Can you use a metal lathe for wood? – Is it good? (2022)

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A lathe is a mechanical instrument that is used primarily for shaping metal or wood by rotating the workpiece around a stationary cutting tool. The purpose of it is to remove undesired parts of the source material, leaving behind a nicely shaped object. It’s one of the most versatile tools used in the manufacturing industry.

With one of these, you can get a lot of works done from cutting to deforming, facing, turning, drilling, and sanding workpieces, etc. These kits are used to make parts for other pieces of machinery, household items, boats, kitchenware, floors, musical instruments, etc. The primary parts of a lathe are the bed, headstock, tailstock, spindles, tool rest, and motor. While the parts may remain alike, different types of lathes are specialized for distinct materials and approaches.

Wood and metal lathes are the two most broadly used categories in this regard and if you have the latter and want to get some woodwork done with it, your most apparent query would be if you could use a metal lathe for wood? We’ll satisfy your quest regarding that and much more in the article.

Difference Between Wood lathe and Metal lathe

First, we’ll exhibit the major differences between a wood lathe and a metal lathe in a table for you to understand their distinctive nature and functionality. Remember, they both have their unique purposes and advantages, so it’s just a generic demonstration and nothing more than that.

  Wood lathe Metal Lathe
Size & Strength Relatively smaller, simpler, and fragile. Comparatively bigger, more complicated, and robust
Primary Job Accurately sand, drill, deform, turn, and cut wood pieces. Able to aggressively manipulate and deform workpieces of all common metal forms.
Use Specifically made for wood lathes. Designed for metals like iron, steel, aluminum, etc.
Compliments Hardly used for the metal jobs Can cut wood pieces effectively
Structure Convenient to use for its pulley system calling the shots Fit with a hardened cutting tool secured to a rotating mounting surface which ensures more efficiency
Force Not as powerful as their metal correspondents Pack more punch and are often used with a hardened cutting tool to perform heavier duty
Efficiency Slightly less accurate than the metal lathes. Makes less precise cuts. More precise than their counterparts. Provides the best cuts.
Adaptability Limited by its ability to perform out-of-the-box tasks Much more versatile
Price Much less costly More expensive
Speed Turn the wood pieces faster A bit sluggish in delivery
Lathe chuck Most wood lathe chucks are handheld The tool itself is incorporated into the machine
Wood Lathe vs Metal Lathe

Wood on Metal Lathe

Now to address your main question, the straightforward answer is yes, of course. You can definitely turn your wood on the metal lathe (don’t try the opposite though) with a few adjustments. The turning process is also very simple. In fact, it’s identical to how you’d process your woodwork on a wood lathe. Below is the step-by-step guide to how you should approach it if you are not familiar with it already.

Place your wooden workpiece on the machine and start by following a profile

Next, accelerate the turning process after the profile has been traced. Make sure the RPM is 1000 or above.

If the surface turns out to be rough, sanding the work will settle it

• Finally, drill the wood with a 3/4″ router bit followed by a 1″ router bit.

 Benefits of using metal lathe for woods

There are manyfold advantages to using a metal lathe for turning woods. Here are some:

1. Since a metal lathe is more durable, it enables you to handle unsteady wood pieces with less vibration.

2. Metal lathes are a better choice on the off chance that you need to turn the wood piece into a cylindrical shape with precise measurements and exact dimensions. Usually, the tailstock and headstock of a metal lathe tend to have a better alignment along with a solid quill. They can drill and accurately pierce a hole to your desired diameter which makes it easier to produce identical lengths and diameters.

3. Maintaining a low pace makes it easier to work with erratic wood pieces. Metal lathes, in this regard, come handy. The metal lathes, especially the ones with back-gear, allows lower speeds.

4. Metal lathes will also assist you to turn long wood pieces with its sturdier balance along with its power feed-in its carriage.

5. It’s easier to work with and ensures a better finishing.

Limitations of using metal lathe for woods

It will become a one-sided discussion without mentioning the disadvantages of using a metal lathe for turning woods. We’ve gathered the most prominent restraints you may face while in your work:

1. Metal lathes can’t effectively turn the curved wood shapes. It isn’t properly outfitted to make bowls, or cups, or similar moldings.

2. Custom designs are often required for tool-posts for metal lathes which may seem like an inconvenience to many.

3. Specific tasks necessitate a faster turning speed which metal lathes can’t always provide. Its general slow speed may also be a drawback if you’re looking to get a lot of work done in a short time.

4. The leftover shavings from the wood might cause damage to the bed, carriage, and the left slide to the metal when you’re using a metal lathe to transform the wood. Metal lathes require a fast and thorough cleaning after the wood is turned on it for the dust and the shavings from the wood may lead it to erode easily.

5. Some metal lathes can’t turn large diameters on woods as most wood lathes can. It can prove to be a nuisance sometimes, especially considering that low priced wood lathes can work with much bigger stock than cheap metal lathes.

6. The cutters installed in a metal lathe sometimes can’t produce satisfactory results in wood surfaces which then needs further efforts to sand the workpieces. Turning wood and metal on a metal lathe involve discrete methods. Moreover, metal lathes call for much more concentration on apt installation while wood lathes need little to no effort on that part.


In the end, although the limitations look more in numbers, the remarkable advantages outweigh them by a slight margin. Plus, it’s not that we recommend you to use a metal lathe for turning woods, all we’re saying is it’s very much possible and it’s surely worth a shot if you’re planning to go in that direction.

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