Leveling the lathe: How important it is to level my lathe?

 Leveling the lathe is an absolutely necessary procedure no matter what type of lathe you own. Even with the most accurate and well-made machines you will not be able to produce accurate work if it’s not properly leveled. The weight of the lathe or the force from the bolts that we use to secure the lathe will cause the bed to be twisted, throwing the headstock and tailstock out of alignment due to the uneven surface of the floor or the bench.

How to level my lathe

 A precision level is a tool that will make your life a lot easier but it’s not absolutely necessary for the job. By leveling the lathe approximately with a good quality level and by taking some cuts on a bar of steel and making some measurements with the micrometer we can determine on which side our bed is seating low or high and we can correct any leveling issues.

 This is a trial and error method and probable it will take some time to build a clear sense of what is actually happening, especially if you are a newbie. So if you can afford a precision level is the best way to go and if you think that this is too much of an expense for just leveling the lathe once, think again.  A lot of factors can throw the lathe out of level and this is especially true for the bench lathes. Lathe leveling must be checked periodically and readjustments must be made if necessary.

The Lathe Bench

  The lathe bench must be lathe leveling-1substantially constructed as possible. If you use wood for the bench top, choose the thicker and harder wood is possible. I’m using four adjustable think metal legs on my bench. Two of those are seating exactly under the lathe legs to prevent the wood from bending under the lathe weight over the time. My bench top is mounted on the wall also. Bolt the bench legs to the floor if possible. Level your bench before place the lathe on it.

 How I did it

lathe leveling-2This is the tools that I use to level my lathe. I don’t own a precision level yet but I’m keeping my eye on Ebay for a used one.
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Clean the ways first and loosen the bolts that hold the lathe on the bench.

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Since the vees of the lathe bed are not equal on height I’m using as a parallels two thin HSS tool bits that I have measured with my micrometer and they are equal to place the level on it. Allow some time for the bubble to come to rest.

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The level must be placed as close as possible  to the spindle and the bubble on the middle of the ways. Any adjustments must be made on the bench for now.

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My experience with that level in the past showed me that I can increase the accuracy by placing a very thin paper under the level on each side at a time.

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If I place the paper in some side and the bubble it’s still seating at the middle this is an indication that I am a little low on that side.

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It looks that my lathe is leveled on this side.

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I’m repeating the same process on the tailstock end of the bed. This is not a precision level so I’m always placing it on the same direction, otherwise I’ll have false reading.

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After finishing the transverse leveling I’m tightening the bolt on the headstock . This will cause the tailstock side to shift a bit. The headstock now is my fixed point and I have enough room at the other side to make all the necessary adjustments .

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Before I start tightening the tailstock side I’m placing my dial indicator on the bed just to get an idea of how much the lathe bed will be twisted.

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Even a few turns are enough to offset the bed. My dial indicator will show more than 0,1mm of deflection  after I completely tighten down the bed. This is definitely going to effect my lathe accuracy but how much we’ll find out later when I cut a test piece.End of Page 1


5 Replies to “Leveling the lathe”

  1. After you added the half cards to each side and your “work piece is slightly smaller away from the chunk.” How did you conclude that the problem was due to a twist rather than simply having the tailstock be a tad overcompensated (too high compared to the headstock)?


    1. Hi Charlton, it was an assessment that verified by the next test cut but you’re right it could be either way with different results in each case. Keep in mind that after making this procedure a couple of times you know your bench downsides.

  2. Hi, i came across this site after i ordered this lathe as a newbie, so apparently not a bad choice. Very informative, great site and workpieces you have. If have a question before delivery already 😉 Is your lathe attached to a surface and if yes how ? ty !

    Keep up the good work !

    1. Hi and thank you for your kind words. Sorry, but can you rephrase your question please? What do you mean by saying “attached to a surface and”?

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