With most woodcutting power tools, the cutting blade turns and the woodworker either moves the wood against the blade, as in a table saw or band saw, or moves the moving blade across the wood, as with a radial arm saw or skillsaw. The lathe is unique in that the wood is mounted on the lathe and then caused to spin around by the motor, rotating the mounted piece toward the front of the machine. A metal bar called a tool rest is positioned in front of the turning wood and special woodturning tools with exotic names like bowl gouge, skew, parting tool, and scraper are laid with the cutting end of the tool across the tool rest with the sharp end toward the wood. By carefully moving the cutting tool in toward the spinning piece of wood and along the top edge of the tool rest, the piece of wood may be rounded and shaped.
As with any power tool, there are dangers involved in woodturning, but the prudent use of normal safety measures will reduce the danger and enhance the enjoyment of woodturning. If you are interested in woodturning, I urge you to seek out other woodturners who can help you determine what kind of equipment is best for you and teach you how to do it safely. If you are in the Northern Virginia - Eastern Maryland - District of Columbia area, please come visit Capital Area Woodturners (CAW) and meet some really great folks, many of whom are very skilled woodturners. Another club out in the Loudoun County/Leesburg, VA, area is Catoctin Area Turners (CAT). There are also clubs in Frederick and Bethesda, MD, and Winchester, VA. If you are interested in further information about woodturning, let me refer you to the web site of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW), an outstanding organization dedicated to the promotion of woodturning within the United States, but with influence abroad. They have a list of clubs around the country so you may be able to find one near your home.