Safety is a priority when using a wood lathe, no matter the level of expertise. Safety precautions have to be implemented in almost all woodworking jobs, but is safety more important when using a wood lathe? Let’s first discuss how dangerous a wood lathe is:
A wood lathe is very dangerous for multiple reasons. The biggest danger of spinning wood is forgetting to remove the chuck key, or if the machinery holding it together breaks, this will cause the wood to fly at a very high speed in multiple directions. The lathe can break if spun too fast or if a chisel gets knocked off to a position that will not let the wood to spin.
Other safety issues such as wood dust, electric malfunctions, and general safety precautions must also be studied before first use. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about what dangers to expect when using a wooden lathe, and how to make your experience as safe as possible.
Safety Precautions When Using a Wood Lathe
There are a lot of things that can go off plan when using a wood lathe, especially if you are using it for the first time. We encourage you to read all the potential hazards that may occur and remember the precautions to prevent them from happening in real life.
Clothing and Protective Equipment
On average the wood lathe makes 3000 turns every minute and it can go as high as 4500 rotations per minute. What this means, is that any clothing, accessories, or other loose things that get in the way of the lathe will be taken off at best, and causing a fire at worst. So here is a checklist of things NOT to wear when working with a wood lathe:
- No Watches
- No Rings
- No Necklaces
- No untied hair, must always be tied in a bun/hat
- No long sleeves (can be rolled up, however, short sleeves are better)
With all the clothing that you are not supposed to wear out of the way, let’s talk about the things you should be wearing.
As soon as you turn on the wood lathe you must have the face shield on, shards will fly in all directions, this is the reason that safety goggles are not sufficient. To protect your face you will need a face shield.
What you see above is the kind of face shield that you should be looking for. The protective screen must be thick to protect you from the flying shards of wood. The featured face shield you see is our recommendation for you. It has a 190% thicker protective screen than standard face shields. However, you can find anything similar to this to be just fine.
A dust mask is crucial to be present when working with wood. Dust particles are not only bad for your health when inhaled, but also have a tendency to increase the chance of an allergic reaction if a lot of dust particles are inhaled over time. To simplify, the more dust you inhale, the more of a chance you will be highly allergic to it.
Once again what you see above is our recommendation. Masks with such respirators are proven to be very effective. You can find this mask on Amazon and order it to your doorstep or get a similar one next time you go to a store. Just make sure that the mask is a dust mask and not a surgical or other kinds of masks.
Remove Chuck Keys
One of the most dangerous and unfortunately common mistakes that are done when working on a wood lathe is forgetting to remove chuck keys before turning it on.
Leaving the keys inside will cause them to fly with lethal speed straight at you. You hear a lot of woodworkers say how they had one of those flies past them and stick like a dart in the wall.
A good habit to have is to step to the side of the machine before turning it on. This will protect you not only from the chuck keys that may be there, but from any other objects that you may not have noticed. Once again, the RPM on the wooden lathe goes higher than 4000. Anything that it catches will be dangerous.
Hopefully, next-generation lathe machines will have something like a magnetic sensor that will ensure you to have removed the keys, without it the lathe machine should not be allowed to turn on. However, until that technology arrives, us woodcarver, and woodworkers, can only protect our own cautiousness.
Set the right RPM On The Lathe Machine
RPM is the measurement that tells you the amount of Rotations Per Minute the woodblock will do when attached to the lathe. The higher the RPM the faster the wood will spin. Most Lathe machines have a range of 500 to 4000+ RPM that can be controlled.
The speed that you set depends on the dimensions of the wooden piece you are working with. The general rule of thumb is that the larger the piece the smaller the RPM should be.
Always refer to a speed chart that will show you the length and width with the correct speed that you have to set. Not having the right speed is a bad idea for many reasons, primarily, if a large piece spins too fast it will break the machine and be very dangerous for the user.
The chart will only give you a general idea of the speed you should have. Different kinds of wood have different weights and different densities. Listen and feel the wood on the lathe, adjust the speed according to intuition.
Another important thing to remember is with larger pieces you want to increase the speed of the lathe very gradually. Going from 700RPM to 2000RPM in a second can end badly.
This is one of the obvious precautionary measurements that you should implement, and that is to make sure your tools are scary sharp when working with a lathe machine.
Sharp tools are not only safer to work with but also much easier! So you should be very well motivated to sharpen your tools whenever working on a project as it will make your life easier.
If you are unsure how to sharpen tools, be sure to check out our article on how to sharpen a whittling knife with a whetstone. The instruction for a chisel is exactly the same as for a knife, be sure to apply these few tricks when sharpening your tools.
Check The Tool Rest
The tool rest is a little wooden block that can be adjusted on the wood lathe. Unfortunately, as the wood lathe was not created safely, making a mistake when adjusting the tool can lead to bad consequences.
You of course have to make sure that the wooden block that you place in the lathe is not touching the tool rest before turning the machine on. To do that you should spin the wood to make sure that all 4 corners are not knocking it off.
Keep in mind that if the distance between the tool rest and the different corners is largely different as you spin it, it may mean that the wood piece is not placed securely in the center. While it may not always the case, it is always worth double-checking.
Consider Hearing Protection
If you are taking woodworking seriously you probably already have a pair of noise-canceling earphones. It is never a bad idea to protect your ears when working with a lathe.
This is not as important as a lot of other tips that we mentioned as most of you will not be working for 6 hours/day on a running lathe machine. Of course, if it happens that you do, you will be able to tell that you need headphones without us reminding you of it.
Finally, we wanted to encourage you to not work when tired. A wooden lathe often requires you to make some decision on the spot and most definitely needs your full concentration at all times.
If you are not sure that today is a good day to work on your wood, give it a good night’s rest before continuing on the project. Of course, the same goes for the duration of your work as well. Shorter but more frequent sessions are much safer than fewer longer sessions.
Woodworking in all forms comes with some form of danger. A wood lathe is probably more on the “more dangerous” side. However, after gaining some experience and learning the dangers that come with the machine anyone will be confident using it.