Mountaineer Woodturners


Introduction to the tools of the trade for a Woodturner


Cutting Tools


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I am lost in the maze of Tools


When you start shopping around you might see the tools in categories like gouges, scrapers, and skews.  You might also see categories like spindle tools and bowl tools.  The first type is describing the tool's basic physical profile, the second is describing the tool's use.  They are both correct, but for safety reasons I suggest you think in terms of spindle and bowl tools.  It is very dangerous to use spindle tools to make bowls and should not even be attempted.

A basic spindle set will include 5 tools.

A basic bowl set will include 2-3 tools.

You can buy a set of tools but you do not have too.  There is no rule that says you have to buy a set of tools; you can buy individual tools to fit your needs if you want too.  If you do wish to buy a set, you can check out Robert Sorby or Pinnacle. You can also buy a more economical set too.

Steel used for Turning Tools

Most traditional woodturning tools are made of heat treated M2 high speed steel (HSS Steel) as it holds an edge well, can be honed to a fine edge and offer the biggest bang for your buck.  I recommend you at least get HSS steel.

The next step up is Cryogenically treated M4 high speed.  It last 3-6 times longer than standard M2 and in turn is more expensive than tools made of M2 steel.

The highest level of steel currently avaiable is M42 high speed steel. M42 is an extremely durable, sharp grade of high speed steel.  Not only is M42 HSS much sharper than other grades of steel, it is also much stronger than M2 and M4 steel.

I suggest beginners start out with basic HSS steel and once you learn how to sharpen your tools and know what tools you like and prefer then you might upgrade to M4 or M42 steel.  You do NOT have to upgrade as standard HSS steel is perfectly fine steel.

My personal suggestion would be to buy nothing in the very beginning.  Instead I suggest you find a local woodturner's club (like Mountaineer Woodturner's) and start visiting.  Most clubs will have demonstrations of various projects and tools.  Clubs will also have workshops where you can actively participate and try out various tools.

I will give you a heads up, if you ask 5 woodturners a single question, you will likely get 20 different answers. But as time goes by you will develop an idea of what kind of tools and what brands you will want to get to fit your personal style.  It is not unusually for a woodturner to have tools from lots of different brands.  A word of advice, there is no one perfect brand of tools, there is only the artist's personally connection and use of their tool that really matters when selecting a brand.  If you like using the tool and your able to safely accomplish your goal, then you have a good tool!  

by Jason Carnes

1.     3/4" Roughing Gouge

2.     3/8" Spindle Gouge

3.     1/8"  or 3/16" Parting Tool

4.     3/4" Round Scraper  (sometimes a small bowl gouge will be in place of a scraper)

5.     1/2" Skew.  

1.     1/2" Bowl Gouge for roughing or getting a basic shape of the bowl.

2.     1/2" Bowl Gouge for the bottom of the bowl and your finishing cut (last cut).

3.     1"    French Scraper (needs to be very large and thick).

Basic Spindle Set (5 Tools)

1. Used to take square spindle stock down to round.

2. Roughing gouges have a deep wide flute for rapid wood removal.

3. You can also use it in more advance ways to achieve a smoother finish.

4. You can also perform specific types of cuts that you can learn later.

5. DO NOT USE THIS ON A BOWL (it will break the tool and you can get seriously hurt).

Roughing Gouge

Spindle Gouge

1. Spindle gouges are designed to work between centers.

2. Used to make coves, beads, slopes, and other detail work.

3. Ranges is size from 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" (Recommend 3/8" to start with)

4. There is a regular spindle gouge and a detail spindle gouge

5. The detail spindle gouge has a flute that is much more shallow.

Parting Tool

1. Used to part a piece of wood

2. Used to cut/remove straight down into the wood to a specific diameter.

3. Used to form tenons

4. Comes in sizes from 1/16”, 1/8”, 1/4”

There is a “Bedan Tool” that is basically a large 3/8” parting tool.


1. Easiest tool to learn, but do not let it keep you from learning other tools.

2. Use it to remove very small amounts of material in a pass.

3. Scrapers should very thick.

4. The finish may not be as smooth as a bowl gouge and might require more sanding.

Skew Chisel

1. Considered the hardest tool to learn but worth it.

2. When learned, it will leave a super smooth finish.

3. Will reduce how much sanding is required.

4. Used to make planning cuts, v-cuts, and beads.

5. Excellent for fine detail work or large profile pieces.

6. Comes in sizes from 1/4” up to a massive 1 ¾”

7. Comes in straight edge and radius edge

8. You will want one with a rolled edge or oval profile.

Bowl Gouge (for roughing/shaping)

1. Used to get a rough bowl shape inside and out

2. Typical sizes are 1/2”, 5/8”, or 3/4”.  (Recommend you start with 1/2" for up to 9" bowls)

Basic Bowl Set (3 Tools)

Bowl Gouge (for Bottom/Finishing Cuts)

1. For doing a finishing (also known as last cut) for a smooth finish.

2. Used to get to the bottom of a bowl.

3. Needs to be thick 1/2”or 5/8”.

4. Looks like a regular Bowl Gouge, but with a very sharp bevel.

French Scraper

1. Can be used instead of the finishing/bottom bowl gouge

2. Easier to learn for beginners.

3. Will not leave as smooth a finish as a bowl gouge, so more sanding is required.

4. You will want a French style scraper for bowl work.

5. Make very light passes with this tool.