I'm curious to know what is the simplest set-up to start bowl turning? Which tools should be high-quality and which can I skimp on? I'm not interested in being able to turn a large variety of bowls, I'm simply looking for a set-up where I can develop my bowl turning skills.

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    If you're interested in developing your skills, is it important that you are turning bowls? Are you interested in obtaining less equipment if it means you can only turn dowels and not bowls?
    – drs
    Mar 20, 2015 at 15:40
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    I think of turning dowels more as spindle turning as opposed to bowl turning.
    – ewm
    Mar 20, 2015 at 15:44
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    yeah, I used the wrong term. Dowel or spindle, though, the question remains.
    – drs
    Mar 20, 2015 at 15:45
  • To answer directly, I'm curious about bowl turing only (at least for this question). I presume that much of the gear involved will overlap with spindle turning. If so, so much the better. Thanks for asking.
    – ewm
    Mar 20, 2015 at 16:37
  • Yes most of the gear overlaps, the big difference is spindle turning you don't need faceplates or chucks, Just the drive centers and the tail stock
    – bowlturner
    Mar 20, 2015 at 16:57

2 Answers 2


Like anything it depends, but the list is fairly small either way. For the Lathe itself you can use almost any of them, though I would recommend at least a Midi-Lathe, the larger bench-top lathes. I would recommend at least 8-10" swing if you want more than finger bowls. There are many different options and price points. I started with a cheap Midi and moved on up to a large floor model.

After you have your lathe, you need at least a face plate, I think all new lathes come with one, and small ones are as cheap as $25.

Then you need the (turning) chisels, while you could probably get away with 2-3 as a minimum, I would recommend buying a set, either a 5 or 8 piece set, they have the basics needed to get started and a cheap set (last I looked) was about $50.

You could get away with a hand screw driver to attach the wood to the faceplate, but I would recommend getting an electric drill, it will save on wrists and elbows.

Forgot one! you will need something to sharpen the chisels. Might be able to get away with a sharpening stone, I have one and a grinding wheel.

The next piece to consider is where you are getting your wood for the blanks. if you buy round(ish) wood then you are mostly done. However if you start with firewood, then you'll need a bandsaw to cut your blanks round(ish).

There is a lot more equipment you can buy to make each step easier and what not but that is all you really need. After these I would invest in a chuck system which adds what you can do to turning quite a bit and makes life a lot easier.

  • Lathe: $200 – $2000
  • Faceplate: $25 – $100 (usually one comes with a lathe, even a used one)
  • Turning Chisels: $50 – a lot!
  • Electric drill: $30+
  • Bandsaw: $125 – $1800
  • Sharpening stone(s)/grinding wheel: $30- to as fancy as you want to get.
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    When you talk about "chisels" for a lathe, do they have to be special chisels made for turning, or just any old wood chisels? Also is that a blanket term that includes gouges, etc? Or are the gouges something separate that you add later?
    – rob
    Mar 20, 2015 at 16:48
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    @rob I used 'chisels' as a generic term for all the lathe tools, gouges, skews etc. While you might be able to use a regular wood chisel, I don't recommend it. Turning tools have long handles to give you control, wood chisels will break you wrist or get thrown at you.
    – bowlturner
    Mar 20, 2015 at 16:50
  • As far as turning chisels go, I'd suggest one moderately shaped/sized gouge for turning and hollowing, one skew/scraper for easy finished, and a parting tool is nice for, well, parting as well as some detail work. I personally prefer a nice 'finger gouge' as it is VERY versatile and has different profiles for different shapes. Mar 20, 2015 at 19:16
  • @BrownRedHawk I agree, and that is generally what you get in a 5 -8 piece sets. I suppose actually saying that would be a good idea in the answer...
    – bowlturner
    Mar 20, 2015 at 19:22
  • @bowlturner I just thought I'd toss in my 2 cents. I think a lot of people have their 'favorite' gouges, skews, etc. I got my first set of chisels (and lathe) as a hand-me-down gift from a man that worked for my father. I turned any loose wood I could get my hands on. I'm excited to see there might be another one of these out there like me! Mar 20, 2015 at 19:26

Not much equipment overlap between spindle and bowl turning. Most lathes will accomodate both. For spindles, be more concerned with the length of the bed, for bowls it is the swing, which equals the largest diameter that can be turned, except some lathes have pivoting heads so larger pieces can be turned at 90° to the bed. The larger the bowl, the slower the lathe needs to turn. The surface speed of the wood going past the tool is the important factor.

Spindle turning requires drive spurs and centers, bowl turning requires chucks and/or faceplates.

About the only chisels really used for both are a parting tool and scrapers. Scrapers for bowls need to be thicker, but the thicker scrapers can be used for spindles. A skew can be used some with bowls, but mainly spindles. The gouges are different for specific reasons.

A bench grinder with friable wheels and a jig system for sharpening is really needed for a beginner (I still use a jig system - much better for me). Can be used for both spindle and bowl tools.

I agree with the prices from bowlturner and will add:

  • Sharpening: grinder and jig system ~$200 and up
  • Turning Chisels: ~$20-$25 per tool for the cheaper brands that work just fine. A 1/2" bowl gouge alone would get you started. A couple of scrapers, 3/4"-1" one square and one curved will help with surface finish. A bowl could be turned with scrapers alone. A drill powered sanding set up is nice but not necessary.

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