First set of lathe tools question

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Forum topic by ChrisGadway posted 03-09-2016 02:04 AM 1029 views 0 times favorited 28 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 234 days

03-09-2016 02:04 AM

I am sure this question has been beaten many times. I’m trying to get the basics for turning a bowl for now. Without beating the brand issue which tools do I need to start with. Such as gouge and scraper and sizes.


28 replies so far

View David Taylor's profile

David Taylor

326 posts in 511 days

#1 posted 03-09-2016 04:57 AM

It’s hard to talk lathe tools without talking brand. You can take what I say below, though, and tie it to any brand, really, they all make similar size and shape tools.

And, you only need a couple to start, as you say, a gouge and a scraper will get a lot of bowls done from pretty small to decent size, and give you great experience with the tools, informing your future choices.

Honestly, start with the best, then you don’t have to buy twice!

For a general, smallish bowl (say 12” or under), and all around useful tool for such, I would go for the 3/8” U Bowl Gouge with a 16” Handle With 3/8” Nose (or turn your own, but I like Thompson’s handles.)

For a scraper, I’d probably get the 1” Scraper, or maybe the 1-1/4”, with a 16” handle. You will have to shape it to your liking, but then you’ll have a tool you need. If you don’t like the idea of shaping your own, then I would highly recommend the Robert Sorby M2 HSS Extra Heavy Full Round Scraper

Yes, these will run you a couple hundred dollars or so for both from Thompson. Comparable Sorby tools will be anywhere from the same to about 20% less, Carter and Sons same to about 20% more.

You can, of course, go much cheaper, but I think you’d be really happy with the Thompsons, really about the best out there. I’ve heard the Carter and Sons are good, too, but I’ve never owned them.

-- Learn Relentlessly

View MrUnix's profile


4049 posts in 1623 days

#2 posted 03-09-2016 05:11 AM

Honestly, start with the best, then you don’t have to buy twice!

I was the opposite.. I started out with, and still continue to use homemade tools that cost nothing but the time to make.


-- Brad in FL - To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid

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8 posts in 234 days

#3 posted 03-09-2016 05:32 AM

So basically the scraper and bowl gouge are the only 2 I need to get started. So i take it that the scraper would be used to turn the block blank into the cylindrical shape to start the bowl?

View jeff's profile


976 posts in 2889 days

#4 posted 03-09-2016 05:45 AM

Thompsons are very nice tools.I have his U and V shaped bowl gouges in the 1/2” size plus a 3/8” spindle gouge-Doug Thompson recommended these to start.I also have PSI’s Benjamins Best bowl gouges/spindle gouges/scrapers.I like these also.The Thompsons hold an edge longer-less sharpening.You will have to buy or make handles for the Thompsons.I made mine-that was a fun project.I would recommend a 1” or more scraper that has some thickness to it-these will less likely chatter or vibrate.Check out Packard Woodworks line of tools-they are suppose to be nice also.Do you have a way to sharpen tools?.

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

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8 posts in 234 days

#5 posted 03-09-2016 05:51 AM

Have a bench grinder just have to get the. Correct stone for it.

View cdaniels's profile


1311 posts in 925 days

#6 posted 03-09-2016 05:58 AM

for bowls I mostly use my 1/2” thompson. You don’t absolutely need a scraper but yes you should get one and make sure you have a parting tool or a skew to form your tenon properly for a good tight fit. I started out with a benjamins best set for cheap and used those for about the first year then started upgrading. I have a sorby 3/8 spindle gouge that is one of my fav tools and I have thompson bowl gouges from 3/8 up to 5/8 and lots of others. if all you’re doing is bowls I say 1/2” bowl gouge and a parting tool or skew. brand really isn’t a huge deal right off the get go, as long as you’re set up good for sharpening you’re set. any professional will tell you the cheapest tool sharpened properly will always be better than the most expensive tool sharpened poorly!

-- Jesus was a carpenter... I'm just saying

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976 posts in 2889 days

#7 posted 03-09-2016 06:25 AM info on scrapers. info on bowl gouges.Do not use a roughing gouge to turn the inside of a bowl-its unsafe and results in nasty catches.

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

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976 posts in 2889 days

#8 posted 03-09-2016 06:40 AM

I do believe you want a slow speed grinder-60 and 80 grit wheels to start-they come in different hardness-not sure what hardness to recommend.+1 on cdaniels post.

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1413 days

#9 posted 03-09-2016 12:54 PM

I started with cheap tools, Benjamin’s Best and Hurricane, from this perspective: 1) Try various tool sizes and shapes and figure out what I like 2) Grind away cheap tools while learning to sharpen

I haven’t had the need or desire to upgrade. It’s difficult for me as a hobbyist to justify 3-4x per tool cost. The wood certainly doesn’t care. I recommend a set of bowl gouges and a set of scrapers. The scrapers can be ground to any shape. I have some for inside, outside, radiused (almost flat), round nose – they all have their place, and it isn’t expensive to be able to try different things. Same thing with the gouges. A parting tool is always good to have, especially for chuck recesses/tenons/glue blocks, a spindle roughing gouge and skew aren’t necessary but useful.

Get a wolverine/vari grind style jig for gouges, and an adjustable angle platform for scrapers. Keep a bowl of water around when rough shaping tools, dip them often to keep them cool – not needed for re-sharpening. I use a set of these hones to touch up between grinds, and they have many other uses. A 3500 rpm grinder can be used if that’s what you have.

View LeeMills's profile


268 posts in 725 days

#10 posted 03-09-2016 02:19 PM


Scrapers are nice but I only use mine to clean up tool marks at the end for most turnings.
Packards are made by Hamlet and are a bit less than other “brand” tools. You do want a stout one to decrease vibration; they carry 1/2” thick up to 1” wide and 3/8” thick up to 1.5” wide.
Some use scrapers for most everything but you will notice that they also have a bandsaw to make the exterior round instead of starting with a half log (square ends). Myself, I would never use a scraper for roughing the exterior of a bowl, inside is a different matter.

You will need a parting tool no matter what you turn.

In bowl gouges there are two sizes, the UK spec and we will call the other the US spec. UK specs are about 1/8” larger diameter than US spec. UK spec would include Sorby, Hamlet, Crown, Ashley Iles; any made in the UK.
Even if you don’t mix now it is important to remember for the future or you may wind up with two the same size (such as a UK 1/2 and a US 5/8). This size difference applies only to Bowl gouges and not Spindle gouges.

So I would suggest 4, a parting tool, a heavy duty scraper, a 5/8 and 1/2 US spec bowl gouge (or 1/2 and 3/8 UK). Two bowl gouges would allow different grinds for where you are working on the bowl.

I would also suggest a medium quality until you feel comfortable with turning.

Last item and maybe most important is a good face shield.

Spindle orientation turning requires different tools except for the parting tool.

-- We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

View soob's profile (online now)


223 posts in 632 days

#11 posted 03-09-2016 02:31 PM

I’d recommend getting cheaper HSS tools (like the “Hurricane” brand). If you have money left over, spend it on sharpening. The oneway jigs are a must-have, along with a good grinder wheel. You’ll do far better with well-sharpened cheap tools than you will with dull or poorly ground expensive ones.

View Bill7255's profile


344 posts in 1709 days

#12 posted 03-09-2016 02:34 PM

I first started with a set of 8 Windsor Design tools (Harbor Freight). They are cheap and HSS although not as good as Sorby HSS. They are only about $70. With this you get a parting tool, skews, roughing gouge. Great to learn to sharpen. I still use a couple today. I have the BB set of 3 bowl gouges, but not a fan. I think Thompson are the best and have his bowl gouges and 1” scrapers. I make my own handles and they are better than any wood handle tools you buy.

-- Bill R

View soob's profile (online now)


223 posts in 632 days

#13 posted 03-09-2016 02:45 PM

The Harbor Freight set doesn’t include a bowl gouge, though. That caveat is important.

For what it’s worth I have the set and use a lot of the tools. On bowls I do a lot of finishing cuts with a 1/2” harbor freight scraper turned on its side.

View rwe2156's profile


2126 posts in 905 days

#14 posted 03-09-2016 03:00 PM

I’m going to start out with spindle turning.
What’s the difference between a roughing gouge and a bowl gouge?

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View SignWave's profile


281 posts in 2459 days

#15 posted 03-09-2016 03:25 PM

I agree with OSU55.

Tools require sharpening, and sharpening is a skill. But it’s skill that will serve you for the rest of your life. If you get value priced HSS tools, you’ll sharpen more often, which will slow down your turning (not necessarily a bad thing for a beginner) but will also help you develop that skill. You’ll also grind away a lot of steel, and IMHO I’d rather grind away the value priced HSS tools than the more expensive ones.

I think of turning tools as consumable items, rather than investments. I use them and resharpen them, and they end up as dust, eventually. With scrapers in particular, I have no qualms about reshaping the edge to address whatever shape I’m working at the moment. Or I’ll change the bevel angle or the profile of the cutting edge on my skew chisels to solve a particular problem. They’re tools to be used, and when they’re too short, I’ll get new ones.

Fortunately, there are a bunch of options that are affordable but quite usable. I’m thinking of the Benjamin’s best/Hurricane price and quality range. My advise to a beginner is to start there.

I won’t say that I don’t wish I had a few Thompson’s tools, and I CAN tell the difference between my Sorby gouge and my Benjamin’s best gouge. But I don’t think that’s the best starting point for a beginner.

I haven’t seen a set that make sense, and I wish that would change. They all have some tools that are usable, and some that will never get used. All of them seem slanted toward spindle turning. Not that it’s a bad thing, I think you can learn a lot when turning in spindle orientation and having the work between centers just feels safer, especially for beginners. But that wasn’t the question, so I’ll stop the sales pitch :)

Having said all that, for bowl turning, a couple bowl gouges and a couple of scrapers can take you a long way, plus you need a parting tool. I’d size the bowl gouges for the work, most likely 1/2” (OD) for medium sized bowls. I’d get two of the same model (really) and I’d grind each with a different angle so that you can use them with different curve profiles. For scrapers, you want beefy, but I’d rather have a small variety of scrapers with different shapes than a single all purpose one, so I’d go for middle of the road (1” to 1 1/4”, and 5/16 to 3/8 thick).

And this is related to my suggestions for tools, but making multiple smaller to medium sized bowls will build your skill faster than making a few larger ones. You can make more in less time and for less money. And because they’re smaller, you can turn them without the larger more expensive tools. And it’s generally safer, although there are always trade-offs. Woodturning is about skill development, and the tools should support helping you develop your skills. As you build your skills, you’ll be better able to justify larger work and more expensive tools.

Final point: There’s more than one way of doing just about everything, and if you can do it safely and get the job done, then many approaches are valid. I offer my thoughts as opinions only.

Happy turning! It’s a wonderful way to spend your time.

-- Barry,

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