Complete Guide On Woodturning: Basic Technique, Tips, Theory, and more

As one of the more advanced wood carving techniques, woodturning is useful for any kind of carving project, whether it is making as simple as a toy boat or more complex objects like furniture. Mastering woodturning is a must if you want to take your wood carving skill to the next level, as well as making it commercially viable at the same time.

This article will provide you with a complete theoretical breakdown of everything that you need to know about woodturning. Mastering the actual skill will take time and effort, so don’t consider this guide as a shortcut to mastering woodturning. Rather, the intent of this article is to show you how to do things the correct way. 

How To Select and Use a Wooden Lathe First Time

Wooden lathes are the primary tools for woodturning, so you need to first understand what is a wooden lathe and how to choose one. Wooden lathes are used to cut, dry, drill, sand, and deform wooden surfaces to accommodate complex designs. Turning lathes come in different dimensions, choosing the right one depends on your project requirements.

Woodturning lathes are usually measured in inches, which denote the diameter of the largest piece of timber that can be turned with it. To ascertain the correct sized wood lathe for your project, you need to understand how the measurement is determined. The diameter is measured from the center of the carving object to the ‘bed’ of the lathe, which should be half the diameter of the entire circle.

The length of the wooden lathe has to be taken into consideration as well, which is separate from the diameter measurement detailed above. As a rule of thumb, the measurement is taken from the points determined by the live and dead center of the object to the tailstock of the wooden lathe. Once you have the length and diameter figured out you can easily choose the type of wooden lathe that you need. 

While we’re still on the topic, make sure to clean and maintain your wood-turning lathe on a regular basis as it ensures the lathe will turn smoothly when being used. Oil it before every woodturning session and make sure to clean it of any wooden chips and shavings.  

What Kind Of Wood Is Best For Woodturning

As with any kind of wood carving technique, softer woods are the best options for learning woodturning in the early stages. But the main differentiator between the skills of an experienced and novice woodcarver their ability to do woodturning on hardwood, particularly fruitwoods. Fruit woods are most commonly used in furniture making, which incidentally is the most viable application of the skill.

Some of the most common fruitwoods used for furniture making are cherry, pear, apple, peach, plum, mango, and more. Fruitwoods tend to have an even and fine texture, which makes them ideal for furniture making. Fruitwoods are relatively easy to carve on if freshly cut because the wood starts to harden when it dries, making it comparatively easy to carve on until then.

When practicing wood carving, it’s best to start practicing on commonly available softwood such as basswood before switching to hardwood. The simple reason behind this is that the high cost of fruitwood prohibits it from being financially viable for training purposes which will involve a lot of trial and error.   

Beginner Woodturning Projects Tutorial

Here is some common wood carving project for beginners that you can use to practice basic woodturning skills. All of these objects are simple to make but will help instill the basic fundamentals of woodturning in you, making them second nature when you progress to more advanced wood carving projects. 


Bowls are everyday household items that can be found almost everywhere around the world. Wooden bowls made via woodturning are very easy and beginner-friendly since they can be easily worked on from the rough cut. The general rule of thumb when turning wood on a lathe to make bowls, is that the thickness and diameter are interrelated, ideally 1:10 (1″ thickness for a 10” bowl).

Make the rough cut of the log according to the above-mentioned ratio and attach the bowl blank to a faceplate (standard 3” diameter for lathes) before mounting it on your lathe. Make sure the tailstock of the lathe is pulled up to support the blank in maintaining its balance staying suspended. Once the blank is mounted properly, turn on the lathe. Also, make sure to stand in the opposite direction of blank so that the chips of wood flying off the lathe don’t land on your face or arms.

Attach the faceplate to a flat surface for best results and make sure to align the screws properly. If the screws are misaligned, they can end up splitting the wood along the grain. To align the screws properly, make sure they enter properly into the trunk before starting to work on it. Work slowly to make sure both the inside and outside surfaces of the bowl are smooth.

Once finished, let the bowl dry. Depending on what type of wood you used, it can take a couple of weeks or even months. Wrap the bowl with brown paper, ensuring no part of the surface remains uncovered. Doing so traps the moisture within, preventing the wood from drying out too quickly and cracking up.

Lid Box

A lidded box is another common household object that utilizes woodturning as the primary technique for construction. This project is a bit more complex than the previous one and will help you understand the basics of multi-segmented wood carving. The carving process is very easy, just follow the instructions below. 

First, mount the carving log onto the center of the lathe. Once you have confirmed it’s tightly secure between the headstock and tailstock, turn the blank. You need to make two tenons on the blank, one on each end. Once you’re done making the tenons, mark the cap, joint, and base on the blank. Once you’ve marked the parts, mount the cap on the lathe. 

The cap will have to be connected with the tenons to form the lid and body of the box, so make sure you choose a cap that fits perfectly with the tenon. Then hollow out the blank to make the body and lid of the box. The lid length should be no more than 1/4th of the length of the body. Turn the blank as needed during the turning process. Once this is done, part the joint between the cap and the base with a carving knife or chisel. The cut’s depth will determine the thickness of the box. So make sure they’re smooth.

Once all this is done, you need to separate the cap from the base. Slowly remove the cap from the wood until you see a bump which is the tenon that you carved earlier. Mark it and separate the lid from the body to check if it functions properly. The shape of the box depends on what kind of carving mount you used to hollow out the blank.


The final recommendation for this segment will be making a wooden goblet utilizing woodturning. This one should be comparatively simple to make a lidded box, but the main test of skill lies in maintaining uniformity and equal dimensions through the transition of carving from top to bottom. This project will give a basic understanding of using scraping tools in wood carving projects. If you want to make a living out of wood carving, learning to do so is important for making complex wooden objects and furniture.

A goblet can be made from a single piece of wood square block or a log, you can use whichever suits you better. First, mount the blank in the center of the lathe. To avoid the center of the blank colliding with the pith, offset the pith in both directions. This will allow you to avoid the weaker parts of the blank during the carving process.

To ensure the blank is stable during the hollowing process, cut off a piece of the spigot and use a chuck to hold the blank. The carving process starts at the bottom and gradually moves to the top with each section transitioning into thick or thin dimensions as required. This allows the chuck to maintain proper stability as you taper from one section to the next, allowing you to hollow the goblet without breaking off the stem by accident.

Make sure to set the tool rest to the correct height. Doing so allows the cutting edge of the gouge to be placed exactly at the center. Every dozen turns or so, draw out the tool to cool and clean wood chips and shavings. If you don’t do this the chips and shaving bind themselves to the tool thanks to the excessive heat generated by the turning process.

Start off with the foot of the goblet by making light cuts at one end of the blank. Once you have outlined a rough square surface, drill a hole on the other end of the blank which is allotted for the cup of the goblet, and begin the turning process. You can drill the hole with either a drilling machine using a Forstner or sawtooth bit or a spindle gouge, whichever suits you better. Don’t apply any downwards pressure during the drilling process.

After drilling the hole at the cup end, you can now slowly start hollowing the cup using a curved-edged scraper which you should have in your tool kit. Before starting the hollowing process, make sure to outline the shape of the cup to ensure you have a template to follow through with. Once you gain experience, this will no longer be necessary. Also, don’t forget to outline the stem and foot as well. The entire outline has to be followed properly to maintain the structural integrity of the goblet.

After the initial shape has been outlined using the chisel and the other scraping tools, make light cuts on the surface of the cup to help in the sanding process. Use 120-150 grit sanding paper when smoothing the surface and make sure all tool marks have been smoothed before moving on to the next section.

After sanding the goblet, mark the blank for realignment and remove the wood from the chuck. Make sure to seal the goblet to prevent liquid from seeping into the wood. Beeswax is highly recommended for this purpose, but other sealers will do just as well. Shave the flakes by rolling the inside of the cup with beeswax and leave it to dry.

What Tools To Use In Woodturning (and how)

Woodturning is a fairly complex technique, so you will be using multiple measurement variants of some of the tools. Below is a list of mandatory tools that need to

1¼”, ¾” , ½”, ¼”                Gouge

1¼”, ¾” , ½”, ¼”                Skew

⅛”                          Parting  Tool

½”, ¼”                  Round Nose

½”, ¼”                                 Square Nose

½”                          Spear Point

½”                          Right Skew

½”                                         Left Skew Slip Stone with round edges

6″                           Outside  Calipers

6″                           Inside Calipers

8″                           Dividers

12″                        Ruler

½ pint                                 Oil Can

                                Bench Brush

The chiseling tools mentioned in the above-mentioned list can be broken down into 3 categories based on training and practice- the skew chisel, the gouge, parting tool, and the scraping tools. If you’re not familiar with one or more of these tools, here’s a short rundown of how to use them and maintain them using an emery wheel.

Skew Chisel/Parting Tool

A skew chisel is a very useful wood carving tool that is often used for advanced wood carving projects. Both sides of the chisel’s blade are sharpened, allowing it to skew the carving surface with minimum effort. The tool needs to be handled like a regular chisel, but care should be taken when pushing the blade on the opposite side of your grip.

Since the tool is used for cutting across both left and right sides, beveling needs to be done on both sides as well. Like the gouge, the length of the bevel should be twice the thickness of the chisel blade. When sharpening both sides of the blade, you need to hold it in such a manner that the cutting edge is parallel to the axis of the emery wheel.

If you’re using dry emery, make sure to cool the chisel in water at regular intervals. Otherwise, it can scald your hands from the heat generated by the spinning of the wheels against the chisel’s body. Once the edges have been smoothed out, sharpen the sides using a slip stone in such a way that the toe and heel of the bevel are both in contact with it. 


Gouges come in various shapes and sizes, but the ones that you’ll be using for woodturning is beveled on the outside, giving it a semi-circular shape. The cutting edge of the tool should extend to the side of the bevel, the length of which should be twice the length of the blade. This kind of gouge combines the function of a regular gouge with that of a round nose chisel, allowing it to make shearing cuts and avoid scraping the carving surface. The round shape of the tip allows you to carve around abrupt corners which cannot be done with regular gouges. 

Sharpening a wood-turning gouge requires some finesse which can only be acquired through practice, so don’t be discouraged if you’re having trouble in the beginning. When it comes to regular square-nosed gouges, turning it halfway around and back again over the grinding stone is sufficient enough. But in the case of the round-nosed gouge used for woodturning, you need to swing the handle side to side while revolving the chisel in a slow and steady manner.

To finish the sharpening process, you need to place the rough edge of the nose on a smooth slip stone that is wedge-shaped, preferably with rounded edges. You need to steadily scrape the rough beveled edges of the toe and heel of the gouge across the flat side of the slip stone. Slowly work your way inwards with the wire edge of the bevel. Turn the stone and repeat the process until the rough edges become smooth and straight. Make sure not to bevel the inside of the gouge as it will weaken the handle and blade.  

Scraping Tools

Scraping tools are primarily used in making patterns on wood carving projects, mainly in furniture making and sculptures. They come in various shapes and sizes, which include round-nosed, square-nosed, right skew, and left skew. Scraping tools are sharpened on one side only and are capable of producing only one particular shape. Their handles are generally hollow to give you an easier time maintaining them.

Due to the nature of their use, scraping tools dull out very easily, requiring you to sharpen and maintain them on a regular basis if you’re using them frequently. You can use a burnisher to add the finishing touches after sharpening it to slow down the dulling process significantly. Scraping tools are not as sturdy as other types of chisels, so make sure to not apply too much pressure when sharpening them.

If you apply too much pressure, chances are the small bits of the blade will chip off the edge,, eventually rendering it useless.

How To Prepare Logs For Woodturning

Now that you’re familiar with the tools required for woodturning and maintaining them, it’s time to learn how to prepare rough wood or logs for woodturning. The purpose of preparing logs is twofold- to prepare the wood for turning and preventing chips of wood splintering off from the body and flying off in random directions. Follow the instructions below to properly prepare logs for wood carving

1. Examining The WOod

First take the time to thoroughly examine the surface of the wood that you will be working with, and remove any external objects attached to the body of the log or block of wood such as wires, nails, shards of metal, etc. This is very important in helping you prevent injuries when handling the wood during the turning process. If there are any unnatural bumps on the surface of the log/block, make sure to check. Sometimes wood grows over sharp external objects stuck in the body resulting in unnatural surface growth.

2. Sizing

Once you’ve ensured that the wood is safe to handle, you need to make the primary rough cuts and chop the log/block into the dimensions that you desire. The purpose of the rough cut is to make them easier to work on in the later stages of turning, so don’t focus on getting the dimensions perfect. In fact, it’s usually a good idea to make rough cuts larger for easier control. Use something heavy to hold the log in place when chopping or sawing the cuts. You can make custom jigs at home that can help you hold the logs in place if you’re using a chainsaw or power tool.

3. Sealing

Once you’re done with making the rough cuts, make sure to seal the wood for the best results, especially if you’re working with green (raw) wood. This will prevent the wood from splitting, retaining the quality of the wood.

Finishing Carvings From a Wooden Lathe

Wooden lathes provide you with a rough piece of furniture or wooden object, not the finished piece. You need to finish the carving process after giving the object the right dimensions. This is where the parting and scraping tools come into play.  Some of the most common cutting techniques used for finishing woodturning projects include:

  •             Straight Cuts     
  •             Shoulder Cuts
  •             Taper Cuts
  •             V Cuts, 
  •             Concave Cuts
  •             Convex Cuts
  •             Combination Cuts

These techniques are not easy to master and will probably take a considerable amount of time for you to master. But once you’ve mastered these techniques you can finish carvings from a wooden lathe any way you want.

When it comes to sharpening their wood-turning tools, most woodworkers use high-speed bench grinders and belt sanders. If you want to learn more about sharpening tools, here’s an excellent guide on how to sharpen woodturning tools.

10 Tips To Get Better at Woodturning

If you want to get really good at woodturning in the shortest amount of time, here are a couple of simple tips to keep in mind:

  1. Every time you mount a blank on the lathe, make sure the blank doesn’t hit the tool rest.
  2. Use a tool tray to keep your lathe tools handy when working on larger projects. 
  3. Also, check that the lathe speed is slow enough. If the lathe speed is too fast then the turning tool will overheat. Start off slow and gradually increase the speed.
  4. Learn how to cut a spigot properly to mount the blank in a stable manner on a chuck. Using gripper time clamps yield the best results.
  5. Wrenches can double as calipers if you know how to use them for that purpose.
  6. If you sand a spindle in the opposite direction of which it is turned, you will get a smooth finish.
  7. If you’re having trouble shaping bowls, carpet bags can be a great way to make a rough template.
  8. When working with split turnings, you can mount a stock on the lathe and remove it later, which eliminates the need to tape or glue the individual parts together.
  9. When tapering or cutting angles, it’s easy to lose track of the original elevation even for experienced woodworkers. An easy way to bypass this problem is to attach a hose clamp to the tool rest and use it as an indicator for resetting to the original elevation after every cut.
  10. When working on a woodturning project, use a white background to make the outlines and cuts more visible.

Safety Tips For a Woodturning Lathe

Here a couple of important safety tips that you should always keep in mind when working on woodturning projects:

·         Make sure you have proper training and practice before attempting woodworking.

·         Don’t allow children or pets anywhere near your workshop.

·         Before turning on the lathe, check to see if wrenches, keys, or other small tools are lying around the lathe. If there are any, remove them before starting. Keys are especially dangerous next to a lathe, please put them far away from the spinning log.

·         Make sure to wear protective goggles and wire mesh safety gloves when using the lathe as well as when carving.

·         Don’t wear loose clothing and remove any jewelry if you’re wearing any. If you have long hair, tie it up before starting to work on the project.

·         Always inspect and maintain your turning tool as well as the lathe on a regular basis.

·         Make sure your workshop area is free of dust. Brush off dust, wooden chips, and shavings every time you’re done with a work session.

Final thoughts

Woodturning is quite simple once you have enough practice and a good grasp of the fundamentals. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy skill to master. If you want to make your woodworking skills commercially viable, then learning how to turn wood using a lathe is a must. Practice consistently and keep the tips provided in this guide at the back of your mind. They’ll be very helpful in shortening the learning process.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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