For New Turners

As a novice turner the sheer scope of things to learn about woodturning can be daunting. It’s tough to find information when you don’t know what you don’t know.

Here are some topics to help you  become familiar some foundation terminology, tips, tools and techniques of woodturning. We hope this can give you a place to begin and some ideas of which questions you need to ask. If possible, try attending one of our monthly meetings. You’d be amazed at what you can learn at your local club!

Lathe Safety

1-Protect yourself

  • At a minimum always wear safety goggles or safety glasses that include side protectors.
  • We MUCH prefer and advocate the use of a full face shield when turning. You’ll get used to it
  • Tie back long hair
  • Dust masks for sanding and even turning punky/ resinous woods
  • do not wear gloves
  • avoid loose clothing, jewelry or any dangling objects that may catch on rotating parts or accessories

2-Lathe speed

  • Always check the speed of the lathe before turning it on
  • Larger pieces require slower turning speeds
  • As a rule of thumb, spindle turning generally is done at higher speeds than face grain turning
  • Remember – speed indicated on the lathe is only the speed that the center of the spindle is turning – the outer edge of the piece will be spinning considerably faster
  • The indicated speed is the RPM that you need to be concerned with
  • Always start a piece at a slower speed until the work piece is balanced
  • If the lathe is shaking or vibrating, lower the speed
  • If you feel vibration, stop the machine to check the reason-typically it’s too high a speed OR the work not being mounted securely.

3-Check that all locking devices on the tailstock and tool rest assembly (rest and base) are tight before operating the lathe

4-Position the tool rest close to work.

  • Consider 1/4” away from the nearest point of the piece to be a safe distance while you’re somewhat inexperienced
  • As wood is removed, turn off the lathe and re-position the rest

5-Rotate your workpiece by hand to make sure it clears the tool rest and bed before turning the lathe “on”

  • Be certain that the workpiece turns freely and is firmly mounted
  • Do not put any part of your hand over the tool rest – you to not want it caught by the lathe

6-Be aware of  the “red zone” .

  • This is the area directly behind and in front of the workpiece — the areas most likely for a piece to travel as it comes off the lathe
  • A good safety habit is to step out of this zone when starting the lathe
  • When observing someone else turn stay out of this area

7- Holding turning tools

  • securely on the tool rest, holding the tool
  • in a controlled and comfortable manner
  • the tool should always come in contact with the tool rest before contacting the wood
  • It is safest to turn the lathe “off” before adjusting the tool rest or tool rest base (banjo)
  • Remove the tool rest before sanding or polishing operations
  • Don’t walk away with the lathe still running for any purpose

Turners call this following the ABC‘s

AAnchor the tool on the tool rest
BRub the bevel of the tool on the wood before engaging the edge to cut
CControl the edge of the tool as you engage the edge to cut

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Forms made on a lathe

Open Form
Bowls, Dishes, Platters
Tool Handles, Chair/ Table Legs, Etc.
Hollow Form
– Urns, Amphorae, Etc.
Lidded vessel usually with lid fit to tight tolerances












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A Wood Lathe and it’s parts

Lathe-a device that holds and turns wood while a tool is used to shape the wood

Headstock- the part of the lathe that contains the driving mechanism for the lathe

Tail stock- a part that can be moved along the bed of the lathe and can be clamped at any desired position on the bed. Used mostly to hold live (or older, dead) centers, the tailstock is nearly always used in spindle turning and frequently as a safety backup on face grain turning.

Faceplate- a metal or wood disk that mounts on the headstock spindle. Wood is mounted on the faceplate using screws, bolts or even glues.

Live Center- typically a hardened steel point mounted on a ball bearing at the end of a post that inserts into the tailstock of the lathe. This aids in centering the work on the lathe as well as securing it against the drive mechanism of the headstock.

Chuck-an assembly comprised of 4 jaws used to clamp a piece of wood to the headstock for turning. Chucks either grip a piece by clamping around a tenon or expanding into a mortise.

Spur Drive-a hardened steel point surroundedby (typically) 4 bladed fins that bite into the wood to be turned. Set into the headstock this provides the means for the lathe to rotate the piece of wood to be turned.

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Turning Tools

Gouges-A tool with a flute cut lengthwise into it with a sharpened, beveled cutting edge that cuts rather than scrapes wood.


Roughing Gouge-has fairly thick walls used to rough out and round stock to cylindrical shape. Gouges can be sharpened into a variety of different cutting edges depending on desired cutting technique.




Spindle Gouge-has a very shallow flute and is used to produce beads and coves primarily in spindle work. (i.e. between centers)





Bowl Gouge-has a medium to deep flute and is used both to rough out and finish the outer and inner sides of bowls. More sturdy than roughing gouges, most bowl gouges (modern) are cylindrical in cross-section. Increasingly common is a type of bowl gouge called a Side-Ground Gouge (Also known as an “Irish Grind”, “Fingernail Grind”, “Swept Wing Grind” or “Ellsworth-type Grind” ) A gouge that has the sides ground back and can be used in a variety of positions to rough, smooth, shear scrape, etc.  Likely the most versatile turning tool available.

Other Common Tools


Parting Tool-used to make narrow recesses or grooves to a desired depth or to part a piece from the lathe. A common type would be the diamond shape with the center being thicker than the outside edges to give the tool clearance and prevent friction.




Skew Chisel-used to make V cuts, beads, tapers and to smooth corners and cylindrical stock. This tool when properly used will give a finished or semi finished surface to the piece it is shaping.




Scraper-scrapes the wood off rather than cutting or shearing the wood. A scraper will usually have a very blunt angle and a burr on the edge that does the actual scraping of the wood. Most likely the first type of turning tool to be invented, scrapers have been much maligned in more recent times (unfairly) as a “beginner’s” tool or one lacking the finesse to leave a fine, finished surface. A good turner and a sharp scraper can  meet or exceed any finished surface made by another tool.


Many experienced turners recommend that new turners not buy sets of tools, they are usually for spindle turning and many of the tools are not very useful.  Only a few tools are need to get started.

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Sharpening is a vital skill to be learned at the same time as one begins learning to turn.

One of the critical tools that often goes overlooked when compiling a list of lathe tools is a grinder. Most recommend an 8” grinder with variable speed allowing it to be slowed down to 1750 RPM.

In addition to a grinder, many of us recommend the use of sharpening jigs (either commercially available or homemade) to aid both beginner and experienced turners alike in the quick and SAFE sharpening of their tools.

Click here for more information about sharpening. (Coming Soon)