Navigating the world of woodturning tools is tricky. There's an endless variety of tools, and ask 10 woodturners which tools you need and you'll get 11 answers.
Tools are our specialty. We've been in the woodworking and manfuacturing industry for over 40 years. We've compiled a comprehensive explanation of woodturning tool types, their uses, and our suggestion for your first set of tools.
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Woodturning tools can essentially be split into two catagories - spindle turning and faceplate turning. You'll find yourself reaching for the same types of tools time and time again, depending on the "type" of woodturning. As a disclaimer, there may be some overlap depending on the project, but, in general, the two types of turning call for different tools.
Faceplate turning is accomplished by securing your work on a drive center, generally using a faceplate and screws, or a chuck. As seen in the photo above, your work is only secured on one side. A popular project invovling faceplate turning is the bowl.
Spindle turning is done between the drive center (in the headstock) and live center (in the tailstock). This means your project is secured on both the right and left side. Common spindle projects include chair legs or pens.
Experience comfort and control at your lathe. Aluminum is the perfect weight for a balanced, even feel. And our patented handle shape fits your hand.
Three sizes of aluminum adapters provide complete interchangability and easy removal for sharpening.
Spindle Roughing Gouge: the workhorse
A hefty tool, optimal for turning a square or off-center piece round. The wide, "U" shape flute quickly removes stock, although it won't leave the best finish. (Note: using a spindle roughing gouge for faceplate work can lead to dangerous catches.)
Spindle Gouge: the shaper
Used to shape a peice and create coves, beads and other details, spindle gouges are dentifiable by their shallow flute and are available in a wide range of sizes. Most spindle gouges have a 'fingernail' grind, meaning the edges are ground back for versatility and clearance.
Skew Chisel: the finisher
Although famous for their sharp learning curve, skews are incredibly versatile. They're optimal for planing wood - they leave a uniquely smooth, flat surface. Working with a skew that has a rounded top and bottom edge, rather than flat, adds maneuverability. Skew tip: 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.
Parting Tool: the final cut
When turning between centers, a parting tool separates, or parts, your work from scrap or unwanted materials. Generally, the parting tool is introduced to the wood in a plunge cut.
Bowl Gouge: the workhorse
Bowl gouges have deep flutes and are capable of shaping both the inside and outside of a bowl. There are two standard bowl gouge flute shapes: "u" and "v". "U" shaped bowl gouges are desiged for reaching deep into the bottom of a bowl, and are also referred to as "bottom feeders." A traditional "V" shaped bowl gouges is versitle and can be used for roughing and finishing the inside and outside of your bowl. Every turner has a prefered bowl gouge grind. We prefer a "v" shaped bowl gouge, with a fingernail grind, ground at 50 degrees, as pictured on the left.
40 years of manufacturing expertise is the foundation of every Carter & Son tool.
Fueled by meticulous designs (such as a round tang for enhanced stability and strength), attention to key details (like our hand-polished flute), and pursuit of innovation (100% interchangeability), your Carter & Son tools' performance will exceed your expectations with every trip to the lathe.
Scraper: the finisher
Scrapers are used to remove cutter marks left by your bowl gouge. For this reason, new bowl turners often 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. Generally, holding the tool at about a 30º angle from the tool rest is effective. A round nose scraper (also referred to as a bowl 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.
Enough of tool explanations! Which tools do you actually need?
For spindle turning, we suggest these basic woodturning tools:
7/8” roughing gouge
1/2” spindle gouge
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:
5/8” bowl gouge
1/2" bowl gouge
1” round nose scraper (also referred to as a bowl 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.