mini lathe for wood

Mini Lathe For Wood Turning: How To Use It?

A mini lathe is ideal for standard wood turning operations.

If you’re someone active in the wood working industry, you’ll agree when we say that a mini lathe comes quite handy for tasks such as turning. 

While lathe machines are available in all sizes and variants, mini lathes are indeed the most versatile of them all. 

How, you may ask? 

You see, even though mini lathe machines are smaller in size compared to their industrial counterparts, they’re not as small as table lathes. And that means not only can these laths easily fit into any workshop but also provide great results on medium to large workpieces. 

Not to mention, you can always deploy a mini lathe CNC conversion kit to switch from manual to CNC lathe on a budget. We’ll learn more about lathe CNC conversion later. 

Now, if you’re a beginner in the industry or new to mini lathe machines, in particular, you’re sure to have a ton of queries. 

But you can rest easy as we have in this blog everything you might want to know about lathe machines. Also, we’re going to walk you through the best ways to use a mini lathe for wood turning, as well as pro machining tips. 

So let’s dive right in and have a look. 

What is a lathe machine? 

At its very basic, a lathe is such a machine that you can use to shape wooden and other soft workpieces by turning, drilling, or cutting them. 

Lathes work by rotating a workpiece at high speed, allowing you to create various patterns and shapes by using their machine tools

So what can you create using a lathe? 

Well, you can use a lathe to make various long and cylindrical objects such as wood frames, parts for furniture, and more. 

Also, while lathes are primarily meant for softer materials like wood, on some high-capacity lathes, you can even machine metals like aluminum. 

What are the basic components of a lathe? 

Although lathe machines, including the mini lathes for turning or drilling wood, can have different sizes and forms, depending on their model, they’ve some basic components in common. 

These components are critical for the lathe to perform the desired tasks and include the following: 

#1. Machine bed

The bed on a lathe is its basic outer frame that supports all other parts of the machine. It is a large platform upon or around which all other components, including the tailstock and headstock, are installed. However, it is worth mentioning that most of the wood working lathes on the market do not have a machine bed. 

#2. Motors

The motor on a lathe runs the machine by driving the headstock and moving the spindle. Now, the traditional lathe machines usually had the motor assembled under the bed. But that’s not the case anymore with modern-day lathes. 

In fact, modern lathes can have the motor installed just about anywhere, from within or under the headstock to a hidden spot in the stand. 

#3. Headstock

The lathe machine’s headstock holds the workpiece firmly in position and moves it. 

Most headstocks are highly adjustable, and you can even remove and replace them with a different tool altogether if needed for your project. 

As such, it is the flexibility of the headstock that allows you to machine your pieces with high precision. 

#4. Tailstock 

The tailstock supports the workpiece during machining by keeping it clamped in place, thus helping maintain accuracy on produced parts. 

Like the headstock, the tailstock also is adjustable, meaning you can adjust it according to the length and breadth of your workpiece. 

Apart from that, you can also use the tailstock on the lathe to store drilling, cutting, and other machine tools. That’s because by having tools near the work area, you can easily switch between the tools and thus perform more complex operations. 

#5. Tool rest 

Another major component of a lathe machine is the tool rest which allows you to place such tools on it that aren’t in use. 

Safety-wise, a tool rest is critical since it provides a safe spot to rest the tools that can otherwise expose you to various hazards. 

Usually, a mini lathe for wood turning has a four-position tool rest spot that enables safe switching between tools while working on a workpiece. 

Safety apart, the tool rest also makes machining way more convenient, given you can have all the required tools in one place. 

#6. Speed control 

As the name suggests, speed control is a component that you can use to control and regulate the speed of rotation on your lathe. 

For instance, if a lathe has a speed range between 500 and 2500 RPM, the speed control will let you set and maintain the required speed limit. 

What exactly is a mini lathe for wood turning? 

The mini lathes, like the ones used for wood turning operations, are also called benchtop lathes and are compact versions of the large lathes seen in industries.


Essentially, it is the compact nature of these machines that make them apt for smaller and more complex wood turning projects. 


You see, creating detailed patterns with precision on a small-sized workpiece can be very challenging on a large machine. And that makes mini lathes the go-to machine for any such machining operation. 

Nevertheless, the fact that a mini lathe is ideal for wood turning and other similar tasks doesn’t mean you can machine large objects on it. 

On the contrary, these are solid and versatile machines capable of machining large pieces with precision. And that’s exactly why mini lathes are highly sought after among smaller workshops and hobby machinists, among others. 

Bonus #1. A mini lathe is portable

The best thing about a medium-sized benchtop lathe is that they offer unmatched portability thanks to its lightweight and compact size. So much so that you can carry one by yourself without the help of another person or a tool. 

Bonus #2. Benchtop lathes are affordable 

Compared to large industrial lathes, a mini lathe CNC machine is very cost-efficient.  That is especially true for wood lathes, as you can get one for as less as $1000. On the other hand, a full-size lathe can cost you up to $10,000. 

Which tools do you need for wood turning on a mini lathe? 

When it comes to wood turning, there are endless tools that you can deploy to create various designs and shapes on a workpiece.  However, some basic tools are a prerequisite and come in handy for most turning operations.


Moreover, as a beginner, you’ll surely find these tools useful. 

They include: 

  • Roughing chisel 

You’ll need a roughing chisel to make your workpiece cylindrical and smooth. You can use one by knocking off the corners and edges of your wood piece to the desired extent. 

  • Parting chisel 

A parting chisel is very sharp and lets you cut the final wood piece from the lathe’s spindle. Also, you can use it to mark those sections on the wood that you’re planning on carving. 

  • Spindle gouge 

A spindle gouge is used to create small and round patterns and is used on miniature workpieces that call for detailed machining. 

  • Bowl gouge

A bowl gouge works on the same principle as a spindle gouge, the only difference being that the former is used for large-sized workpieces.  You can use a bowl gouge to shape bowl-shaped wooden materials, among other round objects. 

  • Calipers 

Calipers are measuring tools that allow you to measure workpiece dimensions and ensure it meets its requirements. And to do so, you need to hold the calipers against your workpiece during a turning operation and check whether or not the piece aligns with the specifications. 

You may also want to read – CNC Lathe Tools: Everything You Need To Know About

How to use a mini lathe for wood turning? 

Once you’ve sourced all the required tools, it’s now time to start using your mini lathe and create some awesome parts. 

But before you do so, it’s important you have set your lathe the right way. 

Here’s how you can set up your lathe machine: 

Before you begin setting up the lathe, it is essential to ensure that the machine is switched off and unplugged. That’s because a running lathe can pose serious safety hazards during the setup process. 

After checking the power connection, you can round up all the required machining tools and place them on the tool rest in the same order as needed during turning. 

Arranging your tools property is critical since not only can a wrong tool damage your workpiece but also cause injuries. 

Also, it is equally important to check whether or not your tools are sharp enough to efficiently machine the workpiece. Blunt tools can affect your workplace design and make it chip off. 

Further, once you clamp the wood piece in the lathe, you should bring the tool rest close enough to the work area. As such, you’ll have excellent control both over the tools and the workpiece at the time of machining. 

Finally, you should level the lathe and make it stable before beginning with your projects. 

Choosing the right wood follows

Having set up your lathe, you can now pick the right wood piece for machining. Herein, you should go for such wood that is ideal for turning on a mini lathe. 

If you seek seasoned wood machinists’ advice, they will always suggest you go for walnut, maple, hickory, and other hardwood. And rightly so, as these woods make the top-notch pieces both in terms of quality and elegance. 

However, if you’re a beginner on a wood lathe, we recommend you start with softwoods and hone your skills on them before switching to any hardwood. For instance, you can create your initial pieces using clear pine and then go for cherry as you become more proficient.  

Bonus tip: 

As a freshman, you should avoid such wood that has cracks or knots. 

While it is possible to conceal these issues during machining and create perfect pieces, you can do so only when you’re seasoned enough. 

Create a blueprint 

Drawing a clear blueprint of your project is vital since you can use it for guidance throughout the machining process. Also, it can help you with future projects and even set the tone for similar plans. 

To do so, you can take a piece of paper and draw the shape, size, patterns, curves, and other finishes that you intend to create on your workpiece. 

Pin this blueprint close enough to the lathe so that you’re able to see it as you machine your wood piece. 

Pro tip: 

It is possible that your initial projects will lack the level of accuracy as drawn in the blueprint. So you shouldn’t be bogged down if your parts lack precision by each millimeter. 

Similarly, we suggest you don’t give up on the blueprint itself since it helps you keep on course and attain finesse over time. 

Clamp the wood for turning

When clamping your wood piece, you should focus on keeping it as close to the center as you can on both ends.   You can then put one end of the wood against the centermost position of the headstock in a way that aligns with the center point. 

Thereafter, you can bring the tailstock to another end of the wood blank and align its center point to the wood piece.  Upon checking the alignments on both ends, you can bring in a hand crank and tighten the tailstock firmly. 

You can now switch on the lathe 

Having turned the machine on, you should wait for the lathe to gain speed and attain stability before you can carve your wood piece. 

While the lathe is gaining speed, it’s good to stand near the power button. Also, it’s important to ensure that you’re wearing a face shield and all other safety measures are in place.  Most importantly, if you notice any vibration or wobble in the machine, turn the machine off without any delay. 

Start turning the wood

To begin with wood turning on your mini lathe, you can deploy the roughing chisel.  Start it slow, as quick roughing can cause damage, and take out small bits from the corners to make your workpiece smooth and cylindrical in shape.  

After you’ve completed roughing, you can mark spindle sections using the parting tool and give shape to the piece using a spindle gouge. 


Now that you’ve created the desired shape and patterns on your wood piece, it’s time to turn the lathe off and remove or lock back the tool rest.  Turn the lathe on again, and once it gains speed, you can use sandpaper to smoothen up the workpiece to the desired extent. 

Some important tips to follow while using a mini lathe for wood turning

Tip #1. Safety is a prerequisite 

Even though a mini lathe for wood turning and shaping is relatively safer than other lathes and mills, it’s still important that you have the right safety measures in place. 

You can follow this checklist to check for lathe safety: 

  1. Closely examine all the fittings on the lathe machine before you turn it on, and ensure that they’re tightly fitted. 
  2. Make sure the work area is clean, as bits of wood can fly out during machining and cause potential injuries. 
  3. Go for good-quality wood blanks, as those with knots or cracks can break apart during turning. 
  4. It’s essential that your lathe tools are sharp. 

Personal safety tips: 

  1. You should always wear a face shield and eye protection specs, as wood splinters can otherwise cause severe injuries to your face and eyes.  
  2. We always suggest machinists not wear loose-fitting clothes during any machining operation, including wood turning. That’s because such clothing can easily get caught up in the spinning axle of the machine and, thus, result in an injury. 

Tip #2. Frequent maintenance is key to optimum machining 

The very basic maintenance you can perform is clearing debris, wood chips, and dust from the work area and other parts of the lathe.  This is followed by cleaning, something you can do by wiping the tailstock, headstock, and other components using a clean cloth. 

Also, you can lubricate the tailstock, machine bed, and other areas with penetrating oil. However, after lubricating the machine, you should wait for the lubricant to dry before you can start machining. 

CNC conversion on a mini lathe for wood turning: FAQs

Can you convert your manual mini lathe to CNC? 

Yes, it’s possible to convert a manual lathe and make it a fully-fledged CNC lathe. All you’ll need for it is a lathe CNC conversion kit. 

If you’re a seasoned machinist, you can even undertake a DIY lathe conversion project and have a CNC lathe on a budget. That’s because a kit of lathe conversion to CNC comes with a detailed user manual with a step-by-step CNC conversion guide.  Nevertheless, if you’re just starting out with lathe machining, we suggest you go for a professional CNC conversion. 

Is a CNC lathe conversion kit affordable? 

Yes, it is. 

In fact, lathe conversion kits are the most cost-efficient methods to have high-end CNC machining qualities on your lathe.

How affordable are the lathe kits? 

Well, you can get a lathe CNC conversion kit for as less as $1000, as against the brand new CNC lathes that cost upward of $10,000. 

The final words

From furniture parts to home accessories to jewelry and more, there is a lot that you can create using a mini lathe for wood turning.  And as you can see, using one such lathe is easier than it seems. 

Not to mention, you can always turn your mini lathe and make it CNC-capable. As such, not only can you attain precision on your parts, but you also become super efficient and scale your business. 

Looking to undertake one such CNC conversion project? 

We’ve got your back!

You can send your manual lathe machine to our workshop in Cleveland, Texas. We will turn it into a CNC lathe and ship it back to you.

Also, we have an extensive range of benchtop lathe machines and conversion kit combos that you can choose from. 

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? 


No Responses

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment