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Forum topic by RussellAP posted 03-09-2013 03:34 PM 908 views 1 time favorited 2 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3104 posts in 2287 days

03-09-2013 03:34 PM

So you got a lathe, some tools, and wood blanks and semi dissected trees are all over the back yard or driveway and you’re broke. You’ve bought several chucks because the first one was just too damn big. You’ve dropped the tail stock and jammed the live end in it.
So now you manage to get a piece of wood mounted on the lathe. You have tool in hand and a hideous face shield on your head. Hopefully you’ve also removed that wedding ring, that is if you want to keep that finger attached to your hand. You’ve strung up enough lights to host an Elton John concert, and you’ve place the lathe in a corner where the chips can be easily corralled.

You set the tool an the rest and begin the first cut.
You’ve already screwed up. Here’s why. From the first time you put a tool on a piece of spinning wood, you’ve gotten into some bad habits. It’s okay though, because some info is just not out there.

Here is an example. How many times when you’re watching a video about lathing do you hear those guys tell you how high your tool rest should be? You know there are a couple inches to play with and many times this height determines whether you’ll be cutting or jamming. Jamming causes injuries and bowls to become cannon balls aimed loosely at your head.

These videos do tell you about speed though. Turn it up till it shakes, then back it off. Turn at the highest speed you can. Well, let me tell you that some speeds are too fast to cut, the thing you want to do is not let it matter how fast your lathe is turning, you should care at what speed it cuts best, sometimes the faster you go the less you cut.

If you turn bowls, which tools do you need and how do you use them. How many of you hardly ever use gouges? The reason might be that the first time you tried one, you jammed it into a piece of wood spinning at 2000 RPM or upwards at a 90 degree angle and presto….disaster. It’s at this point that most of us opt to use scrapers. Just remember they don’t call it a gouge for nothing.

Learning tools requires you learn steel. The basic tools for turning a lathe are HSS type steel. This means that they are High Speed Steel. They dull fast but also sharpen fast. It takes me a couple seconds to sharpen my HSS tools. You’ll know you need to sharpen it because the shavings get hot, and they get more dust like than ribbon like. Go sharpen and you’ll see a large difference. There is no such thing as a bad lathe tool, everything works for some application and you’ll learn which are best for you within a couple months. Don’t sweat it, these tools cost a lot so you don’t want to buy a useless chisel. I have been using Sorby Turnmaster for finishing work on bowls, it gets 90% of the tool marks off, it has interchangeable cutters and cutter heads so it’s a quick easy change from say round to square, and I buy the carbide bits for it because they cut smooth.

Okay, now the really hard stuff.

You got a blank, whether its some old piece of crap from the wood pile out back or a nice neat round paraffin coated blank you bought online, (I do recommend you buy them online), Or maybe you glued up some boards. Before you even mount this wood to the lathe, you need to determine what the best shape is to show off the wood and the grain, and/or the flaws. I always choose a shape that will show the wood in the best light. Some solid woods you don’t have to worry about, but woods like Ambrosia, and or spalted Maple definitely profit from this as a finished product. In other words see the bowl in your mind and make sure it’s in the sweet spot to capture the figure of the wood.

Before you turn that lathe on, its best to have a turning strategy. How are you going to get that shape and how many times will you need to turn the bowl around while working on it. I’ve had tenons that simply wont turn true. They wobble after you mount the tenon side. If you can’t remount it and make it steady, then simply return the outside till it’s round again, It wont take much off. You want your tool to run smoothly and not rough. Try to hollow out the bowl with the tail stock in place, then remove the tail stock and do the center of the inside of the bowl. If you’re going to make some fancy shapes that require you to turn the bowl over more than once on the lathe, be sure to leave the tenon on because you’ll need it. In fact I leave the tenon on till the bowl is dry in case I need to turn it again to remove some tear out fibers or something like that after they dry.

I hope this helps somebody, if you can thing of anything else that is not easy to find out, put it in the comments.

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

2 replies so far

View Bob817's profile


672 posts in 2383 days

#1 posted 03-09-2013 05:01 PM

Wow Russell that sure is some great info. Ive been thinking about getting into turning but procrastinating cause I don’t know anything about it so I’ve been following your site for information.

Thankyou very much

-- ~ Bob ~ Newton, N.H.

View JollyGreen67's profile


1669 posts in 2763 days

#2 posted 03-09-2013 05:33 PM

Been a turner for a number of years, do things without thinking about it – but – this is great info. Thanks Russell !

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

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