The Wood Turner's Selection Guide, Part III: Choosing Tools

Comments (0)

After getting a lathe and a chuck, the next task is choosing a good set of tools. To start, only six tools are needed:

  • Spindle roughing gouge: makes square stock round
  • Spindle gouge: 3/8” or 1/2” for coves and beads
  • Parting tool: 1/8” for separating a turning from waste wood
  • Skew: planes a round surface smooth, makes coves, beads, and smooth square cuts
  • Scraper: 1” or larger, half round or full round, for smoothing insides of bowls Bowl gouge- for turning the inside and outside of bowls

Old sets from the 1940s and 50s will be made from carbon steel, will sharpen well, but will not hold an edge for long. They are a good, economical starting point, but will probably need upgrading. In the 1960s, sets (such as Craftsman) were being made from high speed steel which holds an edge well. The shape of the tools tended to be flatter and wider, making them less versatile than modern tools. The older collections will not have a bowl gouge, which came into use in the 1970s.

Keep in mind little items can be turned with standard sized tools, but standard sized items can not be turned with little tools. Some turners prefer the control of miniature tools which typically have much shorter handles.


Carbide cutters (left) Robert Sorby set (right)

Another option is carbide tipped tools. They have the benefit of not requiring a sharpening system nor the knowledge of using one. The tips can be touched up with a diamond stone or rotated to a new section when dull. Newer modifications include a heavier tool shank with bevels on both sides, allowing the tool to roll for a better cutting action with less vibration. They are typically used with the cutting edge at the center line of the work with the tool held horizontally in a scraping action. The options in carbide tools include:

  • Square tip: roughing and scraping, makes square stock round
  • Round tip: turning the inside of bowls or smoothing round stock, has a smaller cutting area for control
  • Detail tip: diamond shaped for decorative cuts
  • Parting tool: used for separating

Robert Sorby makes a good six piece conventional tool set which will cost about the same as the three main carbide tools. A beginner can be introduced to turning with carbide tools and benefit from not needing a sharpening system. However, the long term cost of replacement cutters can outweigh the cost of a sharpening system and learning how to use it.


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page