A Beginner’s Introduction to the Basics of Woodturning

A Beginner’s Introduction to Woodturning Basics

Woodturning uses the powers of the lathe to produce stunning bowls, lamps, furniture legs, and even handles for tools. Woodturning can be credited for just about any rounded piece of wooden craft.

A lathe is a machine that rotates a workpiece on its axis at several revolutions per minute while you shape it into whatever form you want. The lathe may seem intimidating for beginners, but it is a mostly harmless and compact appliance. The process of carving with this piece of hardware is one of the most satisfying things you can experience.

A lathe can trace its origins centuries back to Ancient Egypt. Technology has enormously altered the design of lathes. The operating principles, however, stay the same.

The components of a lathe include:

  • The bed – This is the main part of the machine, onto which all other components are latched.
  • Headstock – It is usually on the left and it holds the mechanical side of the tool. A headstock spins the wood being worked on. It, therefore, contains speed control levers, feed controller, spindle, and gears.
  • Tailstock – It is usually constructed on the right side, it supports the workpiece.
  • Carriage – It is the middle part sandwiched by the headstock and tailstock. The role of the carriage is to control, support, and move the cutting tool.

How To Begin Woodturning

In order to explain the basics of woodturning in detail, we are going to divide it into sections A, B, and C.

The ABCs of woodturning will equip you with the skills you need to control your tools and get the cuts and curves you want.

In woodturning, you need to practice handling the tools with dexterity.

A – Anchor

A stands for anchor. You need to learn how to hold your tool steady with both hands.

A lot of beginners are understandably nervous on their first try such that they clutch the tool in a vice. However, a grip that tight is quickly tiring and will hinder the smooth and continuous motion that is the end goal.

Here is the correct way to anchor a turning tool:

  • Place the turning tool on the tool rest and steady the rest of it on your body. Do this by pressing your elbow against your side.
  • Hold the tool handle (e.g. roughing gouge) with the other hand at the hips.
  • Stabilize your body by standing with your feet spread to the same width as your shoulders.

There are other times in the stage of carving the workpiece that it will not be possible to fixate your elbows on your side. When this happens, maintain control of the tool by clasping the handle with the free hand.

B – Bevel

Before you attempt to bevel, start by sharpening all your implements.

You might have heard the term, “ride the bevel” frequently in your woodturning journey. It describes one of the highest forms of joy in circular wood crafting.

Riding the bevel refers to the sustained period that the woodturner smoothly shapes and creates a neat outline. During this time, it seems like the wood offers no resistance as the intended patterns start to emerge.

How To Control A Bevel Cut

The secret to dominating the beveling tool is to put the entire bevel on the workpiece. You will be tempted to place only the cutting edge on the wood, but the result of that is a rough and unsupported cut.

  • Place the underside (heel) of the bevel upon the wood.
  • Steadily lift the sharp edge of the tool towards the spinning wood until you see some dust on the tip.
  • This is the position that the bevel is stable and you determine the kind of beveling you want by simply pointing and scraping.

Beveling will take hours of practice to perfect the skill. A good way to do this is to use a curved bowl and trace the edges with only light dust coming off the bowl.

C – Cut

An accurately controlled bevel cut is one that produces a smoothened exterior. As you start out, you may initially create a couple of jutted surfaces where the tool dug in too deep.

  • To cut in, change the tilt of the bevel towards the wood. This will initiate a cut.
  • You can change the angle by slightly shifting your body or your hands to rotate the cutting tool.
  • When you go in for a beveling cut, the tool head will continue at that angle.
  • Control the cut as you wish.

Note: When you are rotating your body to follow the curve you want, keep your feet firmly anchored on the ground. Rotate your movement at the hips, ankles, and knees.

At the beginning of the cut, find a comfortable stance, and maintain it. If you stand awkwardly, your tool will be unsteady.

Types Of Wood Turning

There are just two types of woodturning, that you will encounter when you are shaping a piece of timber.

A Beginner’s Introduction to the Basics of Woodturning

Spindle Turning

Regardless of what you may be crafting, spindle turning is the situation when the grain of the wood aligns with the spindle (bed) of the lathe.

Face Work

The grain of the wood appears at a right angle to the lathe’s axis. Most bow turning processes are face work. However, not all bow turning work should be construed as face work.

Understanding these two definitions is crucial because they determine the tools you will use for each scenario.

Woodturning Tools For Beginners

The next step in woodturning for beginners is to familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade. This might be the most challenging step of all.

Most woodturning kits for beginners ideally contain at least five tools.

1. Spindle Gouge

The spindle gouge is also referred to as the shallow flute gouge. In woodturning, it makes the best beads and coves.

This gouge is excellent for shaping wood on the spindle.

2. Skew Chisel

The skew chisel is a long, flat tool with a slant, beveled tip. Its flat nature makes it the go-to device for wood planing.

Skew chisels give the wood a smooth surface such that there is no need for sandpaper.

Other uses of the skew chisel are to design minute, detailed patterns.

Many woodturners have admittedly had a difficult time with the chisel and several think it is a dreadful implement. However, once you master your ABCs and learn how to carve with the chisel, you’ll find that it is a breeze to use.

The skew chisel demands heavy concentration when it is in session.

How To Use A Skew

The longer part of the cutting edge of the skew is called a “toe”. The shorter side of the cutting edge is the “heel”.

The toe is the part that is responsible for many of the unnerving experiences for beginners.

The slightest shift at the wrong angle causes the toe to dig in and create unintentional wood gouging.

A stronger accidental dig-in means that the tool might get snatched from your fingers!

To improve your chiseling skill, follow these tips:

  • If you are making planing cuts, carefully position the middle section of the blade to make contact with the workpiece. Avoid contact with the sharp corners of the chisel.
  • You must present this and every other rounding tool heel first.
  • Practice your skewing by hand. Turn your workpiece by hand while pressing the mid-blade against it.

With enough practice, it is a matter of time before you master the heel-toe action of the skew. On the bright side, learning how to control the chisel improves your skills in handling the other tools.

3. Parting Tool

A parting tool separates wood into pieces. It is usually used in sizing a workpiece.

When you want to split a piece into halves, it is safer to lathe it three-quarters of the way with a parting tool. Finish cutting the piece off with a saw.

Parting tools are not restricted to dividing chunks of wood. We are encouraging you to be adventurous and discover different applications of this tool in woodwork.

4. Bowl Gouge

A bowl gouge is additionally referred to as a deep flute gouge because it has a deep groove along the gouge. The channel moves deeper than the one on a spindle gouge.

The bowl gouge is excellent for spindle jobs and curving the interior and exterior of bowls.

5. Scraper

A scraper is intended for light wood removal work, for instance, polishing the surface of a finished product.

In other instances, this tool is used to make the “difficult” cuts that are necessary to accentuate certain designs or dimensions.

True to its name, the scraper cleans up residue left on the working surface by other instruments.

How To Sharpen Wood Turning Tools

A Beginner’s Introduction to the Basics of Woodturning

The whole premise of woodturning rests upon sharp working tools. Sharp-edged tools present better results without the extra frustration of directing blunt instruments.

If you are not a fan of sharpening your implements, you can opt for carbide insert tools instead.

Carbide tips get replaced every time they wear down, thus there’s no need for a sharpener.

Carbide tools are easier for beginners to use and are faster to grasp the concept with. However, if you enjoy woodturning, you will want to graduate to using the traditional tools.

There are numerous sharpening systems for traditional tools, research on what works for you.

Lathe Tool Sharpening Angles For Beginners

  • Roughing Gouge – This tool is ground on a whetstone at 45 degrees. If you have softwood projects, sharpening at 35 degrees is more ideal.
  • Bowl Gouge – A safe starting point is at 50-60 degrees. However, if you are more adept with the tools, smaller angles are more fitting. Try grinding at 45 and 40 degrees.
  • Spindle Gouge -Just like the bowl gouge, the angle of grind depends on your control skills. It is easier to commandeer the tool at 45 degrees. Slant to 35 degrees if you possess finer motor skills.
  • Parting Tool – This is the easiest device to sharpen out of all the lathe tools. Grind it at 45 degrees and maintain the standing edges at 90 degrees.

Basic Woodturning Safety Precautions For Newbies

There are significant dangers to woodturning that can be eliminated by having and adhering to a safety protocol.

A Beginner’s Introduction to the Basics of Woodturning

In extreme cases where nobody bothers to observe any safety rules:

  •  Fingers get severed
  •  Inhaling wood dust begets serious health complications
  • A flying chunk of wood may cause severe injuries to the face
  • A sharp tuning tool falls on exposed toes
  • Hearing loss from extended exposure to noise
  • Mortal injury

It is your responsibility to learn and follow safety guidelines by the manufacturers of your tools. Educate yourself on the aspects of woodturning before you make any attempt.

Safety Practices for Woodturning

  • Safe and efficient use of the lathe means that you must familiarize yourself with how to operate the machine. Furthermore, educate yourself with the proper use of tools and techniques of woodturning.
  • Before you switch on any machinery or use any tools, read the manuals and warning labels.
  • Protect your entire face with a face shield. Safety goggles on their own leave a chunk of the face exposed to flying projectiles.
  • Wood dust creates havoc on the respiratory system as well as the eyes. Ensure that your workshop is properly ventilated. Wear a dust mask or other masks with an air filtration system.
  • Protect your hearing, frequent exposure to noisy machines will damage your hearing.
  • Dress appropriately for your date with woodturning. Wear close-fitting clothes, no jewelry, and tie back your hair. Loose clothes tend to get caught in the moving components of the lathe.
  • Clear your worktop of any materials that may inadvertently entangle with your machine.
  • Use the recommended speeds according to the operational manual. If there is none indicated, inquire from a professional or get in touch with customer support staff.
  • ALWAYS set the correct speed for the size of the workpiece before you switch on the lathe.
  • If the lathe starts shaking or vibrating excessively, stop working and investigate. Only proceed once you have established the cause and rectified it.
  • Before switching on your lathe, rotate the workpiece with a hand to clear out the spindle and tool rest.
  • Ensure that all clamping devices are fastened and the tailstock correctly supports the workpiece.
  • Examine the workpiece of any inconsistencies prior to mounting it on the lathe. Some of these imperfections on the wood may create violent projectiles when they fall apart.
  • Check that all the components of the lathe are operating properly. Pay particular attention to controls, motor cover, and tightening handles.
  • Is the tool currently set on the tool rest? Check that before you begin chipping away.
  • To make the perfect roughing cuts, set the rotating speed to slow. However, it is not recommended to use the roughing gouge to carve a bowl.
  • Before you run a reverse lathe, recheck the whole machine settings again to make sure that everything is in place to prevent the chuck from falling off the lathe.
  • Be honest with yourself about your skills. Overconfidence is the cause of several woodturning accidents.
  • Stick solely to the operating procedures recommended for beginners. Professionals may use varied methods that you must never attempt to ape at the novice level.


Woodturning has become very popular and is one of the most sought out pastime activities. It is a safe hobby when the necessary precautions are upheld.

You can set up your woodturning workshop in the garage or the backyard because it requires little space.

We believe this is a good way to explore your creativity and also take a refreshing break from the everyday routine.


1. What do I need to start woodturning?

Get something that will spin the wood. If it is our first time to purchase a lathe, go for the lightweight beginner’s equipment. Even if you can afford it, a big lathe is not necessary at this point.

2. What are the differences between a big lathe and a small lathe?

The most obvious difference is the capacity of these equipment. Desktop lathes operate with wooden diameters of at least 10 inches. A big lathe will turn wooden creations of up to 24 inches wide.

Secondly, a small lathe has a shorter bed length than a heavy-duty lathe. Smaller lathes make up for this by installing an extension for the extra length.

3. How many accessories do I need for my new lathe?

Don’t worry, all you need is your tools. A lathe comes in-built with the necessary components.

4. What kind of tools should I get?

There are two kinds of lathe tools, the original designs and the newer carbide tools.

The difference between these two categories of tools is that the carbide tools are easier to work with as a beginner. Traditional tools require more practice to learn the craft.

Lastly, the oldie tools need to be sharpened on a grinder. Carbide tools on the other hand need a new replacement for the tips.

5. I’m too afraid of being injured by a flying piece of wood. How can I overcome this?

Take precautions and wear safety equipment while you are working. The proper safety equipment includes eye-goggles, a face shield, closed shoes, and mitts.

Another way to minimize incidents of dangerous flying debris is to keep the lathe revolutions below 1,000 RPM.

If your lathe is vibrating, slow it down.

6. Why is some wood more difficult to turn than others?

Trees, just like people, are unique and so is the wood they produce. Factors like location, climate, age, and moisture content will affect the characteristics of each piece of wood.

For example, it will be easy to do some turning with a piece of wood from a freshly felled tree. On the other hand, aged wood from a similar tree could be drier and harder to work with.

Fortunately, there is a scale of wood hardness known as Janka that ranks tree species.

Janka rates a wood’s hardness based on the intensity of the pressure it takes to drive in a steel ball with a 0.44-inch diameter halfway into the surface. This test is carried out on any wood species.

7. How can I get inexpensive wood from my local community?

As a beginner, you will go through several pieces of wood trying to practice. It is economical to opt for pocket-friendly wood.

Find out if there are any tree surgeons within your locality. Tree surgeons sell wood at reasonable prices. The drawback is that you are likely to get green lumber. If you want it dry, you will bear additional costs for seasoning.

Alternatively, sawmills stock both seasoned and wet timber. The wet wood will still be pocket-friendly while season wood costs more.

If you decide to buy seasoned wood, cut costs even further by buying planks instead of bowl blanks.

8. Which is the best wood for woodturning?

The species of wood is not significant. It is more important to have a correctly seasoned piece.

Of course, you can use green lumber as it is easy to shape but the final product will crack if you don’t dry it.

Timber can be seasoned in a kiln or air-dried. Although it is a matter of preference, wood seasoned in a kiln tends to be more durable.

9. Which wood is toxic to work with?

The wood dust sprayed in the air during turning from any species of tree has the potential to cause serious health risks. Adverse respiratory effects and cancer have been reported.

Exotic tree species reportedly produce even deadlier wood dust that is capable of paralyzing the body. Without quick and proper treatment, it may result in death.

However, you can easily protect yourself from inhaling the dust. Wear a good quality face mask to protect yourself. Find one with decent air filtration and flow.