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What is a Lathe Duplicator?

By Eric Tallberg
Updated May 17, 2024
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Using a wood-turning lathe is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding aspects of woodworking. To turn a perfectly shaped lamp base, decorative spindle, or table leg can bring immense satisfaction. Turning a matching piece, however, presents a significant difficulty. Even the most experienced and talented woodworker finds it considerably challenging to machine an exact duplicate of a specific piece. This is why a lathe duplicator is a very handy item for any woodworking shop.

Essentially an add-on part for a regular wood lathe, a lathe duplicator will save the home hobbyist, as well as the professional woodworker, hours of frustration and hundreds of dollars in wasted stock. Using the template, or pattern, included with a lathe duplicator, a woodworker can turn exact duplicates of a particular design.

The standard lathe duplicator includes a rail, mounting hardware for attachment to existing lathe rails, a variety of templates, a toolpost, a wheel, and a set of cutters. The duplicator is mounted horizontally over the bed of a regular wood lathe. One end of the lathe duplicator rail is attached to the headstock, or spindle housing, and the other is attached to the tailstock. The headstock and tailstock of the lathe anchor the wood piece to be turned. The lathe spindle rotates the piece so that the pre-aligned cutters can actually shape, or machine, the wood as it spins.

The toolpost, which holds the cutters, is fitted to the rail of the lathe or the lathe duplicator, affixed to the edge of the wheel, aligned to the piece, and basically wheeled horizontally along the contours of the lathe duplicator template. The toolpost and cutters are moved deeper and shallower as they travel in a precise pattern along the stock.

Five types of cutters are available with the common lathe duplicator. Four of these cutters are carbide, and the fifth is a cone cutter, which is made of steel. Carbide cutters come in four styles. The round cutter is used for initial shaping and forming graceful curves. The square cutter is used solely for rough shaping. The diamond (shaped) cutter is best for deep grooves and intricate detail. The versatile triangle cutter is able to handle a number of cutting operations from rough shaping to sharp corners, to deep grooves.

The steel cone cutter shaves the wood rather than scraping it. It’s perfect for intricate cutting and machining the piece with a finished look. The cone cutter is commonly used for duplicating more decorative pieces. Lathe duplicators are available in a variety of sizes, configurations, and prices.

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