One Man's Woodcraft: Tools

0 Conversations

Some tools for wood craft

Lathes are machines used for shaping various materials, usually but not limited to, metals or wood.

The idea of the lathe is, of course, to cause the workpiece to rotate in a controlled manner in order to allow you to cut away the wood that you don't want and leave the bits that you do. So how does a lathe do that??

Previously we've looked at the lathe itself. Now it's time for ...

The Tools

The generic name is Chisels but these chisels are specific to woodturning – roughing-out gouges, spindle gouges, bowl gouges, skew chisels, parting tools and all in various sizes.

These will be supplemented by more, better or specialised items as and when the need arises (and pocket allows). There are tools for hollowing-out deep vessels and for narrow-necked vessels. You can buy tools for cutting out more than one bowl from a substantial blank. You can buy tools for... until your pocket is wrung out dry.

But First

A word before we get started: Do not try to work with tools that are not sharp.
Blunt tools are as dangerous in the workshop as blunt knives are in the kitchen. If you have to saw at a piece of meat or an onion in order to cut it, you're more liable to slip – and a blunt knife is a lot sharper than you are, in both senses of the word – ask a chef.
Similarly, a blunt turning tool means pushing and shoving, perhaps bruising, certainly endangering the security of that spinning workpiece – and loose, whirling, bouncing workpieces, peace of mind do not bring.

To the Point

If you're buying new tools (any tools), don't buy cheap – unless you know why they're cheap.

It's suggested that new beginners don't buy a set of turning tools, you may not find the hobby to your liking or, as a beginner, you probably won't use one or more of the tools in the set for some time, so some of your money isn't gaining any interest meanwhile.
By the time you feel you need a new tool you'll have a fair idea of what it is you want.

As a beginner, there are two main types of work that you'll be undertaking:

  • Between Centres or Spindle Turning. These names are interchangeable at starting level (and beyond) and describe work that is longer than it is wide, the grain of the wood running parallel with the lathe bed. The workpiece will be suspended between the spur drive at the headstock and the centre point at the tailstock.
  • Faceplate or Bowl Turning. Again, at beginner's level these terms are synonymous and describe work that is (normally, for bowls) wider than it is long, usually with the grain running across the workpiece. It will be held on a faceplate or, after preparation, in a chuck.

A Bowl Gouge and a Parting Tool would get you off to a good start. If you have the means, a roughing-out gouge in addition will be useful.

  • The bowl gouge will work well enough as a roughing-out gouge and will double-up satisfactorily as a spindle gouge at least for simple beginners' practice work.

  • The parting tool will enable you to part off, neatly (after some practice), the extra, waste pieces at the ends of your turned spindle (which are necessary for work-holding), and to cut spigots and recesses for mounting bowls (or large spindles) in a chuck.


The two main sharpening methods are the Grindstone and the Whetstone (water wheel). In both cases, the tool is held against the stone until the blunt edge is worn away. Gouges are swung from side-to-side while you rotate them against the stone, in order to maintain their shape.

It is not easy to sharpen a gouge freehand without practice (lots of practice) so it's just as well that there are jigs to help with the job – set-up the jig for each tool, note and keep the settings handy.

At this level, suffice it to say that the grindstone revolves very fast (down, towards you) and you know when the tool is sharp because there'll be a thin line of sparks at the very edge. The stones are 6" – 8" diameter (150 – 200mm).

The whetstone revolves slowly, can be used with the stone rotating towards you or away from you, doesn't show sparks of course and the tool is sharp when the newly ground surface reaches the edge (or you can paint the sharpening surface [bevel] with a permanent marker – blue seems favourite – all marking gone? It's sharp). The stones are about 8" – 10" (200 - 250mm) diameter.

The grindstone will wear away your tool quickly so anything but a very light touch gets expensive.

The whetstone will sharpen nearly as quickly, little more than a couple of wipes is usually enough – unless you allow a tool to wear blunt, or damage the edge, in which case it's much slower and it's tedious.

It'll be tolerably obvious then, that one of each is the ideal: grindstone to shape and repair, whetstone for touching up.

You can hone the edge after sharpening but it's not usual, unless perhaps for that final, extra special final shaving – but if you feel the need to hone you're not a beginner.

The Bevel

Because you're sharpening on an abrasive stone wheel, the tool will have a curved bevel that matches the wheel.

The front, sharpened, edge is sometimes referred to as the toe, and the back of the bevel the heel.

In order to make the tools useful for their purpose, they will be sharpened at various angles and to various shapes.

  • Roughing Gouges: bevel 45 deg, flat across.

  • Parting Tools: bevel 30 deg (both sides), flat across.

  • Skew chisels: bevel 15 deg (both sides), 30 degree angle (about) across.

  • Spindle Gouge: bevel 30 - 35 degrees, ground to a blunt or pointy rounded shape according to purpose or your preference.

  • Bowl Gouge: bevel 40 – 50 degrees, shape varies from rounded to extreme fingernail shape (or ladyfinger, or celtic grind) with extended sharpened side edges.

Those angles may be changed by the turner, to suit preferences and working methods – the shape of tools is often different from turner to turner, according to what suits best.

Where to Buy?

  • Visit your local woodturning club – you'll be welcome and they'll get you started, with advice and probably some basic tuition.

  • Browse your nearby tool shops.

  • Search the web for woodturning tools.

Once you know what the tools look like, flea markets can be very useful as can car-boot sales and garage sales.

Other sources? Local knowledge comes in. Sad to relate but there are widows or widowers – reluctant to throw stuff out but – happy to know that someone else can make use of it. Moderate payment may be welcome – and a nicely made small bowl "I made this with your tools".

If you find yourself buying more than one of the same type of tool, don't worry, just sharpen them to a similar shape and you can continue turning without such frequent sharpening pauses. When you do sharpen, it'll be done in batches – two or three of the same angle with the same technique – so it'll take noticeably less time per tool.

Now, a Word on Gouges

There are three main types, the Roughing-out, the Spindle and the Bowl and they have different cross-section profiles.

They all have wooden handles (ready fitted or home-made) into which is fixed the shaft.
Nowadays shafts are usually ground from round or oval bars, previously they'd have been forged from flat bars.

The shafts of the Spindle and Bowl gouges are made from round section bars and all have a flute running the length of the sharpenable portion (½ to 2/3 of the shaft) to allow chips and shavings to clear out of the way (you'll learn to tilt the tool so that the stream misses your face).

The shaft of the roughing-out gouge is quite a deep U-shaped tool with relatively thin walls and is used to cut the corners off square-section spindle blanks and to take off the lumpy, uneven surface from bowl blanks.

The Spindle gouge has a U-shaped, normally quite shallow, flute and is fairly pointy. With its 30deg bevel angle it takes some practice to master – hence not on the starter's list.

The bowl gouge flute is closer to V-shaped (with a rounded bottom) and is of an in-between depth.

In use, the distinction between Bowl and spindle tools is largely the grind angle:

I'm still using two or three old spindle gouges, suitably ground, for bowls, bought (in ignorance) at flea markets and I ain't knowledgeable enough to be discouraged – they extend working time between sharpening sessions. I use them in the earlier, less exacting stages

There are new recipes for steels. Allied with appropriate design they do make a difference – but don't scrap the old ones.

So we come to the end of a basic introduction to the basic woodturner's tools.

Starting out, you will probably be a little nervous – we all were... Deep breath, head down and – do it

Articles by Rod


13.12.10 Front Page

Back Issue Page

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

There are no Conversations for this Entry



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written by



h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more