East Texas Woodturners' Association

By Paul Coppinger

Recommended Tool List

Hello ET Turners,


I recently promised to present my recommended list of tools for woodturning.  I am presenting it in 3 classes: Gotta Have, What’s Next, and Wow.  Obviously, the Gotta Have or basic class is the set of beginning tools that every woodturner needs. What’s Next is the group of tools that expand or open-up your woodturning capabilities.  Finally, the Wow class is the set of tools you might like to have but may be reluctant to purchase.


Gotta Have


Bowl Gouge - Every turner needs a bowl gouge with a fingernail grind. The size can be either a 3/8, 1/2 or 5/8 inch gouge. More important than size is the back sides which offer several cutting options. Consider the gouge when held upright as a clock face with the tip at 12 o’clock. The fingernail grind allows the user to turn with the tip of the grind(10pm to 2am) in a bevel rubbing cut, either in a push or pull cut; a non-bevel rubbing cut where the flute is turned to about a 45 degree angle); and finally the shear cut or scrape cut for final smoothing or leveling. 


Parting Tool - A very useful tool for spindle shaping, dimensioning and to part off turnings. Parting tools come in various sizes and shapes and each is useful. A 1/4” parting tool is great for general parting off of your work and works well for turning fixed diameters. The narrow tools make for quicker parting or for close in parting such as next to a chuck. If you don’t have much money, a straight handled sheetrock saw makes a nice, flexible, narrow parting tool. You grind off the set of the saw, then grind off the edge of the saw teeth and shape the end to a point.  Remember that the steel is not HSS and can be “burnt” while grinding so use water to cool during sharpening.  Finally, diamond shaped parting tools are available and minimize binding when parting. Whether 1/4, 1/8 or 1/16 inch, you gotta have a good parting tool.


What’s Next


Roughing Gouge - Whether big or small, a very useful tool for rounding and dimensioning spindle work. Its primary advantage is lots of sharp edge.  As one area of the edge dulls, simply rotate slightly to get a new sharp edge.  Some roughing gouges have straight sides which allow the tool to cut like a skew when the side edge is held on the bevel at approximately a 45 degree angle. Never use on side grain like bowl turning.


Spindle Gouge - A necessary tool for turning beads and coves on spindle work. The larger gouges work better on large coves and beads. I like the 3/8” gouge for all-around

spindle work. Detail spindle gouges have more meat under the flute meaning the tool can be extended farther over the tool rest for deep beads and coves. Again, I like a 3/8” detail spindle gouge. 


Skew - Some consider the skew the tool of the devil, mostly because they have a devil of a time learning to use it. Several secrets help master the skew. Always cut above center with the portion of the skew edge that is below center. This means have your tool rest slightly above center and use the bottom half of the skew edge to cut. Some say only use the bottom third of the edge. More important, support the edge by riding the bevel, and keep enough down pressure on the tool to avoid a bouncing cut. Coupling these tips with practice will let anyone conquer this useful tool. Size can be as small as 1/4” (round or flat shank) up to over an inch. Regardless, each can be useful. Some have oval shanks, most are rectangular. The oval skews are more difficult to sharpen but making a wooden block to match the oval really helps. The oval shank makes rolling beads easy.  Rectangular shank skews need to have their shank corners “radiused” to prevent digging into the tool rest when rolling beads. Some skews have a radius edge and any edge can have a slight radius ground during sharpening. The 1/4” flat shank skew is useful for chatter work when extended over the tool rest and making contact with end grain at about 7:30 when viewed as a clock face. 


Scraper - A very underestimated turning tool when held below center and having a good burr on the edge. The burr can simply be the normal burr left after sharpening on a grinder or it can be raised by hand using a stone or diamond sharpening card. The angle that the tool is held is critical to prevent catches. If the angle is too high, like holding a bowl gouge, the edge will actually be pulled into the wood resulting in a big catch. Holding below center causes the tool to be pushed away from the wood. A negative rake scraper eliminates this problem by having the angle ground onto the edge and therefore doesn’t require holding the tool below center. Size and thickness are important. The thicker the scraper, the less vibration and hence a smoother scrape. The shape can be either flat for cleaning the bottom of bowls or can be rounded on the left side for scraping the corner of bowls and boxes.


Hollowing System - Most hollowing systems utilize 3/16” or 1/8” HSS tool bits used by machinists. The bits are held in some type of boring bar which is then held by a handle, an arm brace or a torque capturing system. Many systems are available by tool manufactures such as Sorby, Kelton, Jordan, Jamieson, Elbo, etc. The Jordan arm brace system with his tapered boring bars is a great system for hollowing by hand. Kelton makes some very good straight or curved laminated boring tools but they require handles. These work very well for hollowing small turnings by hand. Jamieson makes a good torque capturing system that has a “D” ring boring bar receiver that travels horizontally between 2 fixed beams. As the tip cuts, the torque or twist attempts to twist the “D” ring but is negated by the fixed beams. The Elbo and Vicmarc systems use either the tailstock or a vertical post to capture the torque. I utilize the Kelton mini hollowing tools for hollowing smaller than 3”. I have made several “D” ring systems including the boring bars. I now use the John Jordan tool bars and tips in a Vicmarc boring post system.




Sorby Spiraling Tool - These come in 2 sizes with different wheels for texturing or spiral cutting. Great to add unique special effects to your turnings.  Wagner Knurling Tool - These come in 3 sizes to cut knurling on turnings. They take a large amount of pressure to cut the knurling pattern.


Carbide-tipped Tools - Great for roughing and rather than sharpening, you replace the tip. These offer longer lasting edges but do not cut as fine as HSS, therefore they work best for roughing or hollowing. You can sharpen these tips but it requires diamond sharpening stones instead of grinders.  You may have noticed that nothing was mentioned about sharpening. None of the above tools are worth a %&#$ if dull.

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