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Methods of Workholding for Woodturning
By Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

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While describing various methods for holding stock during a class, it occurred to me that for a machine that just spins wood there are many ways to hold material on a lathe. I wanted to outline a few methods and devices for Workholding. This in no way is a truly comprehensive list but more of an outline of various methods. I hope this will give you a few new methods to consider.


The first device that most of us encounter is the drive and live center that is usually sold with a lathe. There are many variations of each of these devices.

The most common drive center is the four prong center. This has long been the work horse for spindle turners.

A unique version of the drive center is called a safety center. It is also referred to as the stebcentre . This particular center often has numerous small teeth that allow the blank to "slip" or spin in the event of catch. Some safety centers have no center point or teeth. The safety center is helpful to those learning to turn and in particular practicing with the skew.

These devices come in a variety of sizes and teeth configurations. I have found that for most of my work the basic 4 prong center does everything I need. I do recommend the safety center for those developing their spindle turning skills and in particular the skew.

The live center is the free spinning device that mounts into the tailstock. I have used several different styles of live centers commonly found on smaller lathes. These live centers are often large and impede access when working near the tail stock side. They do not allow other devices like cone centers to thread on to the center (see photo below). This style just comes up short on features and usability.

I absolutely love the Oneway Live Center . It is rock solid with a removable center point and threaded to accept other attachments. The removable point on the live center allows for various shop made supports to be used.

The center points can provide a convenient "third hand" to support work while sanding or other operations are performed (with the lathe off).


The next holding device we frequently encounter is the Faceplate .

I am fond of using faceplates because they are simple (no moving parts), inexpensive and have great holding power. This category is chock full of options from 2" to 8"+ in aluminum or cast iron. The critical features in my mind are:

  1. Numerous screw holds. I prefer at least 6 holes large enough for #8 to #12 size screws. This of course varies based on the size of the faceplate and the size of the blank.
  2. Set screws to prevent the plate and blank from unthreading if spun in reverse while sanding.
  3. Some method for removing the face plate, like a flat spot for a wrench or holes for use with a tommy bar to help free the faceplate from the lathe.


Like Faceplates, we have many choices of Chucks . There are several major brands each offering various sizes. In my experience, major players all have well-built and reliable offerings. It does not make sense to me to mount a heavy out of round blank and expect to hog out material on a cheap chuck. I am not aware of an accident resulting from a chuck failure, however, it is just not worth the risk. Why take the chance?

The features I think are important include:

  1. Make sure your brand of choice offers a threaded insert that matches your lathe's spindle size.
  2. A wide selection of jaws. You may not think you will ever need anything more than the standard, however, it is nice to know you have options. Also, an option for adding Cole Jaws is important.
  3. A worm screw included with the chuck.

Worm Screws

This is an option that most chuck manufacturers include with their chucks. This strange looking screw is used to mount bowl blanks in a similar fashion as a faceplate. These are quite simple to use and only require the user to drill one hole in the blank with an appropriate sized drill bit for use with the worm screw.

Vacuum Chucks

The Vacuum Chuck is the uber premium method of holding stock on the lathe. This system, as the name implies, uses a process that creates a vacuum that seals a turning to a special vacuum drum.

This system is most often used in the final process of reverse chucking a bowl/platter. The vacuum chuck allows the turner full access to the bottom enabling the removal of the tenon using turning tools as well as sanding the outside. This system is wonderful to use. It is a snap to center a bowl and get on with turning away the tenon, sanding or decorating the bottom.
It makes the last step in the process of turning a bowl rather simple. This system is pricey but if you turn lots of bowls/platters, I cannot think of anything better you could do for yourself.

Shop Made Holding Devices

These are as varied as there are turners. Here are just a few that I use:

  1. Pad for reverse chucking
  2. Jam chucks
  3. Live center aids

There are many other useful devices that hold or support stock on the lathe including pen turning mandrels, offset chucks, collet chucks, spindle steady rests and pin chucks.

Curtis was a former President of Central Texas Woodturners , is a member of the American Association of Woodturners , and is a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin . Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also teaches for TechShop. He owns a studio where he works and teaches. Curtis lives in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at www.curtisturnerstudio.com or visit his Instagram: tx_planes .

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