A specialized type of woodworking, woodturning involves using a wood lathe and various handheld tools to craft items. Some popular woodturning projects include tool handles, Christmas ornaments, bowls and platters, and furniture legs.
As a beginner woodturner, the first thing you need to do is make sure you have the right tools. A quick online search will lead you to discover that there are dozens of options available for purchase – so you have to ask yourself, which of those tools are truly essential? Here are some tools that every woodturning beginner must have.
1. Bowl Gouge
A bowl gouge is a specialized gouge that is used when working on bowls and vessels. When compared to a spindle gouge (another woodturning tool), a bowl gouge has a longer handle and a thicker shaft. This gouge is also known as a “long and strong” gouge. As bowls and other hollow shapes are one of the easiest projects for beginner woodturners to practice their skills, this tool is essential in every beginner’s kit.
There are various types of bowl gouges available on the market, but as a beginner, you should make sure to have either a ½” or a 5/8” gouge (or both!). To use this tool, hold the gouge firmly, ensuring that the tip used for cutting is pointed at the center of your bowl. Additionally, the tip should be angled level or slightly upwards, but never downwards.
Use the flute to make a starting groove, after which you can start making the relevant cuts. You can also refer to this video for help on how to use a bowl gouge:
- Great for roughing and removing large quantities of material from the curved sides of a bowl
- High-quality bowl gouges are sturdy, durable, and long-lasting
- Reach can be extended beyond the tool rest’s edge
- Cutting edge isn’t as sharp as other tools, and you cannot use it to make close cuts.
- Not great for working tight and close spaces
- Needs to be sharpened frequently – ideally, you should sharpen a bowl gouge at least three times during the turning process: before you use it, before you make the finishing cut on the exterior of the bowl, and before you make the finishing cut on the interior of the bowl. Additionally, you may have to sharpen the gouge at other points during the turning process. You will be able to tell if the bowl gouge is sharp when you see chips instead of long shaving while turning an item.
If you’re looking for a good bowl gouge to buy, you should consider:
The PSI Woodworking LX220 1/2” Bowl Gouge: This blade is made of high-quality M2 high-speed steel and boasts a hardwood handle. A great budget option, it is sturdy and easy to use for beginner woodturners.
- The Robert Sorby 842LH-1/4 1/4” Deep Flute Bowl Gouge: Made of high-speed steel that lasts longer than carbon steel, it is constructed to resist softening from overheating. While this is a premium option, the ¼” size of the gouge can be challenging to find, and it is excellent for working on holds and edges.
A spindle gouge is a shallow fluted gouge used to create detail cuts and is most commonly used on spindle projects (including concave and convex shapes). They are often known as “shallow fluted gouges” and “fingernail gouges” and are lighter and shorter than bowl gouges. Additionally, it is highly effective for making ‘S’ shaped shapes and for long-grain turning. As with bowl gouges, spindle gouges are essential for completing beginner woodturning projects such as spindles and pens.
Like bowl gouges, spindle gouges are available in various sizes. However, the ½” spindle gouge is the best option for beginners as it is good for both shaping and more detailed work. To use this tool, start near the center of the concave. Use gentle, firm pressure and hold the chisel down for a second.
Then, push through the length of the chisel, twisting the handle as you do so. As the wood is shaped, you should feel the bevel rubbing. This is known as “riding the bevel.” You can also refer to this video for guidance on using a spindle gouge:
- Great for working in tight spaces
- Useful for making sharp points
- A helpful tool for delicate spindle work, including creating textures and patterns
- Very useful for reaching areas that a bowl gouge will not be able to reach
- Does not need to be sharpened as much as a bowl gouge as you will not be using it to rough out material
- Doesn’t have cutting wings, so you cannot use it to work on the inside of bowls and other similarly shaped projects. In fact, using a spindle gouge to work on the inside of hollow shapes can be actively dangerous for you.
- Cannot be used to rough out wood
- The tool is usually not as strong as a bowl gouge due to the curved angle of the construction. This also means that it cannot be overextended beyond the tool rest – if you do so, and a catch occurs, the tip can snap off.
- Ineffective for large, removing cuts
If you’re looking for a good spindle gouge to buy, you should consider:
The PSI Woodworking LX320 1/2” Spindle Gouge: Made from M2 high-speed steel with a hardwood handle, this is a great budget option for beginners. Sturdy and long-lasting, it’s perfect if you are learning the ropes of woodworking.
- The Crown 236PM 3/8-Inch 10-mm Powder Metallurgy Spindle Gouge: Undoubtedly a premium option, this gouge is made of advanced powdered metal with a black ash handle and lasts several times as long as gouges made of high-speed steel. Aside from woodturning projects, this spindle gouge can also be used when turning acrylic projects. It is long-lasting, well-balanced, and perfect for more experienced woodturners looking to upgrade their tools.
This beveled-edge chisel is long and flat and has an angled tip. These chisels are used to cut beads, add details, and smooth spindles. It’s essential to remember that you should only use a skew chisel for working on spindles. Other uses of skew chisels include planing wood. In general, they measure from 1/8” to 1.25”.
To use, make sure that the heel (the shortest point of the chisel’s cutting edge) stays on the tool rest while the toe (the long point of the cutting edge) is at an angle. Ensure that the edge of your chisel is touching the edge of the spindle.
Start working from the right side of the tool rest and work to the left, maintaining the two angles as you work. Remember to keep an eye on the toe to ensure it doesn’t come into contact with the spindle. You can also refer to this video for help:
There are several types of skew chisels, with the most common being rectangular, square, and round.
- When used as a finishing tool, it provides a nice, smooth surface
- Removes the requirement for you to sand your finished project
- Can be challenging to learn to use
- Is unforgiving, and the slightest mistakes can result in dig-ins and gouges. Most commonly, this happens when the toe of the chisel is presented improperly or when it comes into contact with the wood too aggressively.
When using a skew chisel, it’s important to note that the tool rest has to be absolutely smooth. This will help the chisel glide over the rest without catching, resulting in a ruined project. Additionally, make sure that the chisel’s bevel only glides over the surface of your wood and does not rub it. To do so, you’ll have to modulate the pressure you apply, as gliding requires significantly less force than rubbing does.
While skew chisels are definitely among the more complex tools, a beginner woodturner will use, their functionality also makes them a necessity. If you are having trouble getting comfortable with your skew, practice using it on a few pieces of scrap wood before you use it on a major woodturning project.
If you’re looking for a good skew chisel to buy, you should consider:
- The PSI Woodworking Standard Skew Woodturning Chisel: Made from high-quality M2 high-speed steel, you can use this skew for finishing your woodturning projects, as well as for cutting V-grooves, forming beads, shaping concave curves, and more. This tool holds an edge well and is long-lasting and sturdy, especially considering this is a budget option for beginners.
- The Crown Tools Skew Chisel: Hardened to between 66° and 69° on the Rockwell hardness scale, this premium skew boasts better wear resistance and toughness. It also has excellent grindability and a high working hardness and hardness retention and lasts five to six times longer than tools made of conventional high-speed steel.
Buying Quality Woodturning Tools on a Budget
One of the biggest challenges beginner woodturners face is the price of the basic tools they need to start turning. While it’s always preferable to opt for the premium options, this isn’t always possible, especially if you’re looking to pick up a new hobby on a budget.
While it can be challenging to identify which budget tools you should invest in, here are some tips that can help you buy woodturning tools without breaking the bank:
- Invest in tools made of high-quality steel. This may seem like a confusing tip – after all, tools made from less expensive steel will cost you less. However, they won’t perform as well and are less likely to hold an edge. This means that you will have to sharpen them constantly, which is highly time-consuming. Additionally, they are not as durable as tools made of higher quality materials, which means you’ll end up spending more money on replacement tools in the long run than you would have had you bought the higher quality tool to start with.
- Don’t buy sets. It’s easy to look at the price for a set of woodturning tools and believe that you’re getting a better deal than if you purchased each tool individually. While you would likely spend less money on a set of 5 or 6 tools than you would if you bought them separately, the fact is, you probably don’t need all the tools in the set to get started. Buy only the tools you need so you can experiment with them and learn how to use them. Once you’re confident in your skills and decide that you’re going to keep woodturning, you can then consider investing in larger sets.
- Know what you need. Similar to the previous tip, it’s essential to be confident that you actually need a tool before buying it. If you don’t, there’s a risk that you’re spending money on tools that you would be able to do without. This guide on the basics of woodturning will also give you a good idea of what tools you should have in your toolbox, and you can use it as a shopping list to get started with your new hobby!
- Make sure the tools you buy are high-speed steel. While uncommon, it is still possible to find tools made of high-carbon steel on the market, especially if you’re shopping at vintage or second-hand stores. The price tag for these tools can seem attractive – however, high-speed steel tools are longer-lasting, more durable, and keep an edge better. You also need to sharpen high-carbon steel tools more often. That said, these tools can be useful, but only when used in coordination with high-speed steel options or if you’re confident in your skills with them.
As a beginner woodturner, there are certain tools that you must have in your toolbox, including skew chisels, bowl gouges, and spindle gouges. However, it’s important to remember you will also need to have other protective equipment like safety goggles, as well as sharpening tools to make sure your woodturning tools are always ready to use.
Additionally, many turning tools do not come pre-sharpened, so you will need to have the necessary sharpening tools before getting started with woodturning.
Once you’ve got everything available, you can start working on your first project. We recommend starting with something simple, like a bowl, though you’re sure to find many project options online. However, whatever you choose, it’s important to remember one essential tip – practice as much as possible, and you’ll find your skill getting better before you know it!