Working on a lathe is really enjoyable, but without the right set, it can be quite the opposite. The best lathe chisels for starters in spindle work, and what each of those chisels do is essential to know before you can begin woodturning. We will go through each chisels variant and find out which set is the best wood lathe tools for woodturning.
Best Wood Lathe Tools
Dimensions have a significant advantage to the job they are meant for, and for a woodturning mini lathe or tools in conjunction with them, dimensions are everything. You wouldn’t use a chisel with a 1/4″ bevel width for roughing out the wood. If you are carving a larger project, then use the appropriate tools, and likewise for vice versa.
- 8 piece set (chisels, gouges, parting, scraper)
- Used for medium to large projects
- High speed steel
IMOTECHOM has an 8 piece kit that is higher quality in terms of what size jobs it can handle. The choice variation for what types of blade shapes that are provided are very similar, but the only difference is their choice to branch out with the pairing tool but rounding it. Now there are 3 types of parting blades in this kit.
The blades are made of the longer lasting high speed steel blades that have more potential for handling larger sized workpieces. The roughing gouge is width is slightly larger at 1 inch, which leaves you with a slight advantage. The amount of material it can shave is better, the surface area of coverage is better, heck the tools themselves are better. The blades alone are safe 6.3 inches from the handle.
While not a total beginner kit, this option still possesses qualities that can be compared to other basic recommendations, and the price might seem steep for what is provided. With the same amount of money you can get more chisels and a wider range of options, but you could also be sacrificing quality if you aren’t careful. Additionally, if there’s any kind of blade variation that is valued most in woodturning, it certainly wouldn’t be among parting tools.
- 8 piece set (chisels, gouges, parting, scraper)
- Used for turning small/medium pens and bowls
- M2 high speed steel
An alternative to the previous option, PSI Woodworking 8 piece set is on the more affordable side, but that does not take away from its ability to perform. Fortunately, this is a really great set for turning a combination of project sizes, including things like pens and bowls. However, I would limit this specific set to small and medium sized jobs.
The average sized chisel in this kit is a bit of a limitation, but the quality for its job range is quite impressive. The blades are made of M2 high speed steel which isn’t quite as sharp as high carbon steel, but most certainly outlasts it. Maintaining an edge on your bevel is an essential part to extending that life expectancy for these tools, and keeping a secure cut.
Now this is a relatively standard kit to start with, so its precision is pretty basic. Eventually, you will grow out of them and prefer a more developed set. Still, if you passive carver and just need something to get you started, this is the perfect option to do that.
- 7 piece set (gouges)
- Used for detailing and general roughing
- Alloy chromium vanadium steel and hardened to Rockwell C60
A better example of a chisel set that have a variety worth getting is SCHAAF‘s 7 piece set of gouges. This particular option displays an assortment of gouges that all differ in shape and size. The importance of shape and size weighs significantly on how it affects your project, so having access to a wide range of options can extend your woodturning potential.
The 3F-14mm and 3F-20mm fishtails prove to be useful around countoured featues, and also can be utilized with background work in relief carving. As far as the #3-20mm goes, it is best used for quickly removing large amount of wood fibers. Things like outlining and detailing should be used with the #12-10mm. Each of the blades are effectively sufficient thanks to the alloy chromium vanadium steel that’s hardened to Rockwell C60. A benefit unique to this metal is its ability to maintain an edge for a longer duration than what is typically expected of other types of metal.
Conveniently enough, even the handle’s shape is something to admire. The European style octagonal handles keep the tool in a fixed position and helps avoids rolling issues. Keeping your tools sharp in the workplace is the most important part to extending their effectiveness on your projects.
- 8 piece set (gouges, skews, scrapers)
- Used for roughing and detail work
- M42 high speed steel
- Length varies between 16″-19″
The importance of quality becomes quickly stressed the deeper into woodturning you get. Even as a beginner, the quality of general HSS type sets start you out with could put you at a disadvantage if their quality is not up to standards. The best lathe chisels for starting out is an 8 piece Sorby set.
Robert Sorby sets the benchmark to which all woodturning tools are compared to, and even predates modern woodworking. All cutting tools feature steel blades that maintain an edge for longer, making it optimal for either beginners or people looking to expand their current arsenal of supplies.
Thankfully, this HSS turning tool set includes an assortment of above standard quality blades. The 3/4″ roughing gouge is an ideal size for removing enough material at the start of your project, and it will be your workhorse. The overall length of the tools being 16″ to 19″.
- 3 piece set (flute gouges)
- Used for detail work
- High speed steel
- Length ranges between 22-1/2″ to 25″
The best woodturning tools for bowls isn’t as big of a hurdle to tackle as finding quality chisels. Hurricane Turning Tools have a great 3 piece kit which includes a 1/4″ gouge, 3/8″ gouge, and 1/2″ gouge. While 3 may not sound like a lot, it is certainly a healthy amount to have for turning bowls, and you more than likely won’t even use all 3 in a given project.
The largest gouge, the 1/2″ flute (3/8″ bar stock), is the workhorse of the whole set, so it will endure the roughest treatment. Not to worry, the metal is crafted from high speed steel, and lasts up to 8 times longer than carbon steel. The three size alternatives serve to be used on either small bowls, or cut for detailing work. In total length, each tool is 22 1/2″ – 25″ with a blade length being between 13 1/2″-15″. This provides plenty of room for extension to push into the wood, however for complete control over your tool it is essential to not let the blade extend much past the tool rest.
Often times you will come across a single gouge being close to the amount of this 3 piece set, and usually the price is consistent with its quality. That certainly does not mean that the Hurricane kit is low quality, because this without a doubt is the best woodturning tools for the money. Although, if purchasing a single roughing gouge that is high quality and can be used for the entirety of the bowl turning process then our next option will be perfect for that.
- 2 piece set (scrapers)
- Used for contour work (bowls, cups, etc.)
- M2 high speed steel
- Length between 16″ to 19″
After a quality gouge has been acquired, there’s only one other tool you’ll need before you’re able to start turning out bowl after bowl. Assuming a lathe isn’t one of them, introducing a bowl scraper is important for completing the contour work inside the bowl. PSI woodworking has a round end inboard side scraper that is perfect for the job.
A scraper plays one of the most important roles for completing a bowl turning project. Their purpose serves to deepen the contour of a bowl, and smooth it out. This set comes with two, however you only need one to complete your project, the extra is there for variety. The thick, sturdy 6″ blades are made from M2 high speed steel with the total length of the tool being 16″. The larger scraper is crafted the same and has the same sized blade, yet the overall length is slightly longer at 19″ with the handle being 13″.
Their ideal use is consistent with blending parallel side walls, curving the bottom end of boxes and vessels together. Gouges can only dig about 1/3 of the way into a bowl before you’ll need to introduce the scraper for deep hollowing and doing final cuts inside. They also do a great job undercutting the rim of smaller sized projects and are the best woodturning tools.
- 8 piece set (chisels, scrapers, parting tool, gouges)
- High speed steel
- Used for turning bowls, cups, pens, etc.
- Length of tools are 16 inches
Yellowhammer’s 8 piece set offers a very similar setup to most other options, except they look a little cooler, handle a little better, and have a diverse coverage of applications. For anyone who wants an inexpensive, quality set of the best woodturning tools that can be used for almost any workpiece, Yellowhammer is the perfect choice.
A few of the tools are pretty standard, like the 5/8″ shear scraper, 3/16″ parting tool (although slightly smaller), and the 1″ roughing gouge, as far as woodturning setups go. They’re all made of high speed steel, which is the most ideal for turning wood, and the beech handles are ergonomically sufficient for maintaining a grip of the tools to stay as accurate as possible.
Most of the value can be found in the few other tools that are included, specifically the 1/2″ bowl gouge, 7/8″ roughing gouge, and 5/8″ round nose scraper.
Firstly, the standard size for bowl gouges is around 3/8″ with a bevel between 45 and 65 degrees. Now the 1/2″ is not far of from that dimension, although slightly bigger, which just means it can be handle larger workpieces. The slight hollowed out flute shape helps to remove a lot of wood material while at the same time giving it a concave shape that ultimately forms the inner or outer part of a bowl. It is incredibly important to have a bowl gouge if you are wanting to make bowls with a lathe.
A 7/8 inch roughing gouge has slight advantages over the typical 1 inch. It can be used for slightly smaller workpieces, but is still capable of handling the slight concave modifications to the project. Its intended purpose extends far past just bowls and pens, but spindle work as well.
Finally, the 5/8″ round nose scraper is a bit of a specific tool, but is invaluable. Its purpose is to remove marks on the inside of a bowl in order to smoothen out the texture before you sand and polish it. A profoundly underrated and often overlooked detail that makes a world of difference to the finish results.
- 8 piece set (scrapers, chisel, parting tool, gouges)
- High speed steel
- Used for turning cups, bowls, pens, etc.
- Each tool is approximately 16 inches in overall length
A close competing setup for turning wood is Savannah’s 8 piece option. It utilizes slightly different options, but the just of what they offer is quite the same. They use HSS (high speed steel) material for the blade, the total length of the tools is 16 inches, and the handle shape is virtually identical. It does slightly cater to spindle type workpieces, but you’re still able to use it for bowls, cups, and similar projects.
The hardwood turned handle length for each tool is right at 10-3/4″, while the blades are approximately 5-1/4″ long. The 16″ mark is pretty standard for your average set, that way you are able to use it for both the heavy lifting at beginning of a project, or the detail work near the end.
As I previously stated, the spindle gouge marginally tilts this option in favor of spindle turning. It enables us to make concave shapes, commonly called coves, or convex shapes, known as beads. It typically lends itself to detailing sculptures and figures, as opposed to the bowl gouge that is used to remove a large amount of material necessary for creating a bowl.
The result of this difference pertaining to this particular set might not seem significant, but it most certainly is. If you are wanting to turn spindles in order to replicate bodies, or elongated structures, then this is without a doubt the best woodturning tools for that job.
- 3 piece set (square, round, and diamond shaped cutters)
- Solid carbide material
- Specialty tools (see what they do below)
- Each tool is approximately 21 inches in length
Another fantastic Savannah tool kit for turning wood that is actually rather unorthodox in shape is this 3 piece set. Although 3 pieces might not seem like much, they are unquestionably and always useful once you have used them. Rather than your typical gouge or chisel, this setup comes with tools where the ends are square, round, and diamond shaped cutters.
Aside from the ashwood covered rubber grip handles for precision control and the solid carbide material, these tools come a bit larger than average at 21 inches. Carbide tools are different from the traditional in several ways:
- Requires replacing the cutters instead of sharpening once they become blunt all around.
- Edges come in different shapes, the main ones being round, square, and diamond.
- When turning wood, hold carbide tool parallel to the ground instead of at an upward angle.
The square cutter has nice sharp corners, so instead of using it on a flat surface, you would use it on the outside of a curve, or you can use the side, as well as the front, to cut into corners.
The round tip cutter can be used for the inside of balls, curves, or coves. This can be applied to figures, bowls, cups, or just about anything that forms a concave or convex shape.
The diamond cutter is used for fine detail jobs. Intricate and accurate modifications need an adequate tool for making the last finishing touches on specific areas that need attention. The diamond shape is an all purpose detailer for any type of structure you want to create.
Ultimately, solid carbide tools are a preference, and definitely worth the time and money to try them. As far as quality is concerned, the Savannah 3 piece set is the best carbide woodturning tools to use on any project.
About Woodturning tools
The craft of wood harbors a lot of depth in the amount of ways it can be achieved. Each of which are oddly satisfying to watch, and equally as rewarding to finish. Woodturning utilizes a rapidly rotating spindle type apparatus called a lathe that can be shaved down by several different tools. Each craft has its own learning curve, and this post will serve as an informational resource for beginning, help with some inevitable obstacles along the way, how to keep them wicked sharp, and recommend some items to keep in your arsenal of supplies.
As far as learning how to use your tools goes, assuming you have a lathe for woodturning, there are plenty of online guides which provide step-by-step guides. Hands-on experience with an instructor is no doubt beneficial, but if you are more inclined to teach yourself, then check out this video by Fine Woodworking:
One of the conventional uses for woodturning is a lathe for bowl turning, and for good reason. It’s one of the most simple shapes to carve, and the amount of applicable designs are plentiful. Experiment early on your own to become more familiar with your tools, and the potential they have.
Types of tools used for woodturning
Before I go through all of them, take note of the profile differences, and try to anticipate their effect on your project.
Gouges, depending on the type, are perfect for removing a large amount of wood material, and are typically used at the beginning of a project or to make a convex/contour shape out of the wood. They can be easily identified by their hollowed out flute. Some are slightly hollowed, and others are fully hollowed.
- Roughing gouges: Used at the start of a workpiece in order to get rid of a lot of bark and shave it down until you have your desired outline.
- Bowl gouge: Needed for creating the convex and contour shape inside and outside of a bowl. It is possible to substitute other tools to do this, but it is easiest with a bowl gouge.
Chisels differ from gouges in shape and bevel. There is no hollow flute with a chisel, instead it has a straight blade and the end is beveled.
- Skew chisel: can be identified by the blade angle at the end of the blade, and is best to get one that is beveled on both sides. These have the most noticeable size alternatives that serve many detailing needs that everyone encounters. Essentially it is the follow up tool to a gouge that can even out the smoothness of your project or create specific designs.
A scraper is used for deepening or hollowing out a project. While you will need a gouge to get you to a certain point, the scraper is necessary to complete a bowl turning project.
Parting tools kind of have a odd tip on them. They come to a V at the end and have a raised area on each side that is essential to its unqiue cutting. These parting tools are often used in conjunction with calipers, and work quite well hand-in-hand.
The best woodturning chisels will have a combination of all three, or more, in a set. Unless you have an affinity for a certain company’s product, I find buying them separately is unnecessary. Having just one type of chisel is pointless since you need more than one type to complete a full project.
Purchase a set or buy seperately?
There’s a bit of a phenomena with buying sets of lathe chisels for woodturning no matter what company they come from, and that’s quality. The popular narrative between the pros and cons of buying the best wood lathe tools set is that it’s collectively less expensive. Additionally, having access to different types of chisel types is essential to learning how to use them. Not only that, but carving wood with these tools and sharpening them wear them down over time. Knowing how the tools work before getting really good quality tools that wear down over time is a productive choice.
The contradicting notion being that purchasing tools individually is more beneficial financially because the quality of the tools are more significant and last longer. Some believe that while using the tools and sharpening most certainly consumes more steel in the learning stages, but not enough to warrant choosing cheap steel over quality. If you are more interested in going this route, then start out with getting a roughing gouge, diamond parting tool, a skew, and 1-2 different sized gouges for whatever type of woodturning you’re looking to do.
Ultimately, this is preference, and each have their own pros and cons. I will say that purchasing separately is more preferable when you know how to use the tools, and know what you’re looking for. However, there will be sizes and gouges in sets that you’ll more than likely rarely use. If the average cost per product isn’t a concern of yours, then purchase individually. Otherwise, buying a full set to practice with is a better option.
Sharpening your tools
I always say this, and I always will: a dull blade is more dangerous than a sharp one. You will spend a significant amount of time using the best wood lathe tools and sharpening them. Learning how to give your tools a sharp edge is a process, and being disciplined enough to do that consistently is absolutely necessary.
In order to bring a confident edge back to any common woodturning tools, a simple bench grinder can easily achieve that. A jig will be necessary depending on the size of what you’re sharpening. The bench grinder is applicable to all kind of woodturning chisels and gouges (skews, parting tools, gouges, etc.).
You can expect some safety hazards when rapidly removing wood fibers with any type of power tools. The most obvious being any sort of respiratory complication when sanding wood. Avoid breathing in those fibers when the opportunity presents itself by using a mask or respirator.
Additionally, the second most obvious issue you will eventually run into are splinters. While it may seem like common sense to wear hand protection while using a lathe, most of the time I have actually gotten a splinter was when I wasn’t using a lathe at all. Arbitrary handling isn’t always so obvious, but it nonetheless attests to the importance of gloves.
A not so obvious potential safety hazard is loose clothing. Long sleeve shirts, hanging material, and even long hair can do some real damage if you aren’t paying enough attention. So before even putting your piece of wood onto a lathe, make a habit out of avoiding all possibilities to prevent injury.
Woodturning is no easy hobby to jump into, but it makes sense to have access to a variety of tool types that are most common in order to gain some familiarity. Engaging wood with different tools expands your knowledge, and as a beginner that is invaluable. Purchasing any of our recommend best wood lathe tools are in sets, and would be much more cost effective just getting a full kit.
If, however, you are a person who is knowledgeable of what the tools do, how they engage with the wood, and overall more advanced, then I would most certainly checking out purchasing items that are specific to your needs for your next project.