So you want to start Woodturning?

Woodturning is a wonderful pastime, one of life’s pleasures and not to be missed. It is just as fascinating to watch an expert turner at work, as it is to see a potter throw a pot on the wheel. The turner magically and effortlessly shapes a rough piece of wood into a useful and attractive object in a matter of seconds. Woodturning is great fun and easier than it looks. It comes close to being the ideal hobby and if you want, it can lead to a money spinning sideline or full time career.

Choosing Equipment

A pole lathe turner of the old school could set up woodturning in the middle of a beechwood with little more than a gouge, a chisel, some rope, and an axe! He would construct his primitive wooden lathe on the spot from the materials around him. Seriously though, I will try in the following pages to give you an honest and unbiased guide to buying equipment on your limited budget. Experts will seldom agree on what is really essential but I suggest that the following will set you up nicely to start with. You will soon be in a position to bribe the accounts department (with suitable decorative offerings) into financing the purchase of some desirable extras.

You will need . . .

Sources of Information

You can read lots of books, watch woodturning videos and talk to any knowledgeable friends. Better still, you can go on a short woodturning course. This is a good way of finding out for yourself desirable and undesirable features on a lathe.
Try contacting your local woodturning club for information. It is likely that they will be very helpful. You may even find that you can go to their demonstrations for a small contribution to club funds.
Your local library may have books on woodturning and know about local woodturning clubs. Your local schools and colleges may provide evening classes.
Buy a few woodturning magazines. Reading a selection of these will give you lots of good information on sources of supply, local club events, dealers and demonstrations to see. Look at the small ads for second hand equipment.
Last but not least check out the internet! There are club sites, dealer sites, tool manufacturers sites, news groups and woodturning associations on the web. See our links page

Sources of Supply

Apart from the lathe what do you need just to get started?

You need to budget for the following extras . . .

Safety equipment.

You will need a faceshield to protect your face as well as your eyes. Safety glasses are not enough.
Dust extraction is very important but there is insufficient space to cover the subject here. As a minimum, wear a mask while sanding.

A good tool set

The tools should be of good quality by a reputable maker and be of high speed steel (usually abbreviated to HSS). The set will not be cheap as it includes the expensive roughing gouge and bowl gouge. This set will do 95% of all woodturning cuts at a realistic price. You can always add to the set later if need be. I have left out the skew chisel because I consider it to be a desirable but non-essential tool at this stage. I use the 3/8" beading tool for my chisel cuts and find it handier but many teachers would disagree and you could always go for say a 1" oval skew chisel instead.

Sharpening equipment

As a minimum you should have a 6" bench grinder preferably fitted with at least one good quality wheel, ideally at the left hand end. You will need to buy or improvise an angle guide to help you sharpen the tools at the correct angle. A good grindstone dressing tool is essential to keep the grinder in good condition.

Lathe bench

If your new lathe is not supplied with a bench you can buy one or make one cheaply from chipboard.

Multi-purpose Chucks

Lathes are not normally supplied with a chuck because a multichuck is an expensive serious investment. A chuck will grip bowls without the need for woodscrews. A chuck will also grip the end of a cylinder of wood firmly so that you can drill and hollow such projects as peppermills, containers with lids and vessels or vase shaped pieces which are difficult to grip any other way.
The best and most costly chucks are scroll chucks with one-handed T bar tightening similar to engineering chucks. There are other types designed for economy of manufacture which will do the job well but with the sacrifice of some features. More on chucks.


A drillchuck is important and enables you to use different kinds of drill bits to drill accurate and true on the lathe. Our drillchucks.


In my opinion a small inexpensive faceplate is essential. Even if you do not at first buy a chuck make sure you have a faceplate. One 3" diameter is fine.

Revolving centre

Often called a "live centre", this fits into the tailstock morse taper socket and supports the work. It usually has a conical point which spins in ball races so it does not burn it's way into the wood like the "dead centre" tends to do. You will need one if it is not supplied with the lathe.

Useful small workshop tools and materials

Wood blanks

You can buy blanks from your supplier but a good idea is to get hold of some small logs for Practice turning. Branches pruned off an apple tree for example would be perfect. Don't try to make anything - just practice your cuts.


It is wise to do some armchair woodturning before you switch on in earnest. An excellent book to start with is Woodturning - A Foundation Course. This is written by Keith Rowley and published by GMC.

General hints

Always buy the best tools and equipment you can afford. Quality is better than quantity. Woodturning lathes and tools are easy to sell secondhand in the small ads in the local paper if you make a mistake.

Next pages

Choosing your first lathe - desirable features
Choosing your first lathe - more technical stuff
Choosing starter set of tools
Woodturning chucks