All Replies on Best wood to use for lathe practice ?

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View SuburbanDon's profile

Best wood to use for lathe practice ?

by SuburbanDon
posted 08-28-2012 05:59 PM

23 replies so far

View Nick_R's profile


152 posts in 2119 days

#1 posted 08-28-2012 06:11 PM

Pine is cheap and plentiful. What kind of chisels do you have? I have a midi lathe and it didn’t matter what kind of wood I used, my chisels were DULL. So keep em sharp and start with soft wood. Also make sure the grain runs horizontal.

-- Hope for the best but plan for the worst.

View BigYin's profile


414 posts in 2385 days

#2 posted 08-28-2012 07:02 PM

Free wood is the best to practice with.
look out for tree surgeons at work, dont be shy, ask for some timber
in residential areas ornamental trees can produce some beautiful wood

-- ... Never Apologise For Being Right ...

View Loren's profile


10283 posts in 3617 days

#3 posted 08-28-2012 07:02 PM

Tree limbs. Plentiful and available in interesting species.

Pine is pretty soft so you’ll learn some things about cutting
vs. scraping when turning it. Hard woods tolerate scraping
better and it becomes possible to fool yourself into thinking
you are developing more turning skill than you are with them.

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 2963 days

#4 posted 08-28-2012 10:15 PM

Thanks for the input. The lathe came from Harbor Freight so the tools can’t be very good. But for my purposes it will have to do for now.

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

View TerryDowning's profile


1076 posts in 2087 days

#5 posted 08-28-2012 10:26 PM

I’ve seen surprising data regarding the HF lathe chisels. They will do just fine and hold an edge well.

HF lathes are made in the same Chinese plant as many “top” names and often times parts are interchangeable.

Pine is a great material for learning on although the only thing forgiving about it is the cost. If you can shear cut pine cleanly so it does not require sanding or minimal sanding, then you have mastered shear cutting.

It will catch due to its open grain and soft nature. Sharp tools and proper technique are essential.

The most important lathe skill I have learned is sharpening!! Sharp tools make all the difference.

-- - Terry

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2218 days

#6 posted 08-28-2012 10:46 PM

I have the HF chisels and did a review on them I really like them. I have not been turning for too long, but I learned an important lesson already: If you cannot sharpen your turning tools, you are going to have a bad time. Do some research on keeping your tools sharp. You will need to sharpen them a lot more often than you think. I had a lot of maple scraps that I practiced on. I think that turns quite well. I’m glad I didn’t learn on pine. As Terry mentioned it catches really easy. I wanted to play with some other lathe tools (skews, parting tools) so I chucked up a 2×4 scrap. It actually looked really cool when I was done with it. I found it was a lot more difficult to turn than hardwood though. Your results my vary.


View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2940 days

#7 posted 08-28-2012 10:51 PM

Dan said, ”from Harbor Freight so the tools can’t be very good”
I ressemble that remark. My lathe and tools came from HF and they are fine thank you ;^)

Seriously, they do sell a couple of decent lathes and they sell some quality challenged tools as well.
Depends which one you got.

But, In my opinion it doesn’t have to be a $1000 setup to learn on and see if you like turning.

The lathe tools they sell that are HSS have natural finished, light colored handles and come in a wooden box.

I turned my first piece, a baby baseball bat, about 12” long, from Fir, because that’s what I had laying around.
Not the best choice of wood. Fuzzes up if you try to scrap it, had to learn the skew right away.

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 2963 days

#8 posted 08-29-2012 01:19 AM

OK I stand corrected on HF chisels. And that’s good news. I will have to look for a video on how to sharpen a gouge. Thanks everybody for all of the responses.

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

View derosa's profile


1572 posts in 2805 days

#9 posted 08-29-2012 01:27 AM

Best wood is any cut-offs that are sitting in your scrap pile. I have been finding that even hard woods aren’t too difficult to learn on and there is no concern about screwing up scrap. Biggest advice is get the face mask and a dust mask. It is an obvious thing that a lathe will produce a lot of dust but I was very surprised by just how much it really makes the first time. I also found that if I keep my bench grinder right next to the lathe that I’m more inclined to actually use it every time the tools start to seem dull. Picked up a fairly heavy stand for the grinder at HF for 30.00/

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View NewEnglandsWoodWorks's profile


117 posts in 2571 days

#10 posted 08-29-2012 01:28 AM


-- Brett

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 2963 days

#11 posted 08-29-2012 01:30 AM

So it sounds like using only a grinder on chisels is typical ?

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

View TheDane's profile


5405 posts in 3632 days

#12 posted 08-29-2012 01:47 AM

For practice on spindles, I ripped some 2×4 cutoffs anywhere from 8” to 14” in length in two.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View BigYin's profile


414 posts in 2385 days

#13 posted 08-29-2012 06:37 AM

how to sharpen from youtube

sharpening jig

using a skew

1. wear dust mask
2. wear safety glasses / goggles / facemask
3. keep tools sharp
4. enjoy

-- ... Never Apologise For Being Right ...

View Camero68's profile


64 posts in 2150 days

#14 posted 08-29-2012 02:22 PM

Pine. Since it is especially soft, it is easier to manipulate. Best of luck.

View AUBrian's profile


86 posts in 2641 days

#15 posted 08-29-2012 02:35 PM

Pine is good because it’s soft. It requires sharp tools to cut well, plus it’s cheap/free. I also use branches from trees in the yard that I trim, firewood, storm cleanup debris, and like someone mentioned, make friends with a tree service, and you’ll never be wanting. Most times, people want them to clear the debris, and the less they have to haul away, the better. That being said, make sure you don’t get in their way or keep them waiting on you (They won’t). Don’t hesitate to walk right up when you see some working and ask if you could have a few slices from the tree…the worst they can say is no.

View dbhost's profile


5705 posts in 3201 days

#16 posted 08-29-2012 02:43 PM

Limb chunks from yours or your neighbors tree pruning…

Construction grade pine can be good for practice.

Don’t underestimate certain HF tools… They are the same thing for the most part as big name counterparts without all the advertising and pretty paint…

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2940 days

#17 posted 08-29-2012 03:29 PM

For sharpening lathe tools all you need is a grinder with the correct type and grit of wheels.
And the correct technique.
And a good jig for gouges is nice.
A couple of slips for concave profiles are good, too.
Or some emery cloth wrapped around a dowel.
A second motor with buffing wheels and compounds is a nice addition as well.

But yeah, a grinder is all you really need. Slow speed (1725 rpm), 8”. White or brown, fine and medium grit.
Green or gray wheels will more easily burn your chisels and ruin the temper.

View TerryDowning's profile


1076 posts in 2087 days

#18 posted 08-29-2012 10:40 PM

I use a strip sander and oil stones rather than a grinder.

It all depends on what you have. If using a power driven sharpener make sure that heat is not building up too rapidly. If it’s warm to the touch, let it cool off.

I use my strip sander for shaping the profile and/or removing large nicks. I use oil stones (because it’s what I have not necessarily the best, I don’t want to start a sharpening debate). to complete the sharpening and hone.

I also use one of those small diamond sharpeners as a slip and occasional honing while turning.

Decision factors for sharpening equipment are cost and precision desired and time required to achieve desired results. Cost can be broken down into capital cost and consumables. Methods low on capital cost are typically high on consumable cost, only you can determine the “best” method to use. The precision of sharpness is purely subjective. The amount of time it takes to sharpen tools is again dependent on method and desired precision.

I don’t sharpen my lathe chisels to the same precision as a bench plane or bench chisel. Different tools with different wear characteristics and edge life span. Lathe Chisels typically have a short edge life span due to the enormous amount of cutting inches they endure. Diameter x RPM, do the math and you’ll get the idea.

I typically start a turning session with sharpening on the stones and then hone/sharpen as required during the session. How often depends on the material and speed you’re cutting at. You get a feel for when the tool is not responding as you like.

-- - Terry

View TheDane's profile


5405 posts in 3632 days

#19 posted 08-30-2012 01:31 AM

I don’t sharpen lathe tools to the same extent as my plane irons and bench chisels either.

If you think about it, they have different roles and spending the time to bring lathe tools to razor sharpness might be counter productive.

IMHO, lathe tools that are scary sharp are likely to dull more quickly, meaning less time at the lathe and more time spent at the grinder.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3303 days

#20 posted 08-30-2012 02:15 PM

Most woods turn pretty well Don. Wet wood from freshly cut trees are very easy on your tools and are fun to cut with long ribbons flowing off the turning as you cut. Another benefit is the lack of sawdust flying around.

If you turn end grain pieces (log mounted horizontally between centers or held with a faceplate) you can finish turn the piece if you keep the walls and bottom to an even thickness. If you turn wet long grain ( the log mounted across the lathe bed you will have to rough turn them and then let them slowly dry out for some months.

Check out some of the turning websites for a lot more info and inspiration.

When I first started turning I made the mistake of taking a part of a tree trunk and pre-cutting disks from it to turn into bowls. They all dried up and cracked, overnight as I recall. Best to have a log and cut off what you need that day. Also if you have to leave a wet piece partially turned for awhile, you can put a plastic bag over it to keep it from drying out and cracking before you finish turning it.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 2963 days

#21 posted 08-30-2012 09:43 PM

Thanks for the info. I never really thought about the wear on a lathe chisel compared to a standard bench chisel. So I can understand that grinding alone is pretty much all I need to do.

I’ll have a go at it. Thanks everybody.

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

View JSilverman's profile


89 posts in 2583 days

#22 posted 08-30-2012 11:49 PM

free wood is best… doesnt really matter what type
wet wood is easier to turn but you need to make sure to wipe off everything the shavings touch to prevent rust

View Brett's profile


49 posts in 1298 days

#23 posted 05-14-2015 11:42 AM

Pine. Since it is especially soft, it is easier to manipulate. Best of luck.

- Camero68

Agreed, these wiltshire tree surgeons also had a discussion recently on a similar topic and said that pine is the best way forward.

-- Brett, United Kingdom,

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