What Materials Can Be Turned On a Lathe?

Working on a lathing project can be a fun endeavor that allows you to create different constructs. Nevertheless, to achieve your desired results, you need to consider the material used and understand how to handle them. As you can guess, not all materials are suitable for turning on a lathe.

The materials that can be turned on a lathe are wood, brass, plastic, aluminum, ceramic, and wax. Other more challenging elements, such as cast iron, stainless steel, and alloyed steel, require the correct inserts and cutting speeds to ensure smooth turning.

So, suppose you’re considering creating a lovely symmetrical vase for your home or professional use. In that case, this article will give you a list of lathe-worthy materials you can use. It will also discuss some of the prerequisites for achieving high-quality crafts and finishes.


Wax is a cheap and versatile material that can be acquired easily. However, it tends to produce residue with excessive use, which builds up on the lathe’s cutting surface. So, if you’re thinking about using wax, try opting for a less messy wax variety.

What Materials Can Be Turned On a Lathe?

Examples include machinable wax, consisting of plastic. The plastic within it makes it typically harder than regular beeswax and carnauba wax, leaving less debris and making lathing a clean and effortless task.

Many industries primarily use wax turning to make professional prototypes and project models. It can also be used for wax figurines, wax goblets, and ornamental carvings.


Wood is a popular lathe material that can be turned into a myriad of beautiful crafts. Like metal, various wood species can bring about different results. We recommend sticking to beech, hickory, ebony, or mahogany wood for extraordinary results.

  • Beechwood: It is hard, durable, and abrasion-resistant, making it suitable for crafting bowls and heavily used materials. Moreover, its linear grain nature makes it optimal during the face work process in creating wooden toys, woodware, and even instruments.
  • Hickory wood: It is a highly durable, reddish-brown wood considered the toughest of the hardwood species. Its coarse grain texture and flexible yet shock-resistant build make it ideal for heavy-duty wood projects, such as furniture. When turned with a sharp tool, it makes lathing more manageable. When turning, always sand along the grain’s direction instead of the reverse. 
  • Ebony wood: It features a magnificent texture and a smooth finish when polished well. Its deep black color and dense nature make it an optimal material for turning wood into ornamental items, such as chessboard pieces and wood animal carvings. 

We understand that acquiring top-grade lumber can be expensive. However, suppose you opt for low-grade timber. In that case, you can incur poor results and potential injury, like the wood breaking or slipping, causing your hand to get caught in the lathe. So, you’re better off sticking to quality instead of economic profit when turning wood.

Here are the creations you can make:

  • Sporting equipment, like baseball bats and pool cues
  • Furniture, for example, chairs, sits, and tables
  • Cabinetry, such as drawers and chests
  • Floor decal
  • Handles
  • Utensils, like bowls, plates, cups, mugs, and jugs
  • Woodenware
  • Cutlery, such as ladles, rolling pins, forks, spoons, goblets, and cutting boards
  • Pots and vases
  • Buttons
  • Pen casing


Plastics are widely available in today’s market and can be turned on the same lathe used for wood and metal. The difference lies in taking small and well-controlled bites when turning plastic on the lathe to produce intricate designs. 

However, not any acrylic is suitable for plastic turning. The friction generated from the high-speed CNC lathe milling machine, such as the SOBL Mini Metal Lathe, can quickly melt the plastic. 

SOBL Mini Mtetal Lathe, 20000rpm Powerful Motor 24W DIY Tool Metal Woodworking Mini Motorized Lathe Machine, Grinder, Driller, Wood Lathe, Metal Lathe Machine, Miller for Wood Plastics
  • 【STURDY CONSTRUCTION】Lathe tool is made of high speed steel material.Main parts: headstock, tailstock, long machine bed, big slider, small slider, motor blade, gear, connection block, belt cover etc. All of the parts are made of metal except belt cover.Motor case and headstock are jointed.
  • 【THE MAIN PARAMETERS】Center height is 25mm and distance between centers is 135mm. By using central block, the diameter can be expanded to 100mm.Axis Z slider travel: 30mm. Axis X slider travel: 160mm.Motor speed normally drops to 2000rpm when using the lathe to machine metal.
  • 【HIGH POWER MOTOR】Super large torque ball bearing motor, maximum rotating speed up to 20000RPM providing ultra strong cutting power with low noise, you can use it at home.With 0.02mm accuracy of scale lines, the hand wheel increases the precision of workpiece processing.

Last update on 2022-12-05 at 14:22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

To prevent this, we recommend sticking to Delrin or Teflon as they are durable alternatives that feature better heat resistance. Albeit pricey, choosing these colorful and transparent materials will help achieve great products while endorsing safety and minimizing waste. 

Here are the creations you can make:

  • Bowls
  • Vases
  • Chisel holders
  • Tool handles
  • Pots
  • Bins
  • Stands
  • Action figures


Ceramic can be turned on a lathe to produce elaborate shapes and patterns, as seen in pots, plates, and ceramic home decor. Although it can be machined, only professionals should deal with ceramics.

Grinding fully hardened ceramics, such as graphite, can be a heat-intensive process, so you’d want to stick to using diamond-tipped inserts and sufficient coolants to prevent micro fracturing and the deterioration of your lathe components. 

Alternatively, you can opt for machinable ceramics, such as Pyrophyllite or lava, Porcelain, Macor, and Shapal Hi-M Soft, which are much easier to turn and alleviate the use of diamond tooling. 

Here are the creations you can make:

  • Utensils, including plates, cups, mugs, and jug
  • Pots
  • Tiles
  • Cookware 
  • Jars
  • Teapots
  • Vases
  • Household decor


Despite its fragile nature, glass can be effectively turned on a lathe. Unlike other materials, the process allows the glass to melt and mold into your wanted outcome because it involves heat treatments.

What Materials Can Be Turned On a Lathe?

However, to shape glass on a lathe, you’d require a cutter made from a rigid material such as a hard alloy or wet diamond, running at high rpm, and water coolant for a smooth finish. Avoid using paper to fasten the glass on the lathe as the material can slip or chip, so use rubber to secure it better.

Here are the creations you can make:

  • Glass capacitors
  • Thermometers
  • Test tubes
  • Pints
  • Glass jars
  • Drinking glasses
  • Lenses


As a rule of thumb, wear protective eye gear as blazing metal shrapnel usually flies off when lathing metal. 

Moreover, avoid sweeping your workspace with your fingers, as metal shavings can cut you, so opt for a cleaning brush instead. While metal lathing safety procedures are the same, each alloy comprises specific qualities that require distinct approaches when turning and milling.


Known for its visual appeal and corrosion resistance, turning brass can yield stunning results, ranging from decorations and jewelry to musical instruments and plumbing constructs. When turning, always choose a zero rake insert to achieve a smooth finish and to cut brass like butter.

What Materials Can Be Turned On a Lathe?

However, because brass is soft, it often tends to slide, causing the risk of getting your hand into the lathe. You can use a tailstock to provide better support and to secure your hands.


Aluminum is a lightweight, cheap, and soft nonferrous metal. Unlike tougher metals, it tends to chip, so you’ll need to handle it with precision and care. When lathing, turn it slowly to prevent it from sticking to the lathe due to heat build-up. Select PCD grade inserts with sharp edges for an effective cut and coolant for chip evacuation.

Cast Iron

Cast iron’s ability to deform without fracturing and superior wear resistance enable the production of high-quality kitchenware, pots, pipes, automotive components, and plumbing. CBN grade inserts are recommended for turning cast iron as they are durable and incur less heat waste. 

What Materials Can Be Turned On a Lathe?

Stainless Steel

The alloy’s rust resistive properties allow it to be used in kitchen cutlery, cookware, surgical equipment, and architectural purposes. PVD and CVD grade inserts are best used when turning stainless steel to avoid chip jamming and intermittent cuts. Coolant is also necessary as it helps prevent plastic deformation and improve chip control, allowing better results.

Alloyed Steel

Turning alloyed steel requires special attention. Those with 0.55% carbon content tend to smear and accumulate edges on the insert. To prevent this, use sharp cutting edges and high rpm to decrease smearing.

High alloyed steel with more than 5% carbon content requires ceramic or carbide turning inserts, such as the ASZLBYM CNC Lathe Indexable Solid Carbide Turning Insert Blade, designed to maintain its structural integrity and resist oxidation in high temperatures.

ASZLBYM 30PCS CNMG 431 + WNMG 431 + TNMG 331 CNC Lathe Indexable Solid Carbide Turning Insert Blade for Lathe Turning Tool Holder for The Finishing of Steel
  • Modle:10pcs CNMG 431 + 10pcs WNMG 431 + 10pcs TNMG 331 .
  • Material: Carbide ,Coating : PVD,For processing :finishing of steel
  • The inserts has high hardness, low friction coefficient, good wear resistance and chemical stability .

Last update on 2022-12-01 at 08:10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Can You Use Your Lathe To Cut Other Materials?

A lathe can shape various exotic materials, including stones, like marble and gems, to craft different intricate embroideries and decor.

There’s no limit to how creatively you use surrounding materials on a lathe. Even gourds, butternut shells, and pumpkin can be wood turned to create DIY Halloween and fall lawn decorations.


A lathe machine can make producing superb pieces more manageable and precise. That said, you should take your time analyzing the features of the particular material you’d want to use on a lathe as it can influence your products’ outcome. 

Moreover, familiarizing yourself with lathe-compatible materials can also enhance your craftsmanship and ingenuity in designing outstanding items.


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