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

The quick overview

It only takes a quick Google search to realize there are dozens and dozens of woodturning tools available. But which do you really need?

Woodturning tools are our specialty, and we're here to introduce you to the 7 tools you need to start woodturning. We've split our recommendations into two categories: tools for faceplate turning and tools for spindle turning.

Spindle turning describes pieces created between centers, such as pens and pepper mills. Faceplate work is largely dominated by the popular wooden bowl.

The 7 tools we suggest cover both categories, and will set you up for success at the lathe.

7/8" Roughing Gouge: the first step

1/2" Spindle Gouge: the shaper

1/2" Skew: the glassy cut

1/8" Parting Tool: the final cut

1/2" & 5/8" Bowl Gouges: the workhorse

The Scraper: the finisher

The quick overview

It only takes a quick Google search to realize there are dozens upon dozens of woodturning tools available. But which do you really need?

Woodturning tools are our specialty, and we're here to introduce you to the 7 tools you need to start woodturning. We've split our recommendations into two categories: tools for faceplate turning and tools for spindle turning.

Spindle turning describes pieces created between centers, such as pens and pepper mills. Faceplate work is largely dominated by the popular wooden bowl.

The 7 tools we suggest cover both categories, and will set you up for success at the lathe.

7/8" Roughing Gouge: the first step

1/2" Spindle Gouge: the shaper

1/2" Skew: the glassy cut

1/8" Parting Tool: the final cut

1/2" & 5/8" Bowl Gouges: the workhorse

The Scraper: the finisher

Tools 1-4: your spindle turning tools

1. Spindle Roughing Gouge: the first step

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.)

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

Which size? We suggest 7/8", a versatile size for conquering medium-large roughing work.

2. Spindle Gouge: the shaper

Used to shape a piece and create coves, beads and other details, spindle gouges are identifiable 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.  

  • Shapes spindle work and creates details
  • Shallow flute

Which size? We suggest 1/2", an excellent size for both shaping and detailed work.

3. Skew Chisel: the glassy cut

Though infamous for their learning curve, skews are incredibly versatile. They're optimal for planing wood - they leave a uniquely glassy 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.

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

Which size? We suggest 1/2", it is a versatile size for conquering a range of work.

4. Parting Tool: the final cut

When turning between centers, a parting tool separates, or parts, your work from scrap or unwanted material. Generally, the parting tool is introduced to the wood in a plunge cut.

  • Separates work from unwanted material

Which size? We suggest 1/8", it is a versatile size for accomplishing the widest range of projects.

Tools 5-7: your faceplate turning tools

5-6. 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 designed for reaching deep into the bottom of a bowl, and are also referred to as "bottom feeders." A traditional "V" shaped bowl gouges is versatile and can be used for roughing and finishing the inside and outside of your bowl.

For your first few bowls, a 'v' shape gouge at 50 degrees, as shown above, is optimal. As you move into deeper peices, a 'u' shape gouge will become very useful.

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

Which size? We suggest 1/2" and 5/8". This will allow you to turn all sizes of projects, from small (1/2") to medium and large (5/8").

7. 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, as well as boxes and other flat surfaces. When choosing a bowl scraper, a larger size provides extra sturdiness.

  • Designed to remove cutter marks
  • They scrape, using a burr, rather than cutting

Which size? We've found that 1" is the most versatile.

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Ready to turn: faceplate & spindle turning tutorial

Faceplate turning is accomplished by securing your work on a drive center, generally using a faceplate and screws, or a chuck. As seen above, your work is secured at a single point.

Spindle turning is done between the drive center (in the headstock) and live center (in the tailstock). This means your project is secured at two points.