Headstock vs Tailstock; An Introduction to a Lathe

Rising early this past Sunday morning at an unusual eight-thirty-three in the morning I leapt out of bed to get the kettle brewing, and grab some breakfast. As I did not want to be late to my father-in-laws home as it was a forty-minute drive from the City.

Today, I would begin my first ever lesson on woodworking, and how-to operate a lathe. I was ecstatic thinking about all the cool wood working objects that would be the fruits of my Sunday morning labour as I shovelled in spoonfuls of oats, yogurt and blackberries.

I stared at my smartphone watching the next move from the player on the internet as we battled it out in a game of live-chess play. Ten minutes on, I noticed the time and screamed inside my head your going to be late, get the fawk on with it!

It never ceases to amaze me but the only time I seem to ever be on time in my entire life is when I am headed for an airport.

Upon arrival, I tossed everything aside and apologized for my delinquent behaviour as I was fifteen minutes later than our agreed to start time. He merely smiled and nodded. Then I went on a short rant about the surprise party I had assisted in which was thrown for his eldest daughter (my wife) by her coworkers because she had been released from her employer. A big dinner and outside gathering around a fire pit until midnight.

He watched my every move and finally said, “You could have said you didn’t want to do this today.” Smiling back I said,“no chance… I’m ready for this,” taking a swig of dark roast coffee out of the silver Yeti rumbler. “Okay then, we shall begin…”

For the next forty-eight minutes he went on and on about safety, respecting the lathe and the tools within the wood shop, a basic introduction to each chisel and its applications, more safety protocol, and how not to get shot in the stomach by a spinning bowl. The information seemed endless as he continued the conversation going on and on about setting it up, tools, belts, pulleys, chucks, jaws, Morse tapers, spindles, stocks, the tool rest, the type of motor and more. He was speaking and imparting tons of information and I was trying to retain as much information as humanely possible at this early hour of the morning.

Lesson learned: In the wood shop always respect the tools.

~B.W Jackson

Every five or so minutes he would look at my glazed over eyes and ask “did you get all of that?”

To his surprise, I would repeat 85% of the information, then take another swig of coffee and go back to paying attention to his instructions. Then we went through every part of the lathe and all the previous instructions jumped out the right ear onto the floor.

  • Headstock vs Tailstock
  • Two pulleys; the longer is for higher speeds
  • Adjustment of the two pulleys and why you use one over the other
  • Motor is shaft driven like a car and will not stop until emergency button is pushed
  • Tailstock hand wheel for tightening wood to headstock
  • Spindle and its adjustment forward on the tailstock
  • Lathe bed rails, banjo and tool rest
  • The controller: start, stop, emergency stop, reverse, forward, long deceleration, short deceleration
  • Oneway 1640 means 16-inches off the bed rail and 40-inches long
  • Extender on the right increases the length to 54-inches
  • Extender on the left increases height to 24-inches off the bed rail
  • Working speeds of 100 to 4800 rpm
  • Chucks, grinding tools, adapters and turning tools

He went on and on, as my head began to implode and the information being taught was slipping into one ear and falling out the other onto the sawdusted floor. Then he says to my surprise “how do you feel about getting a piece of wood up onto this lathe and getting some hands on practice?”

It should have been an instant ear-to-ear grin on my face and instead I pulled a grimace. Now I had surprised him, “are you okay? I thought putting wood up on the lathe would have excited you?”

To be perfectly honest, I’m a bit petrified at the moment with all these rules and safety protocols. Its making me a bit nervous about using the lathe. As well as I’m feeling pretty ragged so I’m unsure if this is what I should be doing with my Sunday mornings?,” I said.

He smiled with an understanding and acknowledgement of my fear and that all of this safety protocol instructions had resonated in this coffee ladened brain: Respect the tools.

Then in his usual calm demeanour he says, “Let’s give it a try and if you don’t like it after we remove the bark then we don’t have to continue any further this morning or after this weekend.” I smiled and nodded my agreement to this approach.

~ Aaron JacksonCrabb