Can A Metal Lathe Be Used For Woodturning? (Solved!)

For those who have a metal lathe in their workshop and want to give the woodworking hobby a try, you may be wondering if you could use your metal lathe to turn wood. Here we take a look at the topic in a greater detail…

Here’s the lowdown on whether Woodturning can be done using a Metal Lathe

A metal lathe is capable of turning both metal and wood. This may require some minor modifications to the metal lathe if you wish to turn with more ease. Additionally, you want to be sure that you clean the lathe efficiently after every use; but otherwise, it is great for turning wood.

What is the Difference Between a Metal Lathe and a Wood Lathe?

The first question to answer is, what is a lathe? A lathe is a powerful tool used by wood and metal workers alike for cutting, shaping, and smoothing materials.

Therefore, the first major distinction between them is the materials that are crafted with them. This is the primary factor behind all the differences in these machines.

A wood turning lathe is not as powerful as a metal lathe. The metal lathe needs to have very powerful strength, force, and the capability to shape some very hard substances. Wood lathes work with much softer substances which can be torn or broken easily with a lathe.

Metal lathes are also much larger and by default much more expensive. It could be difficult to find adequate space for a metal lathe if your setup was designed for the smaller, wood lathe.

Can you Turn Wood on a Metal Lathe?

You can turn wood on a metal lathe, although the reverse is not recommended. The strength of a metal lathe makes it especially good for extra hard woods that are more easily shaped or cut with the metal lathe.

You may wish to avoid using the metal tools to work your wood, however, and invest in getting wood tools. The metal lathe tools could damage the wood while it is turning. Some tools you may wish to purchase are the bevel and the wood rest, for starters.

You can use most wood tools with the metal lathe with some minor modifications. The metal lathe is a bit more precise as well, so be sure you are careful of where you cut and carve and allow for the differences.

Will turning Wood on a Metal Lathe cause damage to the lathe?

It is unlikely that wood will damage your metal lathe. If anything, the speed and power of the metal lathe may damage the wood if you aren’t careful. Although, it is recommended that you modify the lathe a little for turning wood.

One way to avoid damaging the lathe is to be sure you use the correct tools for the wood.

The headstock and the wood rest are the two most commonly adjusted parts of the metal lathe. It can make turning wood on a metal lathe much easier since the headstock is more specific to handling wood and the wood rest makes managing the wood easier.

Soft or hardwood is okay for this lathe, but be sure the speed is adequately high if you are trying to cut or sand a piece. Slower speeds are best for carving since the metal lathe is great as a precision tool.

Are Wood Chips and saw Dust bad for a Metal Lathe?

Wood chips and shavings are not meant to be inside a metal lathe. A metal lathe has a lot of intricate machinery within it that easily gets gummed up with the silica in the wood.

The wood can also eat away at the exterior metals if it is not cleaned properly. The bed can become worn out from this and dry up oil resulting in rusting and decay.

If you plan to turn wood on your metal lathe it is best to use a decent shop vacuum to clean it out. This should be done regularly, if possible, after every use. If the wood and such us allowed to sit it might damage the interior and rot out the insides.

Which is more Accurate for Woodturning, a Metal Lathe or a Wood Lathe?

Both lathes are good for turning wood, however, the metal lathe is a more accurate lathe. The metal lathe is designed to make very accurate cuts in the metal and therefore precision is of utmost importance.

This also means, however, that the lathe does not cut as fast as wood lathes do. The metal lathe has a lot of force and power, but it is primarily a precision tool and so you may be better with a wood lathe if you’re concerned about this.

The wood lathe precision is sufficient and the metal lathe is not necessary unless you are seeking to turn both materials. The precision can be helpful for certain projects, but the wood lathe should be more than adequate.

Which is more Versatile for Woodturning, a Metal Lathe or a Wood Lathe?

A metal lathe is more versatile in two ways: they can be used for both materials and they have the capacity to be far more precise. The speed is one of the difficulties with the metal lathe.

Wooden lathes are far less versatile than a metal one. Wooden lathes are designed for wood only and this is important to remember when you choose which you want to purchase. Although the power surpasses a woodturning lathe, the RPMs are usually lower and this can impact your project’s finish.

Do keep in mind that it is certainly possible to turn small, light, and not overly hard metal pieces on a wood lathe. But, it isn’t necessarily an approved practice and if you’re not careful you can damage the wood lathe.

Does a Metal Lathe turn faster than a Wood Lathe?

A metal lathe is designed more for precision than speed. Most metal lathes are considered far slower than most wood lathes, and the speed can impact the ability of the lathe to sand and grind your wood effectively and efficiently.

The weight and size of the metal lathe allow for the machine to endure a lot more and to be able to run for longer periods than a wood lathe. This can work in your favor when sanding or cutting a large piece.

If speed is an issue, and you feel the wood and projects you seek to create (primarily ones which require a lot of sanding and smoothing) you may wish to invest in a larger, efficient wood lathe. But, for most projects, the speed of a metal lathe is sufficient to turn wooden items.

How does the rpm of the Lathe affect the Finish of your Woodturning project?

One of the more confusing aspects of the metal lathe is that it has a lot of power in comparison to the wood lathe, but fewer RPMs. This is because the metal lathe needs to be more precise than the wooden lathe.

The finish won’t be impacted if you are careful and patient. Because the lathe spins slower to ensure precision you need to be more focused and allow time to let it give a good finish.

Harder wood can be more ideal for a metal lathe, whereas very soft wood may tear from the strength of the machine, so be careful when turning!

Can a Metal Lathe give you a good finish on your Woodturning project?

You must remember that a metal lathe has a lower RPM than a wood lathe, so the best thing you can do to ensure a good finish is to be patient. Another recommendation is to see if your lathe can be modified at all to be better suited for turning wood.

Carving and cutting are better options for a metal lathe. If you are seeking to turn wood for a hobby and don’t mind the process being a bit choppier and slower than usual, then a metal lathe should be sufficient.

Does a Metal Lathe cost more than a Wood Lathe?

Metal lathes are by far the more expensive option. The metal lathe is more complex, more detailed, and much larger than the wooden lathe. It requires a lot more to build, so it is a good deal more expensive than a wooden one.

A wood lathe can be a smart choice if you do not wish to turn metal and wood and do not require the strength of a metal lathe. A metal lathe may be more than you need if you don’t need to turn both since it is more than what is needed for most projects.

The precision of the metal lathe can be great for certain wood projects, but be careful when you are turning your wood to polish. It may be a little more difficult than the wood lathe.