What You Need to Know to Start Turning – More:
Mark Baker looks at the core tools used in woodturning.
There are many turning tools that can be bought and it is easy to get sucked into buying lots of things because one thinks they are useful. This can be a costly mistake and, in truth, it’s better to buy a limited amount of tools that will do a big variety of work for you. Concentrate on learning to use those tools so you can get used to working with tools, a variety of woods and different projects before investing in more tools. Tools have many variants and each type are available in different sizes.
Following is a rundown of the core tools that turners use, that will form the basic tool selection I would recommend for you. Most turning tools are now made from High Speed Steel (HSS). There are different grades of steel, but M2 HSS is the most common because it gives a superb cutting edge when sharpened and lasts a reasonable amount of time.
I recommend seven basic tools to start off with. They are as follows: a bowl gouge, a spindle gouge, a parting tool, a beading and parting tool (these are thick and thin versions of each other), a spindle roughing gouge, a skew chisel, and a scraper or two.
Anatomy of a tool
All turning tools, irrespective of type, have the same basic features: the cutting edge, which is typically at the top of the tool; a bevel, which is underneath the cutting edge; the blade of the tool; the tang, which is the section that is secured in the handle; and the handle itself, which comes in various lengths to suit
the size of the tool.
In the case of gouges, the blade of the tool has a flute running about two-thirds of the way along it. The cutting edge that it produces has a bottom section and two sides. These sides are commonly known as wings. Depending on the shape of the cutting edge, the wings can be quite short or quite long.
Tools for faceplate turning
Faceplate turning typically requires a bowl gouge, parting tools and scrapers. These should give you everything you need to shape and refine the project you are going to tackle.
A bowl gouge is typically milled from a round bar, which has a deep flute running along about two-thirds of the blade towards the handle. The flute, depending on the make, can be a U-shape, a V-shape or a parabolic curve. It is initially used for rough shaping by removing lots of wood quickly, then to refine the curves on bowls and platters. A 10mm gouge is a good size to start with. It is the workhorse of the faceplate turner’s armoury. It is capable of making heavy cuts to rough shape work, yet also can be used to make the most delicate of refining cuts.
Scrapers can be used on faceplate and spindle work – bowls, vases, boxes, goblets and such projects. They are usually flat, rectangular bars, which have various shaped sections on the end and are available in various widths to suit the shape of the work being cut. They are usually used to clean up and refine the work after it has been shaped with a gouge. A 25mm scraper with a rounded or French curve cutting edge profile is an excellent choice to start with for cleaning up the inside of bowls or other projects such as the inside of boxes, vases and goblets. For some external curves you may need a square or angled/raked edge – similar to a skew – to clean up the outside of bowls. The larger the work, the greater the contact with the tool edge that is required to create a smooth ridge-free curve or surface.
Parting tool and beading and parting tool
The standard versions of the parting tool and the beading and parting tool are usually rectangular or square in section, although other shapes are available. They typically have two bevels at the front end that converge to create a cutting edge. They are effectively chisels used to shear timber fibres cleanly. The thinner 3–6mm parting tools are ideal for making thin parting cuts and creating delicate fillets. The wider 6–12mm beading and parting tools are ideal for cutting larger tenons, spigots, fillets, V-cuts and rolling beads on spindle work. I would, if you can afford it, advise buying a 3mm parting tool and a 10mm beading/parting tool, which gives you a great deal of versatility. If your budget is tight, a 3mm will serve you well.
Tools for spindle turning
The tools required for spindle work are a spindle roughing gouge, a spindle gouge, parting tools, skew chisels and scrapers.
Spindle roughing gouge
The spindle roughing gouge is usually made from a forged flat bar or, less commonly, a milled round bar. The flute – the channel down the centre of the tool – is U-shaped or semi-circular. It is only to be used on spindle work where the grain is parallel to the bed of the lathe. The tool is used on between centre work such as spindles, candlesticks and tasks to smooth timber from square or log section down to round, and can be used to roughly shape the exterior of the work before you put in the detail with a spindle gouge. The large flute allows for the rapid removal of timber, but you must keep the toolrest as close to the work as is practicable when using this tool. Start with a 20mm or 25mm tool. This will give you the flexibility to work on projects of many different sizes.
The spindle gouge is used for creating fine detail such as coves, beads and for creating delicate detail and refining shapes on spindle work. It is usually made from a milled round bar; the flute is shallow and typically semi-circular. The profile is totally different to that of a bowl gouge and, as with the spindle roughing gouge, the tool should not be used with much of an overhang from the toolrest. A good size to start with is a 10mm version.
The skew chisel is the woodturner’s version of the wood plane. When presented at a shear cutting angle to the wood, it peels the wood off, leaving a fine finish. It can also be used to roll beads and create incised V cuts. Skew chisels can be oval or rectangular in section. I would recommend a rectangular blade skew chisel
to start with of either 19mm or 25mm in size.
Beading and parting tool
As mentioned earlier parting tools and beading and parting tools are great for spindle and bowl work. The tools can also be used to roll beads on spindle work.
Scapers are hardly ever used on the outside of spindle work, but as mentioned earlier, they can be used to clean up the inside of boxes, goblets, egg cups and similar projects.