Wood lathes come generally with centers and face plates to hold wood to be turned. Beginners are faced with the challenge of mounting the wood and getting it safely cut. There are a few simple things to get one started on the adventure and we will begin, as do most woodturners with spindle turning.
Most wood lathes will be sold with two centers and others are readily available from after market suppliers. The centers are pointed fittings that attach to the head stock and tail stock and are called drive or spur centers for the head stock and tail centers for the tail stock. They are used almost exclusively for spindle turning.
While a few spur centers attach by screwing onto the head stock, most centers, both spur and tail, attach by means of a tapered section. This will usually be a Morse taper number one or two. All that is required to know about the Morse taper is it will hold the attachment very securely and the size is necessary when replacing the center.
Many woodturners begin by placing a square piece of wood between centers. Mark the center of each end of the square and indent the centers with an awl. The spur center will look like a point with two to four spurs surrounding it. All that is necessary is that the point go into the wood sufficiently to engage the spurs. They do not need to go far into the wood, just to engage it. Placing the point into the wood and rapping it with a wooden mallet should easily suffice.
The tail center may be solid or it may have ball bearings and rotate freely. The solid or dead center will need a drop of oil on it to prevent friction burns. If your lathe comes with a dead center it is a good idea to replace it with a ball bearing or live center as soon as possible.
With the spurs engaged into the wood and the spur center in the head stock the tail stock is brought up and the center of the tail center engaged in the wood. The tail stock is tightened down, the tool rest is checked for clearance and the work is ready to turn. It is a good safety feature to snug up the tail center before starting and then to periodically tighten it while turning. The spur center can act like a drill bit and loosen the work over time.
Start small with the work between centers. Later you may wish to experiment with chucks and glue blocks but a great deal of enjoyment can be had and good work made between centers.