Best wood to use for lathe practice ?

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Forum topic by SuburbanDon posted 08-28-2012 05:59 PM 33929 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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487 posts in 3192 days

08-28-2012 05:59 PM

Hi, A friend gave me a low cost wood lathe. I wanted to do some practicing on it. Can somebody recommend an inexpensive and forgiving wood type to use ? Thanks.

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

23 replies so far

View Nick_R's profile


154 posts in 2348 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


421 posts in 2615 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


10477 posts in 3846 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 3192 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


1103 posts in 2316 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 2447 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


4032 posts in 3169 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 3192 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


1577 posts in 3034 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 2800 days

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


-- Brett

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 3192 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 (online now)


5546 posts in 3861 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


421 posts in 2615 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 2380 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 2870 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.

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