Woodturning Blog: Articles, Tips & Ideas

How to Choose Woodturning Tools

by Paul Carter | September 15, 2014 | 3 Comments

The turning world is stock full of many rich and colorful tools. While browsing a catalog of tools can be entertaining and enjoyable, distinguishing which you tools you need in your own shop can be quite a task. That’s why we’re here to guide you through the wood turning family.

There are three main sections of the wood turning tool family: gouges, chisels and scrapers. All these tools fall into two major categories, spindle turning and face plate turning.


Wood lathe tool: woodturning gouges, chisels and scrapers

There are several types of gouges, each fulfilling a certain task, such as forming a bowl or shaping a pen. A gouge somewhat resembles a hollowed out cylinder. A gouge’s flute being the hollowed out part of the cylinder.

The skew chisel and parting tool fall into the chisel category of turning tools. While somewhat difficult to use, when handled correctly these tools leave an optimal finish.

While most tools are used level or pointed uphill on the tool rest, scrapers point downhill and the tool’s burr handles the cutting.

Tools for Spindle Turning:
Spindle gouges come in a variety of sizes. For my spindle turning I’ve found that the ideal spindle gouge is one with a shallow enough flute that allows for a long fingernail grind. This will give you smooth cuts.  A great spindle gouge size to start with is 1/2,” as this size tool will accomplish most of everyday spindle turning. Most spindle gouges smaller than 3/8” are wiggly and nearly useless.

A traditional skew chisel is rectangular in cross-section and has sharp comers that prevent the tool from sliding on the tool rest. When you first purchase a traditional skew, a good first step is to radius and buff those sharp corners smooth. An oval skew already has smooth edges and is easier for beginners, however, it lacks the stiffness of a traditional skew. Generally, a 1” skew will offer you the most versatility.

The beading and parting tool and the bedan are also part of the chisel family. A quality parting tool produces much less friction in a spindle cutoff and provides clearance in a faceplate cutoff.

A spindle roughing gouge will speedily bring a square piece round and, sharpening to a long grind, the tool rivals a skew chisel for cut and finish. When looking for a roughing gouge keep in mind that the bigger the better!

Tools for Faceplate Turning:
The bowl gouge has a deep parabolic flute, with a nose that is usually ground to around 65º-70º. The angle can be less for working with deeper bowls and more for shallower bowls.

Tools for Faceplate and Spindle Work:
Scrapers are unique tools that can be used for many jobs that other turning tools can’t accomplish. Scrapers are excellent at cuts that gouges and skews simply cannot accomplish. In some quarters scrapers have a bad rap and are discouraged. However, don’t let this stop you from using the tool, it will enhance your turning and make many projects easier and more enjoyable. This is a great description of scrapers by Ernie Conover, “The scraper leaves wispy thin shavings but does not remove much material at each pass. That is the scraper's strong suit. Because the length of the burr limits the cut, the scraper does not tear wood appreciably when working against the grain. That also makes the scraper very easy to control. Use the tool with a very light touch, always held like a captive bird. It can never fly away, but you must never ruffle a feather... I often hold the handle with my right hand like a pencil.”

So, Which Tools Should I Own?
If you would like to start with spindle work, consider owning a Spindle Gouge (1/2” is a very versatile size), Skew, Roughing Gouge and Detail Tool. Rouging gouges quickly turn a square piece round. Spindle gouges are excellent for coves and detailed work that your roughing gouge cannot accomplish. Skews leave a wonderful finish, although they will take some patience and practice to master. A good detail tool will help you create beads, coves and other decorations on your work.

If you are interested in turning bowls you should also own a bowl gouge, 5/8” is a solid size. Scrapers are also excellent for working on the inside of a bowl. A strong bowl gouge will allow you to rough out and shape your bowl. In fact, your bowl gouge will do the majority of your bowl work. Using a scraper, you can give the inside of your bowl a smooth, even finish and remove any marks left by the bowl gouge.

For turning goblets, containers and similar projects, you will also require a parting tool.  You’ll use your parting tool to cut finished work from the waste.

Please do give us a call if you  have any more questions about tools. We are here to serve you.

Information taken from:
Ernie Conovers wonderful book: The Frugal Woodturner
This helpful website: http://www.peterchild.co.uk/info1/firsttools.htm

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December 04, 2016


Thank you for the tutorial above..I am about to venture into turning..Possibly pens to start with..wood,acrylics and such..Maybe venture into bowls etc..But I only with to work with a mini lathe..I have just got a new Jet 1015vs..o I don’t wish to do any large work..maybe nothing more than 6 inches in dia….I love the look of your tools and need a basic set..(of 3?)..to start with..
Regards Tez..UK

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