Steel wool and the lathe

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Forum topic by Lisa Chan posted 10-23-2009 08:47 PM 2847 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Lisa Chan

147 posts in 3114 days

10-23-2009 08:47 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question steel wool turning

I hope I got this into the right forum.

OK… I realize that this question could potentially start safety vs. utility arguments so lets all promise to be kind. I’m asking for personal experiences about why one does or does not use steel wool for finishing at the lathe.

I’m seeing conflicting advice at different places… some have recommend light (low speed) buffing with fine steel wool at the end of the project.

Other guys insist that you never bring steel wool to the moving lathe.

Why yes and why no? Is it for danger reasons? Specifically… what could happen? Finger gets wrapped up and ripped off? Can it create dangerous particles?

I bring this up because I’ve not mastered tool sharpening (working on it, I promise) and using a skew to make fine clean finishing cuts on narrow and bendy spindles. So, I have been using sand paper to get close to my desired diameter. I’m making very thin things like knitting needles and yarn spindle shafts.

I’m sanding some very OILY woods and that has clogged up my abrasives like crazy. It seemed wasteful to me to be tossing out so much paper and I had wondered if there were more efficient ways to finish while I’m still working on my skew and shaping skills. Steel wool came to mind…

Thanks for considering my newbie question.

-- Lisa Chan, custom cafts and yarn accessories,

6 replies so far

View Roper's profile


1389 posts in 3677 days

#1 posted 10-23-2009 09:19 PM

i don’t think steel wool is really going to help with your sanding issues, for oily wood i like to use abranet sanding pads, it is a mesh screen that cuts really well and doesn’t clog as fast, plus you can blow out all the dust and keep reusing them. give it a shot.

-- Roper - Master of sawdust-

View davidpettinger's profile


661 posts in 3164 days

#2 posted 10-24-2009 02:26 AM

Before you sand try burnishing the piece with the wood shavings you just took off. If you have your DC on, take some shavings out of waste in a coffee can. You will be surprised at what little sanding you may need to do.
Steel wool can catch, depending on the wood type, wrap a finger around your piece before you can react. I would rather be able to point in only one direction.

-- Methods are many,Principles are few.Methods change often,Principles never do.

View scrappy's profile


3506 posts in 3394 days

#3 posted 10-24-2009 08:54 AM

I use sanding sponges. They are very easy to clean out and don’t clog as easy. You can use them just like your sand paper and not get the “catches” that steel wool might. They also come in verying grits and take to wet sanding very well.


-- Scrap Wood's the best...the projects are smaller, and so is the mess!

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3250 days

#4 posted 10-27-2009 12:29 AM

Lisa, when you think about what steel wool is, you realize the potential for disaster on the lathe. It is long pieces of fine steel wire, woven together. If a stand of that wire catches in any part of the lathe or the workpiece, there is the possibility of it ripping your finger wide open, under the right conditions. Fine sreel wool might not be too dangerous, but I wouldn’t take the chance. We have used a lot of course steel wool over the years from large rolls. We always wrapped a rag or something around it to pull a piece off. If we didn’t we would normally get cut.
Take some of the other suggestions, you’ll be glad you did.


View darryl's profile


1795 posts in 4290 days

#5 posted 10-27-2009 02:44 AM

for the bottle stoppers I’ve been working on recently, I’m using wipe-on poly and after each coat I rub the piece down on the lathe using 0000 steel wool. I’m spinning the lathe by hand when doing this as I don’t want to be agressive with the steel wool, I just want to knock of any dust bits that might be there. seems to work well for me.

just my $.02.

View dustyal's profile


1293 posts in 3439 days

#6 posted 10-28-2009 01:51 AM

I don’t do lathe work… so discount my comments, but a friend told me to be careful with steel wool and a turning piece. Ever take a cotton ball and wind it on a tooth pick to make a cotton swap? The same can happen with steel wool… it can wrap itself around an object such as a turning piece of wood. You always run a bare hand over the piece to check for smoothness… if it is turning, and a piece of that wool is in the grain, it can scratch you up pretty quick. Dangerous or not, I don’t know, but it could be frustrating. I like the sponge sandpaper blocks already mentioned although I use a lot of 0000 wool on pieces sitting still.

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

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