Wood lathes have been around for well more than a century. In some regions of the world such as forests of the Chiltern Hills in the UK, old-style pole lathes were in use until the 1950s. Today there are several kinds of lathes in use, mainly differing in the size of wood they turn; the pen lathe, mini lathe and floor lathe. There are many supplies needed to work a piece of wood on a lathe and also many accessories that are optional.
Freestanding and Bench-Mounted Lathes
There are freestanding lathes and bench-mounted lathes. The freestanding lathes are more expensive, vary in size and can withstand large amounts of force when rag-bolted to concrete. Bench-mounted lathes are what most beginners should seek to buy or use and vary greatly in size. These can have a swiveling headstock, which means it can be rotated and locked to any position between 0 and 180 degrees, or a sliding headstock, which means it can turn a diameter up to 18 inches by sliding the headstock along twin bed bars.
Basic supplies for any lathe include a tool rest no longer than 15 inches, drive and tailstock centers (preferably a revolving drive center) and a 4-inch faceplate if your lathe does not already come with one. Woodturner Keith Rowley suggests having a good 2½ inch woodscrew chuck and a Jacobs chuck.
While these supplies are not necessary to turn a piece of wood, these can speed up and increase the quality of wood-turning projects. A combination of different chucks, measuring instruments such as calipers, dividers, rulers and twist bits, and a boring kit for drilling long holes in projects like lamps. There are also dozens of other tools for specific projects like gauges, chisels, scrapers and parting tools for intricate designs.
Deciding whether to purchase carbon steel or high-speed steel supplies is also something for the new woodturner to consider. Many consider high-speed steel to be the stronger of the two because it stands up to abrasion and friction, but it also more expensive.
Woodturner Keith Rowley in his book "Woodturning: A Foundation Course" suggests that a basic first set of lathe tools should consist of the following: A 1- to 1¼-inch roughing-out gauge, ¼-inch parallel parting tool, 1-inch and ½-inch skew chisels, ½-inch and 3/8-inch spindle gauges, 3/8-inch bowl gauge, 1-inch square-ended scraper, ¾-inch round-nose scraper and a 1-inch dome scraper. Rowley also notes, "A tool rack is essential so that tools can be conveniently stacked, and to prevent the cutting edges becoming damaged."