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Basic Lathe Anatomy

What to Look for When Choosing a Lathe

What to Look for When Choosing a Lathe

Basic Lathe Anatomy

Morse Taper

This refers to the tapered interior of the headstock spindle and tailstock spindle. Most woodturning lathes will have either an MT-1 or MT-2 spindle taper, with MT-2 being the most common. It’s important to know your lathe’s Morse taper in case you want to buy accessories such as after-market spur or live centers, a Jacobs chuck or a mandrel for turning pens.

Headstock Spindle Size and TPI

Knowing these specifications is important when you want to add a four-jaw chuck to your lathe. Most four-jaw chucks require an adapter to mount to the lathe, and these must match the headstock spindle. Common headstock spindle sizes are 3/4" x 16TPI, 1" x 8TPI and 1-1/4" x 8TPI.


Typically included when you buy a lathe, the faceplate threads onto the drive spindle and has holes for mounting bowl blanks with screws.

Swing Over the Bed

This is twice the distance from the tip of the drive center down to the lathe bed. It tells you the maximum diameter that can be turned on that lathe.

Distance Between Centers

This is the distance between the drive or spur center on the headstock and the rotating center in the tailstock when the tailstock has been moved out as far as it will safely go. It tells you the maximum length of stock that can be turned on that lathe.


What’s the lathe’s range of speeds? Is it a fixed-speed or variable-speed lathe?

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