A lathe machine uses a spindle to rotate a block of wood at high speed so that the craftsman can carve a symmetrical design. This is useful when creating furniture legs, baseball bats or other cylindrical objects. As the lathe spins the wood, the craftsman has a number of tools and chisels at his disposal to chip away just the right amount of wood.
The headstock anchors the top end of the spindle and houses the motor that turns the wood. The spindle's rotation speed can be changed by adjusting the pulleys or gears located near the back of the headstock, depending which mechanism is used by your model of lathe. A chuck or high-tension spring holds the wood piece in place so it does not move as the spindle rotates.
The tailstock holds the lathe machine's centering mechanism, which attaches to the end of the working piece of wood. The center can either rotate along with the wood or stay fixed firmly in place. A rotating mechanism is called a live center and contains bearings that allow it to move freely.
Before you can begin carving your wood piece, you must choose the right type of cutting tool to attach to the lathe. For most projects, the gouge tool is used first to clear out most of the excess wood quickly. The skew chisel can then be used to refine the carving and details can be added with the narrower spear and round chisels. Finishing tools have a rounded-off end to buff the wood without slicing any more material from it.
There are three main configurations of lathe spindles you may encounter: threaded, tapered, and cam-lock. The threaded spindle model does not taper at the end, which makes it difficult to attach the chuck. This is the oldest type of spindle and is not used as much on the newer models. A tapered spindle narrows at the end and includes a threaded collar with chuck key built-in. Cam-lock lathe spindles have cam studs on the end that slide into a ring of matching holes. When a chuck key is turned, these studs are locked into place.
The carriage holds the lathe's cutting tool in place while the craftsman works with it. The carriage is actually comprised of five different pieces: the tool rest, compound rest, apron, cross-slide, and saddle. These five parts work in conjunction to slide the cutting tool into the position needed by the craftsman.