How to Use a Faceplate on a Wood Lathe

When it comes to working with the lathe, your faceplate will most likely become one of your closest companions. This essential lathe piece attaches your pieces so that you can do the work that you need to. When combined with the tailstock, you have the perfect setup.

There are many projects that you might decide to use a wood lathe chuck for but that is not what we’re here to discuss today. In this guide, we will talk specifically about using a wood lathe faceplate and walk you through just how to properly use one.

While we’re here, we’ll give you some comparisons so you know when you might want to use a faceplate versus using a wood chuck. Both of these lathe features are incredibly functional and they both have strong purpose when you’re working so it’s important to know how to use them and when.

Let’s take a look!

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What Exactly is a Faceplate? 

The faceplate is an essential part of your lathe that is most likely accompanied with the lathe design. You don’t usually have to go out and purchase the faceplate separately like you might a wood lathe chuck.

The faceplate is considered an accessory of the lathe and it is used to fix the ends of your project to the lathe itself so that it is held steady while you turn. It connects your wood to the spindle and clamps it down to the faceplate with pre-made slots. Sometimes, faceplates actually use threaded holes instead of the slots as well.

The thing about a faceplate is it can be attached in many different ways. There are two primary fittings, though. You will most commonly see either a circular fitting that uses the ends of the spindle or you will see a cone faceplate arrangement.

In newer lathes, a common faceplate is called camlock. This uses a variety of studs and cams rather than having threaded studs so that you can move the faceplate or exchange it quickly and move on. This also allows you to quickly swap out if you need to jump to jaw chucks or something along those lines.

Where chucks have become an ever-popular solution or accessory for a lot of lathe uses, faceplates still serve a common good and they can be used just fine for many different projects. You simply need to understand how to use them!

Faceplates are ultimately designed to hold your projects while the wood turns and they were the original accessory for doing such. You can turn bowl and plenty of other items using faceplates and screws just fine.

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Using a Faceplate to Turn a Project

Now, let’s walk through the steps of turning projects using a faceplate. We’re going to focus on turning a bowl here because it’s a common scenario. However, just know that you can apply these techniques and steps to just about any project you might be turning.

Don’t let the notion of some instruction discussing bowls stop you from using these detailed instructions. The concept remains the same overall and you can follow the general guidelines for anything you work on!

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Turn the Outside First

Using a Faceplate to Turn a Project Turning the Outside
CTTO

You’re going to start by turning the outside of your project, from the bottom of the project. This might feel a little bit backwards to you but trust us, you want to start here. This gets your basic structure and shape noted and then you will work on the front end and hollowing out your piece as needed.

Prepare your wood stock piece or block to the size that you need. You’re going to start from the beginning here. Be sure that the block you prepare is compatible with the swing size of your lathe. This means that your blank needs to be less than your swing diameter to really fit so you can turn it and shape it properly.

Some woodworkers would tell you to attach your faceplate immediately to the base of your item but this is where we say do it backwards! This will just help smooth the process down so that turning your bowl or other item won’t be quite as awkward and you can more easily get underneath it as well if needed.

So, as you start turning the outside, mount your blank with the bottom facing out. This will mount your blank to what will eventually be the top or the inside of your item when we finish. You’re going to turn the outside, then the inside, and then finish the outside.

This is your chance to shape your item and get the general detail in place. It’s a rough start and not meant to detail the project to perfection. That will come later.

While you’re here, go ahead and sand the outside of your item and turn the foot or base of the item as well.

You can also create a glue block, which will give you some additional stability. You then later remove the glue block completely.

Now Turn the Inside

Using a Faceplate to Turn a Project Turn the Inside First
CTTO

Now it’s time to turn the inside. This is really where the magic happens with your bowl or other type of item. You will need to use a nice, sharp tool that is designed for your particular type of project.

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If you’re making a bowl, grab a bowl gouge, and if you’re making something else just be sure to use something appropriate!

You need to first start opening up the center to hollow it out to the shape or design of your project. You will do this by making slight sweeping cut motions on the wood. The goal here is to start shaping the interior of the item and getting the thickness to the right size all the way around.

This part of the process will most likely take the most amount of time. You need to be careful so you get the edges to be the same and consistent all around. You don’t want to over work the wood and end up with uneven bulges or too thin of walls on the item.

Once you’ve got your shape filled properly, the walls created uniformly, and the interior hollowed out as needed, you can then sand the interior just like you did with the exterior.

If you plan to use any type of finish or coating, this is a great time to do your first layer. That is not required but it’s a good time to get the finish started, even if you just use a moisture barrier finish here.

If you used a glue block, it’s time to separate that block or cut it off so that you can proceed to finishing your bowl. You can cut the glue block most of the way on the lathe and then tap it off. You should plan to cut at least 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through to loosen the glue block and then it comes off easily. You want to be gentle here so you don’t accidentally crack your item at the base.

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Turn the Outside to Finish

Now, here is where we finish off the outside that you started earlier in the process. Earlier, we primarily focused on just establishing your concept. You worked out the general shape and design of the item and got it roughly shaped and sized.

You did some sanding and some shaping and then you turned to the inside. Now that the inside of the project is complete, you need to finish up and perfect the outside of the project. This last step helps to remove mortise and any last roughness and smooth out the piece in its entirety. It’s the final piece of the puzzle that brings it all together!

This is your chance to refine your craftsmanship to perfection.

You need to be able to attach your piece to the faceplate and get a locked taper. You can create a foot mount but this requires some skill and patience. We recommend using a simple block of wood and attaching it to the faceplate. Round that block to make it similar to the base of your project.

Now, use a small piece of cloth to protect the item you’re creating and place it inside. Put the item and the cloth over that block you just made and then pin it into place using the tailstock and live center pieces of your lathe.

When you mount it like this against the faceplate, you don’t have to worry about chuck jaws or anything like that and you have a solid hold. The point of the center block is just to prevent potential damage to the bowl. This will cause a small imperfection in the base of your bowl but it is super small and you can still clean that up when you are finished with the lathe.

Finish any final touches while your item is attached to the lathe. Work at a slow speed and finish smoothing out any rough patches or creating any exterior detail that needs to be added as part of the finishing touch.

Use sandpaper and do a final sanding of the entire piece to be sure it is properly smooth and sanded everywhere. This is a good opportunity to sand out that small area at the base as well.

If you want to add a layer of finish, this is a good time to do so.

Now, remove your project from the lathe and fix up any final sanding needs, and then you can apply your final layers of finish or paint and other detailing as needed to complete your project!

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The Benefits of Using a Faceplate

The Benefits of Using a Faceplate
Image by Leo_65 from Pixabay

A faceplate saves you from having to purchase additional accessories, such as four jaw chucks. While a lot of wood turners prefer jaw chucks, they can certainly cost a pretty penny. However, if you have any type of skill and experience, you most likely have already become accustomed to using faceplates instead.

In most cases, a faceplate can do everything a jaw chuck can do, when it is used properly. Jaw chucks can be very costly to purchase and your lathe typically comes with a standard faceplate. You can also purchase additional faceplates and it won’t rack up an extreme cost for you.

Learning to use your faceplate actually prepares you for more complicated tasks and really builds your skill. It also helps you understand better how to use a chuck if you decide to go that route in the future.

Some wood workers really feel that using a glue block and a faceplate actually give you a firmer grip than a chuck, which means it is more secure on the lathe and that it will be centered more reliably as well.

You have a little bit more room for perfection and customization as opposed to using a chuck as well.

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The Disadvantages of Using a Faceplate

Just as with any other tool or accessory, there are also downsides to using a faceplate. Some of these are more critical to certain craftsmen than others. The thing is, using your faceplate is not a fail-safe method and it’s too easy for workers to feel like it will give the ultimate grip or center the piece for you with no problem.

However, the problem is, if you do have an error using a faceplate, you have far less room for correction. The smallest error in your work can lead to a lot of frustration or a rough surface that you simply can’t fix. There are times it can lead to a completely scrapped project if you aren’t careful as well.

The biggest disadvantage is that you have less flexibility overall. Check out these tips of things to avoid if you do use a faceplate.

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Don’t Use an Undersized Faceplate

If your faceplate is not the appropriate size, you won’t have the support that your project needs. If you use a faceplate that is too small, it’s going to fall apart or fail you when you’re at the heart of your work. It’s also not just support but also the vibration. Too small of a faceplate leads to awful vibration, making it impossible to work.

Generally speaking, we recommend a faceplate that has at least 1/3 of the diameter of your blank for the proper support of the piece.

Don’t Lock the Headstock

It’s a bad habit of many wood workers to lock the headstock when they place the faceplate. While we can understand the sentiment, it is important that the headstock not be locked when you are turning. You don’t want to manually turn that item while you thread it so unlock your headstock to thread and attach it.

Don’t Use the Wrong Screw Size

One of the most common mistakes that people make using a faceplate is using the wrong screw size. This may seem like a menial characteristic but if your screw is not the right size, it won’t do what it is supposed to.

When you place a screw in the faceplate, it should not slide around and it should not stand out as large and bulky outside of the recessed area designed for the screw. Also, make sure you use a quality screw that is made for wood.

Conclusion

Using a faceplate while you work requires a bit of skill to really get your project right. If you’re willing to take the time and effort to learn, it can save you money on accessories like a jaw chuck. Either of these tools can be great when you know how to use them properly!

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Looking for wood lathe ideas?

We’ve put together a number of wood lathe ideas to give you some fresh inspiration and perhaps help you get started in the world of wood turning.

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Bestseller No. 1
6" Steel Wood Lathe Face Plate, 1-1/4" x RH 8tpi Threaded with set screw to lock on spindle for reverse turning
  • 7/16" Thick Steel Faceplate - Heavy and Rigid, 1-1/4" Thread Depth
  • 8 Offset Screwholes on 2 guide rings for easy centering
  • Locking set screw for use on reversing lathes
  • Flat spots cut on back spigot for easy removal from lathe
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Bestseller No. 2
PSI Woodworking CF3SC 3" Lathe Faceplate/Screwchuck for 1" x 8tpi Spindle
  • 3" Steel faceplate with screw chuck
  • Pre-threaded to 1" x 8TPI
  • (4) mounting holes with additional screw chuck option
  • Includes (2) 1" screw chucks and (8) spare mounting screws
  • Combination of screw chuck & faceplate mount provides a very safe & secure bowl turning setup
Bestseller No. 3
Steel Face Plate 1"-8 Threaded for Wood Lathe Turning (3")
  • 3" Diameter
  • 1"-8 TPI mounting
  • Precision machined face with 1 ring
  • 4 holes on plate to ease mounting of your work piece
  • Distanc of two hole center: 60mm