Turning furniture parts on a spinning lathe is extremely satisfying and fun to see the wood take shape so quickly. But woodturning also has a steep learning curve, but for the woodturning skills and for understanding which lathes and woodturning tools are needed to get started in turning wood.
Woodturning Tool Steel: High-Carbon Steel vs. High Speed Steel (HSS)
I like to divide wood turning tools into two main steel types: traditional high-carbon steel woodturning tools and modern High Speed Steel woodturning tools (HSS). My vintage woodturning tools are made out of traditional carbon steel and my modern woodturning tools are made out of High Speed Steel. The main benefit of HSS turning tools is that the edge lasts longer between sharpenings than carbon steel tools, which is important because a woodturning tool touches the wood much, much more than a typical wood chisel. Also HSS tools won’t loose their temper as easily as carbon steel tools when grinding.
Because of these benefits most modern woodturning tools that you’ll find on the market today are made out of HSS. But don’t worry, HSS woodturning chisels are affordable, and aren’t usually any more expensive than new quality woodworking chisels…and you only need about four woodturning chisels.
However, if you’ve inherited or purchased an affordable vintage set of carbon steel woodturning tools, don’t throw them out. Learn to sharpen and use these tools and add some HSS tools to your kit over time, if you feel the need to do so. Remember that a lot of beautiful turned furniture was made before HSS was introduced to the market. Just make sure that you keep a good edge on your tools, and regularly cool down the carbon steel turning tools with water when grinding.
Modern High Speed Steel tools are divided further into a few different types, including M2, Kryo M2, M4, and PM. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about all the different types of High Speed Steel, and just get the most common (and thus more affordable, but not inferior) M2 High Speed Steel woodturning tools.
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How to Use Wood Lathe Turning Tools
There are two basic forms of woodturning. The first is spindle turning, where a piece of wood is mounted between a drive center in the headstock and a live center in the tailstock. The second is bowl or faceplate turning, where a piece of wood is fastened to a faceplate with screws and the tailstock is only used to support the wood where possible. The tools suggested here can also be used when the piece of wood is held in a four-jaw chuck, which is another common way to mount a turning blank.
Selecting the tools to buy when you first start woodturning should depend on which of these types of woodturning you want to do. Generally, the pieces turned between the centers on the lathe require different tools than pieces turned on a faceplate. Some, but not all tools can be used for both. That said, I suggest that a new turner start by turning between centers because the techniques for doing that are the foundation for all cuts used in woodturning. Turning between centers can also be slightly less daunting for a beginner. This article suggests tools for starting both of these types of turning, describes the basic features and gives some ideas on how each tool is used.
The first tool that a new turner should buy is a full-face shield. When you start to learn to turn, things can happen very fast; face protection is imperative. I prefer to use a face shield rather than a set of goggles because I want to protect my complete face, not just my eyes. Also, it’s a good idea to get some dust masks or a respirator, which should be worn at the very least when sanding.