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I am making a homemade lathe with a drill. I have previously done some wood carving and looking to get into some lathe / turning work. I have a few chisels from some wood carving and wondering what the difference is and what type of tools I could use for that.

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    For folks on a tight budget who are willing to do some metalworking, there are instructions on the web for turning bar stock into a handle to hold the replaceable carbide tips some lathe tools now use. The result ain't pretty, but it works and by using the carbide tips it lets you delay learning to sharpen.. I keep thinking about a large and pondering thus approach.... – keshlam Nov 19 '16 at 3:58
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  • @rob, I see how this could be considered a duplicate posting but I think it should stay because those questions you linked to speak about very specific tools. The first talks specifically about gouges and the second talks specifically about homemade tools and carving tools being used whereas this post yes talks about the possible use of a carving chisels but then asks for recommendations of what types to use in a more broad fashion, something the other posts don't do. – mvr007 Nov 23 '16 at 1:26
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    @mvr007 It may be the case that the author of the first question was not very familiar with turning tools at the time and incorrectly used the term "gouge" instead of "chisel." In both cases, someone is asking for turning tool recommendations for a beginner (as in this question), and the answers are also very similar to those on this question. I'm not sure this question adequately differentiates itself from those other questions, but at the very least I wanted to make sure this question became linked to the others, if not marked as a dupe. – rob Nov 23 '16 at 1:58
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While for a some turning work you probably could get away using some chisels as I have seen it done but I highly recommend you invest in a semi-decent set of tools just to get yourself started out (pre-assembled set or your own custom set if you buy the tools individually).

The main difference in the types of tools are the bevels and grinds on the tool as well as the metal type and hardening as that determines how well the tools will hold an edge and how/how often they will be need to be sharpened (I assume you have some knowledge of this is you have done carving before?). In addition the metal quality is important due to the heat generated from the rpm of the wood as it passes over the metal.

The type of tools you are going to want is going to vary some depending on what you are turning (Spindle, bowls, pens, etc) but here is a list of tools I would recommend you get to start out. These tools should allow you to do most turning just it may be more difficult to make certain cuts or do certain tasks dependent on what you choose to turn.


Tool List

  • Parting Tool - Used for, well parting a piece when you finish it as well as making tenons and precise cuts.
  • Roughing Gouge - Used for making rough cuts and taking lots of wood off rapidly.
  • Skew Chisel - Used for making a smoother cut but also gives you the capability to do so in a more controlled tighter fashion.
  • Spindle Gouge - Same idea as a roughing gouge just a smaller more controlled area.
  • Round Nose Scraper - Used to again make a smoother cut but in rounded parts of the wood (you could get a square end scraper but I would recommend the round nose just based on my own preference).
  • Thank you for the comment on this, this makes sense. I will try to look for some of these tools relatively inexpensively somewhere while I am just testing these waters out. I know ideally it would be nice to get better tools, but I am not sure how much I would be using all of this. – Keith E. Truesdell Nov 22 '16 at 15:50
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You can use chisels and other tools that were not specifically made for turning but you shouldn't expect their edges to hold up for very long. Even with commercial turning tools made from steel frequent sharpening is the norm, so with anything less robust than this you're going to be sharpening a lot so be prepared ahead of time.

As much as the hardness of the wood being turned the speed of rotation and the size of the piece are factors — remember that for any given RPM the edge of a larger piece of wood is moving faster than a smaller piece of wood, so it becomes more abrasive and there is greater chance it can fracture or crack the cutting edge of a tool.

Some related info in a couple of previous Q&As:
Can I use sculptor chisels with a lathe?
What should one consider when purchasing an intro turning chisel set?
How can I tell if wood turning (lathe) chisels are sharp?

  • Thank you for the other comments on and articles on this. Great information and something to consider. – Keith E. Truesdell Nov 22 '16 at 15:48
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Not listed in mvr007's answer is the bowl gouge. Historically I have used a large bowl gouge (e.g. Ellsworth 1/2" Bowl Gouge) for 90% of my work turning, only shying away to another tool for some tight spindle details, parting, and really tough roughing.

More recently I have been using scrapers with replaceable carbide tips (e.g. Easy Wood Tools). Since starting to use them they have served about 70% of my needs.

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