Woodturning is generally divided into two categories, spindle turning and faceplate turning. Spindles are held on the lathe between centers and faceplate work is held on a faceplate. Using a faceplate is a simple matter, easily understood.
Most wood lathes will come with a faceplate and the after market is full of them. These are simple devices with an integral nut designed to fit the threads of the lathe headstock and a disk intended to be screwed to the wood intended to be worked on. The most common questions that arise are what size of faceplate to use and what screws should be used to hold it to the wood.
As with most things relating to the wood lathe, answers start with the wood that is to be turned. The simple answer for size is to use the smallest faceplate that will securely hold the wood. Since many lathes only come with one faceplate and beginners seldom have after market faceplates in various sizes, this becomes a moot point. Generally speaking, the faceplate that comes with the lathe will be at a third or more of the diameter of the largest piece that can be turned on the lathe. This is safe unless the wood is unbalanced or appears less than solid. This should be turned by experienced turners and at their own risk. A beginner at faceplate work wanted to start with good wood and with the lathe at slow speed.
The best screws to be used with a faceplate are self tapping sheet metal screws at least one quarter inch in diameter. They are strong and have a deep thread for a good hold. Regular wood screws are not as strong nor are the threads as deep. Drywall screws are brittle and should not be used in case of breakage.
More important than screw length is the surface on which the faceplate sets. It should be flat so the plate has good hold without wobble. Four screws going one half inch into the wood are usually sufficient in this case but if there is room for more then it is only added assurance. If the faceplate is being fastened to end grain, the surface must be flat and the screws should penetrate three quarter inch or more and preferably at an angle to give a better purchase.
Wooturners have been making bowls and vases for a long time without the benefit of the modern screw or the four jaw chuck. A faceplate is a old and established way to turn wood and a solid way to hold it. Some common sense easily opens the fascinating world of faceplate turning.