For most of us who work with wood, especially in the home shop where anything from a jewelry box to a full desk may be attempted, the table saw has the honoured position of center of the shop, in importance if not actual geography. However, the table saw is known as a dangerous enemy as well as a welcome friend and a certain amount of tension is always associated with its use. Acquiring and learning to use the wood lathe brings a new relaxation to the woodworking shop somewhat similar to the days when a craftsman laid a rough board on his bench and picked up a hand plane to smooth it down to the sound of shavings gently swishing to the floor.
Like the table saw, many of our power tools exist as cutting tools to which we bring boards to carefully cut them to length and width. That same table saw that has brought precise cuts into the ability level of people who do not have the time or chance for long apprenticeships, also brings with it the chance wood to be grabbed and hauled into the blade with terrible cuts or to be bound with blade and through with devastating force. Band saws have been known to rotate improperly secured wood and rotate a hand into the cut. Routers are the seeming exception as they are guided by hand onto a piece of well clamped wood, but many use them in a more versatile fashion by inverting the tool under a surface and making a router table. All of sudden the very rapidly rotating cutting tool is all to available for an unwary finger.
The wood lathe changes all this. Here the tool does not hold the cutter, it holds the wood. There are reasonable precautions that must be followed for safety, but they are not unusual for the woodworker.
One realizes that wood shavings will fly from the lathe and many will fly at the wood turner. A full face shield is worn which is simply safer than mere safety glasses. Sharp tools are a necessity but this is no new to anyone who tries to cut wood and all know that sharp tools are safer than dull ones. Very quickly it will be realized that hands should be kept away from rapidly spinning wood. As in all woodworking, a proper dust mask should be worn when sanding and a proper mask used for some of the more exotic and dangerous finishes. The only new rule to learn for safety is to turn the wood at a reasonable speed for its size and balance.
Woodturning tools are easy to learn to use and can take a lifetime to master as is true for most any craft. However, the first few cuts and indeed the first few mistakes make one realize that the tool is a safe one. In fact, one of the more difficult things to teach a new turner is to relax ones grip on the tool and generally relax all over. It makes the turning easier and a lot of fun as the shavings come off the swish on to the floor.