After 25 years of working with lathes I can confidently say that yes, it is preferable to have your wood lathe bolted to the floor or mounted firmly to a solid bench top. Here are the reasons why.
Lets expand on each of these to help answer your query in more detail, as the short list answer has no context for you to consider. The below is applicable to most lathes and becomes more pertinent as the lathes size grows and the type of wood turning starts to venture into wild pieces…meaning really unbalanced.
When a wood lathe is used one of the challenges a wood turner faces is unbalanced wood. In some cases the forces of spinning that wood can physically move a lathe across the floor or bench top.
In a very severe case the forces can actually topple a lathe over.
This doesn’t happen often but any conversation had with an experienced member of a wood turning club should enlighten you to the risks and dangers of having a lathe “walk” across the workshop. It happens most often when the turner is under-experienced and is pushing boundaries that are not recognized yet.
The difference between turning with a fixed lathe and a loose lathe cannot be overstated. It is like night and day.
When a turner is at the roughing stage and the wood blank is at it’s most un-balanced, the last thing you need is to be trying to hold the lathe with a hip or a leg shoved up against it while you try to take the worst of the shake out of the spinning wood.
It can be challenging to do it at times and many turners know exactly what I am describing here. The forces that are involved need to be contained and/or redirected into something else with some mass like a floor or a solid bench top.
When the lathe is secured to something solid the speed can often be increased a little to help get through this roughing stage of the project and this is important if you are working on a more artistic piece where you wish to preserve as much of the natural figure and feature that these blanks often hold.
Every bit of speed helps with the cut and the time needed to get it balanced.
Everything in the paragraph above is exacerbated if the lathe has the ability to turn out-board and the wood turner decides to take on a challenging project.
It may seem a small thing, but when you know that you can mount a lump of wood on a lathe that is securely fixed to the floor or bench and trust that the lathe will stay put and you can focus on the task of getting that wood into balance, it is simply a pleasure and that is what this hobby is all about.
If you have a need for high excitement there are plenty of other adrenalin pumping sports and pastimes to fill that need. Bolt the thing down, and start enjoying the process safely.
In this day and age, stuff gets stolen, and quality wood lathes are valuable items. Any effort to hinder these types of people should be taken where appropriate and bolting your lathe to the floor will slow them down if not stop them outright.
The more expensive wood lathes can run into many thousands of dollars and are something the wood turner has likely saved for and planned.
The biggest of these lathes would take a seriously dedicated thief to steal them because they are generally pretty darn heavy. Their weight and size alone should make the thief think again and having the lathe bolted down just makes the notion even more difficult.
This is not a primary reason to secure the machine to the floor nor should it be, however it is another added benefit that comes with creating a stable machine.
Are there downsides to bolting your lathe down?
Yes there can be however these are situational to each individual turner and the shop space.
The downsides include
- Limited shop space and machine mobility is required.
- The workflow changes as new machines are added to your hobby collection.
- The floor is wood and the vibration from the lathe can transfer to the building.
Lets look at these downsides a bit closer.
Limited Space and changing workflows.
It may be that the workshop space if very limited and the lathe cannot be bolted and is on wheels. This can create it’s own set of challenges as the floor may not be level and the lathe may need a packer under a corner to stop any rocking and that can be before the lathe is even turned on. Sometimes it is unavoidable and the turner just deals with it.
My shop is full of machines on wheels because of a space issue. I “need” more tools than I can fit but I don’t want to move to another shop, and my problem is I always find another machine I need. I have one lathe that is bolted down and all other machines are loose so I have compromised where I need to and the workflow is ok.
In certain situations the workshop has a wooden floor. The feel and ambience of these shops is wonderful but there can be downsides.
Often the spot that makes most sense for the lathe to sit has poor support beneath the boards and so extra joists or beams need fitting, maybe even more pillars need to be built in.
Hobbies sure can get expensive. If this is your situation and you are uncertain on how to proceed, maybe a talk with a contractor will help with planning and what is required.
Once the floor is strong enough (if your lathe is a heavy one), bolting it down is easy.
If you need to have the lathe on wheels on a wooden floor you might discover parts of the floor vibrate when you turn on the lathe. That is a problem this article cannot address as every situation will be different to the next so we will leave that tin of worms alone for now. I recommend you talk with your contractor for solutions if you find yourself stuck for ideas.
What size bolts do I need?
This will depend on the type of floor, the size hole in the base plate of the lathe if it has them, and the size of the lathe itself.
If you have a concrete floor and can work out how thick it is, some concrete anchor bolts are all you need.
If the concrete is 4inch thick then 2inch long anchors should be sufficient. Maybe consider using a Stainless Steel type that can be undone at a later date just in case you want to move things around or you sell up and relocate elsewhere.
The holes left behind can be filled after. This makes it a little easier for the thief we discussed above, but life is full of compromises. The bolts to go through a wooden floor will depend on the subfloor construction. If in doubt, call your contractor for advice.
Do I need rubber strips under the lathe feet?
It is good practice to do this. It helps with cancelling any vibrations and can also help eliminate any rust issues developing under the foot. There is heavy-duty rubber strip that will work great for this.
So in finishing up, I hope that the above information has helped you with your query. I recommend bolting down wherever possible, particularly when turning out-of-balance wood is planned.
I have had my early lathes chase me around the shop floor and now I am a few years wiser I have found comfort knowing that I am now in control and the lathe stays put.