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Efficient Lathe Tool Setup – Lean Woodworking

Lathe Setup

Having a good solid lathe setup and organization will make your wood turning more efficient and much more enjoyable. When we wood turn, we use various turning tools such as, chucks, accessories, and calipers. All these items should be organized in a manner that is efficient and clean. They should be easy to access, but out of the way of your turning process. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to move any tools to get to another. We have set up our wood lathe in a manner that is both pleasing to the eye, and easy to find the tools and accessories we need.


Our location for the lathe is a little less traditional. It is in the right front corner of the shop that is the most utilized. Right next to the bench where you would typically try to get a tool chest or another storage item that’s used daily. We don’t turn often, so this location is a little strange but we have a good reason! We put a floor sweep in the corner to help maintain a nice clean floor. We are able to quickly clean up hand plane shavings, everyday dust, small wood chunks, and now with the lathe right next door, all the lathe shavings.

Turning on the lathe produces an incredible amount of shavings that need to be dealt with. Having a floor sweep right next door is incredibly handy. Switch on the dust collection, grab a broom, open the blast gate and bam! You have everything cleaned up in under a minute. Some would argue a dust pan and broom would be just as easy (little bit longer) but you don’t have to empty the dust collector’s bin as often.

Turning Tool Storage

Whether it is turning a bowl, a pen, or even a spindle, odds are we’ll be using many different shapes, sizes, and styles of turning tools throughout the project. It is vital that we organize these tools and place them within a comfortable arm’s reach. There are many different ways to organize turning tools but we have decided to go with a combination for a few specific reasons. Magnetic strips and the traditional leaned back tools. 

Magnetic Strips

For all our traditional tools, we decided to use magnetic strips that can be found at your local hardware store or sourced online. Our traditional wood turning tools are made from HSS or High Speed Steel. This is perfect material for the magnetic base because it is magnetic! There were a few concerns when ironing out the details for positioning and how many magnetic strips to use. We originally tried to only use one strip but that did not leave enough surface area for the magnets to get a firm grab on the tools. The scrapers and skew chisels had plenty of contact with the strip but the curved portions of the bowl and spindle gouges wouldn’t hold. So, the easy fix was to add additional magnetic strips. We ended up using three. This worked very well for all the tools but one. The largest bowl gouge we had was just too heavy. We then added a little support under it, which worked very well.

Traditional leaned back storage

For our carbide insert wood-turning tools, we decided to use the traditional leaned back tools storage. Our main reasoning for this was that the shafts of the tools were not steel, and therefore not magnetic. Our second reason was to experiment on what we liked better. After all, this isn’t set in stone! Our leaned back storage was very simple to construct and put together. We first measured how much angle we wanted the tool to sit at, and then measured the corresponding depth that the main shelf needed to be. Then we added some sides to the shelf to keep the butt end of the tools from sliding around. With the bottoms in place, we needed to keep the shafts of the tools upright and separated. We used a large forsner bit at the drill press to make some half circle cutouts in a piece of scrap MDF. This worked great!


We have calipers, chucks, face plates, and various other accessories that go along with wood-turning. We need efficient storage for these items so we don’t have to go looking for them when they are needed. When we were reviewing our accessories, we laid them all out on the table and started sorting with a bird’s eye view. We sorted them by categories and put all the like accessories together so we didn’t have to grab the chuck from the left side and the jaws from the right side of the board. We placed all the chucks and additional jaws on the upper left hand corner and used various shelves, nails, or large dowels to hold everything in place. We used a simple trim nail to hold the 6″ face plate on the top right hand corner, but we added three magnets to keep it in place and prevent it from moving when grabbing a tool or other accessory. In similar fashion, our calipers were grouped together hanging on trim nails in the lower right hand corner. Our reasoning for this was due to Andy being left handed, he will operate the calipers using his right hand in most cases. He can now grab it with his right hand without having to put down his tool or switch hands.

Storage Cabinet

Our old lathe was a mini lathe from Rockler. We had it sitting on this standard lower cabinet and it worked very well. We had various items to put in there including non-wood turning items. In order for it to fit under the wood-turning lathe, we needed to take the top off. This wasn’t a big deal, just an extra step.

In the future we would like to build a dedicated storage cabinet for the lathe. That would include drawers, doors, and storage that is perfectly suitable for lathe work. It would be somewhat shallow to keep enough room for your knees and legs to be able to turn comfortably.


Overall, we are very happy with the lathe location, setup, and organization. If we were to do anything differently, it would have been to use more of the traditional lean back tool storage over the magnetic strips. We like that there is more room for your hand when grabbing from the leaned back storage vs. the magnetic strip. An easy fix would be to add another section of magnetic strip and space the tools out more.

The temporary re-purposed cabinet under the lathe is fine for now, but we would ultimately like to build something that is custom to the application and better fits our needs. Stay tuned, that could be an upcoming project!

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2 Responses to “Efficient Lathe Tool Setup – Lean Woodworking”

  1. Peter Fabricius #

    Congrats on the nice Galaxie Lathe, you will really like the smooth drive system of the DVR. But, there are a few things you need to consider.

    1. The magnetic strips will magnetize your tools and create a really uncomfortable situation with tools sticking to the tool rest;

    2. The tool storage rack looks nice and organized but, it must not be directly behind the lathe. In this position you have to reach over the lathe EVERY time you need to change a tool or reach for another accessory. You will do this one time with the motor running and it will grab your clothing and cause a SERIOUS self inflicted wound. You should try to set yourself up to be safe and not to end up in the ER; and

    3. The storage cabinet is too wide, it will interfere with your stance at the lathe. I think you have a set back kick plate but you will be more comfortable if the cabinet is under the lathe bench just a bit.

    Hope my suggestions are helpful.

    March 1, 2017 at 8:08 am Reply
  2. Peter Fabricius #

    Hi again Andy,
    I just watched your video and you provided a nice explanation of what and why you set the lathe and tool storage up as you did. Even with the wall attachment restrictions you still have room to move the backer board over to the right.
    You picked two tools off the mag strip and called them bowl gouges… They are NOT for bowls, they are Spindle Roughing Gouges and never to be used on bowls. They are called Spindle Roughing Gouges because they are for Spindle turning only.
    Do you have a turning club nearby?, do you have a Mentor? I would highly recommend some sessions with a mentor.
    You might want to put a Vacuum drop down right behind the Lathe to help with dust control. Also I hope you wear an approved face shield and an N95 dust mask with an exhaust valve on the front.
    Sorry about all the assumptions I have made, for all I know you are a professional lathe turner and already know all this. I liked the organized manner of your set up so I just thought I would comment.
    Good luck with your turnings

    March 1, 2017 at 8:30 am Reply

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