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Woodturning: How to Use a Faceplate Safely

Turners tend to divide the craft into two categories, spindle turning and faceplate turning. It refers to the orientation of the wood grain relative to the lathe bed. The spindle grain runs parallel to the lathe bed and the faceplate grain runs perpendicular. Of course this can vary but it is a good rule of thumb. Even more helpful is realizing that most bowls are transformed into faceplate style while narrow chair rungs or table legs are spindles. Bowls are often made from large pieces of wood, are held only at one end, and can be dangerous due to size. It only makes sense for us to shoot them safely.

The faceplates look as old as the wooden lathes and are simple in design. A metal disc of a certain diameter has a central nut or sleeve that has a thread of the same size as that of the lathe blade. The nut can be welded to the disc or they can be cast or otherwise made from a single piece of metal. When looking for a faceplate, make sure the thread size is correct and the nut is sized for the vane. Various lathes will have various thread lengths available for the faceplate nut and a faceplate should have a threaded sleeve long enough to tighten the end of the sleeve against the vane screw. This is what gives the strength to the mounting of the faceplate on the lathe. If the sleeve is too short, washers will be needed to provide a solid fit.

Bowls are often started from green wood and solid screws are required to pierce the wood on the faceplate. Broken or loose screws can allow the wood to airborne or be damaged against the tool holder or other parts of the lathe. Drywall screws are often used because they drive quickly with power drills without the need for pilot holes. However, they are narrow, brittle, and designed to pass through drywall and into kiln dried softwood. They are not safe for wood turning. Regular wood screws are a good compromise, but even better are self-tapping sheet metal screws, preferably in a size number fourteen and a reasonable length. They are very durable and have deep threads for excellent hold. Use as many as there are holes in the faceplate. Some turners will tell you they only need two, but with safety in mind, excess can be hugely underestimated.

Finally, make sure the faceplate is well positioned on the piece before attaching it. For a good bond, the flat face of the faceplate should be mounted on a flat wood surface. Take the time to make sure this happens. Use a sander or plane or whatever you need, but make sure the surface is flat. It will add great strength to the grip of the screws. To ensure an even better fit, note that the screws often lift some wood around them as the wedge action of the threads cut into the wood. Fix the plate, remove it and peel the wood raised with a chisel and screw the faceplate back on. It will be a stronger union you can make and safer than you can seek.

Woodturning is enjoyable for a large number of people and especially for frontal turning. However, although it is one of the safest activities in the world of woodworking, it is still undertaken on power tools with sharp tools as the wood rotates rapidly in the direction of the turner. There is an element of danger in it that should be reduced as much as possible. The face plates are carefully designed to give security to the turning process as long as they are used correctly. Not only is it easy, but it encourages and maintains the pleasure of turning wood.

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