This month our focus is going to be on lighting up the work area. Let's take a look at some improvements you can easily make. Just a little bit of time spent in paying attention to your work area's lighting will vastly improve visibility, and allow you to better remove any tearout, tool marks, or unevenness before you try to finish your project.
Quantity of lighting -
The amount of lighting that is placed around the lathe work area should be carefully considered. Not enough lighting makes it difficult to see some surfaces of your turning. Too much lighting, on the other hand, can create excessive heat around your workspace, making it more difficult to effectively work with green wood. An optimal setup will include multiple large overhead lights to illuminate all top and side surfaces of the work piece, as well as a smaller movable lamp which can be positioned around the lathe for finer, more detailed work.
Quality of lighting -
There are a wide variety of lighting types which can be considered for use: fluorescent, incandescent, LED, halogen, tungsten, metal halide, and high pressure sodium, just to name a few. Each has its own set of pros and cons. Metal halide and high pressure sodium lights provide the brightest lighting conditions per watt, but tend to make the color of the wood look a different shade than it actually is (this mainly interferes with finishing). Halogen lights are bright, and usually very focused, but put off a lot of heat and can be expensive to install and replace. For most persons, with a modest budget, the best choice will be to use 4' fluorescent tube lighting overhead (not the most efficient form of lighting, but fairly cheap, and easy to install and maintain) combined with a movable lamp with either an energy efficient spiral type bulb, or an LED bulb (quite a bit more expensive). Standard incandescent bulbs can be used for the movable lamp, but they produce excessive amounts of heat around the workspace.
Positioning of lighting -
Optimally, overhead lights should be placed on all four sides above the lathe. When this is not possible, however, it is most important to have one mounted directly above the lathe. If you must position fluorescent lighting directly above the lathe, make sure to install plastic safety tubes over the lights to prevent them from shattering and falling in the event that something comes free from the lathe while turning. As for the movable light near the lathe, this light can be placed wherever it needs to be for a specific project. Keeping the lamp within about 12" of your workpiece will usually allow you to see the surface and let you know what areas need to be smoothed of tearout or ridges. If you have installed an energy efficient spiral type bulb or LED bulb, you can get the lamp even closer to the workpiece without worrying about the excess heat it might be generating. This is especially great if you plan to do thin-walled turnings such as cowboy hats or lamp shades, where you will need to position a light very close to your turning to gauge wall thickness.
Surrounding room -
The area directly surrounding the lathe will also affect the quality of your lighting. If you have unfinished walls of a dark color, you will lose a large portion of the lighting you have so carefully placed. Putting up drywall or painting the walls around your lathe a light or white color will reflect the most light, and better illuminate your work. Ideally, if partitioning walls can be placed around the lathe to separate it from the rest of your shop, this will help as well.
Inspection lighting -
If you REALLY want to pay attention to the fine details, and make sure your finished surfaces are free from defects, you'll want to get a movable fluorescent bulb to illuminate your work. A small handheld light held within just a few inches of the wood's surface will allow you to see even the smallest sanding scratches, tool marks and tearout.