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What tools do you need to start wood turning? There are only a few basic tools you will need to begin your new hobby.

To begin woodturning you’ll need a wood lathe, tools for cutting the wood, and a way to keep those tools sharp. With the introduction of carbide woodturning tools, those three items could very well be down to two things. Carbide tools have long lasting replaceable bits, rather than needing to sharpen them continually as you work.

Wood Lathe – Introduction

There are many wood lathes on the market today, but beginning with a midi size lathe will allow you to turn everything from pens and bottle stoppers, to fairly nice size bowls and vases. Starting out with a mini lathe may have you thinking about upgrading sooner rather than later. For most people, starting with a full size lathe is not necessary, unless you’re planning to turn a lot of very large pieces from the get-go.

Mini Wood Lathe

A mini lathe could be the best choice if you’re planning to turn only small items such as pens, small spindles, bottle stoppers, handles for kitchen items and that sort of thing.

They have a small motor to handle these items, and usually have a maximum length of 18 inches, with a clearance maximum of less than 12 inches. Meaning you can turn spindles up to 18 inches, and turn pieces less than 12 inches in diameter. Mini lathes will always be bench-top models where you will mount it to your own workbench.

When choosing a lathe, each model will list it’s center to center and clearance – usually right in the name. (i.e. a lathe that states 1218 will be have a clearance of 6 inches above the lathe bed (12 inch diameter total), and 18 inches between centers – lengthwise)

Midi Wood Lathe

The midi lathe is what bridges the gap between the mini lathe and the full size lathe.

Larger than the mini lathe, midi’s will often have larger motors, ability to turn pieces with a diameter of 12 inches or more, and center to center measurements more than 18 inches.

With the midi lathes, you’ll begin to see some stand-alone units. While most still use the belt drive system, you will see more variable speed options and electronic variable speed lathes in this category.

Midi wood lathes are the most popular, simply because they’re the most versatile and cost-effective. A mini lathe can be quickly outgrown, while a midi lathe will work for almost any project you can throw at it.

Models like Laguna Wood Lathe can be upgraded with various accessories and bed extension/outboard table to give you greater flexibility in turning larger pieces.

Woodturning basics, lathes. Laguna Revo 1216 Midi lathe.

Because of these features, and the fact that it offers variable speed, the Laguna Revo 1216 is one of the most popular lathes on the market today.


Full Size Wood Lathes

This lathe will need to be a fixture in your workshop. Full-size lathes are extremely heavy and take up a good bit of floor space. This is the option for you if you plan to turn many longer pieces, such as table legs. The space between centers is usually 40 inches or more, and the swing over the bed can usually accept pieces 15 inches in diameter or larger.

Examples of full size lathes would be the Powermatic wood lathe. A big piece of machinery that is made to make large pieces. These size lathes will not turn pens or other small objects of the sort.

Woodturning Chisels – HSS & Carbide

The next tools you’ll need are chisels or scrapers. Chisels made of high-speed steel (HSS) are a great choice to learn the craft. HHS tools are what most experienced wood turners use. More or less new to the market are Carbide cutters. The carbide wood turning tools more or less scrape the wood away rather than slice the wood away. There are some techniques that will allow you to slice the wood away when using carbide, but these tools are primarily thought of as scrapers.

HSS Woodturning Tools

  • Roughing Gouge
  • Spindle Gouge
  • Bowl Gouge
  • Skew Chisel
  • Parting Tool
  • Round Nose Scraper

See tools here »

This is a basic list of tools you’ll want when you get started. Be careful, some kits come with two different size spindle gouges, and no bowl gouge.

Tip: The only tool you should use to turn a bowl is a bowl gouge or scraper. The other tools are made for spindle turning and may break if used on a bowl due to wood grain orientation. This could be very dangerous.

Carbide Woodturning Tools

  • Square
  • Round
  • Diamond

These are the three basic carbide wood turners tools. The square carbide cutter is made for roughing out spindles, the outside of bowls and things of that nature. The round carbide cutter is made for hollowing out bowls, making curves and finer details than can be achieved with the square cutter. The diamond cutter is used for finer details, beading, and parting off.

See carbide tools »

The carbide tools can achieve nearly everything that the HSS tools can, and have a much smaller learning curve. This makes carbide tools great for hobbyists and beginners.

There are benefits to both versions of the tools. HSS chisels will give you a cleaner cut, reducing the amount of sanding your finished product will need. But, they do have a larger learning curve than carbide. Carbide tools, on the other hand, don’t need to be sharpened with a grinder. This reduces the up-front costs of sharpening tools and jigs.

Sharpening Tools

As we discussed earlier, sharpening your tools are only necessary if you’re using HSS woodturning chisels. For this, you’ll need a slow-speed grinder, the grinder will sharpen your tools quite well. Adding on a Wolverine sharpening system will help you sharpen your tools perfectly, every time.

If you’re going with HSS Tools, having a proper sharpening system is a must. Working with dull tools is not only going to make your work inferior, it’s dangerous as well.

Sharpening Carbide Turning Tools

Yes, it’s possible to sharpen your carbide cutter blades rather than replace them every time. The carbide cutters are made to be rotated as they wear down. Once you get to a point that the carbide bits are no longer sharp, you can hone them on a fine grit diamond plate. Simply use a little oil and rub them flat against the surface in a circular motion for about 20-30 strokes.

It is advisable to take caution when using this method as the carbide turning bits are made to be replaced, not sharpened, according to the manufacturer. When in doubt, replace them.

Basic Woodturning Tools

I hope you’ve gained some knowledge for the basic tools you’ll need to begin wood turning. I know there is a little learning curve to figure out all the tools you’ll need and want for your wood turning hobby. Rest assured, you’ll never have all the tools you want. But you will have all the tools you need.

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