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Wooden Faceplates as a 5 page pdf



You can also use metal nuts that fit your lathe to make faceplates.  A short Article by Walt Thies.


Wooden Faceplates


There are lots of turning jobs where spending some time on set-up makes the turning go quicker and easier.  Making Wooden Faceplates is one way to make set-ups and jigs for turning.  As an extra bonus, you get to save the set-up for next time.  All the techniques I'll show in this article could be done by mounting wood to a metal faceplate or holding it in a chuck, but in my shop that almost guarantees that the faceplate will be holding something I don't want to disturb or the chuck will have the wrong set of jaws on.  For small work, using a small wooden faceplate lets me avoid having to work around a large heavy chuck.  While I would use a metal faceplate for heavy work, the wooden ones are more than adequate for light or medium use.  Just use common sense.

To make wooden faceplates you'll need a tap that matches the spindle on your lathe, a drill 1/8" less than the spindle diameter, and a tapping guide.  Don't be tempted to skimp on the tapping guide, it's cheap and makes accurate tapping much easier.  Listed below are part numbers and cost for the guide and taps for the most popular lathe sizes from


Item              Part Number                  Cost

Micro Tap Guide      95267472                $11.63

3/4x16 Tap        04457164                $14.50

1x8 Tap           04489019                $23.18

1-1/4x8 Tap       04870051                $53.63

1-1/2x8 Tap       04874053                $85.81

M33x3.5 Tap       74952748                $106.32


You'll also need some scrap wood (hard maple is great, but use what you have, even plywood).  You can use wood that's 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick, or you can drill and tap thinner wood, say 3/4 to 1 inch thick, and glue another piece on top.  The procedure is pretty much the same either way, but I'll only illustrate using thicker pieces.

Tapping on the Lathe

I like my wooden faceplates to be about 3 inches in diameter.  Start by mounting a piece of wood on the lathe.  You can use a faceplate, chuck or even a previously made wooden faceplate.  If you're thinner wood for a glued up faceplate, mount it through separate scrap wood so you can drill all the way through.


Mount a drill that's about 1/8" smaller in diameter than your spindle in a Jacob's chuck in your tailstock and mark how deep you want to drill with a piece of tape.  Turn the lathe on at a slow speed and drill.  Remove the drill from the chuck and mount the Tap Guide in the chuck.  Lock your lathe spindle.  Place the tap, with handle mounted, into the drilled hole and advance the tail stock until the Tap Guide is inserted into the dimple on the back of the tap and is fully compressed.  If your tap doesn't have a dimple, either make a handle with one or grind one into the tap.  Turn the tap by hand until it bottoms out in the hole.  You may want to back the tap out and run it in again.  If you wish you can turn a recess to allow the wooden faceplate to bottom out against the spindle flange.  It will remount slightly truer if you do so.


Remove the tapped scrap wood from the lathe.  At this point I suggest you lubricate the threads with a little candle wax, and then retap to spread the wax and get rid of excess.  Then mount the wood as a faceplate on the lathe and turn the sides and face true.


Figure 1:  Ready to Drill
Figure 2:  Ready to Tap
Figure 3:  Ready to turn
Figure 4:  Done




Tapping on the Drill Press

Making a wooden faceplate by drilling and tapping on the drill press is much the same as on the lathe.  It's a little faster, but you can't turn a recess.  For accurate results you absolutely must clamp the wood in place and keep the set-up exactly the same for drilling and tapping.  Begin by clamping the wood to your drill press table.  Before starting to drill, make sure that you've left enough room to mount the tap guide and tap, then lock the table height.  Mount a drill that's 1/8" less in diameter than your lathe spindle in the drill press, set your stop for the depth you want to drill, and drill using a slow speed.  Remove the drill and insert the tap guide in your drill chuck.  Place the tap, with handle mounted, in the drilled hole and advance the quill until the tap guide inserts into the tap dimple and is fully compressed.  Lock the quill in that position.  Turn the handle to advance the tap until the tap bottoms out.  Then remove the tap and remove the wooden faceplate from the drill press.  Mount the faceplate on the lathe and true up the sides and face as before.


Figure 5:  Checking Clearance
Figure 6:  Ready to Drill
Figure 7:  Ready to Tap.  Note tap guide is compressed.
Figure 8:  Tapped half way.  Note tap guide is now extended



Square Drive

If you frequently mount spindle stock of a fixed size, a square drive faceplate is a very quick way to do so.  As a bonus you don't have to find or mark the center of the stock except at the tail stock end.  Start by making a wooden faceplate and mount it on your lathe.  Drill a shallow hole with a flat bottomed drill bit of the size stock you want to use.  Remove the faceplate from the lathe.  Mount a piece of spindle stock the ordinary way on your lathe and turn just the very end to fit the hole, with sharp square pommels.  Insert the spindle in the hole so that a cross corner diagonal is aligned with the grain and mark the sides of the square stock on the faceplate.  Remove the spindle guide and enlarge the hole with mallet and chisel.  Try to taper the sides just a bit.



Figure 9:  Square Drive Set-up
Figure 10:  Square Drive ready to turn.

Drive Mandrel

A drive mandrel is a great way to mount stock with a predrilled hole.  For instance, the illustrations show a mandrel for mounting what I hope will be Christmas Ornament Bird Houses.  To make a Drive Mandrel, start by mounting a wooden faceplate on your lathe.  Drill an appropriate sized mortise to mount the mandrel.  Remove the faceplate and mount some spindle stock and turn a matching tenon with square shoulders.  Leave the body slightly oversize.  Replace the faceplate on the lathe, spread some glue in the mortise and use the tail stock to clamp the mandrel in place.  After the glue is dry, turn the mandrel to size.  Check the size using the actually drilled stock you intend to use.  I've added a couple of nails cut off to stubs in the end of the mandrel so it won't slip.



Figure 11:  Drive Mandrel Set-up.
Figure 12:  Turning on the Mandrel.



Small Drive Plate

This seems almost to simple to be useful, but I actually use it a lot (admitted for truing drop spindle whorls, a very specialized task).  It's much easier to accurately turn a disk true to a hole then to drill accurately in the center of a disk, so this would be great for toy wheels, yo-yo bodies, etc.  It's already made.  Just mount a wooden faceplate with a flat face on the lathe.  Pin what you want to turn against the faceplate with your tailstock.  The tailstock will automatically center a hole.


Figure 13:  Drive Plate Set-up.
Figure 14:  Turning with a Drive Plate.



Bowl Drive Plate

The Bowl Drive Plate is much like the Small Drive Plate, only bigger.  Start with a wooden faceplate.  Glue and/or screw a plywood disk to the faceplate and true the rim. 


The primary use for this is turning the bottoms of bowls.  To do this, mark the diameter of the bowl on the face of the disk and cut a slot with a parting tool.  Start a little undersized and check frequently for a good fit.  Then pop the bowl on the disk and secure with duct tape (you can remove any residual glue later with mineral spirits).  Staple the ends of the tape on the back of the disk to avoid unpleasant surprises.  I think it's also much quicker to swap out your chuck for a Bowl Drive Plate and cut a recess than you demount your chuck jaws and remount rubber buttoned mega-jaws.  You'll be pleasantly surprised how aggressively you can cut on the bowl bottom, as the whole rim is held, not just 8 little spots by compressible rubber buttons.


Figure 15:  Bowl Drive Plate Set-up.
Figure 16:  Bowl Drive Plate Ready to turn.
Figure 17:  Staples on tape ends for insurance.
Figure 18:  Finished bowl bottom.


You can also use the Bowl Drive Plate to cut your own sandpaper disks.  Tear the sanding cloth to slightly oversize squares.  Turn a disk on the small drive plate to the diameter disk you want.  Pin the sandpaper squares to the Bowl drive plate with the disk, and use a utility knife to cut the disks.  If you think a utility knife is too brittle, use a thin parting tool.  But be prepared to resharpen it.  Adapted from a tip in the AAW Journal.


If you rough turn green bowls by mounting them on a chuck, you can use the drive plate to return the recess round.  Just pin the bowl against the Bowl Drive Plate with your tailstock and true the rim.




Figure 19:  Ready to cut sanding disks
Figure 20:  Truing the chuck recess.


Bowl Drive Pad

To make a Bowl Drive Pad you may wish to use thicker stock to provide adequate clearance, as the Bowl Drive Pad must be a long as the bowl is deep.  You can gently round the face.  I've padded mine with leather, but that's an option.


To re-true a recess for remounting a rough turned bowl, just pin the bowl against the bowl pad with your tailstock and turn.  To turn the bottom of a finish bowl, put a piece of fine sandpaper in the bottom of the bowl first, grit down, so that any slippage will be between the sandpaper back and the Bowl Drive Pad.  That way you won't mark your bowl.  Turn the recess as you like, leaving a small nub to remove by hand.  If it makes lots of squeaking noises when turning your tailstock is probably off center.




Figure 21:  Bowl Pad Set-up.
Figure 22:  Ready to turn chuck recess on Bowl Pad
Figure 23:  If you want complete access to the bowl bottom, you can make a more complicated set-up with an outer ring to hold the bowl.




Vase or Vessel Bottom Drive

This is adapted from a presentation at the 2002 AAW Symposium by Bruce Hoover.  When turning the bottom of a bowl or vessel, it's much more stable (and less nerve wracking) to pin the work against a pad at the bottom of the work than against the thin rim.  To make the Vessel Drive (for a Vase drive just make a bigger taper) start with a taller than usual Wooden Face Plate and turn a gradual taper on it to fit your usual range of vessel openings.  Drill a 25/64" hole through the center axis of the face plate using a drill mounted in your tailstock.  Next drill a radial hole with a #7 drill in the side of the faceplate as far to the rear as will safely miss the lathe spindle.  Now tap the hole with a 1/4x20 tap.  Insert a 1/4x20 set screw in the hole.  The taper is now done.


Select a small wood scrap and drill a 3/8" hole about 1/2" deep in the center of one face.  Drill in from one side to the center hole with a #7 drill and tap for 1/4x20 threads.  Use a 1/4x20 set screw to mount it on a piece of 3/8" rod, then mount the rod into the Vessel Drive.  Reduce the diameter of the scrap so it will fit into your vessels, and round the end slightly.  Glue a piece of sandpaper to the end for a more positive drive.


To turn the bottom of a vessel, slide the rod mounted drive pad into the Vessel Drive.  Slide the drive pad into the vessel.  Adjust the rod in the Drive so that the rim just touches when the pad is at the bottom of the vessel.  Lock the rod in place.  Bring up the tailstock and pin the vessel against the drive pad and turn the bottom.  Leave a small nub to be removed by hand.


Figure 24:  Vessel Drive Set-up
Figure 25:  Ready to turn Vessel bottom.