How to Start Woodturning | 101

One of the basic requirements of a woodworker is to know the process of woodturning. Woodworkers use the woodturning procedure to give some shape and structure to the wood, which is further made and curated into various finished goods. Woodturning is quite simple if done the precise way.

If you ever in your life were curious to take a sneak peek into the daily life of a woodworker or wanted to learn how to start woodturning, then you are in the right place!

Below I will be going through some guidelines that one must need to perfect the art of woodturning.

A Bit about Lathes 

Having a lathe for the woodturning process is pivotal. Woodturning would only ever work with a lathe because it gives the wood a shape through lathe rotation, and other handheld tools are also used to help keep the wood symmetrical.

A lathe is needed for its rotational and spinning benefit, and therefore its rotating spindle helps fix the wood.

Even though woodturning is a necessity for woodworkers, not many are experts in this field, and the ones who are, the percentage for them is surprisingly low. That is because not a lot of woodworkers are familiar with a lathe.

A Bit about Lathes

There are various functions of lathes that woodworkers have to be familiar with. There are also different types of turnings and different kinds of lathes for different purposes of woodturning. Below I will be listing the classes and the different styles of lathes used for woodturning:

Different Types of Lathes

For beginners, it is best to start with a small lathe as they are mostly transportable and can easily be kept anywhere you desire. Small lathes are also useful for experimental demos, which many people need to do when emerging into the world of crafts.

Different Types of Lathes

Experienced woodworkers mainly use large lathes as they are sturdy and can easily control a substantial amount of wood pieces with ease.

There are numerous types of lathes, and each is utilized to serve a different purpose, and they are super important to know for woodturning. Some of the most used ones by woodworkers are as follow:

Vertical Wood Lathe

These are positioned vertically while the main body is horizontal. This lathe is best suited to serve wood blocks with short lengths but large diameters.

Vertical Wood Lathe

Automatic Wood lathe 

It harbors the ability to rotate as it is ordered automatically, and it will automatically withdraw the tools and the finished product and then move on to the next task. This lathe is best suited to be used as a mass production device for short-length woodblocks.

Automatic Wood lathe

Turret Wood Lathe 

This type of lathe is also used for mass production and can process a huge number of wood pieces in different procedures. Turret Wood Lathe is mainly used for repetitive production that requires duplicate parts.

Turret Wood Lathe

CNC Wood Lathe 

These are used for processing and analyzing a large number of wood pieces that have complicated designs as well as requirements. This lathe is otherwise known as the ‘computer numerical wood lathe.’

CNC Wood Lathe

Center Wood Lathe 

This type of lathe is the most commonly used one. Centre Wood lathes have a gear transmission feature that precisely takes hold of the speed of the main shaft.

Center Wood Lathe

Two Main Lathe Styles 

The majority of woodworkers are more commonly familiar with two different styles of the lathe, and I will be elaborating on them below –

Two Main Lathe Styles

Spindle Style 

This style is best used for big blocks of wood. It is made to have the grains aligned with the lathe bed. There are two additional types of spindles which are belt-driven spindle and direct drive spindle.

Spindle Style

The direct-drive spindle mainly represents modern technology, while the belt-driven spindle leans more towards backdated technology.

Faceplate Style 

This style is used to make flat-shaped goods such as plates, bowls, and cups. The grain of this style is inclined 90 degrees towards the lathe.

Faceplate Style

All about Woodturning Tools 

For woodturning, specific tools are absolutely essential. While the lathe allows the wood to take up a shape, the handheld tools are there to demonstrate a natural curvature for the wood pieces.

Once again, for beginners, the basic kind of kit is recommended. The basic chisel kit for beginners has about five to six pieces of tools in it, which is enough to work with for novices.

Woodturning Tools

Perhaps not many kinds of tools are needed to wood turn, but the adroit ones require a little more than that. I will be listing some necessary tools below that you would need for serving wood turning’s real purpose:

Detail Gouge Or the Spindle Gouge 

This tool is utilized to emphasize details on spindles. It has a round metal shaft with its flute open from the top. It has a thin tip and is comparatively flat.

Detail Gouge

Spindle Roughing Gouge 

This tool is wide fluted and is mainly used to shape up a wooden spindle.

Spindle Roughing Gouge

Skew Chisel 

This tool is broad but also pointed, which served the purpose of smoothening and cleaning wood pieces for super precise work.

Skew Chisel

Bowl Gouge

This tool is deep fluted and has a round metal exterior shaft. It can be used to remove a large amount of material. 

Bowl Gouge

Types of Steel

Once you have learned about the essential tools, let us focus on the brand of steel with which the tools are made. That will help you determine the accuracy and competency of these tools. Most of the time, woodturning tools are made of the following –

Types of Steel

High-Speed Steel (HSS)  

This steel is the most conventional material of steel for tools. They are capable of maintaining their edge longer and don’t need to be sharpened so frequently.

Carbon Steel  

Just like high-speed steel, carbon steel is also most commonly used to enhance tools. It is incredibly durable and safe to work with. It requires frequent sharpening.

Tungsten Carbide  

Tools made out of tungsten carbide are generally made to be disposed of since they take a lot of time to sharpen, and they usually come with disposable carbide inserts. If tungsten carbide tools are not made disposable, then they can be sharpened with diamond abrasives.

As seen before, woodturning tools sure need a lot of sharpening, mainly due to the extreme nature of work that these tools are subjected to. Knowing how to sharpen woodturning tools also requires an incredible amount of knowledge, which many woodworkers don’t have.

The Step-by-Step Process for Woodturning

The main course of action begins here. The procedures (step by step) I am about to list down below will help you understand the basics of woodturning a lot easier.

The Step-by-Step Process for Woodturning

Step 1: Set up Your Lathe 

After unboxing your lathe, instill it in a safe place and bolt it down to secure it in place. You must put lubricant on the surface and on the bed of the lathe to make everything slide smoother.

Step 2: Go through the Directives 

Analyze the manual that comes with the lathe and memorize its basic requirements. The manual usually comes in handy during times of confusion.

Choose Correct Tools

Step 3: Choose Correct Tools 

Depending on your lathe’s operation, you must choose the suitable chisels for your objective. Each tool has different features – ex: if you want to shape your wood piece, then go for spoon cutters as their flat-shaped flutes help the surface to flatten out.

Step 4: Get to Know the Components 

A conventional lathe typically comprise of a few essential functions, and they are:

  • Bed

This component is used to assist other components of the lathe, like the tailstock and headstock. It is a horizontal structure where all the other parts of the lathe are situated.

  • The Headstock

This component is usually found on the edge of the bed. The headstock is responsible for providing the lathe its rotational ability.

  • The Tailstock

This component is found on the end of the lathe, facing the headstock. Unlike headstock, which gives the lathe its rotational ability, the tailstock keeps it sturdy and balanced and is incorporated to hold tool bits and support the wood pieces when they rotate

  • Legs

Legs are the vertical component on the lathe, and they are responsible for providing an elevated space for working. The legs are super sturdy and well-built, so bolting the legs down will have no adverse effect even when the work is extreme.

  • Carriage

This component is located in between the headstock and the tailstock. The carriage component guides the tool when cutting into the wood piece.

  • Cross Slide

This component is found on top of the lathe, and it is responsible for allowing the tool to move back and forth.

  • Saddle

Like a cross slide, the saddle is placed on top of the lathe and is generally concerned with the carriage. This helps with the movements of the cross slide.

  • Apron

This component is designed to stick to the saddle. It is also an important function for carriage, and it holds gears and levers of the lathe.

Step 5: Choose the Perfect Wood Piece for Your Objective 

Choosing the perfect piece of wood for your objective is pivotal. Working with a softwood like pine is not recommended when woodturning, albeit softwood can be used for specific woodturning work, but choosing a hardwood like oak is better as they are more resilient.

Choose the Perfect Wood Piece

Step 6: Cut the Wood 

After choosing your desired wood, make sure to lengthen your wood piece, so it fits the surface of your lathe. Beginners are requested to start working with small-sized wood pieces (2 feet) to keep a uniform diameter stance.

Step 7: Position Your Wood Piece 

Take your shortened wood piece and carefully insert it between the tailstock and headstock. Once in position, tighten your wood with the tailstock spindle to lock it in place between the headstock spindle and tailstock.

Really make sure that the wood piece is locked in place; otherwise, it will come loose and fly off while the lathe is rotating.

While working with lathes, always ensure to keep at least four to five inches of work distance. Although the lesser the gap, the better control you will have over the turning wood piece. In which case, put on safety gloves and glasses, and you are good to go.

Step 8: Picking the Perfect Chisel/Tool 

One must know what chisel to use for woodturning. It is always best to use carbon steel tools and the roughing gouge to shape up uneven square blocks of wood.

Picking the Perfect Chisel

After picking your tool, go on to smoothly place the chisel on the tool rest and use your left hand to control it in motion while keeping your right hand at the end of the handle.

Step 9: Setting Control 

When woodturning, make sure the speed of the lathe is placed at low. While moving in closer to the wood piece from the tool rest, check your grip and make sure that the wood is not wobbling.

If it wobbles, then go one down on the speed. You can increase the speed once it is centered in position and is not wobbly anymore.

When you are using the roughing gouge tool to smoothen out the surface, opt to position your chisel in a way that will allow the residuals of the wood piece to fall in a different direction than you or your surroundings. 

Step 10: Pause to Check 

After using the chisel to smoothen it out, you will notice it has started taking the desired shape. After this, you need to pause from time to time to check the wood piece and make sure you are not overdoing it; if it is the likely scenario, then you will start seeing cracks on the surface of the wood.

Step 11: Measure the Wood 

Be sure to constantly measure the length of your wood so that it does not shorten down due to excessive lathing. That is why it is best to have to measure tapes or calipers with you during works like this.

Step 12: Increase the Speed 

Momentarily increase the speed of your lathe to give a smoother finish to your round piece. After a while, lower the speed and move your tool slowly along the wood piece’s length. The slower the last round of speed is, the more precise the outcome will be.

Increase the Speed

Step 13: Sand the Piece

After the woodturning procedure is done on the lathe, give a generous amount of sanding to your finished stock, it will further polish the wood to provide a glistening look. Un-equip your lathe and slowly turn your stock around to sand it well. Make sure to be gentle while sanding as the wood piece is still delicate from all the lathing.

Common Mistakes to Avoid  

The woodturning procedure could be manageable as any woodwork, but it could also get very tricky. Even after finishing the woodturning procedure on a lathe, some minor and unavoidable errors stay behind. Here are some miscalculations to look out for:

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Check for Marks

After successful woodturning on a lathe, use sandpapers for sanding the wood further. During the sanding process, be sure to pause after every minute to check whether there are scratches. If any, immediately erase them.

Say No to Softwoods

Avoid using softwoods for woodturning. Softwoods like pine are soft and tarty, and since they have a lot of sap in them, they are going to gum up your tools when you try to use them against softwoods.

Size Does Matter

Sizing the lathe usually matters a lot as it enables you to determine the competency of the girth and swing of the lathe.

Size does matter

The bigger the lathe is, the more effective woodwork will be. The length of the bed doesn’t really matter unless you know you are going to be turning long objects.

Avoid Using Dull Tools

Now, if you use dull tools while woodturning, it has absolutely no positive outcome, you have to sharpen your tools from time to time to keep them functional.

If you are using traditional carbon steel, take it to the grinder and sharpen it and if you use carbide, pay extra to get disposable inserts.


If you have a knack for woodwork, then woodturning is just the right activity for you! And now that you know how to start woodturning, then you should have no problem getting started.

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