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What Is a Router Lathe?

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  • Written By: Paul Scott
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2014
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A router lathe is a woodworking power tool used to cut decorative flutes or spirals into round timber stock. Similar in most respects to a conventional wood lathe, the router lathe differs in the inclusion of an electric router mounted perpendicular to the lathe bed axis. The router is mounted on a pair of steel bars which run the full length of the lathe bed and is advanced along the bars by a lead screw arrangement. As the workpiece rotates slowly in the lathe, the router bit is lowered to make a cut into the wood while simultaneously being moved along the axis. This has the effect of cutting a spiral or a groove along the length of the workpiece.

Traditional wood lathes spin a workpiece rapidly between a chuck and a tail stock with the cutting tool being advanced against the surface of the wood to make a profile cut. The router lathe shares several of these characteristics and consists of a conventional bed, chuck, and tail stock. What makes this tool unique, though, is the inclusion of an electric router mounted above the machine's central axis. A router is a power tool designed to make vertical, straight line cuts of various profiles into timber. The router rides on a pair of cylindrical steel bars and is able to move along the entire length of the lathe's working area propelled by a lead screw arrangement which is either hand actuated or driven by the lathe mechanism.

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To cut a spiral, a suitable workpiece is inserted into the lathe chuck and the central lathe drive started. Once the workpiece is spinning, the router is started and lowered to begin cutting into the wood. At the same time, the advance mechanism is also actuated. This causes the router to cut along the length of the rotating workpiece, thereby creating a spiral cut. The router lathe turns the workpiece slower than other lathes; the rotational speed is carefully balanced against the router advancement speed to cut a spiral of the correct pitch.

Flutes or decorative grooves are cut with the workpiece static. Once the router has completed a cut, the workpiece is turned slightly to position it for the next parallel cut. The spacing of the cuts requires careful calculation to ensure that all are spaced evenly around the circumference of the workpiece. A router features extremely high rotational speeds, and care should be taken when operating a router lathe to follow correct operating procedures and wear protective clothing at all times.

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