Proper Technique for Using a Lathe Cutting Tool

One hand guides, the body follows image by Sophiea at flickr.com

Overview

Five different tools basic to modern woodturning each require different techniques. Roughing gouges, spindle gouges, skew chisels, parting tools and scrapers can all be used for stock removal and for finishing cuts, but each will need an entirely different set of habitual movements. Fast and accurate work results from many long hours of practice and learning from mistakes.

Roughing Gouges

The largest turning gouge--sometimes with a 2-inch wide U-shaped throat--also can be the easiest to master. Used primarily for roughing down irregular shapes to uniform cylinders, this gouge rests on the tool rest about 1/8 inch from the rotating wood. Place a guiding hand on the shank of the tool and grip the handle with the other hand. Hold the handle firmly against your side and move your body to move the tool. Approach the work carefully, with the bevel parallel to the angle of rotation. Shift the gouge from side to side, repositioning the tool rest as needed. The sides of the tool's throat can remove large shavings as the work becomes round.

Spindle Gouges

To form a hollow, sight the middle of the portion to be removed. Rest the right hand side of the beveled edge on the left edge of the work. Raise the handle--with body rather than hand movement--to begin the cut. Guide the blade to the right. Lift the blade from the cut and reposition for a leftwards cut beginning at the right edge and moving toward center. Never cut with the tip of the fingernail-shaped spindle gouge--the gouge will bury itself in the wood, possibly throwing the tool or the work with considerable force. Cutting a shaving only a quarter as wide as the tool is a correct and controlled cut.

Skew Chisels

Skew chisels plane straight or convex surfaces to polished smoothness--or rip chunks out and damage the wood beyond recovery if used improperly. Place the heel of the left hand bevel on the work with the handle angled to the left, held firmly against your body. The guiding hand eases the tool to the right as body movement raises the handle and lowers the edge. Drop the handle to stop the cut. Never dig the point into the wood--cut with the center of the blade. Reverse the tool for a leftward pass. To clean up a vertical surface begun with a parting tool, first place the tool on the tool rest with the point down and the cutting edge vertical. Angle the blade so the heel tips slightly away from the work's vertical line and the bevel is parallel to the line of cut. The point enters near the top of the cylinder and cuts down, using the bevel as a guiding surface. As the body raises the handle, the point shears the wood. This type of cut is very difficult to learn--use a low speed and practice on waste stock.

Parting Tools

Parting tools enter the wood directly, pushing deeper as the point is lowered. In deep cuts the wood often binds unless more than one pass is made to widen the cut. Cutting too deep causes the wood to weaken, sometimes throwing it from the machine. Cut only as far as the wood allows without affecting its stability on the lathe. Parting tools are easy to use but do rough work if not kept in top condition. Rounded and dull corners leave torn surfaces that require lots of cleanup.

Scrapers

Sharpening scrapers is the most critical part of the task. Don't remove the bur that forms on the back of the edge--that does most of the cutting. Scrapers are pushed gently into the work in nearly a horizontal plane and take a tissue-thin shaving from the surface. A sharp scraper cuts so well on highly figured wood that the surface hardly needs cleanup--a dull scraper tears deep holes.

Keywords: lathe cutting tool technique, sharpening scrapers, skew chisels

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: Sophiea at flickr.com

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