How many beginners give up turning?

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Forum topic by mak posted 01-29-2013 12:27 AM 2467 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View mak's profile


29 posts in 2285 days

01-29-2013 12:27 AM

This may seem like a strange question but I am wondering how many beginners get into woodturning and buy a bunch of equipment only to give it up after a short period of time. I see a lot of turning items on Craigslist and it seems like a lot of people take up the hobby but few people continue for a long period of time. I have taken a beginning bowl turning class and I enjoyed it. It was fun but challenging and I feel like I have a long way to go before I am proficient using a bowl gouge. I am thinking about purchasing a lathe and exploring the hobby further but I fear I will make a large investment only to have my interest die off. Even if I buy an inexpensive lathe, some lower quality turning tools from somewhere like Lee Valley, a basic chuck, and a grinder and jig I would spend at least $600. I am very much a minimalist and I am leery of acquiring a bunch of tools. I still do all of my woodworking with a No. 5 hand plane, block plane, chisels, and circular saw (with a rip jig and cross cut jig). It wasn’t until recently that I purchased a band saw and a thickness planer (I still sometimes question the usefulness of the planer for my style of woodworking). How did all of you know turning was more than a fleeting interest? When did you decide to take the plunge and make the investment in turning equipment?

26 replies so far

View JSZ's profile


37 posts in 3298 days

#1 posted 01-29-2013 12:41 AM


While I am a furniture-maker by profession, I turn when I need to make items for my clients, and I turn when I have the time just for the joy of it. The very best advice I can give you is to look to your local woodturning club or guild for advice, guidance and instruction. I joined our local club several years ago, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made with regard to wood turning. Our club meets monthly, and there is a demo every month by a member or an outside turner who is in the area. Our club makes a monthly order to Craft Supply, and offers a pretty good club discount on all purchases – and free shipping, to boot. There are so many more benefits, but you get the point. Join, and ask questions. Find a mentor who will help you learn the kind of turning you want to do: bowls, spindle work, pens… the list goes on. That’s the best way, IMO, to determine if you like to turn well enough to make the investment.

Good luck, and happy turning!!

-- -- Do Good Work. Jeff Zens, Custom Built Furniture, Salem, OR.

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2522 days

#2 posted 01-29-2013 12:58 AM

It’s an investment in money and time. One day I’d like a big lathe, but for right now I need to learn to use this one better. I can do 12 inch bowls on it, but not easily. You may as well figure in some inlays because once you start turning, there will be some voids, and also don’t forget to think of the sharpening equipment and abrasives. Not to mention blanks, the good stuff is online not out in the wood pile and it costs around 15 – 35$ for each.

I suggest taking up heroin, it’s cheaper.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 2920 days

#3 posted 01-29-2013 01:06 AM


I have never tried it (afraid to since I think I would be addicted to it). It does seem to be art vs. carpentry not well suited to instant gratification.

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2382 days

#4 posted 01-29-2013 01:08 AM

I feel like as long as you take a reasonable approach to turning and don’t try to dive into segmented turning or super delicate finials or something similarly difficult, the learning curve is very reasonable and not the sort of thing that would put beginners off easily. I’ve only been turning a few months and have definitely learned and improved a lot.

The gear adds up really quickly, but as long as you’re not a tool junkie/collector like I am, you don’t need too very much to get started making nice shavings. Turning definitely also seems to attract people that like to build their own tools and jigs and such. A good scroll chuck is practically a necessity, but you can build faceplates, jam chucks, even vacuum chucks yourself and there’s lots of examples out there. I just finished building my own version of the Wolverine grinding system and it works great. All it cost me was assorted bits of plywood and doodads I already had laying around. Compare that to 140 bucks for the commercial version.

I second the recommendation to find a club or mentor and get their input, and possibly use their equipment before buying. Make sure to check Craigslist or ebay for a cheap used lathe. That’s another way to “try before you buy” or at least before you buy high dollar.

View TheDane's profile


5575 posts in 3899 days

#5 posted 01-29-2013 01:15 AM

Actually … there is some instant gratification in turning. I did 8 pens for the Freedom Pens today.

JSZ has hit the nail on the head. The local turning clubs I have belonged to have both been excellent sources of mentoring and training for me. I have taken a couple of classes at local tech schools, and the opportunity to use their equipment before purchasing any of my own and thus make some better informed decisions.


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

View dpoisson's profile


190 posts in 3150 days

#6 posted 01-29-2013 01:23 AM

I bought a small lathe (used) for 150$ (reviewed on LJ: 1/2 HP, 16” between centers and 10” swing). It also came with 3 turning tools.

A bunch of benjamin’s best turning tool 100’ish$
A collet chuck:80$
A scroll chuck: 200$
Jacob’s chuck: 30$
Live center: 20$

I think I’ll be good with that for a while. It’s not breaking the bank that much and it give me something to do after the kids go to bed and the girlfriend listens to her soaps hehe

What first got me into turning was game calls. Then I saw turkey pot calls (haven’t done one yet though!). There are a bunch of little projects that will be loads of fun to do: wine stopper and what not. Bowls I follow once the scroll chuck gets here.


View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3207 days

#7 posted 01-29-2013 02:20 AM

I went lowball on price in case I didn’t like it.
$140 HF 10” x 18” lathe.
$60 HF HSS 6 pc set lathe tools.
$8 HF #2 Morse taper tailstock Jacobs chuck.
$100 Woodcraft 4-jaw chuck for 1” x 8 TPI spindle.
$20 for knobs and materials to build a wolverine style tool grinding fixture.
SO, I have $328 + about $32 Tennessee sales tax invested in my setup.

I have about all I want in the process right now.
Have turned a few things, a knob for a plane rebuild, a couple pens, a chisel handle, a baby baseball bat.
Presently trying to turn an 8” cherry bowl. Need more power and lower speed for this.
But, if I had my money back I’d probably rather have a couple of nice planes.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3234 days

#8 posted 01-29-2013 03:02 AM

There are a lot of people that start out and wander off but most don’t get the really nice equipment until they are sure they want to do a lot of turning. Then you will only find the good equipment used when people are forced to give it up for health or family reasons.

My woodturning stuff is pretty modest. (Lets not talk about my metal lathe stuff…) A couple sets of chisels. Some calipers. One crappy chuck and a collet holder. I mostly turn handles and such. Rarely any larger spindles. No bowls or such. A rolling pin to use in the kitchen.

I actually avoid a lot of turning as it is a lot of fun but unless I have an outlet to get rid of stuff, it piles up quickly. You can turn a lot of pieces really quickly and can end up needing a warehouse and a forklift.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2688 posts in 3158 days

#9 posted 01-29-2013 03:20 AM

I have a cheap lathe that serves me well. I have not unpacked it from a move seven years ago. Some folks just love it . I am not one of them. I grew tired of making just round stuff.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View derosa's profile


1590 posts in 3071 days

#10 posted 01-29-2013 03:49 AM

I went the used route, still need to get a 4 jaw chuck but haven’t found the desire to drop the cash on one. But used chisels and other items have helped a lot. I’ve made some handles, a set of table legs, working on a ring. For me I find the lathe to be a source of interest but I don’t desire to pile up a ton of turned bowls and I don’t have the time to sell or space to stock up inventory so I don’t give it the workout that I’d like. Definitely wouldn’t get rid of it though.

-- A posse ad esse

View mak's profile


29 posts in 2285 days

#11 posted 01-29-2013 03:57 AM

Unfortunately there isn’t a local club and the nearest club is far enough away that getting to the meetings would be very inconvenient. I’m stuck in a weird place. I am still green enough that I am not sure I would enjoy it until I improve some foundational skills – I can’t improve those skills without some more time at a lathe.

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2424 days

#12 posted 01-29-2013 04:02 AM

Turning is an attractive option for those with limited space as it is relatively self contained. It’s also addictive. As for getting “turned off” because some of the tools, especially skews, are tricky to master, well, a guy can start off with scrapers and ease into it. Also, these days there are lots of books, DVDs, mini courses etc.

David makes a good point, however. A guy only needs so many bowls, rolling pins etc. So don’t get into turning unless you have a lot of artsy friends or really like working for cheap.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View JWFox's profile


9 posts in 3204 days

#13 posted 01-29-2013 04:19 AM

I have been a woodworker my entire adult life doing the typical furniture building for the familty with a few commisions throughout the year and have always enjoyed it. I started turning 2 years ago and now rarely do flat work anymore. Turning is addictive because you acquire the wood at no cost. ( Some of my favorite turnings have come from the firewood pile)

I can go in my shop and have a project completed in less than an hour for many simple turnings and up to a few hours for a large bowl.

Gift giving is easier than ever as there are many inexpensive gifts to make at very low cost. As others have mentioned, you should look at a turning club. Mine costs $25 per year and includes a great library of books and DVD;s you can check out as well as monthly lessons at no additional cost.

Good luck, I think you will love it.

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2484 days

#14 posted 01-29-2013 04:25 AM

+1 on JWFox. I absolutely love turning. It’s a completely different style of woodworking. For me anyway, the learning curve was not very steep. Sharpening is harder than basic to mid-level turning. It’s not quite as expensive as you would think, but it certainly isn’t cheap either.

I really enjoy it when I am in the shop working on a big flatwood project and get to my frustration point. For some it’s finishing, others sanding, for me it’s setting up tooling and jigs to cut complex joinery. There is nothing better than to take a little break and whip out a pen our 2. I can go from a bare blank to a finished pen in about a half hour. It really clears your head and I get the instant gratification I need to motivate myself to do something I am not looking forward to.


View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3344 days

#15 posted 01-29-2013 05:38 AM

Wood turning is a an instant gratification hobby and you can design things on the fly. The thing is that there is a great deal of pre-turning knowledge that some beginners don’t have if they make it their first tool interest. One should really understand sharpening before they get into turning. The chisels you buy may work out of the box but that changes 30 minutes after you start. Many beginners are going to buy what is accessible to them and harbor freight is about the only big box store in which you can buy a lathe and a set of chisels off the shelf.

I would guess that the steel framed, light lathes are more appealing because of the cheap cost. “A good way to know if I will like turning…” is the thought. But that vibration will cause a great deal of frustration. Jaw chucks become pretty essential if you want to do bowls or vessels. The faceplates that comes with these cheaper lathes stack the odds against you right off the bat. Long, thin, spindle turnings really need a steady or you will never get it properly rounded.

I know because I had been there.

If it weren’t for meeting a fellow lumberjock by the name of Mike Wurm, I would have cashed it in awhile back. It wasn’t until I could work with a knowledgeable turner who had a heavy, cast iron lathe, with sharp chisels, and some of the basic accessories, that I began to understand how lathing worked. Big box stores are not a woodworker’s best friend. And this is why I continue to support this site. Because I know how important it is for a new woodworker to be able to get the useful information this place can provide.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

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