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Wood Lathes and Their Tools

Updated on December 16, 2016

Wood Lathes date back to about 1300 BC. Egyptians first developed a two person lathe where one person would rotate the wood with a rope while another would shape the wood with a sharpened tool. Romans later improved the lathe by the use of a Turning Bow. Later in the Middle Ages a Foot Pedal replaced the Turning Bow and allowed one person to operate the lathe, the Foot Pedal is still used to some extent in Third World Countries.

Lathes continued to evolve through the ages; using animal power, water power, steam power and electric power. Today we are fortunate to have a variety of variable speed lathes and sizes from small bench lathes to the larger lathes that will turn objects up to 24” in diameter and still bigger but these are special use, usually for commercial application.

When a lathe size is mentioned say as a 14 inch than means there is 7 inches between the center of the Head Stock and the lathe bed or Ways; 14 inches is the maximum diameter.

Tools for the Wood Lathe; there are many but they all fall into six tool groups. They are the Gouge, Scraper, Skew, Parting Tools, Specialty Tools and Carbide tools. The numbers of these tools are greatly multiplied when you consider different sizes as in thickness, width and length. The many different profiles or shapes that also increase the number of tools. After you have turned for a few years it is easy to have 20 or 30 different tools.

Gouges: There are several profile shapes that have specific uses. Spindle Gouge is used for shaping square wood into round spindles and because of its high sides it should never used on bowls. Bowl Gauges have many different profiles that make bowl gouges very versatile and are great tools. Detail Gouges have their purpose. Gouges require practice to understand different methods of use and how to sharpen the tool. If you take the time to learn how to use the bowl gauge you’ll never be without one in your tool chest.

Scrapers: Are used to smooth your turning, sharpened correctly they are very good. Many experienced turners leave a burr on the edge, this will cause to scraper to cut very fine.

Skews: Have a double edge bevel and are normally shaped at about a 30 degree angle. With the double bevel edge the chisel can be turned over and used both left and right, some have a rounded edge. Skew can be used for smoothing and special angels.

Parting Tools: Are used for parting off (removing) the turning from the waste block. There are a number of other limited uses.

Specialty Tools: Are texturing tools, chatter tools, Chinese Ball Tools, and etc.

Carbide Tools: Are gaining a lot of use because of their hardness and ability to stay shape longer. The carbide cutter is attached to the shank of a tool that can only be used for that purpose. The different shapes are cups, flat round, square, diamond and etc. They are a good tools and have their place in the wood turner’s tool chest. The only drawback is the cost of the replacement cutters.

Beginning turners can purchase tool sets in a number different sizes depending on the size of the lathe. The sets will have one of each of the tools described above except the specialty and carbide tools. I hope this article helps those that are just learning this wonderful craft.


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    • Steven Nicholson profile imageAUTHOR

      Steven Nicholson 

      2 years ago from Brookings, Oregon

      Thanks, that was my target.

    • turner-bob profile image


      2 years ago

      Nice article for beginning turners.


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