Best Turning Speeds by Wood Species

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodturning forum

Forum topic by HorizontalMike posted 02-22-2013 06:46 PM 5225 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View HorizontalMike's profile


7758 posts in 2937 days

02-22-2013 06:46 PM

Topic tags/keywords: turning totes knobs hand planes speed

I have just gotten into turning last month, with the purchase of a new Delta 46-460 Midi-Lathe. Thus far I have turned just four knobs for my hand planes. I first turned White Ash and found it rather stable and dry. Then I started turning Rosewood and quickly found out just how resinous this species is, something very new to me. After burning much of one turning, I discovered that I could only successfully turn Rosewood at a maximum of ~350rpm without the resin turning the piece dark.

I also have waiting to turn for the first time, Zebrawood and Walnut. That said, I have the following request:

Can we start a list of the common woods used in turning and also list a preferred turning speed AND a maximum turning speed and any reasons why this is so?

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

18 replies so far

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2271 days

#1 posted 02-22-2013 07:56 PM

For me it is more about size, shape, and aggressiveness of cut than species. If I’ve got something thick with square edges, I turn down the lathe until I am round. This probably isn’t the most ideal advice, but I’m not sure that there really is any ideal advice in this topic. There is what the books and experts say, but I’m sure you of all people understand that woodworking is personal. I have found what works for me, and I actually prefer to turn fast.
There are safety issues of course, so I do limit my speeds within reason, but I bet I turn stuff about twice as fast as someone would recommend. I have never had any issues and I think I am getting quite good at this whole turning business. I’ve found adjusting my technique (bevel angle, depth of cut, proper tool selection) yields much better results than fussing with speed.

Again, take that with a grain of salt because it works for me. My wife is also an excellent turner but prefers much lower speeds than I do.


View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4948 posts in 3983 days

#2 posted 02-22-2013 08:19 PM

Slow for roughing, medium for initial shaping, fast for final cuts and finishing.
Just what works for me.


View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3020 days

#3 posted 02-22-2013 08:38 PM

I am also one that turns pretty slow.

There will not be a common answer as it is more dependent on the diameter than it is the wood species, until you get into special cases like Ebony which is super hard but also splintery. By the time you get it round, you will develop a feeling of how things are cutting. It will be more of a matter of what you can control and get good shavings off of. As long as you are not getting a pile of shavings near the tip of your tool and they are flowing off well, go as fast as you want.

Get in some practice on some junk wood and make little round things to get the feel. If it feels like it is getting hot, slow down or take a break and sharpen your tools. A good rule of thumb is that if you are getting dust and not bigger chips, you are scraping too much. Scraping is what generates the heat and darkens things. Just like putting wood through the tablesaw: if you don’t make a constant cut, it will burn. You have to get in, cut, and get out.

More graphically, if you are standing in front of the lathe and you are not getting a shower of chips flying all over your arms and even onto your body, it isn’t right. Also make sure that you are doing most of your pushing of the tool to either the headstock or tailstock and not directly into the workpiece. It just flexes away from you and doesn’t cut as well.

If you have someone nearby that turns, go watch them. It’s like riding a bike. Very hard to explain but not hard to do.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Wildwood's profile


2322 posts in 2157 days

#4 posted 02-22-2013 08:39 PM

The man that runs this sight is a turner and often includes pictures of turned wood. As you peruse different woods will see just how much can and does vary within a single species.

What type of Rosewood were you turning? Go to sight, click on “R” scroll down, and see just a sampling of woods in the Rosewood family.

Whether turning domestic or exotic wood characteristics can change based upon turning a piece of wood from the base, crotch, or limbs.

Lathe speed is a continuing learning process if something is not working adjusts speed to make it work.

-- Bill

View John Voloudakis's profile

John Voloudakis

12 posts in 1960 days

#5 posted 02-22-2013 09:53 PM

It’s about sharpness of tools and aggressiveness of cut more so than species. If you are burning the wood, you’re heating it up. A dull tool can do this. So can one that is cutting too deep, or one improperly presented to the wood. Taking light cuts with a sharp tool, you should be able to turn any species without burning or otherwise damaging the wood.


View HorizontalMike's profile


7758 posts in 2937 days

#6 posted 02-22-2013 11:39 PM

It is Honduras Rosewood from WC online. It came all well sealed in wax.

This was my best (and third) turning. If you look at the cutoff on the left, and on the left of that cutoff, you can see how much this stuff oozes resin and develops a sheen.

And after ripping the 8/4 piece, I cut two totes on the BS before calling it a day.

Thus far, I hear that Ebony is very hard and splintery… 8-)

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Underdog's profile


1112 posts in 2058 days

#7 posted 02-23-2013 12:50 AM

Pretty much any wood is good for turning if your tools are sharp enough, and you use proper technique. It’s all about keeping the cutting edge supported and shearing. In my opnion, it doesn’t matter much what the speed is.

View ScottinTexas's profile


108 posts in 1971 days

#8 posted 02-23-2013 01:34 AM

That’s a great site, Wildwood!

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2309 days

#9 posted 02-23-2013 02:11 AM

I’ve got that same lathe Mike and I have the belt on the middle pulley and use the variable speed in that setting for everything. I think it does best with my tool set on about setting number 4-5. Ribbons come off so fast I can’t see what I’m doing. And that is with a scraper.

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

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2309 days

#10 posted 02-23-2013 02:16 AM

I haven’t turned much wood yet, but I’ve turned a lot of different woods. I buy them wet and turn them that way which makes even the hardest wood easier to turn. Not so easy to dry and keep straight but as long as you are finished turning it, let it wobble during the sanding.
I have a PSI chuck and it has serrated edges, so I’ve been leery of using a really high speed. I’ve had a few chunks come off that chuck, so unless I got the tailstock in, I keep it slower. Just enough to cut good with sharp tools. I sharpen them about every 15 minutes. The final 1/4” or so I use Sorby tungston carbide on a slightly higher speed, but if the wood is wet enough, nothing cuts the end grain well. so I try to not dig it out and just sand it down after using some CA glue.

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

View JollyGreen67's profile


1676 posts in 2785 days

#11 posted 02-23-2013 02:56 AM

HM, I don’t think there is a specific speed for a specific type wood. I find the center, cut it round on the bandsaw, put it between centers. I usually start at 500rpm and, if the piece is out of balance I leave it there until it balances, then I start cranking it up from there. I normally turn at 1800rpm. I have found the faster you turn, the cleaner the cut. I was turning some very dry out of balance red cedar cross grain, and it started to splinter at 500rpm, cranked it up until the lathe stopped vibrating (950), and the splintering stopped. This is the first time I have ever had wood splinter. Don’t know if it was specific to this piece of wood, as I have turned other red cedar and have not had this problem.

-- When I was a kid I wanted to be older . . . . . this CRAP is not what I expected !

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3020 days

#12 posted 02-23-2013 03:16 AM


Also Mesquite turns your skin and clothes purple and dulls your tools :)

How did you turn those plane totes?

The knob looks good. If you want any diagnosis, show us the chips as well. Any of the dense exotics will be similar. The walnut should turn easier but be more susceptible to tearing out.

I don’t advise turning a lot of exotics unless it is for a specific piece. They can tend to be very allergenic and I look at it as you only have so many pieces you can turn until you get sensitized. Use them wisely. Cherry, maple, walnut, oak, ash, pecan—all the standard US hardwoods are great to practice with. Hard maple especially. It is nice and dense and cuts very cleanly. Boxwood if you can get it. Probably the nicest woods to turn are the fruit woods. Apple, pear. Keep an eye out for urban woods. Fallen branches. Downed trees. Green wood is about the most fun you can have on a lathe.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View TheDane's profile


5441 posts in 3686 days

#13 posted 02-23-2013 04:37 AM

Mike: Somewhere recently I saw an article by Alan Lacer on speed … if I can find it, I’ll email it to you.

A wise man once told me to turn at the fastest speed I feel safe. The same guy (he is 85 years old and has been turning for 70 years) told me to keep my tools sharp. I have found has advice to be spot on. I turn hickory pens with a skew running at 4000 RPM.

Words of wisdom from Ron Brown: “Start at slow RPM to check for balance, and then speed up. Speed can be our friend. If you are afraid, slow down and take a breath.”


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

View REO's profile


928 posts in 2097 days

#14 posted 02-23-2013 10:20 AM

as this post progresses you will probably get ride the bevel and lift the handle till it cuts. This works! There is a conception that it is always the same. Its Not! riding the bevel will help you control the cut. Pay particular attention to how much you are pushing into the bevel to get it to cut. Riding the bevel is riding the cutting relief angle of the cutting edge. To help explain this lets look at a drill bit. if you grind the relief angle of the drill bit to zero it can still be the sharpest thing on the planet but it will not cut until you put enough pressure on the drill bit to deform the material supporting the the flute to the point that it springs back in front of the cutting edge and the fibers are cut off. The drill gets hot and the hole is fuzzy because before the fibers were cut they have been disturbed. just like using a dull tool! when the relief angle is raised the edge of the tool is allowed to cut the fibers without compressing the material under the flute. it will drill at a rate set by the relief angle of the drill bit as it follows its own ramp down. it will make a nice clean hole until you get in a hurry and push it to drill the hole faster and the above scenario kicks in.(oh yeah, I guess i should have used a hand plane analogy, but I am sure you understand). I don’t know if you have worked with a parting tool or not yet but practice making cuts with that. I believe it will help you determine the proper “feel” for the amount of pressure on the bevel and the amount of pressure created by cutting the chip. Most of the heat will come away with the chip. As the cut is properly made there is very light pressure on the bevel and the pressure is used to hold the tool into the cut. the heat is primarily generated bu the displacement of the wood fibers as they are cut and the next time around the heat caused by “riding the bevel” comes away with the next layer of material. Splintering becomes a function of how sharp the tool is and not bruised or damaged wood fibers. I turn everything in a triangle of length and diameter from 5 inches in diameter x 6 inches long to 2” in diameter and 24” long at 2600 rpm. I have a fixed speed lathe for that. you will run into the same thing sanding. Use fresh sharp sand paper! use very little pressure while sanding. Let the sandpaper do its job. It’ll keep the work cooler and give you a better finish with less sandpaper and you will find, less time. Turning too slow on softer woods (not softwoods) a good example would be fir (yes I know it is also a softwood) it is difficult to vary the tool pressure as you go from summer to winter growth and it will tend to pick out, become rough and often will be hard to keep round. As you increase the speed the tool cannot react as quickly to the ridges and valleys so the difference in density is easier to manage. Loong story short I guess the heat is not so much a function of speed as it is control. You will have to become comfortable turning. loosen the strangle hold on the grip. If you are “scraping” the above applies just as well there has to be a burr and the tool has to be held below a perpendicular line to center. The only difference is that the chip wont be large enough to take the heat away with it and you will have to work a bit then let it cool. that is why scrapers are typically used by people for finishing cuts and for the most part will be left unused as one gets more proficient turning.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7758 posts in 2937 days

#15 posted 02-23-2013 01:17 PM

Wow! I go to sleep for the night and all this great advice shows up by morning! Cool!

  • Bill, I now have the HobbitHouse Wood ID BOOKMARKED. Thank you!
  • John, yep been burning too hot. Started more frequent sharpening on the belt sharpener.
  • Russell, I keep the tailstock ON as well, except for drilling the hole. Then I put it back on before parting the piece. As far as I have experienced, that seem to keep the piece centered on the chuck especially when (and I do) ‘catch’ once in a while… ;-)
  • Druid, good advice. I use my TS at 45-degrees to cut off the corners before mounting it to the lathe. I then turn/round one end and then reverse it and put the now rounded stock into the chuck for a better fit.
  • David, yep I am getting too much ‘dust’ and not enough ‘chips’. I also started making frequent trips to the belt sharpener. I am just now finding out how frequently I need to sharpen my turning tools… That is EXCEPT for my “T3”, as it seems to work very well as-is… you know… the Tote Turning Tool… ;-)
  • Gerry, I look forward to that article as I need all the help I can get. I do have to say though, the Skew scares the heck out of me, but I am slowly learning to use it correctly. My current favorite tools are my Set of 3 HSS Benjamin's Best Versa Chisels . This probably because they seem to be so forgiving of my naïveté.
  • And wow REO! You must have been tapping into my shop security cam and watching my every move! I think you have all my mistakes nailed to a T! I like your ‘drill’ analogy because while drilling both the knobs and the tote holes, I noticed how easy it was to ‘fuzz’ up. Plus, I inadvertently learned how light a touch that I need while sanding. I swear that you have been watching all this and all my mistakes! ;-) Honestly, I really appreciate the detailed response detailing several examples. Great advice!

And that goes for all of you! Great advice! Thanks so much for such timely information.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

showing 1 through 15 of 18 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics