Lathe Drapes Make
Your Life Easier!

Lathe drapes are a simple solution to a messy problem if you turn green wood. When turning green wood at your lathe, the wet spray produced can make a real mess out of your lathe and the bedways. I don't know about you, but the last thing I want to do after turning at the lathe for twelve hours is to spend another thirty minutes cleaning the lathe. After years of doing this every day after turning, I decided there had to be a better way and I set about designing an easy to use, inexpensive solution that would work effectively.

If you have one of the newer lathes with stainless steel bedways, lucky you! These were not available when I purchased my Oneway 2436, so for the rest of us turning on lathes where the bedways can easily rust, I designed a simple solution to keep your lathe clean and eliminate 99% of the usual cleanup after turning green, wet wood - Lathe Drapes.


My lathe drapes are a very simple, but effective solution that protects the bedways from the wet spray damage caused when turning green timber. Before I came up with the idea of the drapes, I tried various methods of treating the bedways. These included waxing the bedways, spraying them with oil, applying anti-rust sprays, magic potions, numerous prayers to the turning gods, etc. Some worked better than others however, I still had a lot of cleanup on the lathe after turning green timber.

If you turn much at all, you know that some wet shavings can begin rusting the bedways very quickly, if not instantly. Texas Red Oak is notorious for this nasty habit. Also, the wet spray can rust your tailstock live center and the exposed ram arm, as well as the spindle threads on your headstock. To reduce the chances of rust on these surfaces, I used various oil sprays. However, the spray coating would never last very long and I was right back at square one, cleaning for far too long at the end of a long day.

I felt the only way to provide an effective solution was to prevent the water spray contact with the bare metal surface in the first place. I finally settled upon the idea of using lathe drapes to protect the bedways from contact with the sprayed water and acidic extractives in the green timber. My early versions of these lathe drapes used thick bath towels that were doubled over and sewn in a geometric grid to stiffen them and prevent the top layer from flopping about. The drapes were then sprayed with a light coating of WD-40 before turning to help prevent soaking through the towel.

These early drapes worked really well, but when turning for extended periods of time with really wet timbers, the water and extractives would tend to soak through the towel (think so wet you need a raincoat to turn). Version two of my drapes included a couple of layers of thick plastic film, sewn in between the top and bottom of the towel. This effectively prevented any spray from soaking through the towel.

This has worked really well over the years. Version three of my lathe drapes were upgraded to a cotton tarp material, with plastic sewn in between and lead shot added into pockets in the corners to aid in keeping the drape flat and in place. I also added a waterproofing spray to the drape (like the kind sold for tents) for additional protection against water penetration. These types of sprays can be found in sporting goods stores or where camping supplies are sold.

Using The Drapes

I use two drapes, one over the banjo between the headstock and the tailstock and a longer drape behind the tailstock. The number one drape (over the banjo) intercepts most of the spray and keeps the mounds of wet shavings from contacting the bedways. Periodically when turning, I will take an air hose and blow the shavings off both drapes to help keep them clean. If I am turning really wet or sticky timber, I will switch out the number one drape with a fresh one about half way through the day. The number two drape (behind the tailstock) receives very little spray and never gets very dirty. A quick shot from the air hose to blow off any accumulated wet shavings is all that's needed.

Protection For The Headstock Spindle and Tailstock Ram

I also made up some removable protection for the tailstock and headstock spindle. The tailstock ball bearing live center and the ram need protection as well when turning wet, sticky timbers. The tailstock ram shield I use is made from a small folded kitchen paper towel that is secured around the tailstock ram, where the revolving centre is inserted. It is secured with a pipe cleaner wire and is easy to remove. The cloth/kitchen paper shield is then saturated with WD-40 before each use when wet wood will be turned.

On days when I'm working with dry timber, it stays in place to keep loose debris and wayward abrasive particles away from my tailstock ram. This shield has kept my tailstock ram like new, with all of the graduated markings still clearly visible and virtually no scratches from the thousands of in-out movements through the years.

The protection for the headstock spindle threads is very simple. I wipe the exposed threads with turbine oil on the outside, being careful not to get the oil inside the Morse Taper. Because most of the action is on the other side of the blank, I usually do not apply a paper drape to the spindle area, as the turbine oil provides very good protection. If I'm turning really wet wood and I expect to take a shower at the lathe, I will make up an oiled paper drape and secure it with a pipe cleaner wire.

These drapes are quick to apply (less than 10 seconds every day) and have prevented 99% of the problems I encountered using other methods. Note: Remember to check for free clearance between the blank and the drape before turning. Simply rotate the blank a few times by hand to insure the blank clears the surface of the drape. Also, be sure to sew the drapes repeatedly to stiffen them, so they do not flop about when turning.

Cleaning – From 30 Minutes To 30 Seconds

My lathe drapes work exceptionally well and cleanup at the end of the day is usually about 30 seconds, even when turning really wet wood. My cleanup goes faster and my lathe stays cleaner using my lathe drapes. Another nice feature of these drapes is that don't have to coat your bedways with anything slick (unless you want an extra level of protection) and they easily accommodate the necessary movements of your banjo during turning. I like anything that can save me cleanup time and my lathe drapes fit the bill perfectly.

You can also use sections of cardboard to cover any exposed bedway sections when turning green wood. They are not as easy to work with when turning, but they are still better than using nothing at all. Try a pair of these drapes and see for yourself how fast you can clean your lathe at the end of the day.

Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.

Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.