Woodturning is a form of woodworking that is used to create wooden objects on a lathe (see: also antique wooden polelathe). Woodturning differs from most other forms of woodworking in that the wood is moving while a stationary tool is used to cut and shape it. Many intricate shapes and designs can be made by turning wood.
There are two distinct methods of turning wood: spindle turning and faceplate turning. In spindle turning, the wood is fixed between 2 points. The spur center digs in to the wood and is powered by a motor. The other, a hard center or a live center may be a point or set of points in the tailstock. In face plate turning, the wood is secured with screws to a faceplate or in a chuck or jig. the tail stock and a center may also be used for added support on large pieces with a faceplate. Most bowls, platters and many vessels are face plate turned, while, Pens, furniture legs, spindles, and some vessels are spindle turned. The method used may differ depending on the shape of the blank and the technique of the turner, and both methods may be used on the same piece.
When wood is cut in such a way that the fiber being cut is not supported by the fiber below it, it tends to separate and tear. This "tearout" exhibits a rough, highly damaged looking surface texture and greatly reduces the value of any product exhibiting it. The direction of cut is different in spindle turning and faceplate turning because cutting in the wrong direction can cause tearout. Spindle turning cuts are made from high points toward the axis on the outside of the piece, and from the axis toward the outside when hollowing. When faceplate turning, the opposite applies.
The origin of woodturning dates to around 1300BC when the Egyptians first developed a two-person lathe. One person would turn the wood with a rope while the other used a sharp tool to cut shapes in the wood. The Romans improved the Egyptian design with the addition of a turning bow. Early bow lathes were also developed and used in Germany, France and Britain. In the Middle Ages a pedal replaced hand-operated turning, freeing both the craftsman's hands to hold the woodturning tools. The pedal was usually connected to a pole, often a straight-grained sapling. The system today is called the "spring pole" lathe (see Polelathe). Spring pole lathes were in common use into the early 20th Century. A two-person lathe, called a "great lathe", allowed a piece to turn continuously (like today's power lathes). A master would cut the wood while an apprentice turned the crank.
The term "bodger" stems from pole lathe turners who used to make the chair legs and spindles. A bodger would typically purchase all the trees on a plot of land, set up camp on the plot, and then fell the trees and turn the wood. The spindles and legs that were produced were sold in bulk, for pence per dozen. The bodger's job was considered unfinished because he only made component parts. The term now describes a person who leaves a job unfinished, or does it badly.
During the industrial revolution the lathe was motorized, allowing turned items to be created in less time. The motor also produced a greater rotational speed for the wood, making it easier to quickly produce high quality work. Today most commercial woodturning is done by computer-operated machinery allowing for mass-production that can be created with precision and without the cost of employing craftsmen. Despite this, there is still a demand for hand-turned products. Woodturning is also a hobby enjoyed by many people.
Modern professional woodturners are typically either "production" turners producing large quantities of functional pieces, or artistic turners producing smaller numbers of pieces, often enhanced after turning by carving, piercing, coloring, applying pyrography, gilding, or a number of other techniques to produce objects for the art market.