What is Wood turning? It is a woodworking craft using a lathe and various hand tools to create your own special wooden objects. The operator—called the wood turner—places the work piece in the lathe where it spins around its axis. Then, the wood turner removes unwanted material with chisels and scrapers to create symmetrical bowls, handles, furniture legs, and other decorative and functional items.
Have you ever picked up a turned wooden bowl, chess piece, candlestick, or baseball bat and thought: “wow, I could never make something as beautiful as that.” Well, you may be surprised to learn that wood turning is a craft you can easily learn. And nothing is more satisfying than taking pieces of wood and turning them into something to admire.
Wood turning gives you the joy of expressing yourself in the workshop, only limited by your imagination. And there is something special about bringing out the grain, texture, and color of organic material like raw wood.
Additionally, you have the ability to make personalized gifts for family and friends or create decorative and functional items for your home.
What does it take to become an expert wood turner? What wood turning tools do you need to get started? And how can you get the most joy from the craft of woodworking? Please read on to find the answers to these questions and more.
What Is Meant by Wood Turning?
Wood turning refers to the handcraft of cutting wood into a symmetrical wooden shape as it spins around its axis of rotation. The lathe is capable of turning wood at speeds up to 1,400 revolutions per minute (RPM). The wood turner then uses chisels, scrapers, and gouges to cut away unwanted material from the piece of wood.
Most lathes turn wood pieces with continuous revolution. The lathe can be powered manually using a treadle wheel, or you can turn wood on a motor-powered lathe. This fact differentiates wood turning from other woodworking crafts. When turning wood on a lathe, the work piece moves, and the tools are almost stationary.
Typically, the work piece is held at both ends by spindles with the grain running lengthwise along the lathe bed. However, when turning wooden bowls, only one end of the work piece is secured to the lathe using a face plate and chuck, and the grain is perpendicular to the rotation direction.
What is a Wood Turner?
A wood turner is a crafts person who operates a lathe to create wooden objects. The wood turner uses tools such as chisels, gouges, scrapers, and sandpaper to turn wood blocks (wood blanks). Then, with some skill, a wood turner easily shapes the wood into bowls, table legs, furniture parts, lamps, and other decorative items.
It is relatively easy to become a woodturner. To get started, you need a small beginner’s lathe. Usually, this type of woodworking tool is relatively cheap, and you don’t need much space. If you already have a workbench in your garage or home workshop, then the chances are that you’ve got room for a small lathe.
The next step to becoming a woodturner is to get the right tools. The basic tools most wood turners use include a roughing gouge, skew, parting tool, bowl gouge, and scraper. Then to finish the turned piece of wood, you’ll need sandpaper in various grades of grit.
You can call yourself a woodturner when you have the basic tools and a small lathe and start shaping a block of wood on it. With some practice, you will soon be turning out exquisite wooden items to be proud of.
What Is an Example of Woodturning?
Several examples of woodturning can be found in most homes and places of work.
Spindle turning is one type of woodturning. This is where raw wood is placed in the lathe, with the grain running lengthwise to the lathe bed. Here are some examples of common projects you can create on a wood lathe using the spindle method:
- Table legs
- Baseball bats
- Candlestick holders
- Chess pieces
- Rolling pins
- Kitchen utensils
- Salt and pepper shakers
Another way to turn wood is called faceplate turning. This is where a chuck secures the block of wood with the grain perpendicular to the lathe. Examples of items you can create by faceplate turning include the following:
- Wooden bowls
- Wooden plates
- Mortar and pestle — the mortal is made the same way as a bowl, and the pestle is created lengthways
- Round containers with lids
Is Woodturning Difficult?
It’s not difficult to learn the basics of wood turning. All you need is the right tools and learning from someone with experience. Additionally, you could watch online tutorials or instruction videos on getting started turning wood on a lathe. Then it’s just a matter of practicing.
Woodturning becomes easier when you learn how to use a lathe safely and take your time at the start. Here are some helpful tips on starting a woodturning hobby:
- Safety: Always keep the area around the lathe clean and keep your tools sharp. In addition, it is vital to use quality wood stock that is easy to shape.
- Tools: Have the basic set of woodturning tools to hand. These include fillets, square cuts, V-grooves, and coves. Then practice making spindles and handles.
- Roughing gouge: The roughing gouge is a versatile tool to create the basic shape. The first step of woodturning is learning how to use a roughing gouge properly.
- Using other tools: Tools like skew chisels and parting tools take more skill. Therefore, use caution with these tools, especially as you gain experience as a novice woodturner.
Of course, watching an experienced woodturner create a beautiful object out of a block of raw stock can be intimidating. However, with some practice, you will be able to create equally stunning wooden objects.
What Are the Two Types of Wood Turning?
Spindle turning and faceplate turning are the two primary methods of turning wood in a lathe. The difference between the two methods is the direction of the grain in relation to the axis of rotation. Spindle turning is lengthwise, and faceplate turning is perpendicular.
Spindle turning: This type of woodturning spins the workpiece on its center axis. The wood stock is typically held at both ends between the headstock and tailstock. However, for some woodturning projects, a lathe chuck holds the block at one end. With the spindle turning, you remove wood by running tools along the length of the piece making the diameter smaller.
Spindle turning is used for creating lamps, drumsticks, pens, candlesticks, furniture legs, and similar items.
Faceplate turning: This type of woodturning attaches one end of the chunk of wood (called a wood blank) to the lathe’s headstock. With this method, the grain is perpendicular to the lathe bed. Then the woodturner uses chisels and scrapers to create the outer shape. Then the woodturner switches the blank around and gouges out the inside.
Faceplate turning is used to create tabletops, bowls, stands for table lamps, chopping boards, stool seats, and plinths.
What Machine Is Used for Wood Turning?
A wood lathe is a power tool used for woodturning. This manual or motorized workshop tool holds blanks or pieces of wood in place while turning it. The lathe either holds wood lengthwise (spindle turning) or with the grain running perpendicular (faceplate turning). The wood-turner uses sharp hand tools to cut the wood into its desired shape.
To find out More About Lathes: What is a Lathe? How a Wood Lathe Can Transform Your Woodwork Skills
What Wood Is Best for Wood Turning?
The best types of wood for wood-turning are cherry, maple, and walnut. These types of wood are durable with few knots and won’t split or rip out easily. You can also achieve excellent finishes without any serious issues. One drawback to maple, cherry, and walnut is that they are hard, dense woods, and you must have sharp tools and turn wood at high speed.
Here is a list of the best woods for turning and how easy they are to use in a lathe:
- Maple: Easy, and you can create beautiful bowls.
- Walnut: Relatively easy to turn if you have sharp instruments.
- Cherry: Medium difficulty; however, it is a lovely grain and is easy to finish.
- Boxelder: Medium difficulty and sands easily to reveal an attractive grain.
- Rosewood: Medium difficult and finishes easily. However, it can dull tools quickly.
- Poplar: Very easy to work with and is ideal for beginners. However, finished pieces tend to dent easily.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Woodturning?
Working with wood isn’t hard, and you can pick up basic techniques in a few days and start turning quality handles and candlesticks in a couple of weeks. Of course, to become an expert woodturner takes several years. But you will never stop learning the craft of woodturning.
Woodwork is an enjoyable hobby because you can choose which projects you want to pursue and learn them at your pace. Of course, the more time you spend working on a lathe, the faster you develop your skills.
However, there are several ways you can learn woodturning skills more quickly. Here are a few ideas:
- Read books on woodturning: Books are a great way of expanding your woodworking skill set. The good thing is that you can read in your spare time when you’re relaxing.
- Take an online woodturning course: What’s better than getting instructed by professionals? Woodworking courses are affordable and accessible. And you can get one-to-one instruction to help develop your woodturning skills.
- Watch online videos: There are a ton of videos on YouTube with experienced woodturners willing to share their knowledge and experience.
Is Wood Turning a Good Hobby?
Woodturning is an excellent hobby because it is so versatile. It is also fun to learn and not difficult to acquire a basic set of woodturning skills. You get satisfaction from turning a shapeless piece of wood into a unique, beautiful object. You can also create gifts or even start a money-spinning sideline.
The beauty of starting woodturning as a hobby is that you are good to go once you get the basic tools. The only investment is buying wood blanks. However, lumber is generally widely available, and you can learn how to prep chunks of wood to turn them in your lathe.
Wrapping Up-What is Wood Turning
In conclusion, wood turning is a fun, inexpensive hobby that anyone can enjoy. After buying a lathe and basic wood turning tools, you will be ready to start creating beautiful wooden pieces from trees. The more chunks of wood you turn, the better your skills will develop. The only limit to what you can make is your own imagination.
I’m Thomas Steven with more than 12 years of experience in woodworking. It has always been my passion to become a successful woodworker. I have completed hundreds of successful projects. This blog is a way of sharing my woodworking experiences and what tools get the best results. I write about woodworking while being an associate with Amazon and I earn a little commission from every qualifying purchase.