Making Lathe Tools #1: Design

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Blog entry by Big Ben posted 11-03-2011 05:16 PM 7315 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Making Lathe Tools series Part 2: Update »

I recently took up wood turning as the next step in my wood working addiction, turning has been extremely fun but costly. As I have been turning every log I could get my hand on, I have had a real hard time doing small vases and hollow forms. I have looked into buy some hollow form tools but dont have the funds the buy what I would like ( So I have decided to make my own, I have no experience doing so. This will be a learning experience for me. My goal is to make full set of hollowing tools for under $100. After searching google, youtube, LJs and this is what I have come up with.

Set will consist of three chisels:

Straight, 22 degree bend, 45 degree bend.

Option 1:

Cut 5/8" Cold Rolled Steel to 12" long, drill 3/16" hole 1.5" deep in the head of the of rod. Drill, tap and die holes for set screws into rod and insert 3/16" HSS cutter. The rods will be bent at the 2” mark.

3/16" HSS cutter

5/8" Cold Rolled Steel

Set screw

Need to determine size, suggestions?

Concern with this method:

Can I bend the rod using propane torch?

Option 2:

Cut 3/8" Square Rod 12" long. Grind recess on end 3/16” deep by 3/8” wide. Drill, tap and die hole for set screw. I would like to make 3, one straight, 22 degree bend and 45 degree bend. This replicates what Eddie Castelin has done ([media][/media]) but with a bend.

Concern with this method:

I am not sure what size hole I will need to secure cutter to rod.

Can I bend the rod using propane torch?

Carbide Cutter

3/8" Square Rod

Questions, comment and donations are appreciated.

5 comments so far

View Charles Maxwell's profile

Charles Maxwell

1099 posts in 4320 days

#1 posted 11-03-2011 05:46 PM

Great idea! I don’t have any suggestions yet. I’d be interested in your results and observations along the way.

-- Max the "night janitor" at

View Charles Maxwell's profile

Charles Maxwell

1099 posts in 4320 days

#2 posted 11-03-2011 05:49 PM

Have you thought of buying up some old chisels and refurbishing them? Craigslist and eBay might be a good source. I also find lots of lathe chisels in antique shops and garage sales.

-- Max the "night janitor" at

View JamesVavra's profile


304 posts in 3828 days

#3 posted 11-03-2011 07:02 PM

Ben – I recently started turning hollowforms and got the John Jordan set to start out with. His are relatively inexpensive and pretty good quality. I’m no expert, but I seem to want to turn the tool a bit on the rest to adjust my cutting angle occasionally. Square barstock would prevent you from doing that easily, so you might be better off with the round bar.


View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3510 days

#4 posted 11-03-2011 09:41 PM

You are over thinking it :) It is not rocket science. Just slow to cut. It is fun stuff. People have been doing it for hundreds of years.

The carbide cutters can be had for $2-$3/piece in sets of 10 on ebay. I don’t suggest going that way though. You will be happier with HSS. It is generally easier to sharpen and will last fine on wood. I don’t even have anything against plain old carbon steel as long as you are cutting and not scraping.

You can pick up sets of HSS lathe tool blanks at the cheap places (Harbor Freight, Wholesale Tool ( ) They set you back about a dollar per piece. You can also really cheap out and hunt down used HSS drill bits to shape to use.

It is a bit harder to drill the end without a lathe but it can be done and real precision is not required. The size just needs to be large enough for the bit to fit in. The size of the set screws will be a bit under the tool size. Again, not critical.

If you are not tooled up for the metal work, drop by a muffler shop, or welding shop or something and ask them to bend it for you. It will be cheaper than buying the gas. You can also do it yourself.

If you are patient, you can just clamp it up in a vise and have at it with a file to shape flats and such.

Carbon steel is not that much more for the quantites you are going to be using. I just bought some for about $10/piece for 3’ long 1/2 in drill rod. If you are going to use a HSS insert or carbide insert, it is not worth paying extra for. If you are thinking about making your own, go for it. 3/4 in O1 was about $20 for a 3’ piece.

Don’t want to spend the money on propane or mapp gas? Pick up a bag of charcoal and bbq a chicken while you are working. Pick up some long pliers or tongs, a small hammer and something to use for an anvil and you are in business (a little 24 lb anvil at grizzly is $25.) A lot of people use pieces of old train track.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Michael1's profile


403 posts in 3172 days

#5 posted 11-04-2011 04:00 AM

I am with you on making turning tools. Just today I was in Woodcraft and they had some really nice hollowing chisels for 150 bucks. I look at it as when I make the tool, It is more pleasurable to use than one I bought. I am still learning about the metal working aspect my self. I have a brother that is a machinist. I will get his thoughts on the best way to bend the steel and what type of steel is best to use and will let you know. In the mean time, If keep posting your progress, would love to learn from others experience.

-- Michael Mills, North Carolina,

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