Top 9 Best Basic Woodturning Tips for Beginners

///Top 9 Best Basic Woodturning Tips for Beginners

Top 9 Best Basic Woodturning Tips for Beginners

Woodturning is becoming quite a popular hobby. Many curious builders get started every single day.

It is important to learn how to use basic tools, proper technique, and other basic skills in order to get the most out of this hobby.

Therefore, we have compiled a list of our top 10 best woodturning tips for beginners. Let us know if you have something else to add by writing in the comment section below.

1. Sharp Tools are a Must

The common misconception among beginners is that your tools will stay sharp forever. After all, once you hold a roughing gouge in your hand, the impression is that it is a long lasting tool with a very robust blade.

Although it may last a while, it is extremely important to check and sharpen your tools during your journey.

Why Sharpen Wood Lathe Tools

  • Safety – It may not seem obvious at first, but working with dull tools will put your safety at risk. You will be working with material spinning at up to 500 RPM. If your tool is shearing the grain instead of making clean cuts, you are subject to it being ripped out of your hands. At those speeds and forces, the outcomes are unpredictable.

  • Accuracy – As you work with different tools and pieces of wood, you will start noticing how effective and precise your tools are. As the tool becomes duller, it will begin cutting irregular chunks, leave greater marks and occasionally take off more than wanted.

  • Ease of Work – During the process of woodworking, your hands are subjected to the forces generated by the cutting motion. Working with a dull tool will have a much greater impact on your wrist and joints. not to mention, it will reduce the enjoyment of the hobby.

How to Sharpen Your Lathe Tools

At one point or another, you will have to learn how to sharpen your wood lathe tools. We highly recommend reading our post on the roughing gouge, which outlines the sharpening process.

Carl Jacobson does a great job at explaining this process in his YouTube video to the right.

2. Turning at the Right Speed

The speed at which your piece should be turning always seems to be a mystery for newcomers to this hobby. Although experienced woodturners will have a general sense of what is right, there is a mathematical approach to this dilemma.

The formula for calculating the rotation is as follows:

  • Low Speed = 6000 / Diameter of the piece.
  • High Speed = 9000 / Diameter of the piece.


  1. Turning a 10 Inch Bowl: Low Speed = 6000 / 10 = 600 RPM. High Speed = 9000 / 10 = 900 RPM.
  2. Turning a 2 Inch Wood Spindle: Low Speed = 6000 / 2 = 3000 RPM. High Speed = 4500 RPM.

In other words, the smaller the diameter of your object, the higher of a speed you should be looking at. This, of course, makes sense because larger objects will have higher forces acting on them as they spin. This can result in shrapnel or damage to the object.

Cheat Sheet for Wood Lathe Speed

Based on the formula above, it’s very easy to come up with a cheat sheet. If you are working with something within the range, you should be all set with the speed values calculated for you below. If that isn’t the case, use the formula above to get any value you might need.

Diameter (Inches) Low Speed High Speed
1 6000 9000
2 3000 4500
3 2000 3000
4 1500 2250
5 1200 1800
6 1000 1500
7 860 1285
8 750 1125
9 667 1000
10 600 900

Working With Irregular Conditions

You should be careful when working with irregular wood or other materials. The bottom line is that if you aren’t familiar with a new piece or if you have doubts about the integrity, start with a lower speed.

Never rotate a piece you are not comfortable with at full speed. The force and momentum generated by the lathe can easily harm the user if proper precautions are not followed.

3. Hand Positioning

Top 10 Best Basic Woodturning Tips for BeginnersWorking with different wood lathe tools can be challenging at first.

As you venture into the woodworking journey, your first goal should be to become acquainted and proficient with the standard tools.

Hand positioning will allow you to work in a safe fashion, with greater precision and give you better end results. That being said, many beginners underestimate the importance of a good technique and jump straight into cutting. You should dedicate some time and pay attention to the way to cut the wood. Using the right technique will benefit you in the long term.

Wood Turning Hand Positioning

Hand positioning will be very similar between the different tools. We recommend starting with a spindle roughing gouge as well as a skew chisel. Those two should be your dominant tools at least for the beginning.

  • Dominant Hand – Your dominant hand (the one you write with) should be on the handle. This hand is used to guide the tool. It can turn the handle left or right in order to navigate in the same direction.

  • Secondary Hand – The purpose of your other hand should be to keep the blade in position. Place it on the metal portion of your tool and keep holding it down. The added weight will provide additional resistance to the forces generated by the piece’s momentum.

Working with Smaller and Precise Pieces

Wood Lathe Turning Hand PositioningThere will be times where your projects will require small and precise work. If that’s the case, the same technique as described above should be followed. However, if your blade is perpendicular to the piece you are turning, you should have a solid grip on the blade instead of placing your hand on top of it.

Examples of such projects include pen carving, bottle stoppers, and fishing lures.

4. Tool Positioning on the Tool Rest

The tool rest is a critical component of every lathe and plays an important role in woodworking.

It is there to absorb the downward forces generated by the spinning material and allow the blade to make the necessary cuts. Without the tool rest, holding the tool while cutting would be nearly impossible.

It is recommended to have about a quarter of an inch between the tool rest and the point at which the tool comes in contact with the wood. As you cut away more material, you will need to re-adjust the position of the tool rest in order to shorten that distance.

Different Designs of Tool Rests & Their Applications

  • Standard Straight Design – The tool rest you are most likely to receive with your lathe will be of this type. It is a straight solid piece which is perfect when working wish spindles, pens, and other elongated objects.

  • Curved Interior / Exterior Design – If you are working on bowls, these tool rests are for you. They make it easy to get inside as well as outside of the bowl through their curvature. In other words, you will be able to work on non-straight wood shapes.

  • Specialty Design – A balance of the two above, specialty tool rests can be a “J” or “S” shape. they aim to combine the convenience of a curved design with the convenience of a regularly shaped tool rest when you need it. The best of both worlds!

5. Use the Bevel

“Riding The Bevel” refers to the action of resting your tool on the wood while not making any cuts.

The bevel is the smooth portion of your tool right under the blade. It is there to allow you to position yourself before initiating a cut.

Too many beginners simply jam their tool into the wood without taking the time to ride the bevel and properly align themselves. Practice placing the bevel against the wood before you make any cutting motion. Do so after you have completed the cut, before removing the tool completely.

How to Properly Ride the Bevel

Bevel Riding Spindle Roughing Gouge TechniqueBegin by placing the tool on the tool rest without making any contact.

Lower the handle in order to present the bevel towards the wood.

Move the tool forward until the wood comes in contact with the bevel. At this point, you should start hearing and feeling light knocking. The wood is making contact, but no cuts are being made.

Raise the handle until your tool begins cutting. As you go further, depending on your needs, you will be able to shave off more and more wood.

After you have completed the cut, lower the handle once again. This will place the bevel back into position and allow you to safely remove the tool from the tool rest.

6. Always Cut With the Grain

Woodworking is a craft which was refined and mastered for centuries. Knowing your material is just as important as knowing your tools.

The concept of cutting along the grain is based on the fact that wood is made out of fibers which are joined together at a molecular level. By understanding this concept, you can leverage it in your favor, reduce the resistance of the wood, obtain cleaner work and reduce the risk of damaging the wood.

Understanding the Grain

Cutting With the Grain Wood LatheOn a cellular level, you should imagine the wood structure to resemble small cylinders tied together by strands and fibers. These cylinders are all oriented in the same direction and flow in the same direction as the center of the wood (trunk or branch). the lay of these cylinders is commonly referred to as “the grain of the wood”.

To better illustrate the process, let us consider a simple hand plane. Working with the plane, you have to choose the direction in which you will be executing the cut. Based on the direction of the grain, you can choose to work either with or against the grain.

Visualizing what planing against the grain would look like, you will quickly realize that as you move your tool, you will begin to grab onto the strands of grain. The result will be uneven cuts with pieces of wood sticking out.

On the opposite side, cutting with the grain will leverage the blade and keep the grain intact as you move over it. This will give you a much nicer finish and less resistance.

Woodturning With The Grain

Wood Working Bowl GrainAlthough the plane example is straightforward to understand, the important question remains: how does the grain of the wood impact wood turning?

The exact same concept applies in woodturning as in woodworking. The grain of the wood will flow in a single direction regardless of the piece you are working with.

Taking a simple bowl carving process, there is the right and a wrong way to travel with your tools. You will encounter more resistance and create products of lesser quality should you decide to travel uphill. Take a lot at the diagram above in order to gain a better understanding of what your work should be like.

At the end of the day, you always need to pay attention to the material you are working with. After all, it will determine the quality of your finished product.

7. Cutters Lead and Scrapers Trail

The concepts of cutters and scrapers are somewhat ambiguous for individuals starting out in woodworking. However, it is actually quite simple.

There are two types of tools you will be working with: cutters and scrapers. Cutters are gouges, chisels, and parting tools. Scrapers come in many shapes and sizes, but their blades are typically designed in a way that they do not cut, but rather remove the excess of material as it travels.

When working with cutting tools, the handle should always be lower than the pivot point on the tool rest. This allows the blade to be positioned directly in the “line of fire” as the wood is traveling toward it.

On the other side, working with a scraper is quite the opposite. These tools require the handle to be positioned below the tool rest. This allows the blade to scrape the surface of the wood instead of leading into it.

Although the distinction may seem unimportant, intricate tool design went into these considerations and each one will accomplish a different task.

8. Become Familiar with the Tools

Woodworking Tools and Their UsesNovie woodworkers are eager to start, purchase a lot of different tools and jump straight into their favorite projects such as bowl turning, pen turning or fishing lure creations.

Although it is important to work on something exciting, you should dedicate some of your time to mastering the craft. Take your time to read and watch videos on proper technique, learn about the different tools and how to work with them. Keep in mind that there are a lot more tools than those you will make your bowl with. You need to consider different spindles, chucks, tool rests and more. All of these should slowly become part of your repertoire as you master the craft of woodworking.

If you are not sure where to start, begin by finding as much rough wood as possible and simply going to town. Figure out what works best for you and don’t be shy to experiment and try the different techniques.

9. Practice Makes Perfect

We have all heard the good old saying of “practice makes perfect“.

However, many beginners ignore it. This leads to frustration and poor experience especially if they try to push for extravagant projects early on. The creations you see in magazines did not get created in a single day by someone with no experience.

You must take your time and practice using different tools before moving onto bigger projects.

Don’t expect your first bowl to be perfect, don’t expect the 10th one to be either. Work your way toward a better product and improve yourself along the way. The results you’re looking for will definitely follow the sound practice.

By | 2018-02-03T20:17:58+00:00 February 6th, 2018|Lathe Tutorials, Woodworking|Comments Off on Top 9 Best Basic Woodturning Tips 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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