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 turning chisels for lathes.
What to expect
The craft of carving 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 utlizes a rapidly rotating spindle type apparatus 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 arsenol 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 instructuor is no doubt beneficial, but if you are more inclinedto 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 anticipate their effect on your project.
Gouges are perfect for removing large amounts of material over a greater surface area, and while they do vary in size, they aren’t the best for detail work. They can be easily identified by their U-shaped bevel, either on both or one side.
Chisels are indicated by their size, and a gouge for roughing the bulk of the material should by abount 1 inch (width of the blade). While they do get bigger, you won’t find using many that are significantly smaller.
Skew 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 specfic designs.
A scraper is utilized 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 seperately is unecessary. 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 lathe chisels 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 seperately 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.
Top recommended woodturning chisels & gouges
Dimensions have a significant advantage to the job they are meant for. 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.
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.
An alternative to the previous option, 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 the sizes of project they can handle. 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 sacraficing 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.
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.
Conventiently enough, even the handles 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.
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 arsenol 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″.
The best bowl turning gouges isn’t as big of a hurdle to tackle as finding quality chisels. Hurrican 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 Hurrican kit is low quality, because this without a doubt is the best bowl gouge 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.
Purchasing individually is eventually, after learning how to use different chisels and gouges, the most ideal way to acquire and expand your collection. A solid, robust roughing gouge is that first tool you will learn and use on any project, and when you do you’ll want Sorby’s 1/2″ fingernail gouge for bowl turning.
Like other options recommended here, this is made from hardenedand tempered high speed steel. Holding an edge is not an issue, and even better is its resistance to overheating from grinding or heavy use. Engaging wood with any woodturning tool start at the handle, and for the 1/2″ Sorby, its tapered body is a comfortable shape for holding a grip.
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 bowl turning gouges.
Sharpening your tools
I always say this, and I always will: a dull balde is more dangerous than a sharp one. You will spend a significant amount of time using the best lathe chisels and sharperning them. Learning how to give your tools a sharp edge is a process, and being disiplined 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 oppurtunity 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 lathe chisels are in sets, and would be much more cost effective just getting a full kit.
If, however, you are a person who is knowledgable 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.