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How to start woodturning

How to start woodturning

FindBuyTool Service |

-Tools, personal protective equipment( PPE), and all the info to start woodturning is in this article.

Woodturning could be a very satisfying and rewarding hobby. After reading this article, you will find out why plenty people love wood work.


What is woodturning?

Generally speaking, woodturning is the craft of using tools to cut wood spinning in a lathe. A wood lathe is a mechanism performing operations such as cutting, turning, and drilling. The person who does woodwork is known as a carpenter, here we are called woodturners, while the operating skill is referred to as turnery.

Woodturning allows for various outcomes including pens, knobs, bowls, baseball bats, legs of chairs and any other wood-made objects.

What is wood turning


The history of wood turning

1300 B.C. first two-person lathe was developed by Egyptians.

The Romans improved the design with the addition of a bow, and a bow lathe could be operated by a single person.

500 A.D. to 1500 A.D. the pole lathe was developed. A drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci illustrates what an early treadle lathe looked like.

 How to start woodturning

Through carbon steel, high speed steel and now solid carbide, modern lathes enable an impressive speed and efficiency.   

modern lathes enable an impressive speed and efficiency.


Decide what outcomes you want

Since choosing the right-size tools totally depends on what types of projects you would like to create, first of all, you need to design your projects. Turners create all the objects from small stuff such as pens, finials, all the way up to large bowls, vases, and platters. For a beginner, starting with turning a bowl is a good option.


You need a lathe

Components of a lathe


Headstock: The headstock is on the left end of the machine, and it contains the motor, belts, pulleys, drive train and the headstock spindle.



 How to start woodturning


Tailstock: The tailstock is on the right end of the lathe, which is free spinning.


The tool rest

Tool rest: The tool rest supports the tools when process goes.


The lathe bed

Lathe bed: The lathe bed is the structure upon which all of the parts are mounted.


Select a lathe

All lathes have the same function of turning wood, and what kinds of projects you would like to create will determine the size of lathe that you need.



a mini-size lathe


If you simply wish to turn small projects, such as pens, chair legs, small table legs, bowls or platters of about 10''(25.4cm)diameter, a mini size or mid size lathe would suffice.

a lathe with a big capacity


If you aim at objects like large bowls or platters over 30''(76.2cm), you can pick a lathe with a big capacity.


For a beginner, a mini-size lathe would satisfy most demands. Anyway, before your purchase, read the product description and specifications carefully, comparing with your planning outcomes, you will make your best choice.


Select woodturning tools

Once you get your lathe, you will need a set of turning tools to cut the wood. There are two options: traditional HSS(high-speed steel) turning tools and carbide-insert turning tools.



Carbide-insert turning tools VS Traditional HSS turning tools


Carbide-insert turning tools

Traditional HSS turning tools


Learn fast: You do not need to roll the chisel to engage the wood appropriately.

Simple operation: The flatten back running full length of the shaft allows the tools held flat on the tool rest. This design makes carbide turning tools easy to control.

No sharpening: If one side of the cutter gets dull, just loosen the blade and rotate it around. No need to spend money on a sharpening station anymore.

High efficiency: The razor-sharp cutter cuts like butter, so the tools work faster.

Safer: The tips cut smoothly,  minimizing the tendency for catches.


Smooth finish: An experienced turner can create very smooth surface on workpiece with simply a bowl gouge.


More sanding time: The carbide turning tools might not leave  smooth surface, so you need to do more sanding work to have an ideal outcome.


Require frequent sharpening : Traditional HHS turning tools will grow dull very soon comparing with carbide cutters.



Carbide woodturning tools

Similar to the lathe, turning tools in different sizes, ranging from less than 10''(25.4cm) micro size to over 20''(50.8cm) full size, produce different objects including pens, bottle stoppers, large vases, and table legs. The table below shows different sizes of carbide turning tools and what work they are used for. This table is just a reference. Before you make the choice you would better read the product description and specifications carefully.



Carbide-insert turning tools

Micro size

Mini size

Mid size

Full&Pro size


Pens,finials,ornamental objects, bottle stopper

Goblets, small boxes, small bowls, legs of chairs

Legs of tables, small vases, bowls  

Large vessels, spindles& platters&vases



Each carbide woodturning tool features a replaceable insert, and this design eliminates the downtime of sharpening. Actually, carbide-turning tools can stay sharp for a long time, and a hobby-turner might only have to change the cutters once or twice in a whole year, depending on how often he turns and the wood category he chooses. You might feel more vibration in the process, which requires more force gradually. It indicates that the insert have grown dull. You need to rotate the insert to a sharp edge, and if all edges are dull, just replace it with a new tip. Therefore, working with carbide-turning tools could save you a sharpening system that might cost you hundreds of dollars.


The turning process involves different inserts with separate functions. The rougher is square( or square radius) shaped, cutting bulk material. The finisher is round-shaped, used for curve and final shaping. The detailer is diamond-shaped, creating beads, coves, and other details. The hollower usually has a curving neck, designed for shaping bowls or vases with narrow opening.




The rougher(square cutter)

The rougher(square cutter): The rougher is the first tool to reach the wood blank when you start a project. It scrapes a square wood piece to round fast and efficiently, though the process is rough and the surface of the object is not going to be smooth. The function of rougher is not limited to roughing out a wood blank. Since the cutter is square shaped, it could create a flat surface and ninety-degree angle. Naturally, making tenons is a perfect task for a rougher.  

The finisher(round cutter)



The finisher(round cutter): Thanks to its round shape, the finisher is the best tool to create inside and outside curves, especially for the curve surface of a bowl or a vase. The tool in micro size could be used for cutting final details, while a finisher in mid size or full size is designed for processing on curved, concave surfaces, and even some hollowing work.    


he detailer(diamond cutter)



The detailer(diamond cutter): The detailer is designed to cut places that other tools are hard to reach, and a detailer can do almost any detail work including the process of coves, grooves, and beads in spindle turning, so you can add any decoration as you like on the workpiece with a detailer. Furthermore, You can also use a detailer to create a dovetail tenon.


The hollower(swan neck)


The hollower(swan neck): The hollower is perfect for under-cutting hollow forms and vessels with a narrow opening and a wide body. Hollowers with different neck curves can reach the different parts of a vessel. If you are not going to turn such vessels, there is no need for a hollower, since it is not easy for a rookie to handle.  



Personal protective equipment

You always need to consider your safety in a workshop. Wearing a visor will give a good protection to your eyes, while a face shield offers protection to your whole face from potential accidents.


wearing a face shield


Wood dust could be linked to serious health problems, such as asthma, skin irritation, and even cancer. When you focus on the wood work, wearing a respirator could help decrease the risk of many respiratory issues.


wearing a respirator


As the turning tools could be razor-sharp, good work boots could protect your feet from getting injured from falling tools.     


good work boots

Get yourself some wood

Go to a carpenter’s shop or find a woodwork website and purchase wood blanks fitting for your projects. Wood stocks with thick knots or cracks might break up or catch the tools and even come off the lathe, so please choose blanks of good quality. For new turners, it is best to start with softwoods such as yellow pine or balsam fir.


Start your turning

Adjust the tool rest position, mount the wood to the lathe, and after all the preparation, you can start the machine at a lower speed. Place your blade on the tool rest, carefully pushing it towards the wood. When the cutter reaches the wood stock, use your fingers to guide the tool, pulling the tool along the edge of the stock, and you will see the shape change. Now you can shape the wood to become the projects in your mind as a turner!

Best tips for new wood turners

  • Keep tools sharp: Dull tools increase the risk of catches and make you fatigued in a short time, while razor-sharp tools cut smoothly and are easy to control.
  • Speed: The fundamental rule is: the wider the stock, the lower the speed. It is because, at a given RPM, the edge of a stock spins much faster than the spindle. Lower speed will reduce the chance that the wood brake away from the lathe. A fixed-speed lathe gives a set of numbers of speed, while a variable-speed lathe offers a wide range of speed which is easy to adjust( typically from about 500 rpm to about 4000 rpm). Since the wood stock might be out of balance, you would better start at a relatively low speed. The wood turns more balanced as the process going, then you can turn faster. If the lathe starts walking on the floor or bench, you should slow the speed down.     
  • Tool rest position: When you start cutting, the tool should always contact the tool rest. Thus the position of the tool rest affects your control of the tools. Basically, the greater the distance between the tool rest and the wood, the less support is given to the tool, besides, the distance might cause a higher risk that the tool got caught between the tool rest and the wood, so ideally the tool rest need to be as close to the wood as possible without reaching the wood. Before you turn on the lathe, you need to rotate the wood stock to check if it would hit the tool rest.    
  • Eye protection: A face shield is a great option to protect your eyes and even your whole face from potential accidents such as a chunk of burl from broken apart wood.
  • Dress properly: Loose-fitting clothing and dangling jewelry might get ensnared in the spinning axle of the machine. Before you start your crafting, roll up your long sleeves,  remove anything that might be caught in the lathe. Wearing a turner’s apron is a good choice.


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