Turning spindle turning, also referred to as turning from centers to ends, is an art form of using a wood turning machine on its pivot mechanism to rotate the turning spindle. This art form dates back to around the 15th century and was developed by the great inventor, John Beswick, in his woodworking workshop. He discovered that it is possible to use a wheeled axle and a crank, by turning one of the wheels at the other, to create a turning motion.
For centuries, it was the most common way to turn wood in wood turning lathes. The most common method of turning wood was using the lathe head which, although not particularly good, was much better than turning a spindle alone.
A turning spindle is driven by a chain, usually three to four chains, attached to the lathe head. The chain is driven by a motor or by a chain driven by a pulley. With a modern lathe, the turning spindle will be fitted with a motor driven by the electric motor and this is the same mechanism that drives the chain through the pulley.
Turning spindles are normally mounted on the side of the lathe. They will either be fixed to the outside of the lathe, so that they cannot be moved, or they may be mounted on hinges that allow the turning spindle to be mounted to the outside of the lathe.
The turning spindle is held by either a set of clamps or by the mechanism that turns it. There are two basic kinds of clamps: vertical and horizontal. Vertical clamps are the more traditional type and work best when there is a large space to turn the turning spindle. Horizontal clamps can be placed to hold the spindle in one position when not in use, but this means that they can no longer be moved to any particular place once the turning is complete. Horizontal clamps are also not the most convenient and are best used in situations where there is just a small space for turning the spindle, such as in a small, single handle lathe.
The mechanism that turns the spindle is often powered by a chain drive. However, a chain drive has its drawbacks, mainly that the chain can become loose in some circumstances, the chain can also wear out if it is too long and a chain drive is not as versatile as a belt drive. Belt drives have a much more flexible drive system and are generally much more versatile. As a result, the spindle can be turned very quickly as there is less need to turn the spindle in a long period of time. If the turning spindle has a very short chain, this is even more important as the chain has to be wound very tightly before it can be turned quickly. Also, belt drives tend to be cheaper to operate and easier to maintain.