Woodturning for Dummies (that would be me)

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Some pictures of the tools I have. If anyone has time for some instruction I'd appreciate knowing nomenclature, the do's and more importantly for me right now, the Don'ts of using them.

Alan

first batch


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Ryan Mooney

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I'm going to sit on any tool commentary pending Vaughn's analysis (but yeah they look mostly like carbon steel spindle turning tools - good start though, nothing wrong with carbon steel imho).

I will suggest two books though, both by Mike Darlow as excellent introductions to the basic tools & techniques of woodturning. I realize that neither totally replaces having a good mentor or hands on training, but they do offer some very nice, simple, coherent, and succinct introduction to the primary tools, and techniques you'd want to focus on. I would especially recommend "Fundamentals of Woodturning" for this purpose. A copy of that book will imho save you both quite a bit of struggle on figuring things out and also will pay for itself in helping you buy what you need and not what you don't.
 

Vaughn McMillan

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This will likely be a multi-post reply as I work on it in chunks, but for starters, I'll try to help define some tool types.

Turning tools all generally fall into three different categories: Gouges, skews, and scrapers. In general, gouges and skews cut the wood with the "knife" edge of the tool, while scrapers actually cut with a very fine burr on the edge of the tool. More on skews and scrapers later. For now, let's look at gouges.

Gouges come in essentially two types: Bowl gouges and spindle gouges. They can both have similar shapes, but there is a difference in how they are made and how they transition and attach to the handle. Bowl gouges are subjected to a lot more stress than spindle gouges, so they tend to be a solid round piece of steel going into the handle. Spindle gouges are typically under less stress, so they forged into shape and transition into a square or rectangular tang (like the end of a file) that's inserted into the handle. Here's an example of a bowl gouge. Notice how it is made from a solid piece of round steel. It has a flute (valley) at the cutting end, but it transitions into a solid round bar going into the handle:



And here is a spindle gouge. It's made from a flat piece of steel that's been forged into a U shape. Notice how the flute ends and becomes a rectangular tang right where it meets the handle:


The wide gouge above is typically called a roughing gouge. It's meant to make the rough cuts to turn a square piece of wood into a round one. A more accurate name would be a "spindle roughing gouge", since it is forged into shape and has a tang. Although you can likely get away with using a gouge like this to do rough cuts on a bowl, it's risky, because there's a decent chance the torque from a bowl-sized piece of wood could snap the gouge off the handle if you got a bad catch. There have been many reports over the years of spindle roughing gouges breaking and flying across the shop when used on a bowl.

To make things even more confusing, some smaller gouges labelled as "spindle" gouges are actually constructed out of a solid round bar like a bowl gouge. These can safely be used in bowl turning, but because of their small diameter, they might not be the most efficient way to do it. (That said, some folks like using small bowl gouges on big bowls.)

Looking at the photos you posted, I'm guessing that your biggest gouge is a spindle roughing gouge because it looks to be forged and appears to have a tang going into the handle:

Alan Spindle Roughing Gouge.jpg

And this one looks like a typical spindle gouge, again forged into shape with a tang inserted into the handle:

Alan Spindle Gouge.jpg
Because of the forged shape and tang connection, I'd caution against using gouges like these on bowls. You can likely get away with it for a while (I did the same when I was starting and learning), but there's a pretty big risk of it becoming an uncontrolled missile flying across the shop if you get a bad catch. (And beginners are more likely to get a catch than someone with more experience in tool presentation and sharpening.)

Bowl gouges range in price from about $25 to over $100. In general, the more they cost the better the steel and the longer they hold their edge between sharpening. Before I started buying really good gouges (Thompson Lathe Tools, $70 to $120 each without handles), I got a lot of miles out of a bowl gouge like this from Penn State:


As you shop around for bowl gouges, you'll see the fluted part comes in different shapes (generally U or V shapes) and there's a wide range of tip shapes. If you poke around the Thompson Lathe Tools website, you can see some good examples of the different flute and tip shapes. I prefer a tip shape with the wings (sides) of the tip swept back quite a bit. Other folks prefer a more squared-off tip. The tip shape is something you can change yourself buy how you sharpen it on the grinder. The flute, on the other hand, is not changeable. I have both U shaped and V shaped gouges, and like the both.

More to come later...
 
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That's a pretty darn good start. Yes, all of mine are NOT bowl gouges. I certainly do not need or want any pieces of steel flying around the shop. I'm done on bowl making until I get a proper bowl gouge. In my 65 years I have used up a lot of luck, both good and bad, and I seem to be on the red side of the ledger currently...

Alan
 

Ryan Mooney

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The wide gouge above is typically called a roughing gouge. It's meant to make the rough cuts to turn a square piece of wood into a round one. A more accurate name would be a "spindle roughing gouge", since it is forged into shape and has a tang. Although you can likely get away with using a gouge like this to do rough cuts on a bowl,

I would rather strongly advise against anything where you end up doing end grain cuts with a Spindle Roughing Gouge. The shape and structure of the cutting edge dramatically increases the chance of a catch and also tends to pull spears of wood out that are flung at your hand at speed. In theory you could re-grind it so that it doesn't have as high of a probability of being as dangerous (but then you're left with the structural issues that Vaughn brought up).

This slightly NSFL (Not safe for lunch.. it's not terrible just a wee nick.. but some small amount of blood) very clearly and thoroughly illustrates the problem.
 

Ryan Mooney

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The other suggestion I'd make (and I'm really not sure where I picked this up otherwise I'd give credit but it's been one of those hugely useful tricks that is obvious in retrospect) is to try any and all new cuts or cuts you're having trouble figuring out with the lathe off.

Basically just turn the lathe off.. and slowly turn the wood into the tool. Does the cut look safe if done 3000x faster, does it make a good shaving, is the tool entering the wood in a way that makes a good clean cut, etc... I've gone so far as to turn the lathe off and on a whole bunch of times while trying out a new tool.. basically.. turn a bit with it off.. turn a bit with it on... then off again.. repeat until it all makes sense.

For me at least running the thing at full speed it's often hard to figure out just what the heck is going on so this gives me a chance to kind of work through how it ought to work.
 

Vaughn McMillan

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Ryan, both of the points you brought up are right on the money. :thumb: These days, anytime I'm roughing anything I just use a bowl gouge with swept back wings. The only exception is when I occasionally use a carbide scraper like the EZ Wood Tools Easy Rougher, but that's typically only on spindle work.

Alan, another point that's good to mention early on is the difference between "spindle" turning and "faceplate" turning. Spindle turning doesn't just refer to turning actual spindles like chair legs, pepper mills, or pens. It means the grain of the wood is running parallel to the bed of the lathe. Faceplate turning means the wood grain is running at a right angle to the bed of the lathe.

To add some confusion, a piece being turned in the "faceplate" orientation might be attached to the lathe with a faceplate, a chuck, or even the spur center on the headstock end of the lathe. Conversely, even though a "spindle" turning is usually attached to the lathe with the spur center on the headstock end of the lathe, it might be a larger piece held with a faceplate or chuck. While most bowls are turned with the grain at the right angle to the lathe bed, there are cases where they are done with the grain running parallel to the bed. (That's usually called "end grain" turning, which, from a physics point of view, is the same as spindle turning.)
 
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I would rather strongly advise against anything where you end up doing end grain cuts with a Spindle Roughing Gouge. The shape and structure of the cutting edge dramatically increases the chance of a catch and also tends to pull spears of wood out that are flung at your hand at speed. In theory you could re-grind it so that it doesn't have as high of a probability of being as dangerous (but then you're left with the structural issues that Vaughn brought up).

This slightly NSFL (Not safe for lunch.. it's not terrible just a wee nick.. but some small amount of blood) very clearly and thoroughly illustrates the problem.

Okay, I'm convinced.

Alan
 

Ryan Mooney

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These days, anytime I'm roughing anything I just use a bowl gouge with swept back wings

I'll even use that for some "spindle" turning (as per vaughns definition above and also actual spindles heheh). I find it easier to use a swept bowl gouge for some cuts than a spindle detail gouge.. BUT I'll freely admit that I'm also not super good with the spindle detail gouge so that might be more personal failing than practical suggestion :)
 

Vaughn McMillan

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I'll even use that for some "spindle" turning (as per vaughns definition above and also actual spindles heheh). I find it easier to use a swept bowl gouge for some cuts than a spindle detail gouge.. BUT I'll freely admit that I'm also not super good with the spindle detail gouge so that might be more personal failing than practical suggestion :)
One of my favorite tools for turning bottle stoppers is a 3/4" bowl gouge. :) I'm a mess with a skew but I can do planing and shearing cuts all day with the wings of a bowl gouge, lol.
 
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Ryan Mooney

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I have a tiny little 1/4" bowl gouge (came as part of a set.. pro-tip.. don't buy sets they're generally a terrible value but in this case it worked out) that turned out to be super useful to turning beads on bowls and also small inside coves on small spindle work. I'll actually switch back & forth between it and the skew pretty regularly for that spindle sort of work. Skew for clean planing cuts, V cuts and beads.. the bowl gouge as sort of a slightly more forgiving spindle detail gouge haha.

On the skew, it's definitely controversial but I'm still a fan and really it's just a chisel you use at speed :D
 

Chuck Ellis

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One of my favorite tools for turning bottle stoppers is a 3/4" bowl gouge. :) I'm a mess with a skew but I can do planing and shearing cuts all day with the wings of a bowl gouge, lol.
The tool I reach for first is almost always a 5/8" (American measure - bar stock) bowl gouge... I use it for almost everything... bowls, pepper mills, (even the round ball top), roughing blanks for hollow forms, etc.... I do use a 3/4 and 1" roughing gouge to get my blanks round for a pepper mill.. sometimes use it to smooth the bodies and cut beads...
I do have other tools, but the bowl gouge is my favorite. My gouge is cut at a 60 deg angle with the wings swept back a bit and like Vaughn I can do shear cuts and planing with it... I find that I use a skew more as a scraper than any thing else... never learned to do some of the fancy cuts with it.
 
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