A metal lathe is a machine tool that can be used for shaping, smoothing, and cutting different types of materials.
Can you use a metal lathe to turn wood? Yes! Metal lathes are capable of working with both metallic and wooden workpieces alike. Wood-turning lathes only support turning wood, but metal lathes allow you to turn either type of material.
What is a lathe and what does it do
A lathe is a machine tool that rotates the workpiece about an axis of rotation to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, deformation, facing, and turning. The workpiece can be either metal or wood with different tools used for each type in order to create symmetry.
With a wood lathe, you can turn objects like pens, table legs, bowls, and another small home décor. With a metal lathe, you can turn objects like screws, nails, nuts, bolts, hinges, and many more.
A lathe has different mechanisms to move the cutting tool along linear or circular paths (eccentric) at variable speeds as it rotates around an object called the “lathe center.”
What are the advantages of using a metal lathe for woodturning
The main advantages of using a metal lathe for woodturning are that it can support both types of materials and the speeds are variable.
A larger difference is in the size of the workpiece, as woodturning lathes only allow you to turn objects no larger than 16″ diameter or 20″ height while metal lathes can handle bigger pieces with diameters up to 48″ and heights up to 36″.
Another advantage of a metal lathe is precision. Metal lathes can cut with very accurate and precise measurements, which is an advantage in woodturning because the quality of the finished product matters.
Wooden workpieces are limited to a certain size for turning on a wood-turning lathe, but metal turnings have no limitations at all! You should be aware that there will be a difference in the cost of woodturning lathes and metal turnings.
Metal lathes are more expensive to purchase than wood-lathe, but they can be much faster for production purposes or when a job is at hand that requires many pieces with uniform specifications. Metal workpieces will also have better precision than those on a wood lathe.
A wood lathe is cheaper than a metal lathe, but they are both able to perform the same operations. Metal Lathes Can Still Be Used With Wooden Workpieces
Wood-turning lathes only support turning wood, but metal lathes allow you to turn both types of material.
Drawbacks of using a metal lathe on wood
There are some disadvantages to using a metal lathe for wood-turning.
The first drawback is the complexity of use. Metal lathes require more complex skills and knowledge about how they work in order to be used properly, which means it takes longer to learn than with woodwork machinery like a band saw or table saw.
Another disadvantage to using a metal lathe for wood-turning is the possibility of damage. Woodturning can be done without expensive equipment, but with metal workpieces, you need specialized tools and machinery that are much more costly than those for working on wood.
The final disadvantage is the size. Metal lathes are bigger and have to be mounted onto the ground or on a stand. Wood lathes are mobile and smaller in size, making them easier to transport around.
You can read more on the subject here.
How to use a metal lathe for woodturning
There are not that many differences between using a wood lathe and a metal lathe for turning workpieces.
The main differences are the size of the object, precision in measurements or cuts, and cost between both machines.
The basic techniques you use on a wood lathe still apply to metal lathes.
Make sure you are wearing protective gear to avoid injuries and start by turning the workpiece with a roughing gouge, then use other tools for shaping.
Always maintain an even speed while using your lathe in order to get quality cuts every time.
Why you might not want to use a metal lathe on your project
The main reason you might not want to use a metal lathe on your project is the cost. If you are just getting started with woodturning, it may be better to stick with a cheaper machine like a wood-lathe while learning how to turn workpieces by hand.
Metal lathes are also more difficult and time-consuming to learn how to use, which means you may need a more expensive instructor or tooling package for success.
You should also be aware that metal lathes are not as versatile in workpiece size and they cannot do some things like what woodturners can on their machines – such as sanding the surface of an object while it is still on the lathe.
You will also want to improvise a tool rest for your metal lathe.
Another important aspect is the wood chips. They can be really bad for your metal lathe. Make sure to clean after each use.
So, Can You Use a Metal Lathe to Turn Wood?
You can but you don’t really want to do it unless you have no other choice. Metal lathes are more expensive and a lot harder to learn how to use.
Metal lathes are versatile machines but why would you want to use a very expensive machine to make a pen for example when you could get a wood lathe specifically designed for that task. That will make your job a lot easier.