Knowing your headstock from your tailstock

A vital accessory for the woodturning lathe, for any turner, is the humble woodturning lathe centre. Used for spindle turning, there are two types of lathe centres, headstock drive centres and revolving tailstock centres. Working together, the drive centre and revolving centre, or live centre as it is also known, will hold your spindle projects in place for turning on the lathe.


When the drive centre is loaded into the headstock, and the project attached, simply slide the tailstock up to make contact with the project. At this point the two centres will push together to hold your workpiece in place with a vice-like grip.

Getting the right fit

When attaching to the lathe it is important to get the right fit. Morse tapers can vary in size, but the most common are 1MT, 2MT and 3MT. However, our Axminster Woodturning Lathes accommodate either a 1MT or 2MT and therefore you will find most of our centres are available as either 1MT or 2MT.

Loading drive centre

Drive centres

A drive centre transfers the power from the motor to the project for you to be able to turn it, therefore it drives a lot of pressure through the piece to drive the project through the chisel cut. For that reason drive centres usually rely on either a prong, a tooth or friction to hold the workpiece in place and drive the power.

Six prong drive centre
Six prong drive centre

Six prong drive centre - Highly effective for turning hardwoods, softwoods and wet timber, the six sharp 5.5mm chisel points give you 50% increased gripping power over traditional 4-prong drives. This is a reliable and positive drive centre that transfers your lathe's drive to the workpiece with much improved tooth engagement.

Four prong drive centre - The four prong drive centre is one of the go to drive centres for woodturners. The four prongs enable you to get a firm hold on the workpiece and can create lots of drive from the lathe to your project.

Two prong drive centre - Useful for both general spindle turning and preparatory bowl work the two prong drive penetrates easily for a secure drive. They are a good choice when turning softwood or green, unseasoned timber. The 2-prong drive centres are particularly useful in cases where the end of the spindle is not square. Such as in the initial turning of natural edge bowl hollow form blanks.

Pro drive centre - The pro drive is highly versatile and gives accurate results. It differs from the prong drive as it uses a series of teeth on the outer ring for grip, and features a sprung centre pin. This acts as the centering pin and as you apply pressure from the tailstock, the teeth on the outside make contact with the timber and drive the piece for turning.

Ring centre or friction drive centre - These do exactly what they say on the tin. The ring around the centre point is what drives this centre using friction. Perfect for smaller pieces, they are also referred to as safety centres as they use friction rather than physical touch from teeth or prongs to drive the project for turning.

Light pull drive - A specific centre for smaller projects that require an internal grip, such as a light pull project. This will grip internally and it uses friction to drive the project. The tailstock centre can locate on to a predrilled hole to secure the workpiece for turning.

N.B. The 4 prong and pro drive centres are available in different morse tapers and diameters, to accommodate a range of turning projects. Therefore, the larger your project, the larger the centre will need to be.

Tailstock Centres

A tailstock centre is a bearing centre and does not rely on friction like the headstock drive centre.They run with the timber.

Single point standard drive centre - This is the go to tailstock centre for woodturners, particularly when coupled with a four prong drive. However, the shape of this particular woodturning lathe centre means that it can on occasion split timber. This will most likely occur when turning smaller pieces or if using soft wood, when you apply pressure from the tailstock.

Ring centre - To combat the potential of splitting wood, you may want to opt for a ring centre. This particular centre has a ring around the centre point that prevents any potential splitting. This tailstock centre is also a match to the headstock friction drive centre. This is known as matched centres. The benefit of using matched centres is that you can swap your workpiece around between centres easily.

Multihead centre - A unique centre to cover lots of bases. It features a main body with different attachment heads giving you multiple centres in one. It includes a mini face plate, useful for goblet turning, an inverted cone centre to support a domed surface, as well as a selection of pointed and ring centres.

Pro live centre - Another centre to match the drive centre, this time the pro drive. This matched pair will give the best grip on a large project or project using soft timber. And, you can reverse your work with confidence, by rotating and repositioning your workpiece in perfect realignment.

Hollow drive - Use a hollow drive when you need to drill through the tailstock, when making a table lamp for example. Accommodates a 5/16th agur. Use the auger to drill through the hollow centre and into your project. What's more, the centre features chip ejection ports to prevent having to fully remove the drilling bit during use.

Hollow drive


So, all that’s left to say is, consider what you want from your woodturning lathe centre. Do you want to stick to traditional, reliable centres for easy turning? If so, then try the four prong or standard drive. Or do you want exceptional grip and security? Then the more modern pro drive may be for you. If it’s safety you’re after and protection from timber splitting, opt for a ring centre.

Remember, pairing centres is a sensible decision if you need to swap your spindle work around or for production work. And if in doubt try the multihead and sample them all!

Either way, you are sure to find a woodturning lathe centre to suit you at Axminster Tools.

If you need further guidance on which woodturning centre to choose, watch Jason in our Woodworking Wisdom video where he takes you through the basics.

How do you use yours?

If you have an Axminster Woodturning drive centre or tailstock centre, we’d love to hear from you! Comment below or send us a photograph. Alternatively, get in touch via our social media platforms and tell us which of our centres you love and why. Find us on Facebook or connect with us on Instagram – search @Axminstertools.