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Setting up your workshop - tools

Choosing your first turning tools.

Henry Taylor Tools, based in Sheffield, has a huge range of over 4000 tools (including the carving tools). I counted 320 different woodturning tools in their price list and the number is increasing every month with the introduction of special tools designed by leading international woodturners. We are proud to have designed, and helped to design, a few of their tools. Other tools in the range were developed by famous names such as Richard Raffan, Rude Osolnik and Dale Nish.
However you will be pleased to know that you do not need anything like 320 tools in your tool set. You may have read somewhere that many woodturners get away with using only three or four tools for 95% of woodturning and this is indeed possible, especially when you are more proficient.
   I recommend that beginners purchase a small, carefully selected, group of first class tools and build on that nucleus. Good tools are a joy to use and are well worth the extra money. High speed steel tools are definitely preferable to carbon steel ones, especially while you are learning, because they are easier to use and more difficult to abuse. They stay sharp a great deal longer and will soon repay the investment. The cut price sets of carbon steel tools (made in the far East?) are a false economy. As with any craft, the better a tool is, the easier it is to use and to learn with. Some inferior sets of turning tools are on offer which are exceedingly difficult to turn with! So you may well start your new hobby by struggling when you should be enjoying yourself. Also, with most cheap sets, you are likely to end up with some tools which you never use and so waste your money. I always advise beginners to go on a course and read as many books as possible before spending any money on equipment but, failing that, read on . . . .

   Tools can be divided into four classes. .
   (a) Spindle turning tools
   (b) Bowl turning tools
   (c) Tools for chuck work
   (d) Special tools


Spindle Turning tools


   If you restrict yourself to "spindle turning" you can get started with just three tools - a chisel and two gouges. Examples of spindle turning are rails for chairs and staircase balusters.

   The wood, originally of square section, is mounted on the lathe "between centres" i.e. between the drive centre at the headstock end and the tailstock centre. The roughing gouge is used for taking the corners off and forming the rough shape. The spindle gouge and the chisel (or alternatively a beading tool) is used for cutting the details.
   Recommended tools for spindle turning are . . .
   (a) Roughing gouge about 19mm or 25mm
   (b) Spindle gouge about 9mm
   (c) Beading tool 9mm square section

   Roughing gouge. This is used for roughing down the initial square section wood to a true cylinder and also for forming shallow curves. Properly sharpened and used it leaves an excellent finish thus dispensing with the need for a turning chisel.
   Spindle gouges (also known as shallow fluted gouges). They are used for narrow concave curves (sometimes called "coves") where the roughing gouge cannot get in. They can also cut convex curves, beads and other details although these are best done with either a skew chisel or a beading tool (a beading tool is a type of chisel anyway). Some turners do just about every detail between centres with the spindle gouge and hardly ever use a skew chisel.
   A spindle gouge is shallower than a bowl gouge and has the corners ground back to give a "fingernail" shape. Advanced turners find spindle gouges useful for hollowing out goblets and even bowl turning.
   Beading tool. This versatile tool is a kind of chisel. It is used for forming grooves with flat bottoms and also for projecting dowels or spigots. It is used for making tight convex curves or beads. It is used for trueing up and cleaning up the end of a cylinder. It is used for making Vee cuts for chuck spigots, decoration or marking out. It is also useful in faceplate work for making recesses.
   Skew Chisel. Frank Pain, who knew a thing or two about woodturning, once told me that skew chisels were "gimmicks for amateurs" but the trend with modern woodturning is that a skew must be used for everything. Unlike most woodturners and writers, I do not recommend that you buy a skew initially - learners find them difficult to sharpen, difficult to learn to use (discouraging even) and unnecessary. You should, however, one day buy one and get to know and appreciate its many virtues. It is a most satisfying tool to use once you get the hang of it and it will give a wonderful finish to all convex and cylindrical shapes in between-centres work. In fact, if you grind it to a curve in the style of Richard Raffan, you can cut concave shapes as well. The design I like is the oval skew - try one about 1" wide. For some reason the oval skews are cheaper than the conventional skew and they are certainly easier to use with less risk of a "dig-in".

Bowl turning tools

   Bowl turning tools are more expensive than spindle tools so if you can manage without them for a while you will save a significant amount.
   You need at least three tools for turning bowls. These are . . .
(a) A strong deep fluted "bowl gouge" about 9mm (cut from 12mm bar)
(b) A straight edge scraper 20mm min. (for finishing the outside)
(c) A rounded scraper 20mm min. (for finishing the inside)   

   Bowl turning gouges. You will need a strong gouge for roughing out the shape. If it is a good gouge it can also be used for finishing, so virtually 100% of the work can be done with just one tool. However you will not be able, at first, to prevent the gouge leaving turning marks or rings which have to be removed by scrapers.
   Scrapers. These are used for removing the marks left by the gouge. For the inside of the bowl you will need a round nose scraper. It needs to be a strong one because it is likely to have to work a long way forward over the tool rest which results in high leverage forces. For this reason I recommend the 20mm extra thick round nose. For the outside of the bowl you will need a straight end scraper and a 25mm size will be strong enough because you can get the tool rest close to the wood surface. Both these scrapers are also useful for chuck work i.e. hollowing out eggcups and goblets, (round nose) and working inside flat bottom holes (straight end).

Tools for chuck work


   "Chuck work" involves hollowing an object held in a chuck. Most hollowing can be done with the two bowl finishing scarpers described above although advanced turners have a battery of special tools adapted to deep hollowing work and hollowing which involves undercuts etc. If the chuck is used to grip a bowl then the normal bowl turning tools will be used.
   Parting tool. In the case of turned goblets, containers and similar work, you will need a parting tool. There are many types of specialised parting tool. Beginners are advised to buy the basic standard type of tool with a parallel, non fluted rectangular section - the small 3mm size will do most jobs.
   The function of the parting tool is making deep grooves and cutting finished work (eg an eggcup) from the waste (which is normally held to the lathe by the chuck). Some turners find one handy for doing small beads and, held on it's side, it can be used as a scraper for cutting recesses or dovetails for fitting the wood to the chuck.

Special Tools


   You can start with the tools mentioned above and build on them as you go along. If you have a special application in mind then some of the many specialised turning tools available will be of interest to you.
   Bead cutting tools. These are specially profiled tools which scrape out the shape of a bead. They come in several sizes shaped to produce the bead required. They have to be sharpened on the top only to avoid losing the accuracy of the profile. They do not give such a good finish as a chisel or beading tool but are likely to give a more accurately shaped and consistently sized bead if you are not very skilful.
   Captive ring scrapers. Similar to the above but they undercut the bead to produce loose rings of circular section.
   Ring tools. These hollow out the bowls of goblets, eggcups etc. They give a much better finish than a scraper.
   Special parting tools. The "fluted" parting tool leaves a much better finish on the cut surface than the normal parting tool because the business end is a forked shape (like a snakes tongue) and the two sharp corners scribe the wood fibres before the centre of the blade cuts. It is used mainly in chuck work. Say you have turned and polished an eggcup or goblet or whatever in your chuck and you want to part it away from the waste. You will not want to remount it to clean up the base, so you will be wanting a very clean finish in the cut. The fluted parting tool is designed for just this job.
   The diamond parting tool has a special section which gives improved clearance in the cut.
   Side cutting scrapers. These come in three types. The Taylor HS35 is for hollowing inside chuck work such as goblets which need a rounded bottom to the bowl with vertical sides. The Taylor HS36 is for cleaning up the inside of turned containers where the inside has a flat bottom with vertical sides. The scraper scrapes down the sides and also across the bottom. The Taylor HS48 and similar tools is for bowls with an undercut rim.
 

By Roy Child - copyright 1996

Care of your tools - sharpening

When you buy your tools they do not come sharp ready to use (this might change soon, as the new MD of Henry Taylor told me). You have to grind and sharpen your tools before you can use them, so please see the next page for essential grinding equipment!

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