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What is Spindle Turning?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 17, 2024
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Spindle turning is the act of turning square stock into round stock on a wood lathe. Typically, wood is mounted between two lathe centers while a tool known as a gouge is used to remove material from the spinning wood. The art of spindle turning is responsible for creating ornate pieces that are used for table legs, chair parts and even lamp bodies. Besides turning the square stock into round pieces, spindle turning usually includes finish-sanding the wood smooth as it spins on the lathe as well as applying a myriad of finishes such as linseed oil, stains and varnish.

Wood lathes make it possible to re-create a spindle turning by using calipers and dividing tools to lay out particular patterns and shapes. Using an original spindle turning as a pattern, the wood worker can duplicate the intricacies of the piece through the use of many specialty cutting and carving tools. A pencil is often used to draw reference lines on the spinning wood to aid the craftsman in placing particular cuts. Once the basic shape begins to appear, the measuring tools are used to achieve the proper depth in the cuts as well as the proper spacing.

Most skilled wood workers will leave the spindle turning a little over-sized when finishing work with the lathe chisels. Experienced craftsmen will choose to sand, rather than carve, the finished work to the proper size and avoid going under-sized while achieving a smooth surface to the work. In spindle turning as well as most other forms of wood work, it is always possible to remove a little more material, however, it is impossible in most cases to add more material onto a piece once it has been removed. By using multiple grits of sandpaper on the spinning wood, the spindle turning can be brought down to size and finished very smooth in a short time with minimal effort.

When creating multiple turnings of the same design, such as those used in stairway banisters, a device is applied to the lathe, which allows the worker to follow a pattern or an original piece, while the lathe replicates the shape exactly. This copying jig ensures that every banister is turned to the exact length and diameter and includes the same designs to achieve a symmetrical appearance and aesthetic appeal. The size of the lathe being used is the only practical limitation on the size and design of the spindle turning being created.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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