8 Basic Wood Lathe Tools and Their Uses for Beginners

///8 Basic Wood Lathe Tools and Their Uses for Beginners

8 Basic Wood Lathe Tools and Their Uses for Beginners

It can be quite overwhelming for a beginner to navigate their way through the vast selection of tools woodworking has to offer. This article will cover the most common wood lathe tools and their uses.

Here’s an easy to navigate menu for the specific tools we will be covering:

  1. Spindle Roughing Gouge
  2. Spindle Gouge
  3. Skew Chisel
  4. Parting Tool
  5. Bowl Gouge
  6. Swept Back Grind Bowl Gouge
  7. Beading Tool
  8. Scraper Woodworking Tool

Spindle Roughing Gouge

Lathe Roughing GougeThe roughing gouge is a must have in any woodturner’s arsenal. The main purpose of this tool is to rough wood down to a cylindrical shape. In most cases, it will be the first tool you use and it will be used in most of your projects.
The basic principle of operation is as follows. As you set your square or irregular on the spindle, your tool will begin hitting certain areas. As the knife progresses through the wood, it will cut away excess, until the blade lies on the wood at all times.

Our Top Pick: Hurricane Turning Tools, Woodturning Two Piece Roughing Gouge Set

Presenting The Roughing Gouge To The Wood

Learning how to use the roughing gouge correctly is crucial for the expert and hobbyist alike. As mentioned above, this tool will set the foundation for your project. Follow the guidelines below to make sure you have the perfect form.

  1. Anchor – The tool must be anchored on the tool rest. The rest should be absorbing most of the force generated by the cutting.
  2. Bevel – The bevel is the shiny area under the tool. It should be facing the wood and positioned below the cutting point. The bevel is there to allow you to position your tool. It can touch the wood without cutting it.
  3. Cut – As you lower the tip of the Roughing Gouge, you will begin to cut. The more you angle your position, the bigger cuts you will make. Make sure to reposition your tool rest to avoid driving the tool into the wood.

Moving or Repositioning the Roughing Gouge

Roughing Gouge Spindle MovingAs you work with the tool, you will develop the ability to move around your piece of wood. The proper technique to move or reposition the roughing gouge is quite simple. You will need to rotate the tool along it’s lengthwise axis and it will slowly move toward the desired direction. The picture on the right illustrates this principle. As the tool is angled toward the right (toward the viewer), the tool travels in that direction.

Spindle Gouge

Spindle Gouge WoodworkingThe spindle or the shallow flute gouge gouge is very similar to the roughing gouge in terms of shape. The profile of the tool is a much shallower flute than the previously discussed tool. The spindle gouge has many uses in woodworking. It’s very useful for box hollowing, cove cutting and narrow bead forming. Just like any other tool, the spindle gouge requires practice and patience to master.

Our Top Pick: Hurricane Turning Tools, Woodturning Spindle Gouge, High Speed Steel

Box Hollowing With The Spindle Gouge

Being familiar with wood lathe tools and their uses is important. The spindle gouge is much more precise than the roughing gouge. Thus, it allows for much critical operations such as box hollowing. Begin by mounting your piece of wood on a chuck. Use a roughing gouge to give it a general internal shape. Complete the finishing touches with a narrow spindle gouge. As you become proficient with your tools, you will develop a “scooping” technique which will allow you to enlarge holes to the desired dimensions. Although most of these can be accomplished with the roughing gouge, the narrower gage of the spindle gouge will give you more precise and smoother cuts.

Skew Chisel

Skew Chisel Wood LatheThe skew chisel is primarily used to plane, turn beads, make “V” cuts, pummel cuts and turn long, shallow coves. Just like the gouges we’ve covered, it is available in many sizes. You can find one from 3mm all the way to 38mm. Although the size is tied to personal preference, we recommend a “middle” sized chisel of about 25mm to get started. It is usually more stable and easier to maintain for beginners and experienced woodworkers alike.

Our Top Pick: Crown 270ARSW 3/4-Inch 19-mm Rolled Edge Radius Skew

Planning Cut

First of all, place the heel of the tool against the timber. This is the neutral position. Lift the handle gently until you observe particles flying off the edge of the wood. Therefore, your cut has begun. Proceed by lifting the handle slightly. At this point, the amount of shavings should increase. Begin traveling along the blank until you reach the desired point for the cut. It will take some practice to properly position the tool. As you travel back and fourth, pay attention to the force applied on the wood. Be careful not to guide the blade into the wood as it will quickly dig in and destroy your piece.

Making the “V” Cut

Some of the wood lathe tools and their uses come with practice. The “V” cut may seem intimidating at first, but don’t fear, it will become better with practice just like anything else. Begin by marking the wood. Select the dimensions of your cut and mark the center with a pencil. Using the skew chisel, make a light groove on the mark. Because of the nature of these cuts, don’t go too deep as you risk burning the wood. Finally, move the tool in the opposite side of the “V” and slowly widen the gap as desired.

Turning a Bead

Skew Chisel Wood Bead CarvingBecause of the complexity of carving out beads, we recommend practicing on a secondary block. Creating a perfect bead requires same depth grooves and a perfectly rounded shape. This is achieved with the use for a skew chisel and an advanced technique. First of all, begin by marking the bead with two grooves on either size of the final dimension. Roll the tool toward the center of the bead to give it that iconic shape.

Parting Tool

Parting Tool Wood LatheThe parting tool is another basic tool you should be familiar with. It’s a tool which is particularly useful for creating narrow groves due to its shallow blade. It’s easy to sharpen and is essential for any woodworking professional or hobbyist.

Our Top Pick: Hurricane Turning Tools, Woodturning Diamond Parting Tool, High Speed Steel

The Proper Technique

The bevel of the parting tool is larger than the one of the other tools. Therefore, it’s easier to align it well for the proper cut. Begin by presenting the edge supported by the bevel to the wood. Furthermore, the handle needs to be kept low and lifted as the cut is progressing toward the center of the wood. With enough practice, the cut will produce a beautiful finish in the wood.

Proper Manipulation of The Parting Tool

Most of the tools we’ve discussed until now did not have specific holding techniques. The parting tool can be held in two distinct ways: double and single handed. Because of the placement of the blade, an upward force is applied on the tool. Therefore, the double handle method requires placing the right hand at the end of the handle, with the left hand at the front contacting the toolrest while applying the downward pressure. The single handed method requires the placement of the index finger on top of the tool. The grip is on the handle in order to provide greater control while making a plunge cut.

Bowl Gouge

Wood Lathe Tools and Their UsesThe bowl gouge, as the name suggest, is used exactly for that. It will give one of the best finishes when it comes to bowl carving. It’s a tricky tool to use as you will most commonly have to guide it inside of the bowl and the technique can be quite demanding. Unlike the other tools we’ve covered, the bowl gouge will be most commonly used to carve parallel to the axis of rotation.

Without diving into too many details of bowl carving, you will need to place a blank on a set of wooden chucks. Once that’s done, place the tool rest against the flush surface at the opposite end of the chuck. The bowl gouge is placed level to very slightly uphill on the rest. The rest should be positioned slightly below the center of rotation. While using the left hand to apply downward pressure on the tip of the gouge, use the right hand to aim the tool in the right direction. Starting from the center of the piece, carve towards the outside. The motion produces a hollow bowl through progressive cuts.

Our Top Pick: Hurricane Turning Tools, HTT-242KW, M2 Cryo, 5/8″ Bowl Gouge

Bowl Carving on a Wood Lathe

Bowl carving can be extremely rewarding and is one of the most satisfying experiences for woodworkers. We highly recommend getting your hands on the tools we’ve covered so far and practicing to carve a simple bowl.
In case you need more instructions, we found the perfect tutorial: How To Turn a Basic Wooden Bowl

Swept Back Grind Bowl Gouge

The swept back grind bowl gouge is very similar to the regular bowl gouge. The difference is in the grind. The one on the swept back gouge has more of a U shape and allows the wings of the tool to become exposed to the cutting edges. Although this seems insignificant, this allows the tool to be suitable for a wider range of bowl cuts.

Beading Tool

This tool simplifies the application of beads. In other words, it allows a precise placement of beads which you would have to carve with a chisel otherwise. The other advantage of the tool is that it usually comes in pre-defined shapes and sizes. Therefore, each bead you make will be of the exact same dimensions.

In terms of instructions, follow the same guidelines as the chisel tool above. You can expect your beads to be much more consistent though.

Our Top Pick: PSI Woodworking LCBEAD4 4 Piece HSS Bead Cutting Lathe Chisel Set

Scraper Woodworking Tool

The scraper tool is very similar to the skew chisel, but usually has a curved blade. It is particularly useful for bowl turning. You can quickly carve out the center of a wooden bowl with a scraper. It has a larger area which comes in contact with the wood, therefore allowing it to be quicker than a bowl gouge.

Our Top Pick: PSI Woodworking Products LCSIDE2 Round Side Scraper Chisels, 2-Piece set

Selecting The Right Tools for You

We went over the multiple wood lathe tools and their uses in woodworking, woodturning and bowl cutting. Although you will find a lot of conflicting information all over the web, it’s always best to try the tools yourself in order to see what it’s like. It’s hard to say if you’d prefer a larger tool over a smaller precise one. There are just too many variables. We highly encourage you to explore the vast array of tools, gadgets and the hobby in general. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

By | 2018-01-11T04:26:16+00:00 December 30th, 2017|Lathe Tutorials, Woodworking|Comments Off on 8 Basic Wood Lathe Tools and Their Uses for Beginners

About the Author:

I'm an electrical engineer by profession and a maker by heart. I have enjoyed tinkering, building and assembling things since the age of 6 when I built my first radio. Nowadays, I take a lot of interest in electronics, programming, machining, CNC machines and 3D printing. I work a full time job as an electrical engineer and spend the rest of my time in my workshop and in my electronics lab.
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