Can I Turn Metal on a Wood Lathe?

So you’ve got a piece of metal that you want to turn so that you can create an interestingly shaped object from it. But now you’ve got to figure out how. Wood lathes are often cheaper than metal lathes, so would it be possible to use a wood lathe to turn your metal?

You can turn metal on a wood lathe; however, it is not made for this purpose. Metals like brass, aluminum, and copper can be turned quite well on a wooden lathe; however, steel cannot. If you turn metal on a wood lathe often or for long periods, you may end up damaging your lathe.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a lathe is, the differences between a metal lathe and a wood lathe, what the process of turning is, and whether it is possible to turn metal on a wood lathe. Now let’s get started!

What Is a Lathe?

A lathe is a machine used in various craftsmanship types such as woodturning, metalworking, glass-working, thermal spraying, and pottery, among others. It works by rotating the workpiece attached to it around an axis so that one can perform actions like cutting, drilling, deforming, facing, knurling, sanding, and turning.

Can I Turn Metal on a Wood Lathe?

Various tools can be used on the workpiece to help create a final product with a symmetrical appearance all around its axis. Things that are often made using a lathe include, but are not limited to, baseball bats, candlesticks, gun barrels, screws, table legs, and woodwind musical instruments.

There are many different types of lathes, but the most popular among them are woodworking lathes, metalworking lathes, watchmaker’s lathes, and pottery wheels. That’s right, a pottery wheel is a type of lathe, though it has a very different design to most other lathes.

Metal vs. Wood Lathes

Before we discuss whether or not one can turn metal on a wood lathe, we need to discuss the difference between a metal lathe and a wood lathe to better understand its purpose and capabilities.

What Is a Metal Lathe?

A metal lathe is a type of lathe that is used for metalworking purposes. They are very powerful and can easily deform and manipulate workpieces made of metals like aluminum, iron, and steel.

Metal lathes (also sometimes called metalworking lathes) are often used to manufacture workpieces made of metal. They are paired with a hardened cutting tool in various shapes and sizes, the most popular of which is round, diamond-, square-, and triangle-shaped. The workpiece is placed onto the lathe, and then the stationary cutting tool is pressed against it. At the same time, the piece rotates until the desired shape is achieved.

While metal lathes don’t have many chemical or physical effects on the workpieces they create, they have a mechanical effect that can change the workpieces’ material properties. These include micro-cracks, residual stress, tempering of hardened materials, and work-hardening.

Metal lathes can also be used to manipulate other materials, like wood, though they are primarily used for metalworking purposes.

What Is a Wood Lathe?

A wood lathe is a kind of lathe that is made to be used for woodworking purposes. These are the oldest variety of lathes, and all other lathes were initially created using this design. Their design has remained mostly unchanged over the years. Their headstock rotates at speed controlled by a basic pulley system, between 200 and 1400 rpm.

These lathes are relatively small compared to lathes used for other purposes (like metal lathes) and thus aren’t as powerful. However, they work in the same fashion as almost all other lathes but pressing a cutting tool against the surface of the workpiece to remove material from its surface until it has been formed into the right shape. These lathes are incredibly adept at deforming and manipulating workpieces made of wood.

The Differences Between Metal and Wood Lathes

Wooden lathes are designed to be used to craft wood, whereas metal lathes are designed for metal crafting but can also be used to craft wood. Wood lathes are older than metal lathes, and metal lathes are derived from wood lathes. Metal lathes are more powerful than wood lathes.

Metal lathes use hardened cutting tools, while wood lathes are used with standard cutting tools. Wood lathes are smaller and more basic than metal lathes, which means they are often also less expensive than metal lathes.

Can You Use a Wood Lathe To Turn Metal?

Next, we’ll discuss what the process of ‘turning’ refers to, and then we’ll go over whether you can use a wood lathe to turn wood or not.

What Is ‘Turning?’

‘Turning’ is a process by which a cutting tool attached to a lathe creates a toolpath along the surface of the workpiece placed on the lathe while it rotates. It is typically used to describe cutting work done on objects’ outer surfaces, while ‘boring‘ refers to cutting actions done to the inner surfaces of an object (e.g., the hole of a gun barrel).

The term ‘turning and boring’ lumps together are processes into a category as a subset of ‘lathing’ ‘Facing,’ which is when faces are cut onto a workpiece using either a turning or boring tool sometimes also included in the ‘turning and boring’ category.

In the turning process, a workpiece (which can be made of various materials such as metal, plastic, stone, or wood) is rotated. A cutting tool is moved along its surface to create an object of exact specifications. Different types of turning processes, known as external grooving, profiling, straight turning, and taper turning, are performed on a lathe, usually with a single-point cutting tool, and can create conical, curved, grooved, and straight workpieces.

Manual turning with a traditional lathe requires constant supervision and input. However, nowadays, most turning is done on an automated lathe using computer numerical control (abbreviated as CNC), which doesn’t need to be supervised. CNC is also used in various other machines that require extreme precision.

Is It Possible To Turn Metal With a Wood Lathe?

The short answer is: yes, it is possible to turn metal with a wood lathe. The longer answer is; yes, you can, but only certain kinds of metals and not without damaging your wood lathe.

As we previously discussed, wood lathes are designed to process wooden workpieces, which means that the speed at which they rotate the workpiece and the cutting tool’s strength has been optimized to work with wood. However, you can turn some metal workpieces with a wood lathe.

Small items made of softer, non-ferrous metals like aluminum, brass, and copper can be turned quite successfully on a wood lathe at the right speed and with the right cutting tools, such as carbide or HSS (high-speed steel) tools. However, larger items or items made of steel should not be turned on a wood lathe.

The wood lathe turns at a faster rpm than metal lathes, and the cutting tools are not strong enough to make precise cuts in steel or even make any cuts at all. If you are looking to turn both wood and metal with a lathe, we would suggest investing in a metal lathe, as they are appropriate for both materials.


Using a wood lathe to turn metal is possible, though it may not be the best idea to try it. Wood lathes are not made to handle anything harder than wood, so it would be best to use a metal lathe to turn metal. And as a bonus, metal lathes can turn wood too!


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