Seasoned woodworkers who have gotten a wood lathe are often confused at what to do with it after they get it. After all, most woodworking confines itself to flat work with the occasional decorative curve. The wood lathe operates somewhat like a potter's wheel on it side, demanding thought in circles and spheres. The transition can be a freeing moment and a dramatic turn in the enjoyment of working with wood.
For many flat woodworkers the first move is to attempt turning a piece that compliments their regular woodworking, such as a table leg. This is an excellent transition project as it is an example of spindle turning where the wood is held on the wood lathe with centers, two points that jam into each end of the wood. The wood itself is also generally a square which flat woodworkers deal with on a regular basis, making sure it is a true square with flat ends. Most legs leave a square section and transition to various beads and coves, the mainstays of a woodturner's decorative efforts on a spindle. Thus this is excellent practice for moving on to other projects with more elaborate decoration.
Speaking of the word practice, it quickly becomes evident to the new wood turner that almost any wood can be mounted to the wood lathe and turned to elaborate shapes. One of the best exercises for most projects is to go first to the wood pile and get some free wood to make a sample project or two. If the whole project is not practiced, the various coves and beads can be cut a time or two before more expensive wood is used.
Once some table legs have been made and perhaps a decorative finial or two, many woodworkers will wish to proceed to projects that focus on the turned wood itself. It is an easy step to move from the table leg to a candlestick for instance. Some new techniques will be necessary to learn, such as cutting a cup for the candle to rest, and this in turn adds interest to the process. Very quickly, it will become evident to the new wood turner that an endless possibility of decoration exists in the development of various cuts, beads and coves that can be made. Old habits of looking at line and space will readily adapt to looking at curved lines and round spaces so as to prevent the opportunities to decorate from becoming the perils of gaudy overdecorating.
Of course, one of the best sources for woodturning projects lies in the preceding work of other wood turners. These projects can be found in abundance in books, magazines and web sites as well as other venues. There is no lack of possibility or direction for the wood turner either just beginning a transition to the wood lathe or having years of experience and just looking for new ideas.