Woodturning is the craft of using the wood lathe with hand-held tools to cut a shape that is symmetrical around the axis of rotation. Like the potter's wheel, the wood lathe is a simple mechanism which can generate a variety of forms. The operator is known as a turner, and the skills needed to use the tools were traditionally known as turnery. In pre-industrial England, these skills were sufficiently difficult to be known as 'the misterie' of the turners guild. The skills to use the tools by hand, without a fixed point of contact with the wood, distinguish woodturning and the wood lathe from the machinists lathe, or metal-working lathe.
Items made on the lathe include tool handles, candlesticks, egg cups, knobs, lamps, rolling pins, cylindrical boxes, Christmas ornaments, bodkins, knitting needles, needle cases, thimbles, pens, chessmen, spinning tops; legs, spindles and pegs for furniture; balusters and newel posts for architecture; baseball bats, hollow forms such as woodwind musical instruments, urns, sculptures; bowls, platters, and chair seats. Industrial production has replaced many of these products from the traditional turning shop. However, the wood lathe is still used for decentralized production of limited or custom turnings. A skilled turner can produce a wide variety of objects with five or six simple tools. The tools can be reshaped easily for the task at hand.
In many parts of the world, the lathe has been a portable tool that goes to the source of the wood, or adapts to temporary workspaces. 21st-century turners restore furniture, continue folk-art traditions, produce custom architectural work, and create fine craft for galleries. Woodturning appeals to people who like to work with their hands, find pleasure in problem-solving, or enjoy the tactile and visual qualities of wood.