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What is lathe filing?

What is lathe filing?

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DIYer using a long angle lathe file to smooth a cylindrical object that is spinning on a lathe Lathe filing is a technique used for shaping, finishing and polishing cylindrical objects such as table or chair legs.
A lathe, a tool for turning wood, which allows for cylindrical carving and filing A lathe is a machine for shaping that spins a piece of material around to allow consistent cutting around its circumference.
Image of a wood turning chisel being used to shape a piece of wood on a lathe This process allows for more precision and finer cutting than the use of a wood-turning chisel, which cuts more deeply and is more effective as a shaping tool.
Image of a long angle lathe file Special files, called long angle lathe files, are designed for use in this process, although it is possible to use mill files, as both types of file are flat and single cut.

For more information on these types of file, see: What is a mill file?and What is a long angle lathe file?

How to file using a lathe

Image of a metal work piece secured in a lathe and ready for filing

Step 1 – Prepare workpiece

Attach your workpiece securely to the lathe and switch it on. The material should be rotating towards you.

Image to show that turning the lathe too slowly can result in the workpiece being filed out of round If the lathe isn’t spinning quickly enough then you may end up with an uneven shape (referred to as ‘out of round’).
Image to illustrate that spinning the lathe too fast can damage the file and your workpiece If it’s too quick then the file’s teeth could skate over the workpiece, which will damage it and potentially break your file.
Image of a lathe that has been set up to spin at 600rpm for long angle lathe filing Setting the lathe to spin around 600 rpm should be about right.

Wonkee Donkee explains that rpm is a measurement of the speed at which an object is turning

Image of a DIYer demonstrating the correct grip on a long angle lathe file

Step 2 – Grip file securely with both hands

Hold the handle of the file with your dominant hand, with your thumb on top of the handle, aimed towards the point. Hold the point with your non-dominant hand between your thumb and forefinger.

Image showing a DIYer keeping their elbow high to make sure they avoid the chuck jaws

Step 3 – Check your positioning

Keep an eye on whichever of your elbows is closest to the lathe chuck (the part that grips the material and does the actual spinning).

Advisory that filing left handed is the safest when working on a lathe

If possible, it may be an idea to file left handed so that you can keep your elbows well out of the way.

Image of a DIYer who has bumped their elbow on the chuck jaws of a lathe while filing Banging your elbow into it could be very painful and it could also cause you to make a huge mistake with your filing that could ruin your work!
Image of a DIYer demonstrating lathe filing

Step 4 – Lathe filing

Using short, forward strokes, file your workpiece until it has the smooth finish you’re looking for. Just as you did with cross filing, slide the file slightly to the right as you move it forward, while making sure the point of the file is angled directly away from you at all times.

Image of a DIYer pressing hard enough to bend the file, which is a surefire way of causing chatter Pushing too hard in lathe filing is likely to result in broken file teeth and loss of control of your file, which could result in damage to your workpiece or you yourself! When lathe filing, you can apply slightly less pressure than you would when draw filing or cross filing.

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