Can you turn cedar on a lathe?

Can you turn cedar on a lathe?

A woodturner is well-versed in the many varieties of wood available and the health and safety issues that come with working with them. Is turning on a lathe with cedar a viable option, and can cedar be turned on a lathe at all?

The simple answer is yes; you can turn cedar on a lathe. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when working with this wood.

Cedar is softwood, which means that it is not as strong or durable as hardwoods like oak or maple. This makes it more challenging to work with and more likely to break or chip.

In addition, cedar contains a high amount of resin. This can make the wood sticky, which can make it difficult to turn. Resin can also build up on your tools, making them more challenging to use.

Finally, cedar has a very distinctive smell. Some people find this pleasant, but it can be overwhelming. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area or wear a respirator if you are sensitive to smells.

Despite these challenges, cedar can be a beautiful wood to work with. It has a warm colour and a smooth grain. It can make stunning bowls, platters, and other turned objects with proper care.

Let’s look at woodworking using a lathe, cedar as a material for woodworking, and the safety measures that must be taken while combining the two.

One of the earliest known examples of machining is turning wood on a lathe. The lathe itself is sometimes called the “mother” of all machine tools. The first lathes that we know of were used by the ancient Egyptians and maybe the Mycenaeans of Greece. This was during the Bronze Age. Around 1300 BCE, these bow and strap lathes were used (source).

Some of the oldest lathes still in use today are the ones used to work with wood. However, many different kinds of lathes are used to work with different materials, including the CNC (computer numerical control) machines used today.

Most modern lathes are powered by electric motors, which also provide the different speeds needed to turn the wooden workpiece.

The wood is held in place on the headstock of the quickly turning lathe, most commonly by a chuck or a faceplate. This makes it possible to make use of a variety of fundamental cutting tools, including gouges, chisels, and scrapers, which are applied manually to the surface of the wood as the operator presses down on a tool rest that steadies and directs their hand.

Turning can involve a wide variety of activities, including those that are more formally known as grooving, facing, drilling, boring, knurling, and threading. These operations can be accomplished via practice and skill.

Lathe Turning of Cedar: Pros and Cons of the Process

Lathe Turning of Cedar: Pros and Cons of the Process
Lathe Turning of Cedar: Pros and Cons of the Process


  • The wood is easy to work with
  • It has a distinctive smell
  • It can be turned into beautiful bowls, platters, and other objects


  • The wood is soft and can break or chip easily
  • The resin in the wood can make it sticky and difficult to work with
  • The smell of the wood can be overwhelming
  • Safety Measures to Keep in Mind

These are some of the safety measures you should take when working with cedar on a lathe:

When working with any kind of wood, always take proper safety measures. This includes wearing gloves, goggles, and a dust mask. You should also have a first-aid kit close by in case of accidents.

Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area, as the smell of cedar can be overwhelming.

Wear a respirator if you are sensitive to smells.

Cedar is a softwood, which means it is more likely to break or chip. Be extra careful when working with this wood.

The resin in the cedar can make the wood sticky. This can make it difficult to work with and can build up on your tools.

Cedar’s Qualities as a Material for Woodworking

Cedar's Qualities as a Material for Woodworking
Cedar’s Qualities as a Material for Woodworking

Despite the challenges that come with working with cedar, this wood can be beautiful to work with. It has a distinctive smell and a warm colour. When turned into bowls, platters, and other objects, cedar can make a stunning addition to your home.

There are generally two (or sometimes three) distinct types of wood. Softwoods, such as firs, pines, and spruces, make up the majority of the wood used in furniture making. Beech, ebony, hickory, maple, oak, rosewood, walnut and many other types of wood are all examples of hardwoods that can be used to make furniture. It is also known as tropical hardwoods, a type of hardwood.

Engineered woods are the third class of materials that comprises a variety of particle and wood-plastic composite boards in addition to hardboard and plywood. These materials are not commonly used in turning operations because they don’t require turning processes.

Hardwoods and softwoods can both be turned on a lathe. However, it is essential to note that cedar is softwood. This means that it is more likely to break or chip than hardwood.

Cedars, which belong to the genus Cedrus, is a family of softwoods native to the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, portions of the Middle East, and the Himalayas. Among the members of this species is the well-known Lebanon Cedar, which may be found depicted on that country’s flag.

The term “fake cedar” is used to refer to a number of other species of similarly scented wood that can be found in the Pacific Northwest. These cedars, which are members of the cypress family and specifically the Western Red Cedar, are popular due to the fact that they are versatile, durable, dimensionally stable, abundant, and easy to deal with (source).

On the other hand, Cedar is not without its share of problems. Aside from the potential dangers to one’s health that come with inhaling cedar dust, cedar is not as durable as other types of wood. Due to the fact that it is also rather pricey, it is recommended that it be utilised for ornamental rather than structural purposes.

It is also susceptible to fading, which causes it to lose its reddish-brown tint and turn a silver-grey colour over time and “checking,” which is when fractures appear on the surface of the material as a result of seasonal fluctuations in the amount of moisture present.

It’s possible that yellow pine or fir might be a better choice for some applications than cedar would be. There are, however, very few materials that can adequately replace cedar when it comes to outdoor furniture, decking, fencing, and roofing shingles unless you are looking at some of the professionally engineered wood substitutes.


Is Cedar Dust Dangerous?

Is Cedar Dust Dangerous?
Is Cedar Dust Dangerous?

It has been established without a reasonable doubt that cedar dust, and particularly dust from Western Red Cedar, is a significant contributor to the development of asthma in people. Inflammation of the eyes, nose, and throat, allergic dermatitis, a reduction in pulmonary function, and the development of some malignancies have all been associated with prolonged exposure to any type of wood dust.

You can also check out the article “Can You Weld an Air Compressor Tank”  here.

However, the effects of breathing in dust are highly variable, depending on the individual and the degree to which they were exposed to the dust. Its impacts can be felt more acutely by a subset of the population than by others. Naturally, there are preventative measures that can and ought to be taken in order to lessen the dangers posed by inhalation.

There is no definitive link between cedar and any specific type when it comes to cancer. A few studies suggest a correlation between exposure to wood dust and an increased risk of certain types of cancer, but more research needs to be conducted to confirm these findings.

Cedar is also known to be allergenic, which means that it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. These reactions can range from mild to severe, and they can occur upon contact with the wood or inhalation of cedar dust.

If you are concerned about the potential risks associated with exposure to cedar, it is vital to take precautions to avoid inhaling the dust. Wearing a dust mask and using a dust extractor when working with the wood can help to reduce your exposure.

Cedar is a beautiful, versatile wood that has a number of applications. However, it is crucial to be aware of the potential risks associated with working with or being exposed to this material. Taking precautions to avoid inhaling the dust is the best way to protect yourself from the potential health hazards posed by cedar.


The Bottom Line

Cedar is a popular choice for turning due to its lovely grain and colour; therefore, the answer to the question “can you turn cedar on a lathe?” is almost always going to be yes. Cedar is a popular choice for turning because of its appearance. However, it is vital to be aware of the potential risks involved in working with this material since exposure to cedar dust can pose significant health risks. This dust can cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, and other symptoms. Always seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner if you have questions or concerns about your wellbeing, and make sure to take the appropriate safety measures to prevent breathing in any dust that may be present.