The Best Wood Turning Tools

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No matter what brand, good wood turning tools share fundamental qualities. Tools forged from heavy tool steel cut with less vibration or overheating. Since resharpening is a constant task in wood turning, blades should be long enough to provide enough steel stock for years of service. Handles large enough to grip and long enough for leverage and fine control of the blade tip are also a standard feature of good turning tools.

Thick Steel

Buy turning tools of at least 3/16 inches in thickness--thinner blades flex and chatter when turning difficult hardwoods and stock with irregular grain patterns. Bowl turning gouges, skew chisels and parting tools are often forged of even thicker stock. Tools 1/4 inch thick are not uncommon. Heavy steel absorbs more heat--a dulling edge in thick tool steel is less likely to burn and lose temper. Thick tools resist accidental stresses from mistakes during use. Thin special purpose blades like narrow parting tools could snap if used improperly. High-quality spindle gouges often are ground from rods of steel rather than being forged from flat stock.

Steel Type

Though high carbon steel was once the standard material for good tools, many improved alloys now exceed it in edge-holding ability. High speed tool steel stays sharp in turning applications many times longer than ordinary high carbon steel. High speed steel alloys like M1 or M2 can extend the lifetime of a sharp cutting edge as much as fivefold. ASP 2030 or ASP 2060--both powder steel alloys containing particles of molybdenum, vanadium and other carbide forming elements--yield durable edges 15 to 20 times better than high carbon steel.

Blade Length

Cheap turning tool sets feature short blades. Good tools should show a blade length of seven inches or more. Every time a turner grinds a fresh edge the blade loses a fraction of its length--a 4-inch blade is already short enough to be awkward for some tasks and will soon be unusable.

Handle Style

Turning tool handles should be at least 10 inches long. Many tool sets follow the English pattern with thick shoulders near the ferrules and a narrower flared end. The end of the handle actually provides the grip and should be large enough in diameter to provide good leverage when twisted. Many of the fine movements in wood turning involve rotation of the blade slightly while in movement. Short, slender handles make these detailed movements awkward.


Many turners buy assortments of high-quality scrapers ground to match different beading and coving shapes. While the quality of the tools is often high, freehand skill with the basic tool set makes many scrapers unnecessary. Learning to bead with a parting tool or a small skew chisel isn't difficult and yields better work in the long run. For woods with high figure--prone to chip or tear out when worked with slicing tools--simple scrapers are easily ground from old cutting tools too short for their original purposes.

Keywords: best wood turning tools, high carbon steel, powdered tool steel

About this Author

James Young began writing in 1969 as a military journalist combat correspondent in Vietnam. Young's articles have been published in "Tai Chi Magazine," "Seattle Post-Intelligencer," Sonar 4 ezine, "Stars & Stripes" and "Fine Woodworking." He worked as a foundryman, woodturner, electronics technician, herb farmer and woodcarver. Young graduated from North Seattle Community College with an associate degree in applied science and electronic technology.

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