Woodworkers sometimes view the lathe as an exotic or unneeded tool. This view is short sighted in the extreme and removes a lot of enjoyment from a woodworker's time in the shop. Perhaps the view is caused by the nature of the wood turning lathe itself.
Most woodworking tools, and power tools in particular, are used to remove bits and pieces from boards prior to reassembling those bits into a finished article. For instance, table saws saw boards with cross cuts and rip cuts into smaller boards while drill presses remove wood from circular areas to allow bolts or screws entrance or to make a decorative area. Jigs are often used to make cuts more precise and to keep hands away from the cutting areas. The rapidly moving saw blades and cutting surfaces discourage a close approach to the work.
Hand tools meanwhile are considered by many woodworkers as needing an extra amount of time and talent to learn to use them well. In many cases this is true. However, if we look at the work of craftsmen prior to the industrial age we realize that a lot of beautiful work was done by a lot of people, not all of them classically trained nor apprenticed workmen, but rather homeowners making something for the family, much as do the hobby woodworkers of today.
The wood lathe enter somewhere in between power and hand tools. In the days gone by the lathe was often turned by hand or foot power. As time progressed, water wheels may have been used in the factories while treadle lathes were used in smaller businesses and homes. Perhaps with the emphasis on home gym equipment today, the treadle lathe could make a comeback. For most woodworkers though, a modern lathe with an electric motor is the way to go. It is viewed as a power tool because it uses an electric motor to make it work.
The difference between the lathe and most power tools comes in the handling of wood and cutting tools. A table saw, the mainstay of many woodworking shops, has a rapid rotating blade fixed in position and a piece of wood is carefully manipulated through the cut. Wood lathes are made to hold the wood and to rotate it, the direct opposite function. Meanwhile various cutting tools are held in the hands of the woodturner, one by one, and manipulated to remove pieces of the wood in various ways and patterns so as to complete the piece of work. In some sense, the nature of a wood lathe being a power tool or a hand tool becomes quickly blurred.
This moves a woodworker to new realms of thought and enjoyment. While most saws are used for straight cuts or sometimes a curve, the lathe opens up circles and rounds to the woodworking vocabulary. Table legs for instance, move from being straight lines with at most a taper, to being rounded with curves, grooves, beads and tapers. New design possibilities are opened up and new ways of looking at things develop. Plus, for most hobbyists who work with wood, there is the delight in having and learning a new tool. Woodworkers can expand into a whole new realm of pleasure and satisfaction.
Source by Darrell Feltmate