Learning to Turn... the slow journey begins.

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Blog entry by David Grimes posted 09-24-2011 08:21 AM 2219 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I finally got a chance to play with the lathe for a few minutes a couple of times this week. Just know that I am as green on a lathe as anybody ever has been, so this will be a slow (and hopefully not painful) learning experience for me.

I started with a 1 1/2×2 piece of pine… just to get a feel for roughing gouge a square into a cylinder. Other than the fact that pine is terrible for splitting out and I have little tool technique, it was a good start just to stand in front of the lathe and not make any major errors.

About as soon as I got a section of the pine round, I stopped and decided it was already time to move on to a piece of more appropriate wood. A small square of poplar from Lowe’s set me back about $6.

I repeated myself in that I was concentrating on making a cylinder… then a few graduations, but no plan or idea at all. I was / am just trying out the 8 tools for this and that. Some of them I don’t know their proper name or their use. For example, I think the one that is a half circle on the end is for bowls or hollowing, but I’m not sure. The pointed ones must be the parting tools to make straight lines down into the wood.

Somebody tell me, but I suspect that Poplar is not one of the better turning woods, either.

This makes a pretty quick mess, but it sweeps up easy and is light on the fine dust (versus sanding, table saw, etc.).

Another question: I will sharpen on a bench grinder. Should I go with a white Norton wheel ? What grit ? 100? 120? 150?

As always, any advise and tips for this lathe / turning beginner is welcome and appreciated. Thanks in advance.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

12 comments so far

View SSMDad's profile


395 posts in 2559 days

#1 posted 09-24-2011 01:22 PM

Hey David. Congrats on starting on the lathe. I was in exactly the same boat just a couple months ago but you do pick it up pretty quick and it’s VERY addictive. I’d be out turning right now if I wasn’t leaving town for the weekend. haha

Word of advice: Hardwoods turn easier than softwoods. Poplar is ok for experimenting but even it’s a bit soft. If you have some hardwood scraps laying around then just laminate them and turn that. I did it with a few and it “turns” out good in most cases.

You’ll get used to the tools, just look around here and it also helps to look at catalogs that show the tools individually. It will help you identify them even more.

From left to right: Skew, Roughing gouge (though tip is covered with shavings), Spindle gouge, Parting too, Bowl gouge, Round-nose scraper.

Rule of thumb is that Roughing gouges and Spindle gouges are primarily used for spindle turning while bowl gouges and scrapers are used for bowl turnings. The skew (someone correct me if I’m wrong) is used a lot like a smoothing plane. An experienced turner can get the wood smooth enough with a skew such that he (or she) doesn’t even need to sand it. The parting tool is used mostly to part the wood, ie separate pieces.

As far as blanks go, you can cut your own from fallen trees but you could also just buy blanks. Better to practice with N.A. native woods though since they’re less expensive than the exotics and it won’t hurt too bad to toss them when you accidentally gouge and ruin a turning. haha (been there done that).

As far as sharpening, I have two machines, one is a slow grinder from Woodcraft, the other is a Grizzly tormek wet grinder knockoff that works really well. I usually don’t grind too much opting for running a small diamond sharpener over the edges from time to time when turning to keep the edge. This works well and doesn’t eat away at the metal as much as grinding each time. Also know that some hardwoods really dull the tools quickly so you’ll want something around just to hone them after a little while and the diamond works well for that.

If I can think of anything else I’ll post. There are a lot more experienced turners here than me though so I’m sure you’ll get some much better answers/suggestions. Good luck and have fun!

Oh, one more thing, “green” woods turns a lot easier than dry wood. This is where I get the lovely long shaving from. Just remember though it will have to season and is more susceptible to checking and cracking.

-- Chris ~~Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

View Don W's profile

Don W

18684 posts in 2530 days

#2 posted 09-24-2011 02:13 PM

Hey David. I posted this less than 3 months ago, so I’m in the same boat as you. My lathe is down right now, I’m waiting on a part to be repaired, but I seem to have similar “newbie” issues as you.

So far I’ve sharpened on my norton aluminum oxide wheel. It seems to work pretty well, but haven’t gotten serious at the sharpening yet. I bought the lathe primary for chisel handles and plane knobs, but it is a bit addicting. Once I get my lathe back together, I’ve got a bunch of chisel handles to turn. I’ll let you know how that goes.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View jim C's profile

jim C

1472 posts in 3061 days

#3 posted 09-24-2011 02:16 PM

For a first timer that looks great.
Keep up the good work, and keep adding to this post as your techniques improve.

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2602 days

#4 posted 09-24-2011 11:39 PM

There are scores of videos on Youtube and the web covering lots of aspects, but the two things I can’t find:

1) a series showing how to use the different SPECIFIC tools

Example: Use the 1” roughing gouge for blah blah, but use the 3/4” when blah blah. This is the blah blah and it is used for blah blah and blah if you are blah blah. (with video to go along with it)

2) A list of the hardwoods and their turning properties (from bad to good and why… and maybe which are good for legs / pilasters or pens but suck for bowls, etc.

What grit Norton should I get ? I only have 35 and 60 right now. I suspect I need 100 or 120.

Thanks for the responses.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View A10GAC's profile


191 posts in 3041 days

#5 posted 09-25-2011 01:17 AM

If you have some free time check out the videos from Cap’n Eddie Castelin either on his site ( or YouTube ( He has about 100 videos, most in the 12 minute range, explaining everything from sharpening & turning tips to ornamental lathes. I like the fact that he explains the “why” as well as the “how” when he does things.

Good turning.

-- Men have become the tools of their tools. - Henry David Thoreau

View clieb91's profile


3520 posts in 3897 days

#6 posted 09-25-2011 06:09 PM

David, I too am not that far behind you in regards to the Lathe, A1 brings up a good webiste as I have watched a number f his videos and he does explain a lot.
I personally have found I kind of just like to experiment with the wood and tools and see what happens. Watch out for pens as they can be very addictive, got a number of them working right now.

Lookin forward to your future posts about you experiences.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3233 days

#7 posted 09-25-2011 07:32 PM

I would recommend that you watch lots of videos and perhaps read one of the very good books out there. A couple that comes to mind are “The Art of Turning Bowls” by David Ellsworth or the similar title by Richard Raffan. Both are excellent turners and pretty good teachers.

The most important thing is safety. A lathe turns wood at substantial speeds and if one of the centers or the chuck let go – the wood becomes a very dangerous high speed projectile. Always wear protective clothing (like a leather apron or smock), a face shield and protection from the dust – I use a Trend respirator myself.

The next importance is the chuck and tools. There are several jaw sizes for most chucks and the art of mounting a blank for turning is both practical (so it does not let go) and aestetic – You want to be able to turn your item with maximum accessability without having to rechuck often (rechucking has it’s own list of issues).

There is so much to turning that a blog could not even scratch the surface. You should check your area for a turning club (Check out the American Association of Woodturner’s (AAW) site as they list alot of local clubs). If you have a local club nearby, check it out, there are typically several experienced individuals that can “mentor” your turning.

I was lucky enough to have a mentor to show me the basics of turning – I learned alot from my “mentor” including proper stance, selecting blanks, chucking, proper use of the tools and sharpening the tools (which is one of those more important aspects of turning).

There are many methods out there to sharpen and all of them have pro’s and con’s to useage. I use a combination of diamond or ceramic stones with a leather hone to get mine razor sharp. Grinders are too agressive for me, I do not like to take so much metal off for sharpening – the grinder is good for a damaged tool or to set up the bevel – after that I stick to stones and hones.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2602 days

#8 posted 09-26-2011 05:32 AM

Thanks, guys… I already found Cap’n Eddie and find him to be a real treasure. I may even buy some of his carbide ended tools.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2602 days

#9 posted 09-28-2011 09:19 AM

I continue to “mess around” on the lathe with this same length of Poplar.

I sanded one section. Now THAT is fun. Very quick learning curve there. Then I lopped off that section that will make a nice handle for a loose bastard mill file I have floating around. It fits my hand with thumb extended as designed.

I mixed up some of Cap’n Eddie’s Glow Juice (shellac, BLO, and DNA 1 part each) and applied it for maybe the equivalence of 10 or so coats to the first “handle” I made. Now I can see that a lathe is like a finish polishing machine as well (for round stock, anyway).

Then I chucked up another piece that’s a bit longer to both play / learn and hopefully make a handle for the one of the new carbide cutters that I’ll make for turning. That will too be fun… and no way I am paying the king’s ransom for the Easy Tools products. Over $100 apiece ! My Mother’s oldest child was not raised a fool. These will be stained and Glow Juiced after I get all of them turned.

I’ll want to duplicate this exactly a few more times (good practice, that) so the four cutter handles will match.

To be continued…

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View jim C's profile

jim C

1472 posts in 3061 days

#10 posted 09-28-2011 02:16 PM

Looking good.
Get a compound slide from a metal working lathe if you really want to have some fun.

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2602 days

#11 posted 10-01-2011 10:33 AM

jim C, What is the compound slide and what will it do ? If it’s fun, don’t you be tempting me now !

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2602 days

#12 posted 10-06-2011 08:08 AM

I’ve been busy on other things lately, but am still waiting on the 120 grit white wheel so I can sharpen more often. I also have carbide tips (square, round, diamond and triangle) and holders (ready for my handles) coming from Cap’n Eddie. These look like the way to go. I sure do like his videos on Youtube.

Here’s the first two handles finished…

and the third I’ve started (plus a fourth) will match the darker finished one…

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

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