A wood lathe is a machine used to form a piece of wood into a desired shape, whether it be bowl, spindle, vase or a variety of other useful and/or decorative wood items. A piece of wood is attached to a spinning arm and various tools are used to shape the piece of wood as it spins.
Lathes have been around in their simplest form since Egyptian times and have developed from a rope spinner and bow lathe to the more complicated machines they are today.
The lathe has always been of tremendous importance to the development of civilization. From the simplest wood lathe many other types of lathes have been developed that are used for metalworking, pottery-making, glass-working and spinning. The lathe was used in the production of wheels and making parts for many types of furniture and tableware, parts for mills and pumps, jewelry-making and many other important technological developments.
Modern lathes usually have a spindle and tailstock where the wood you want to "turn" is attached. You then use various bladed tools and the toolrest to pare down the outside of the wood, taking off the bark and shaping it until it is in the form you want. You can also use it to hollow out the wood to make vessels such as cups, bowls, vases and decorative objects.
Wood lathes cut down drastically on the time required to make carved wooden vessels and other implements. The items you can make using a wood lathe are more evenly carved and finished than would be possible by hand.
Wood lathes are machines with spinning parts that can be very dangerous. Use extreme caution when working with one---do not wear loose clothing that can be caught, and always make sure that the wood you are working on is firmly secured on the machine. If a tool catches on the spinning wood, it can be sent flying, so be aware of the best ways to use the machine and position yourself in the safest position to react to unexpected events. Always wear appropriate protective gear such as safety glasses, dust mask and steel-toed boots.