Overcome Chatter on the Lathe

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You can turn just about anything that is round on a lathe, within the length and diameter constraints of your machine. But when you turn a spindle to a long, thin shape, you will invariably encounter the work piece beginning to vibrate under pressure from your lathe chisel. The next thing that you’ll notice is that the surface is no longer very smooth. This effect is referred to as lathe chatter. Lathe chatter can be the bane of existence for a spindle turner! Everything is going smoothly, you’re getting a silky smooth shiny surface on the project, and then you reach a certain point of diameter and bam! Lathe chatter starts to happen, and you try to sharpen your tool, apply more pressure, try a different chisel, and nothing seems to help. Lathe chatter is having its way with your project. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Lathe chatter is caused by the flexing of the work piece, and is more prevalent toward the center of the project where the piece is does not have as much support for the headstock and tailstock, and is more prone to flexing under pressure. The best way to minimize lathe chatter is to supply an extra measure of support near the middle of the project, and there are two main approaches for doing that:

USE a steady rest. There are commercially available products called “steady rests” for this that apply even pressure at increments around the circumference of the work piece.

BE a steady rest. Short of using an actual steady rest, you can use your hand to support the project as you turn. George teaches us how to safely do this.

Hope you can use this and more WWGOA shop tips to improve your own woodworking!