My father no longer uses his shop (for the most part) and the tools are going to me.

Over time and disuse some of his turning tools have disappeared or fallen into disrepair. I would like to start learning to turn, but I will need some new gouges. What are the "must have" gouges for a beginning turner? I have already purchased a 1 inch flute roughing gouge.

3 Answers 3


A large part depends on what you ultimately plan on turning. However, this is the set I bought when I jumped into the hobby.

enter image description here

3 of them I almost never use even now.

  1. 3/16-Inch Parting Tool - used to 'cut' the work-piece off its base. Once I got a chuck I use this surprisingly little but still a must have.
  2. 5/8-Inch Spear Scraper - like the round nose scraper this is used to shape your pieces. It has a point and two flat edges giving you options for smoothing and shaping. rarely use for my turning
  3. 1-Inch Skew Chisel - used for smoothing, tapers and beading, as well as v-cuts. Started using it a lot, but have moved away from it.
  4. 5/8-Inch Skew Chisel - same as the one above, but smaller and easier to guide. I also rarely use this one
  5. 5/8-Inch Round nose scraper - I tend to use this one on a lot of things. It works great for cleaning up the inside and outside of bowls and makes a nice smooth surface. LOVE this one, one of my most used tools and I have bought 1 or 2 more of different sizes
  6. 1/2-Inch Bowl Gouge - primarily for hollowing out bowls, I've used the round nose scrapper to do the same thing. Took me a long time to learn to use this correctly and I have a different one that I like more but a bowl gouge is good if you plan on turning bowls.
  7. 3/4-Inch Spindle Gouge - to round spindle stock. Used a bit, very useful
  8. 7/8-Inch Roughing Gouge - also to round spindle stock. Use it all the time, similar to the one you bought, I've also bought a couple others of different sizes.

Oh, if you are just going to buy them one at a time, then it is a good idea to go for quality. These aren't bad and I started with 'cheap' because I didn't know if I would like turning. Since then I've bought a set that cost more than my first lathe.

  • 1
    @rob Ha! Good question! I'll have to update my answer.
    – bowlturner
    Mar 26, 2015 at 15:46
  • 1
    @DanielBall eventually, a 1" gouge can do a lot and if you haven't done any turning, it is certainly (IMO) big enough to start with. I think my biggest one is currently a 1". Start with the basics and as you see what you WANT to do get the tools to do that.
    – bowlturner
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:42
  • 1
    You can always make a larger cut with a smaller tool- the reverse isn't true.
    – TX Turner
    Mar 26, 2015 at 19:33
  • 1
    Generally, I find that I reach for one of four tools- a diamond parting tool for making tenons and recesses; a fingernail grind bowl gouge for roughing and shaping; a round nosed scraper for smoothing, and a small skew for crisp details or smoothing out long sweeping curves. I have a spindle gouge and a detail gouge that I rarely use.
    – TX Turner
    Mar 26, 2015 at 19:36
  • 1
    @FreeMan yes they are, thank goodness
    – bowlturner
    Mar 27, 2015 at 1:21

A roughing gouge is important. But if you don't have to slow speed grinder with the necessary attachments it can be a pain to sharpen it once it dulls.

I am a beginner at turning as well. I bought a cheap set of turning tools on amazon and have buyers remorse. My wife doesn't want me to spend any more money on the shop this month so I started making my own turning tools.

I made a roughing gouge in an afternoon using some scrap wood for a handle that i turned with my cheap amazon set. I just used metal rod that i inserted into the handle and screwed a carbide cutter on the end (it was a spare from my joiner that has the spiral head. but these can be had on amazon cheap).

The carbide will last longer than the high speed steel and instead of spending a ton on sharpening equipment, i replace a $15 piece of carbide.

I used it recently on hard maple and padouk and it worked very well, and cost me about $20 all together, not to mention it was fun to make. I even got a round cutter from wood craft for $16 that i can switch out with the square cutter.

I could go into a ton of detail but there is a lot on youtube about making your own turning tools. Here's an example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUrGPvPumns

  • Turns out dad's going to buy me a set of Robert Sorby tools, so ... I guess problem solved, but this looks like a fun project to make.
    – Daniel B.
    Mar 27, 2015 at 22:09

I started turning just about 4 years ago and jumped in with a starter set of tools and upgraded since then. This was about 7 lathe tools in a starter set and I had to also buy something to sharpen them with.

I have a new recommendation that has come to market in just the past couple of years that I think will encourage new folks without getting into tool overload.

Here is my is the Tools you need 101:

1) Lathe
2) A parting tool. You need one, preferably narrow kerf, end of story full stop.
3) A multi bit tool interchangeable cutting head on a tool. Circle, Square, Diamond point.
4) Diamond sharpening plate.

A few reliable brands: Rockler with their house brand, Easy woodworking tools, and Robert Sorby (others?).

Each tool has a set of Pro/Cons. I think you can get down two 2 tools if you go with the Robert Sorby solution. If you choose the other you can do it with 4 tools. This is enough to pretty much do 90% of woodturning; hollow forms being the need for more specialty things, and threaded boxes.

HSS (High speed steel) and Carbide do not have the same grain structure they behave somewhat differently and there are pro/con to using one over the other. Options for both on one tool are fantastic.

The big upside is you don't need to buy a sharpening system from the get-go (grinder, or belt) but rather just a diamond lap plate is sufficient. You remove the cutting head from the tool and just lap the cutter head on the diamond plate using water for lubrication.

After you start you can always add more tools ;)

PS. If you get into turning buy a 4 Jaw Chuck (number 5 on my list).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.