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Woodturning on a Budget

Updated on September 14, 2014

It Doesn't Take a Mint to Start Turning Wood...

When I began turning wood, it was because I had to clear and trim a bunch of trees form the property where I lived. I decided that I wanted to turn bowls with natural edges, and then carving mallets--cause hey, I needed one to use around the shop. Then I made candle holders and plates and magic wands. As items began to sell, I could afford to upgrade some of my key tools to keep up. I found that it was a hobby that I could get into without taking money from my family budget and that I could start out cheaply, and add tools and supplies as I sold finished pieces. It's really nice to be able to make the things that you need around the shop and kitchen. There are LOTS of tools and supplies out there that you might want to own someday, and there are inexpensive ways to purchase them as well, but wood turning is a hobby or profession in which you don't have to "break the bank" to get started.

You don't have to spend a lot to get a lot...

Inexpensive tools don't have to be cheap "offshore" tools

A set of 5 lathe chisels and a faceplate came with my first garage-sale Shopsmith. From there, I turned and sold some pieces at a craft-fair and bought a nice ($70. or so) 1/2" bowl gouge and an inexpensive (about $165) chuck to make holding bowl-blanks easier. The one nice tool I'd recommend any novice turner own would be a 3/8" or 1/2" deep-fluted Bowl gouge. Probably 3/4 of my turning time is spent with this tool in hand. Don't skimp here.

If you shop hard and do your research, you can find many lathe tools, parts and supplies on ebay for much less than you'll spend in the stores.

Most of the handles for my tools are custom-turned, from really nice-looking pieces out of my firewood pile.

Also, you can get free wood to turn if you just ask the city or county workers that are trimming the trees in your area for it. Usually, they are happy not to have to take it to the landfill or dump.

Lathe Tools and Supplies on eBay... - ...shop hard & get good deals!...

Don't forget to figure in for the shipping. If you shop it hard, you can get really good deals on high quality tools and supplies on eBay...

Free or Low-Cost places to get Wood to Turn...

  • FREE WOOD! You can sometimes get free wood to turn if you just ask the city or county workers that are trimming the trees in your area for it. Usually, they are happy not to have to take it to the landfill or dump. Be ready to haul it with yours or a borrowed truck, because there may be a lot of it once they find out that you want it...
  • Look in your, or a friend's firewood pile! I'll bet they will be happy to let you look through their firewood pile again and again after you give them something you turned for them out of their wood supply.
  • Pallets, boxes and packing materials: I once found a pallet with slats made from Mahogany (although I had to search for that one!) in the pallet stack behind an import company. My friend sometimes goes over to the docks area in Portland, OR (but a dock or shipping center in any big city would probably have something) and buys "dunnage" which is wood used to put air-space between stacks of shipped items on a ship. Now and again he has brought home wonderful and beautiful sections of completely turnable wood.
  • Next time somebody you know has to fell a tree, or has one come down in the wind, ask them for those highly-figured sections where the branches meet the trunk--called the "crotch" area. These have provided me with some of the most beautiful bowls that you could imagine.

...Here's one of me, cutting up bowl blanks...

...Here's one of me, cutting up bowl blanks...
...Here's one of me, cutting up bowl blanks...

Some Sweet Wood Lathes from Amazon... - It's just amazing-how much cool stuff these guys sell!

...Here's a List of Must-Have Items for Beginning Wood Turners... - a "short list" of tools and supplies that'll help you on your way

  • A Lathe: make sure that what you get will do what you need it to do. The maximum diameter of the bowl (size across the lip) was one reason I settled on the Shopsmith. Minimum running speed was another. To turn items larger than 12" diameter, you need to be able to slow down the machine to a safe running speed.
  • A Faceplate: This is the part that you screw your bowl-blank to and then mount the whole thing onto the lathe.
  • 1" roughing gouge
  • 3/8" spindle (shallow fluted) gouge
  • 1/2" bowl gouge
  • 1/8" parting tool
  • 1/2 to 1" round nose scraper
  • Skew chisel (3/4" or 1")
  • Sandpaper (100, 220, 320, 400, 600 grits)
  • Eye protection: I consider this to be a requirement of turning
  • Face, hearing and respiratory protection, as needed...

Great Items to get you going with your new "hobby" - ...you'll enjoy using these new tools!

I recommend that you start with less and add items as you can afford to, and as you sell pieces. No need to spend it all until you know what you really need.

The dreaded Safety Lecture...

...Please, Be Safe...

Safety First! I used to tell the students that took the vocational printing course that I taught that they needed to go home with the same amount of fingers and toes that they came in with. The same idea applies when turning wood.

At times, you are spinning the stock at a rate of speed that you're eyes can't even focus on to see and you are scraping a piece of sharpened steel against it! I don't mean to scare you away from turning, only to make you aware that you need to take sane precautions before you do this.

Turning wood can be an inherently dangerous undertaking, and you need to take every safety precaution that you possibly can and wear every safety device that is likely to save you from bodily harm and injury. This includes gloves, an apron or smock,eye protection, safety glasses, face shield, breathing respirator, air filter, and yes, I really mean it. The dust created while sanding some species of wood are known to be toxic to humans and you don't want to find out the hard way in the middle of an allergic reaction to dust or a chemical that you are using.

Wood Turning Books to get you going - ...these are my very favorites...

A Poll Question about Why you want to get into woodturning? - Give your opinion and see why others want to as well...

Why do you want to get into woodturning?

See results

You don't have to break the bank to get started in wood turning!

Here's a Video of Turning a Large Bowl...

eBay Wood Turning Items are sometimes Cheap...

...Just about anything you could need for wood turning can be had on ebaY. It's wise to do your research--make sure it's something that you really need, and that it's a good deal (don't forget to figure in the shipping and handling charges).

...Here's a list of wood turning items that you can add as you go along...

No big rush in getting these, but some of them can sure make your turnings easier to accomplish!

  • A chuck
  • Glues (CA), finishes and rags
  • Jewelers magnifiers for seeing those details
  • A grinding "jig": Use this to sharpen your gouges and tools perfectly every time
  • Paper, pencil, Small ruler
  • Colored felt pens
  • A bottle of Friction Polish
  • A bottle of Tung Oil
  • A can of Shellac
  • A bottle of mineral oil
  • A block of Beeswax
  • A Block of Carnauba Wax
  • Colored felt pens
  • Buffing wheels: You can rig these right up on your lathe and buff with different grits one right after the other

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