There is a large selection of woodworking tools on the market today.
For the most part, woodturning tools are made with greater quality than most of the other tools you will find online. I believe that the reason for this is that you do require some craftsmanship to make these tools, the market is much smaller and it’s not as profitable to mass produce these as some of the other tools. For me, buying a mid-range priced tool is always going to be a win.
All that being said, you should still know what to buy depending on where you are in the hobby. Certain tools are an absolute must and some of the others can be purchased lather or are only needed occasionally for specialty type projects such as turning a bowl, pen, fishing lure, etc.
I recommend looking at your tools as a long-term investment. The reality is that you should not need a bowl gouge for the next ten years if you buy a reliable one. Furthermore, investing a few extra dollars will provide you with a hardened tool which will not go dull and feel great in your hand. All the qualities which ultimately translate into more enjoyable woodworking activities and projects.
Tools I Currently Own & Recommend
As I purchased my lathe, I invested into 6 distinct hand tools which I believe are the most needed for the hobby. These tools are a roughing gouge, spindle gouge, skew chisel, parting tool, bowl gouge and a straight scraper. Although I use some of them much more frequently than I do others, my approach to using these tools was always to practice working with them at the very least.
I won’t go into a lot of detail as to how to use these tools in this post; feel free to check out the links above for that. However, I will briefly mention what their use is and why you should invest in them.
Tool 1 – Roughing Gouge
You simply can’t own a wood lathe without having a roughing gouge.
This tool allows one to remove excess wood and transform an uneven piece of lumber into a perfectly cylindrical shape. To an unexperienced woodturner, the roughing gouge will appear to look just like any other gouge, but the main difference is the blade which allows a roughing gouge to be much more efficient at the task above.
You can certainly spend a lot more time refining your log by using a bowl gouge or even a chisel (that would be a nightmare, don’t try it), but why would you when there’s a special tool for this task?
The first roughing gouge I purchased and still use to this day is the 1 1/4 inch one by Crown. My thought process was that I will be using this tool every single time, so I better invest in a higher end one.
I absolutely love this roughing gouge as it requires a lot less sharpening due to the hardened steel. However, the sharpening process does take a little longer, but not by much. It has a very comfortable handle and has not shown any signs of wear in the last three years. I’m hoping it will continue to do its job the same way it has for the years to come.
Tool 2 – Spindle Gouge
The truth is that I wasn’t very excited about spindle work as I was about turning a bowl at the beginning. Therefore, I decided not to purchase a very expensive spindle gouge, but still thought I should have it.
The main difference between a spindle gouge and let’s say a bowl gouge is that they are much more likely to snap under rough turning due to a flat tang which becomes the weak point. It never happened to me personally, but people have reported that their spindle gouges would snap in half as they were using them for bowl turning. I would not recommend you trying this approach for yourself.
I decided to buy the 3/8 Inch spindle gouge from Hurricane Turning Tools which if I remember correctly was on special for 20$ and seemed to have great reviews.
I did practice turning spindles with it for some time, but as mentioned above, it wasn’t a big point of focus for me. I’d probably be looking for an upgrade should I decide to do more spindle work, but it certainly was worth the little money I spent on it.
Tool 3 – Skew Chisel
Once I learned how to properly use a skew chisel, I was actually quite surprised at what I could do with it. The process of creating custom beading, which I primarily did for practice, is actually quite satisfying.
Just like the spindle gouge, I decided not to invest too much into the skew chisel as I wasn’t yet convinced that it would be extremely useful for the bowl work I was interested in. I decided to purchase the 1/2 Inch Skew Chisel from Hurricane Tools.
The most practical use I personally got out of the chisel was by turning pens. It makes it quite easy to smoothen the surface and create detailed beading on the spindle.
Tool 4 – Parting Tool
I use a parting tool to create tenons on the wood pieces I will be using for bowls. It makes it particularly easy to create a bowl tenon of the right diameter and leaves a very clean surface behind. Something I couldn’t achieve with any other tool.
If you’re looking to get into spindle work, you will need to invest in a good parting tool. You can add a lot of detail and groves to your work which you can’t do as easily with any other tool.
The tool I bought and currently own is the Hurricane Turning Tools 3/4 Inch parting tool. It’s not a high-end tool, but does the job I described above extremely well.
Tool 5 – Bowl Gouge
Before even purchasing a wood lathe, my goal was to start making bowls. Ever since I watched countless videos of people making bowls on YouTube, I knew that’s what I wanted to make on my lathe.
With all that said, I decided to spend a bit more on my bowl gouge than some of my other tools. I ended up with the 3/8 Inch Bowl Gouge by Sorby.
From personal experience, the most challenging part of using a bowl gouge is actually in the way you sharpen it. Depending on how experienced you are, it’s quite tricky to get the angle right. If you don’t work with a bowl causes your tool to dig into the wood and scrape off wood fiber leaving a bad surface. Gouges, in general, are trickier to take care of than a straight blade such as the one on a chisel.
Absolutely no complaints about this particular bowl gouge. It’s sturdy, takes a while to get dull and finishes the bowl surface quite nicely. Highly recommended for beginners and experts looking to get into bowl turning.
Tool 6 – Scraper
Working with a scraper is a challenge at first. The method of scraping requires you to position the tool in the opposite manner than you regularly would. In other words, you need to keep the handle above the pivot point allowing the tool to ride on the wood instead of shoving it in. Furthermore, the sharpening process of a scraper is significantly different than any other tool.
With all that in mind, I was quite curious about scrapers as I saw them being used to finishing bowl surfaces. It took me some time to get used to, but I do use my scraper for bowls I turn.
I decided to go with a round nose scraper as my first tool. I’m aware that there are other types on the market and will probably get to try them shortly. That being said, the 3/4 Inch Round Nose Scraper from Hurricane Turning Tools does a great job for me.