I had the amazing experience of learning the skill of woodturning from my friend Dan Cary of Woodworkers Journal at this years Craftsman Makecation in Brooklyn New York. Woodworking is a tremendous hobby that can last a lifetime, but as your skills grow, so does the need for larger and more expensive tools. Woodturning only requires a lathe and a few hand tools to get started.
Woodturning is a type of woodworking used to create wooden objects on a lathe. A lathe is a power tool that rotates a piece of wood on an axis and allows you to shape it using various carving tools.
Wood bowls, table legs, candle sticks, and goblets are all products woodturning. Here’s what you need to get started.
All lathes perform the same task of turning wood. The main difference between lathes is determined by how large the piece of stock is that you want to turn. Take note of the diameter of the work piece (swing capacity) and the length between the lathe centers. If you plan on turning wood bowls, you may need a larger lathe than someone who simply wants to turn items on a spindle and make tool handles and salt and pepper shakers.
Look for a lathe that is at least 1/2 horsepower with 12” swing capacity like this model from Craftsman which retails for $414. For a bit more power, bump up to this Delta which offers a 1 horsepower motor and a bit more swing capacity at 12 1/2” for $610.
Lathes require regular maintenance to perform properly. Lubrication and constant checking for loose nuts and bolts should be a routine practice for any woodturner. Follow the manufacturers maintenance schedule and recommendations for lubricants which can include grease and oil.
In addition to a lathe, you’ll need a set of turning tools to shape the wood and lathe chucks to attach the wood to the lathe.
Turning tools look like chisels and have a beveled point. Each point is shaped differently to produce a desired effect on a piece of wood. Spindle turning tools, for example, are slightly different than bowl turning tools. Choose according to your use, but most woodturners have both sets.
You can get a basic 8-piece set for $75 but you will need to sharpen these tools regularly. Another option are carbide tipped tools ($129) like these from Rockler. If the tool gets dull you can turn the tip to a sharp edge and then replace the tip once every side is worn down.
Lathe chucks are also divided according to the type of woodturning you’ll be doing, be it bowls or spindles. You’re lathe may already come equipped with a chuck.
Preparation and Safety
Before you begin woodturning, take the time to setup a clean work environment and do it in a space where you won’t get bumped.
Follow these safety tips to ensure a good experience.
- Roll sleeves above elbows and remove all jewelry from your hands and wrists.
- Always wear eye protection.
- Always stop the lathe before making adjustments or taking measurements.
- Know where the emergency stop is before operating the lathe.
- Start Turning
Picking your wood is one of the most fun parts of woodturning. Walnut, maple, and cherry all produce beautiful looking pieces, and it’s fun experimenting with the different colors and grains.
You can buy turning stock online that is cut from kiln dried lumber and specifically selected for woodturning applications.
Before you start turning, attach the wood piece to the chuck and then attach the chuck to the lathe. There are numerous ways to do this, but the simple way is shown in the video below as he turns a blank into a bowl.
Woodturning is a safe and relatively inexpensive hobby that will have you churning out finished wood projects in no time. The more wood you turn, the better you will get and your skills will advance quickly.