09-11-2011 05:36 PM

David I bought several books, but the only place I really learned anything was by the lathe.
I use the gauges a lot and a thin point tool also for details. The skeved iron takes practice, but it comes slowly and really at this tool every hour you spend makes you better in a rate where you feel it. Start making some handles and stuff, I have made a bunch of mushrooms just for the training.
Pls ask if doubt, I will help if I can,
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View shipwright's profile


7094 posts in 2221 days

#8 posted 09-11-2011 07:14 PM

One point about human nature that may ease your mind with the table leg similarity issue:

If you get the four legs relatively alike almost everyone’s eye will see them as exactly alike. The eye sees what it wants to see. try hard to be accurate but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2063 days

#9 posted 09-13-2011 06:52 AM

Thank you all for the excellent advice.

The first few rounds will be in the driveway on some small pieces. Turning looks to be the messiest of all. I guess there’s no practical way to dust collect since the lathe appears in all ways to be designed to cover the operator in shavings.

FWIW, I went with the 8 pc. HF lathe tool set due in part to comments made by Lumberjocks dbhost and chriscrafts

I ordered the Galbert caliper after reading this little LJ thread ...then visiting the website and watching the videos.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2063 days

#10 posted 09-13-2011 08:59 AM

This is the leg(s) I want to make. They will be made from glued-up maple… 4” diameter +/-

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View cloakie1's profile


204 posts in 1978 days

#11 posted 09-13-2011 10:28 AM

all good advice above …but for my two cents worth i would like to add a couple of things….IMO the first skill to learn is to try and turn a perfect cylinder. i think once that is mastered then it is a lot easier to do reppitive turnings when you start with a perfect cylinder. the other thing i would do is to draw up the shape 1:1.on it you should have all dimensions that you need eg distance between each shape and also the depth of each shape. by doing this you will get a feel for the final shape before ploughing in blind and putting up with whatever the outcome is. calipers are a must for repeat turning,and several sets set at different measures is real handy.the other thing that i don’t think has been mentioned is lighting…i personally like the light above and slighty in front so has to prevent shadow…but however you like it just make sure there is plenty of it.i tend to watch the topside of the piece when i’m turning rather than the tool for reasons mentioned above, i find i don’t get to mesmorised that way,feel the tool.
not saying it’s right but it works for me

hope this helps, good luck

-- just get stuck in and have a go!!!

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2421 days

#12 posted 09-13-2011 03:30 PM

The leg is massive enough that you won’t have to worry about it springing away. The smaller beads and coves are actually the easiest part. There are two tough places with that shape. The transition from square to round is hard not to go too far. Manageable though. Just take light cuts and check it often. It is really hard to put wood back on. The big gradual center portion will be the hardest to get looking good. You might want to cut a full scale template for that section. Done without practice, it could tend to look lumpy. Again, remember that you want to do the big smooth curve by moving your body and not your arms. It will come out a lot more even. You can do a lot of smoothing out the profile with sandpaper on a soft block to clean up and even out.

If you have enough stock, turn an extra leg or two. Then you can choose the best 4 for the table. The other one or two can be used to make a little side table or something and it will match the style of the big table. You can also slice them in half and apply them to a buffet or something. As Shipwright said, once they are on the table, you cannot see that they are not exactly the same.

If you are going to be chopping mortises in the legs, either do them first or leave a bit of square stock at the foot so it will sit square on the bench and saw it off when you are done.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2063 days

#13 posted 09-16-2011 08:47 AM

Thanks for all the great advise. Really, I need all I can get in this area.

My tools came in, so I hope to start playing with some junk wood this weekend.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

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