Introduction to Wood Turning Tools

Introduction to Wood Turning Tools image by Turning Gouges by Alice Moon at Free Range Human


Wood-turning tools look simple but correct use requires special skill. The obvious ways to use the standard lathe tools of gouge, chisel, parting tool and scraper are not the right methods. Understanding the differences in the basic types helps make their application easier to learn. Measuring tools and sharpening stones round out a well furnished turner's kit.


Roughing gouges are wide and heavily built with a U-shaped edge ground straight across the tip. Spindle gouges are lighter in build with a shallower curve. The tip of a spindle gouge is shaped like a fingernail's convex edge. The roughing gouge chips square stock down to a cylinder. Spindle gouges cut with either the right or left side of the beveled edge--not with the tip--and cut concave curves in the work piece.


The most common turning chisel is the skew chisel ground with a double beveled cutting edge. Skew chisels can plane a straight section smooth and flat or round off a convex section. If used correctly the skew chisel leaves a finished surface behind. The skill takes much practice to acquire. Inverted with the acute point leading, the skew can clean up a vertical face roughed out by a parting tool. With the obtuse corner leading the cut, a small skew chisel can quickly shape small beads.


Flat steel bars with tips ground to different shapes, scrapers are the easiest tool that turners use. Scrapers peel off the surface of the wood in a thin shaving instead of slicing off thick cuttings like the gouge and chisel. Scraping leaves an imperfect surface behind but in highly figured woods with intricate grain patterns a scraper often does better work than the faster cutting chisels and gouges. Scrapers are essential for faceplate work where cutting against the grain is unavoidable, and are the best choice for shaping end grain.


Spindle turnery includes sections of waste wood at both ends of the stock which must be cut off before the piece is finished. Parting tools quickly do most of this work while the piece is still turning. Ground with a double bevel on the narrow cross section of the blade, the modern parting tool cuts straight down with a chisel tip. Dull corners make rough work. Parting tools will not cut completely through the piece without binding. A good handsaw can finish up after the work comes off the lathe.


Essential accessories for the beginning wood turner include bench stones and slip stones for honing edges and grinding systems for shaping bevels on tools. High-speed grinders easily overheat tool edges and ruin the temper of the steel. If the lathe has a threaded headstock spindle, an adapter can fit a grindstone onto the lathe itself. This allows the turner to grind a kit of tools at a lower and safer speed. Measuring tools include small squares, rulers and both inside and outside calipers.

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.

Photo by: Turning Gouges by Alice Moon at Free Range Human

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