7 Basic Turning Tools You Need: Woodturning Tools & Their Uses Explained

Too many.

Have those words ever run through your mind while browsing the endless types of woodturning tools available?

What are all these tools used for? And how can you choose from among the masses?

Thankfully, tools are our specialty. 

And we’re excited to help you navigate the world of woodturning tools. 

In order to understand basic wood lathe turning tools and their uses, it is important to know there are two major categories of turning tools: spindle turning tools and faceplate turning tools. Spindle turning is done between the drive center (in the headstock) and live center (in the tailstock). When spindle turning you might make a pen or chair leg. Faceplate turning is accomplished by securing your work on a drive center, generally using a faceplate and screws, or a chuck. Crafting a bowl requires faceplate turning. These two distinct types of turning require different types of woodturning tools.  

Basic woodturning tools and their uses explained.

Spindle Roughing Gouge: These hefty tools are optimal for turning a piece round between centers. While it won’t necessarily leave the best finish, a roughing gouge quickly removes stock. A 7/8” roughing gouge is a great size to start with and will easily complete a great deal of your roughing work. (Note: this tool is never used for faceplate turning. Using a spindle roughing gouge for faceplate work leads to dangerous catches that can cause serious injuries.)

  • Turns a piece round 
  • Does not necessarily leave the best finish, but quickly removes stock

Spindle Gouges: Spindle gouges are identifiable by their shallow flute. They are used for shaping spindle work and can create finer details, such as coves and beads. A 1/2” spindle gouge is a versatile size, great for a wide range of spindle turning work and creating delicate details. Most spindle gouges have a 'fingernail' grind, meaning the edges are ground back for versatility. Our spindle gouges are equipped with this fingernail shape and are ground to a 45º angle. 

  • Shallow flute 
  • Shape spindle work and create details

basic wood lathe turning tools and their uses explained for beginners.

Skew Chisel: Skew chisels have a sharp learning curve, but they are incredibly versatile turning tools. They are optimal for planing wood - leaving a uniquely smooth, flat surface. Working with a skew that has a rounded top and bottom edge, rather than flat, is often suggested for beginners. It adds maneuverability. A 3/4” skew chisel is a great size to start with. It is sturdy and maneuverable, without being overbearing. Remember that the cutting edge of your skew should meet the wood at about a 45º angle, above the centerline, and should work from one end of the piece to the other. 

  • Difficult to master, but incredibly versatile tool 
  • Optimal for planing cuts, leaves a smooth surface

Parting Tool: When turning between centers, a parting tool separates, or parts, your work from scrap or unwanted materials. We prefer a 1/8” parting tool - it is thin enough for a wide variety of work and quite sturdy. 

  • Separates work from unwanted material 
  • 1/8" is the size we prefer

Basic woodturning tools and their uses explained.

Bowl Gouge: In relation to a woodturning spindle gouge, a bowl gouge for faceplate turning has a deeper flute. A bowl gouge is adaptable and can be used to shape the outside and inside of a bowl. A u-shaped, or bottom feeder, bowl gouge is designed specifically for finishing the deep inside of a bowl. Different woodturners have different preferences for the grind and shape of their bowl gouge. We favor a versatile v-shape or 'fingernail' grind and use it to shape our bowls from start to finish. Our bowl gouges are ground to 50º and have a relief edge to further prevent catching. A 1/2” bowl gouge is a great starting point for basic bowl turning. Our favorite size is 5/8”. It is large enough to accommodate a wide range of bowl sizes. The grind and style of your bowl gouge is largely personal preference, which you will acquire with time. The bowl gouge has become one of our favorite, and most used tools. Investing in a sturdy bowl gouge and spending time mastering the gouge will pay off. 

  • Deeper flute 
  • Shapes the inside and outside of a bowl
  • A 'bottom feeder' bowl gouge is designed for finishing the inside of a bowl

wood lathe turning tool basics for beginners explained

Scraper: Within the woodturning community there are conflicting thoughts on the usefulness of scrapers. Some love the tool, others don't find them helpful. In theory, scrapers are used to remove cutter marks left by your bowl gouge. For this reason, new bowl turners may find scrapers very useful. Rather than cutting, a woodturning scraper scrapes using a burr. This burr must be kept very sharp to be effective. The tool meets the wood just below the centerline of the blank. When using a scraper, it is held at a downward angle - the tool is lower than the handle. Holding the tool at about a 30º angle from the tool rest is effective. A round nose scraper removes marks on the inside of a bowl, while a square nose scraper is used on the outside of a bowl. When choosing a bowl scraper, a larger size provides extra sturdiness.

  • There are conflicting thoughts on the usefulness of scrapers 
  • Designed to remove cutter marks
  • They scrape, using a burr, rather than cutting

Basic woodturning tools and their uses explained.

Congratulations!

You have a solid grasp on basic woodturning tools and their uses.

Now, which 7 tools do you need?

For spindle turning, we suggest these basic woodturning tools:

7/8” roughing gouge

1/2” spindle gouge

3/4” skew 

1/8” parting tool 

These tools will cover a wide range of spindle projects and will last you well into your woodturning career.

For bowl turning we suggest these basic woodturning tools:

1/2” bowl gouge

1” round nose scraper

1” square nose scraper

These tools will get you started on many faceplate turning projects, including the ever-popular bowl. 

As you continue learning and turning, you can expand your collection of tools. Mastering a basic range of woodturning tools will prepare you to branch out and add specialized tools to your collection. 

It is often said that beginning woodturners should invest in quality tools. Why?

Quality tools are generally machined from superior steel. This impacts how sharp your tool is, and how long it holds that edge. A sharper tool provides cleaner, smoother cuts while reducing trips to the grinder. For beginners in particular, a sharp tool eases the learning curve. 

A quality tool is long-lasting. You'll invest in a lifetime tool right off the bat, rather than purchasing many replacement tools down the road.

We have found M42 high speed steel to be the optimal material for turning wood. It is sharp, strong, and competitively priced. Craft Supplies USA offers a helpful chart comparing edge sharpness, durability and the price of various steels on the market. 

 Basic woodturning tools and their uses explained.

As you consider which woodturning tools to purchase, keep materials and quality in mind. Investing on the front-end saves frustration, time and money down the road.

how to sharpen wood lathe turning tools.

Sharpening can be a daunting task. 

We walk you through the simplest sharpening methods in this step by step tutorial. 

Watch the video here, and give us a call with any further questions.

 

Understanding basic woodturning tools will impact your turning. You'll have the knowledge to choose the tools needed to move your turning forward.

Whether a beginner choosing a basic set of tools or an experienced turner brushing up on the woodturning tool family, we hope this article offered helpful information. Enter your email below and receive our newsletter with similarly useful articles - straight to your inbox. And give us a call anytime with further questions.  

This article was compiled from personal experience and information from the following helpful articles: article one, article two, article three