Can You Turn Soft Metals On A Wood Lathe?

Can You Turn Soft Metals on a Wood Lathe

Wood lathes can be used to turn a variety of different materials, but can you use them to turn soft metals? 

Many people can’t believe that you can turn soft metals on a wood lathe. It’s true, but it is important to note that you can only turn softer non-ferrous metals such as brass.

You can’t turn steel or other ferrous metals this way because they will ruin the cutting tools and quickly wear out the machine. If your goal is to work with these harder metal types then you will need a metal turning lathe instead of one made for woodworking.

Can You Turn Soft Metals On A Wood Lathe?

Turning metal on a wood lathe is possible, but not advised. Lathes are designed for turning wood.

Turning steel is difficult because of the hard nature of the metal. The tool in your hand will have a hard time making a cut, and it is very possible that the cut will become jagged due to “chatter” (a term that refers to an uneven motion). This vibration tends to result in a rough or ridged surface on the work.

Wood lathes lack the necessary precision to turn non-ferrous metals. Accuracy is lost without a proper slide rest, and requires the skill of the turner.

Many projects do not require precision to the thousandths of an inch. That’s why people turn brass or similar soft metals on a wood lathe.

Can You Turn Copper On A Wood Lathe?

Many people believe this is a bad idea but you can actually turn copper on your wood lathe.

Turning copper is easy. Instead of using scrapers, you can use gouges because they are easier to control. Remember to let the tool cut and not force it.

Copper can harden and sometimes needs to be softened if it has trouble cutting. To soften copper, heat it red hot and quench it.

Watch out for shavings because they are very sharp and hot. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to avoid this problem.

When sanding the metal can get quite hot so make sure you don’t hurt yourself.

Can You Turn Brass On A Wood Lathe?

Yes, you can. You can turn softer, non-ferrous metals such as brass on a wood lathe. It is just like we mentioned earlier about brass.

Copper is a base metal, while brass is an alloy. Reddish-orange in color, copper is known to be soft and quite malleable. It can also corrode when exposed to the elements, turning red or green. With proper sealing, copper is able to retain its original hue.

Can You Turn Aluminum On A Wood Lathe?

Turning aluminum is possible on a wood lathe, but you should not attempt to do this with ferrous metals.

You can turn soft metals on a lathe, even if it is not designed for the task. … If you are not ambitious with your project and do not have an engineering lathe, small items made of aluminum or some other softer metal may be turned on any lathe without a problem.

What About Ferrous Metals?

You can turn soft metals on a wood lathe, but it is not recommended to do this with ferrous metals.

Turning steel or other ferrous metal can quickly ruin the cutting tools and wear out your machine. If you are interested in working with these types of harder metal then consider getting a metal turning lathe instead of one made for woodworking.

Metal lathes are more expensive but they are worth the price. You can also use a metal lathe to turn wood.

What Tools Are Recommended For Soft Metal Turning?

Brass and aluminum tend to respond well to scrapers and gouges, respectively.

Cutting speed is slower with metals which means that it might not be necessary to use a high, fast speed when turning.

There are various metal alloys, but some metals turn more easily and smoothly than others. A file will help scratch the surface of the metal, removing chatter marks if necessary.

Even on a lightweight lathe, you can still make simple shapes.

Why Turn Metal On A Wood Lathe?

Wood Lathes can be used for turning wood, but can also turn soft metals. This is a great way to make prototypes or small metal pieces that you can’t afford the time and expense of designing on a more expensive machine.

Most people use them ring inlays, pen turning or small projects. Brass can be turned on a lathe and can also be made into parts for jewelry. Brass can be finished in many ways, including polishing it to give the desired color.

The best wood lathes are typically not very expensive, but they can still do some small metalwork as well.

Safety When Turning Soft Metals On A Wood Lathe

There are some safety concerns when turning soft metals on a wood lathe.

One of the main issues is that metal can get very hot while you turn it and can become sharp which can lead to injury. This can happen when you use sandpaper.

Sharp shavings can also become hazardous, so make sure to watch out for them and wear protective clothing such as an apron around your legs and a face mask.

Wrenching a cutting tool can cause it to break and could put you in danger. A file thrown back by the chuck jaws can injure your hands, so always use tools with handles.

Final Thoughts

Wood lathes are great for working with a variety of materials like wood, plastics, copper, and aluminum.

But they are not effective at working with harder metals. If you’re looking for the right equipment to work on these types of projects then metal turning lathes maybe your best option.

These machines have sharper cutting tools that will last longer and won’t wear out as quickly when dealing with steel or other ferrous metals. They are also very accurate.

Metal lathes are more expensive but they are worth the price.