Basic Tips for Learning the Craft of Wood Turning

Wood turning


Ariel Skelley/Getty Images 

Watching an experienced woodturner develop and form an exquisite bowl, spindle or other turning from a block of raw wood can be inspiring, and in some cases, intimidating sight. But learning the basics of woodturning isn't difficult. After you know how to use your lathe safely and the techniques for using each tool, it becomes a matter of practice. The following tips will give you some of the basics of woodturning.

While wood turning technically falls under the umbrella of woodworking, it is often considered a completely different craft. Woodturners tend to be devoted to their craft, and many have little (if any) interest in other traditional fine woodworking skills since there is almost no end the projects that can be created on a lathe alone with the proper tools and techniques.

The tips that follow summarize some of the most important elements of good wood turning practice, with links to articles containing more detail. 

  • 01 of 08

    What Is Woodturning?

    Woodturning is the process of carving a block of wood into a symmetrical object, such as a wood spindle or bowl, while using a motor-driven lathe to spin the wood at high speed while cutting tools, including a variety of chisels and knives, gradually carve the piece into the desired shape. 

  • 02 of 08

    Practice Wood Turning Safety

    Statistically, woodturning probably ranks among the safer tasks performed with power tools. Still, there are basic safety practices you should learn and follow to ensure woodworking safety. 

    • Inspect your lathe regularly to make sure fitting are secure and tight. 
    • Keep your work area clean. 
    • Make sure lighting is sufficient. Being able to see what you're doing will help ensure safe work. 
    • Make sure tools are kept clean and sharp. Dull tools can catch on the spinning workpiece, while razor-sharp tools will cut smoothly and easily. 
    • Use quality wood stock. Workpieces with cracks or thick knots can break apart or grab cutting tools. 

    In this photo, for example, the woodturner is breaking several of the first rules of woodturning:

    • Always wear eye protection when turning wood. Should a workpiece splinter or break apart, injury to your eyes is a distinct possibility. 
    • Avoid loose-fitting or baggy clothing. They can easily get ensnared in the spinning axle of the tool. 
  • 03 of 08

    Get Proficient at the Common Wood Turning Profiles

    When turning a block of wood into a spindle, there is no end to the creativity that's possible, but no matter how elaborate the final shape, these profiles usually consist of a fairly small number of basic common cuts put together in different combinations.

    To create the most common cuts—square cuts, V-grooves, fillets, and coves, you really only need four types of tools (along with your lathe, of course).

    Practice these various profiles using the tools required to cut them on your wood lathe.

  • 04 of 08

    Learn How to Use a Roughing Gouge

    Most woodturning projects on the lathe are started by using a roughing gouge to create the basic shape, whether a spindle, bowl, bottle stopper, or nearly any other woodturning project.

    The roughing gouge is a very versatile gouge, but it must be used properly (and safely) in order to get good results. The first step in learning the craft of woodturning is practicing with the roughing gouge. 

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Use Caution With Skew Chisels

    Few woodturning tools can be as dangerous as the skew chisel. Sometimes used for making square-grooves, it can also plane and shape many other profiles. However, the skew chisel's propensity for grabbing means that the wood turner must use the proper safety precautions to keep from getting into trouble with one in their hands. 

  • 06 of 08

    Develop Skill With a Parting Tool

    The parting tool is a specialty woodturning tool that is commonly used to separate a finished turning from the rest of the stock, separating the stock into two parts (hence the name, parting tool). However, it can also be used for other tasks, such as cutting square-shaped grooves in a spindle. 

  • 07 of 08

    Practice Project: Turning a Hammer Handle

    Many woodworkers use a lathe to turn spindles and bowls, but did you know that you can use your lathe (and the corresponding hand tools) to cut oval-shaped hammer handles? If you break the wooden handle on your favorite hammer, don't throw the head away. Get a nice piece of hardwood and head to the lathe to form a new hammer handle to your liking.

  • 08 of 08

    Dress Properly

    One of the most common injuries in woodturning occurs when an article of the turner's clothing gets caught in the spinning lathe. By wearing proper clothing for woodturning, this potential hazard can be greatly reduced.