AG Woodworker

A Few Useful Woodturning Tips


Below are a series of woodturning tips which I have been compiling for a number of years now. Some are tips which were told to me by fellow woodworkers I have working with and others I have read online. I believe these tips are great for both new and experienced woodworkers and I will be interested to hear your feedback. Happy woodworking friends.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #1: “Tool Control”

Tool control is essential if you are to get the nice clean curves and shapes that please, and generally, this tool control boils down to the amount of support you give your tool. Wherever possible, keep the tool handle against your body – on your hip or against your belly if you have a big belly and a short tool handle. The tool will also be resting on the tool rest and the bevel should be rubbing the wood. This gives support in three places. Use your body to move the tool across the work. The greater bulk that your body provides combined with a rubbing bevel gives you the nice, clean curve you want.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #2: “The Philosophy of Sanding”Not many turners express enjoyment when it comes to sanding their turnings. However, I once had a student who did express such a sentiment, even though I had made her repeat the whole sanding process to get out some stubborn scratches and bruising. She said, “I don’t mind. Sanding is like the easy reward after all the hard tool work.” It’s amazing what a different attitude can do to enable us to finish a good piece well, rather than rush the finish and end up with a second rate piece.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #3: “What tools to buy”

If you’re a beginner woodturner, you may been into the workshop of a long-time turner and been amazed and daunted by the number of turning tools on display. The reason why the long-term turner has so many tools most likely doesn’t have much to do with what is needed. Big kids, like little kids, enjoy buying new toys and showing them off. To start out, the beginner turner needs no more than six or seven tools – a roughing gouge, a 3/8th bowl gouge, a spindle or detail gouge ( these have a much shallower flute than the bowl gouge and are best ground to a lady’s fingernail shape), a parting tool, a skew chisel and a couple of scrapers – a flat nose and a round or half-round nose. Get the best the budget will allow. Cheap tools will give you plenty of sharpening practice, but not a lot of satisfaction on the lathe.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #4: “Problems with a Skew Chisel”

Ever had the experience of trying to cut a nice clean bead or V cut on spindle work with the skew chisel, only to have it kick back and put a dirty great spiral gash in your work? Blame it on physics – surface areas and unequal forces to be exact. When you cut into the wood, it should only be the first millimetre of the skew point that is cutting. The bevel of the skew should also rest on the work as the cut proceeds, and you are exerting the force (not massive amounts) needed to produce a smooth, clean cut. Suddenly, the kickback occurs. What has happened, is that the skew has twisted slightly off vertical and more than only the first millimetre of skew has suddenly connected with the wood. You are still exerting the same amount of force needed to push one millimetre of metal through the wood. However, it’s not enough to push two or more millimetres through, so something’s gotta give. Hey presto, the dirty great gash. The secret is to keep the skew vertical. So saying, there are easier tools for producing beads on spindle work. A good sharp detail gouge is easier to use and produces just as clean a finish.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #5: “Tools from your old VCR”

Tools from your old VCR When your old VCR unit breaks down and isn’t worth repairing, don’t throw it out. It can be for all sorts of lovely round, metal pieces that come in handy. The playing heads that are attached to a metal stem can be used to make your own power sanding tool. Cut a round piece of rubber (an old thong or sole off a sandal will do) to fit the playing head and glue it on using contact adhesive. Glue a disc of Velcro onto the rubber and your power sanding attachment is ready to go. There are also round pieces that can be used as faceplate rings. These come in handy if you make your own sanding discs for the lathe or any jig which you are going to mount and dismount from the lathe a number of times. When the metal is gripped in the chuck jaws, it is not going to be damaged or put out of shape by frequent tightening and loosening of the jaws.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #6: “Turning Bowls”

When turning a bowl, aim to have your curves clean and smooth – no high or low points from rough tool work – and no flat spots. Also, aim to make the bowl appear to lift off the table, not sit flat and heavy. This can be achieved by putting a foot on the bowl and making it approximately one third the width of the widest point. If the bowl is to hold fruit, it’s not going to tip over. The greatest weight will be in the centre at the bottom.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #7 “Sawdust”

Thanks to Peter Treacher for this one…..

Like many turners I make great use of my bandsaw and a “spin off” is that they produce masses of very fine sawdust of different colours. I keep some of it in various glass jars and use it mixed with superglue to fill some of those small holes that seem to materialise when getting deep into a piece. To deal with the sometimes very dark loose knots I have stained some of the sawdust and used it to fill the gaps around the knot.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #8 :“Organising Sandpaper”

The best sandpaper to use on woodturning is cloth-backed paper in the following grits: 120grit, 180, 240, 320 & 400grit. Coarser grits (60,80 and 100 grit) can be used occasionally to get out extra stubborn raised grain or lumps & bumps, and the very fine grits (600 to 2,500 – usually in wet-and-dry sandpaper) can be used if you want the very best mirror-like finish. However, 120 grit to 400 grit suffices for about 90% of all jobs. Woodturning suppliers usually sell these in 1 metre rolls.

When you get the rolls, mark the back of them as follows with a thick felt pen: 120 grit – no mark; 180 grit – one thick line the full length of the roll; 240 grit – two thick lines; 320 grit – threethick lines; 400 grit – four lines. When you need the sandpaper, tear off strips from every grit and stack them together with 120 grit on the top and 400 grit on the bottom. Keep them together with a small bull clip or a large paper clip. As you are sanding and progressing through the grits, simply fold the used coarser grit back to expose the finer one underneath. Doing this means there is never any confusion as to which grit you are using, and pieces don’t get lost so easily.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #9: “Lathe Speed”

The speed at which you spin a piece of wood on the lathe varies in proportion to the size and weight of the piece and its degree of balance on the lathe. As a general rule, the smaller and more balanced a piece is, the faster you can set the lathe. So, if you are turning pens, run the lathe at around 2,700 rpm. The faster speed will give you a better cut. However, if say, a bowl blank is seriously out of balance, slow the lathe down considerably before switching it on and, if possible, bring the tailstock up to provide that bit of extra support. Once you have roughed the blank down a bit and it is running smoothly, then you can try increasing the speed a bit. What it boils down to is: run the lathe at the speed that is most comfortable and safe for you.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #10: “What to look for in a good lathe (new or secondhand)”

If you are considering buying a new or secondhand lathe, look for the following features in the order listed:

1. Heavy duty construction – preferably a solid, cast iron bed as this is less likely to warp; a solid, heavy stand sitting squarely on the floor (some lathes have provision for slight adjustment of the feet to allow for floors that might not be flat.)
2. Solid, stable motor mountings
3. Quiet operation – motor runs smoothly; there should be no bearing noise or vibration at any speed or with any reasonable load.
4. Belt runs smoothly and is easy to change speeds: check that the belt does not jump or flex when running; is it easy to see what speed the lathe is set on before you start up?
5. Tailstock and toolrest banjo slide freely the full length of the lathe bed.
6. Headstock and tailstock points line up. Put the headstock and tailstock points in and bring the tailstock up till the points just touch.
7. Levers to change position of toolrest and tailstock are easty to get at and easy to adjust; camlock systems are best.
8. Indexing system is present, easy to see and easy to use and has at least 24 positions.
9. All accessories are present and in good condition; at least one toolrest; faceplate; drive spur for the headstock (make sure the point and spur are not bent or damaged);
live tailstock center (i.e. one that spins) (check to see that the point is sharp and the bearings aren’t worn or noisy); knockout bar.
10. Some extra bonuses:
– variable speed – some even have reverse – a four-jaw expanding chuck to fit the lathe – a movable light – storage shelves built into the stand


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #11 ‘Accessing Timbers”

One common question I get is, ‘Where do you get your wood from?” My answer is, ‘Everywhere and anywhere. ” Not a very satisfactory answer for someone who wants specifics, but still true. Sometimes, I will be driving along and see someone cutting a tree down. The brakes go on, the car stops and I go and have a chat to them. I have acquired some of my nicest timbers and some good friends that way. I also have been known to acquaint myself with local tree lopping businesses and joinery workshops. I have a regular arrangement with one workshop where I buy their offcuts. I wanted it that way since, if it was to be a regular thing, I wanted to be seen as a customer rather than a freeloader. Now I am known as a local wood collector, I often get people phoning me to ask if I want some timber. With each gift of wood, a finished piece – usually a small bowl – is returned to the giver. Goodwill goes a long way.


Weekly Woodturning Tips – Tip #12 “Drill Guide”

This tip was sent to me by an old woodturning friend – Alan – from Melbourne.

There are many reasons why you may wish to drill holes in a turning at special intervals or angles; it all comes in the design. But resting your drill across a tool rest to steady it is doing no favours to the drill, the tool rest nor the appearance of the finished work. At one stage I tried putting a wooden stake on the tool holder of the cross slide and drilling through that. Very quickly I found that the sides of a modern twist drill will rapidly eat their way through wood leaving an irregular hole so that had limited future.

I decided that I needed several characteristics for a drill guide. I had to be able to remove it from the lathe and replace it so that it would always drill accurately on the centre line of the work It had to resist any attempt of the drill to wander off line and remain able to do this and it had to be something I could make cheaply myself as I may need a number for different size drills.

I went down to the local bearing firm and asked if they stocked drill sleeves in the sizes I wanted. They did from 9mm up both in metric and Imperial sizes so I bought one each of the sizes I had anticipated using. I then needed a post to mount them in.

I cut some stable hard wood into 40mm squares 225mm long. As my Tough lathe had ¾” holes in the cross slide to hold the tool rests I also raided my scrap box for some ¾” retired towel rail, cut it into enough 50mm lengths to make a post for every bearing sleeve. After carefully measuring the internal diameter of the tubes I turned spigots on the ends of the wooden stakes down to that diameter so that the spigots would slip neatly into the tubes. I then fixed them with epoxy resin, in my case Araldite. Next I drilled a hole just below the top of the sleeve to accommodate a 2” nail, pushed it through, cut off all bar 5mm with side cutters and peened it over making it a fixture.

To mark the spot for the bearing sleeve I put a tail centre in the head spindle of the lathe, seated the stake firmly in the cross slide and turned it around so that the stake came up against the tail centre and gave it a smart rap with a mallet to make a clear mark. After measuring the outside diameter of the relevant bearing sleeve, I selected a Forstner bit to match. (Forstner bits cut much cleaner holes than standard twist drills.) To make sure the hole was perpendicular to the stake I drilled a hole though the stake exactly at the point of the centre mark with a drill press. The job was finished by fixing the bearing sleeve in with more epoxy resin.

The stake may be set at any angle to the work and with the spacing regulated by the indexing head on the lathe, it will enable holes to be accurately drilled on even curved surfaces and the insertion of “knots” in featureless wood which needs livening up. If you are using a Forstner bit, select a stake with a bearing sleeve the diameter of the shank of the drill, slide the drill back through the sleeve and attach to your drill and make your hole.