Woodturning is addictive. Actually, I think all of woodworking is addictive, but there is something about turning that I find particularly intoxicating. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend giving it a spin (sorry, couldn’t resist).


photo by FR Hunting

Here are a couple things to keep in mind: first, as always, is safety.

Always wear a face shield. Not only do blanks have the potential to fly off, but the shavings go in all directions and a catch can send a chip into an unprotected eye. Wear a dust mask to protect against fine particles, especially when sanding. Good to have a shop vac or other dust collection set up. Don’t wear loose clothing and tie back long. All the usual common sense warnings: don’t work when tired, understand your tools, no drugs / alcohol, wear sturdy footwear, etc.

Now a few tips specific to turning:

* Sharp tools are easier and safer to use.
* Use the correct lathe speed. Larger pieces need a slower speed.
* Make sure your work is centered and firmly attached to the lathe.
* Keep the tool rest close to your work. Spin your work by hand before turning on the lathe to make sure it doesn't hit.
* Relax. A death grip makes turning much less fun.


Woodturning is fun but, like other woodworking, can be dangerous. Work smart. Now a disclaimer. I'm not an expert woodturner by any means. I started with scrap wood and made a lot of toothpicks before turning my first decent box. Take your time and learn from your experience.


So, now that you are safely attired and in the proper frame of mind it is time to start woodturning. The following are tips and techniques I've found useful.

For cutters, such as gouges, have the bevel of the tool rest on the work piece. Start your cut with the bevel on the tool, then roll the edge into the work. Don't start by stuffing the tool into the wood. Let the wood come to the tool.

Cutters lead, scrapers follow. With cutters the bevel and the edge of the tool touch the work with the cutting edge over the tool rest. With scrapers, on the other hand, only the edge of the tool touches. It is a different action. Just like the name implies cutters shear the wood while scrapers scrape it. That requires a different orientation for the tool.

Try keeping the tool edge around 45 degrees to the wood. If you take too large a shaving you are more likely to catch. If you go too vertical you don't take off much wood.

Catches happen when your tool grabs the wood and either jams your tool or smashes it onto the rest. To prevent that keep your tool so the side of the edge that is actually cutting is firmly on the tool rest. In other words, don't cut on the high side of the tool. You want the tool to be supported by the rest as much as possible. If you cut on the high side you are more likely to catch.

Roll gouges in the direction of the cut.

Learn from your mistakes and have fun!

Richard Raffan, Tauntons Compelete Illustrated Guide to Turning: Taunton Press, Newtown Ct., 2005

Richard Raffan, Turning Bowls with Richard Raffan:Taunton Press, Newtown Ct., 2002

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