7 ways for Holding and Driving your Wood on the Lathe

The DRIVE CENTER is inserted in the morse taper of the headstock. The drive center (sometimes called SPUR CENTER) can be of several configurations: 4-prong, 2-prong, or steb-type.

The LIVE CENTER/DEAD CENTER is inserted into the tailstock and either supports the far end of the work or applies pressure to the wood and helps hold it to the spindle. Although superficially similar, there are some important differences between these two.

Dead Centers (an archaic, "old school" implement) are usually either pointed or cupped, and the wood spins against the end. As you might imagine, this has a tendency to generate considerable heatM so much, in fact that early turners lubricated the Dead Center with beeswax or grease.

1. Live Center

The Live Center incorporates a bearing, and the end revolves with the wood; this is a much more efficient and safer application. Live centers come in a wide variety of shapes and uses, and can have cones, inverted cones, points, cups, teeth o whatever your imagination and inventiveness can come up with. This is the preferred method for spindle work.

Image: 4-prong and Steb type

2. Faceplate

A Faceplate is attached with screws or bolts to a flat surface and is then screwed onto the spindle of the headstock. This is an excellent, and safe way to hold your work. CAUTION!!! DO NOT use: drywall screws (too brittle, too thin, threads too fine); wood screws (the taper gives little holding power); screws with slots (phillips or square drive is best). If your faceplate is not drilled for #10 screws (at least), then go to a drill press and redrill to accept #10's. This is a safety issue: you have to be hit once to ruin your whole day (or life).

3. Screw Center

A Screw Center looks a bit like a faceplate, but has a large single screw (5/16 or 3/18-inch diameter) in the center. This is another excellent way to hold face work.

4. Scroll Chuck

Woodturning Scroll Chuck

A Scroll Chuck is quite useful, and can hold in either expansion or compression. A machinist will be quite happy with a 3-jaw chuck; it is far from satisfactory for a wood turner. A 4-JAW scroll chuck is preferred, and can be either key-operated or bar-operated. These chucks have tremendous holding power and are self-centering. Most modern woodturning scroll chucks have removable thread inserts in order to be used on a wide variety of spindle sizes.

5. Jam Chuck

A Jam Chuck is amazing: very simple, very flexible. It usually consists of a turned rebate (hollow) that is jus the right size for either the top or foot of a turning to fit precisely into it; the wood is literally "jammed" into it and then turned. These are usually chucks of expediency, although many times is may be the chuck of choice for a particular application.

6. Longworth

A Longworth chuck is a handmade type of scroll chuck, and consists of two moveable plates joined at a common center, with a set of buttons (rubber or wood) moving through a series of eccentric arcs. Very cool, best used at slow speeds and with gentle cuts.

7. Vacuum

A Vacuum chuck is a rather recent innovation, but one that in some applications is very effective. The limitations are that some woods are so porous it becomes impossible to establish or maintain a vacuum. On some occasions the vacuum generates such force that the bowl is crushed. The vacuum source can be an air compressor (using the venturi principle), a vacuum cleaner (imagine that!), or a vacuum pump (as used in refrigeration service).

Woodturning Vacum System


- Capt. Jack Wayne

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