Guide to Woodturning Basics

Wood turning is the process of creating functional or artistic objects by using tools to shape a turning piece of wood. Wood turning can produce bedposts, stair rail spindles, balustrades, table legs, and finials. Wood-turning skills can also be used to produce bowls and even pens. Safe wood turning is important to ensure that you use the tools carefully and correctly. With practice and attention to detail, this hobby can produce rewarding results.

Wood-Turning Tools

Wood-turning tools include scrapers, gouges, chisels, and parting tools. Sharp tools are crucial for wood turning; with use, tools can quickly become dull, so it's important for wood turners to know how to sharpen their implements. Keeping tools at their sharpest creates cleaner cuts, and the tools won't grab and gouge the wood as it turns. Use a bench grinder or a slow-speed wet sharpener to sharpen wood-turning tools. Maintaining the correct bevel on the tool will ensure that it produces the correct result.

Wood-Turning Speeds

When wood is secured to the lathe, it will turn at a speed that can be changed depending on your needs. Speeds can range between 500 and 4,000 rpm. Generally, the wider the wood stock, the lower the speed you should use. For instance, a narrow piece of wood stock that is two and a half inches or less in diameter might turn at a speed ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 rpm. If you have a longer piece, keep the speed at the lower end of the range. Thicker pieces of wood stock should be turned at half the speed of narrow pieces.

Hand Positioning

Safe wood turning involves positioning the hands safely so you can control the tool but keep your fingers out of the way. Right-handed wood turners should position the left hand against the tool rest while the right hand holds the handle. The left forefinger should be under the tool against the side that is opposite the wood. Place the left thumb on top of the tool to steady it. Left-handed wood turners would use the same positioning except with the opposite hands.

Positioning of the Tool

When turning the wood, the tool must remain in contact with the tool rest. You might use a scraper, chisel, or gouge as the wood turns, but never allow the tool to touch the wood without having it in contact with the tool rest. Position the tool rest about a quarter-inch away from the wood. Maintain a minimal distance between the point of contact on the tool rest and the point where the tool touches the wood. Allowing too much distance between these two points will result in less support for the tool.

Use of the Bevel

For safety, keep the bevel behind the sharpened edge of your tool. This ensures that the tool won't remove too much wood at one time, possibly grabbing the wood or even pulling the tool out of your hands. After positioning the tool on the tool rest, place the back edge of the tool onto the wood so the point where it touches is either on or behind the bevel. At this point, the cutting edge of the tool should not be cutting the wood yet. After establishing the correct level of contact, slide the tool backward and away from the lathe until the cutting edge starts to engage with the wood. The bevel must remain in position to touch the wood at all times during the cutting process.

Cutting With the Grain

Wood turning should always work with the grain of the wood, which may be referred to as "cutting downhill." If you are hollowing out a cove in wood, cut it from the edges inward to the center. If you were to start in the center and move outward to the edges, this would be known as "cutting uphill." Cutting uphill is harder to control and often results in the tool grabbing the wood.

Leading With Cutters and Trailing With Scrapers

Cutters include chisels, gouges, and parting tools. When working with cutters, the rear hand on the handle must be lower than the fore hand positioned on the tool rest. This ensures that the tool has a lead position with the wood turning into the cutting edge of the tool. When working with scrapers, work in an opposite manner. Position the rear hand higher than the fore hand so the cutting edge of the scraper is under the tool rest.

Practice to Learn

Learning wood-turning skills takes practice. When observing an expert wood turner, the process will likely look easy. However, trying it yourself will make it clear that you'll need to practice to become accomplished. Keep your grip on the tools firm but not overly tight. A relaxed grip will make wood turning easier. With time and effort, you should be enjoying success with wood turning.

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