Trying to figure out where to start

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Forum topic by GamingRabbit posted 11-23-2016 01:34 PM 965 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 1470 days

11-23-2016 01:34 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe question

We got my dad a mini lathe for Christmas one year and he has wanted to use it but since we knew very little we didn’t know we had to get special tools for it. My parents have never been that big on online shopping so despite looking in various Home Depot’s, my mom never came across any tools. I’ve been searching the internet today and have found so many tools and sets and so many of them look completely different.

My dad knows he wants to learn but he isn’t quite sure where to begin either. We have a small budget for many things and quite frankly it would really suck to buy tools he can’t actually use because we managed to pick nothing that would be in a “starter” kit.

I’m trying to find out what tools are a must have for starting to learn, and which are just kind of optional.

Also the handles all look so different on many searches, so does it actually matter what it looks like? Some look like sticks of polished wood, and some look like lathe projects on their own and take great pride in the type of wood they are made of. Is that just for show, or is it an important factor?

Any help I could receive on this would be wonderful.

13 replies so far

View HokieKen's profile


15345 posts in 2058 days

#1 posted 11-23-2016 01:47 PM

Well GamingRabbit, you’re only scratching the surface of the turning “iceburg”

First off, if budget is a primary consideration, try this set from Harbor Freight. It’s not a great set but, it’s what I started with and it was sufficient to get me going. I never used some of the tools and in reality, you can get started with only 2 or 3 tools IMHO. However, this set is cheaper than most single tools.

The issue you’re going to run into is sharpening. There is NO tool you can buy for turning and never have to sharpen. With the set linked above, you’ll have to sharpen more often than with better quality tools. Your Dad is going to need a bench grinder at a minimum with at least one decent wheel.

Here are a bunch of articles on sharpening. They cover everything from equipment to how to do it. And, YouTube is your friend. In fact, if you don’t have anyone locally to teach your Dad, YouTube may become your Dad’s BEST friend. It became mine when I started turning :-)

Finally, handles are different for different tools. Small tools for turning pens are small. Some larger bowl turning tools may have 24” handles or longer. And yes, making handles for tools is one of the joys of turning. Not just turning tools but screwdrivers, hammers, chisels, etc…

Good Luck to your Dad! Once he gets going, I’d be willing to bet you’ll be hard pressed to pull him out of the shop ;-p

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View KelleyCrafts's profile


4386 posts in 1659 days

#2 posted 11-23-2016 02:55 PM

Gaming, Kenny is right. That set would do fine on a budget. Sharpening is mandatory. If you do some research on carbide you can do away with sharpening but then there is purchasing inserts constantly which can easily cost more than a grinder and jig before long.

YouTube. If there isn’t a turning club he’s willing to go to, YouTube.

Don’t forget safety gear. I can’t stress the speed at which parts can fly off a lathe. They could do some damage. A face shield is good a respirator is really good depending on how he reacts to dust.

-- Dave - - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View JayT's profile


6414 posts in 3131 days

#3 posted 11-23-2016 03:03 PM

I’m a very novice turner, so take the advice for what it’s worth. I started with a cheap set similar to the one Kenny linked. It worked OK, but required constant sharpening. I’m in the process of switching to carbide and am much happier. Not sure that in the long term the costs might be slightly higher, but the time savings alone is worth it to me, along with not having to constantly have a grinder or belt sander constantly set up to sharpen with.

Carbide also allows me to use far fewer tools. Right now I have four that cover far more uses than the eight piece starter set. Heck, the basic radiused edge square carbide tool replaces three or four traditional tools by itself. I’m sure that if I get deep into turning, that may not totally hold true, but for basic spindle & bowl type work, I just can’t see ever needing to add more than one other tool to the four.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Kenbu's profile


40 posts in 2800 days

#4 posted 11-23-2016 03:23 PM

I also hate sharpening, so Rockler’s current $99 deal for a set of three mini carbide tools would be my choice. Reasonably priced replacement inserts can be had from or


View HokieKen's profile


15345 posts in 2058 days

#5 posted 11-23-2016 06:46 PM

There is NO tool you can buy for turning and never have to sharpen.

- HokieKen

If you do some research on carbide you can do away with sharpening …
- ki7hy

Oh yeah, forgot about carbide. I stand corrected ;-p

FWIW, I wouldn’t recommend carbide for a beginner. The start-up cost is higher and (I would think) the learning curve is steeper. You carbide users correct me if I’m wrong.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View JayT's profile


6414 posts in 3131 days

#6 posted 11-23-2016 06:53 PM

FWIW, I wouldn t recommend carbide for a beginner. The start-up cost is higher and (I would think) the learning curve is steeper. You carbide users correct me if I m wrong.

- HokieKen

I actually find the carbide much easier to use. Rest the square shaft flat on the tool rest and start cutting.

With all the sides of the cutter being sharp, it’s really hard to make it catch. Only way is to go too low (below the center line) or really jam the tool in hard. Roughing with the carbide, I can take a lot deeper cut than with a traditional roughing gouge.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View LeeMills's profile


702 posts in 2221 days

#7 posted 11-24-2016 01:21 AM

You don’t say what type of turning you are interested in.
Bowl, platter, or hollowform typically requires different tool than spindle orientation.
Spindle orientation does not mean spindles but the direction of the grain.
Here is a like to some projects; most are spindle orientation.
For bowl/platter work I would suggest a parting tool, a 3/8 bowl gouge, and a 1/2 bowl gouge.
For spindle work I would suggest a parting tool, 3/4 or 1” skew, 1/2 spindle gouge, and a spindle roughing gouge.
I do have a couple of carbide tools and they do work but I use them mainly for bowl work. I find them pretty constraining for a lot of spindle work.
PSI and many others sell individual tools. I have purchased quite a few Hurricane and find them almost up to par with my Sorby, Hamlet, and Crown. The only one I do not like is their 1/4” spindle gouge as the flute is too short.
Other folks opinions will vary widely as to tool types and brand names.

Don’t worry too much about the handles IMHO. For many you can make your own. One with very nice looking handles is the EasyWood carbide. Since the bits are $20 max and the tool is $120 then you are paying $100 for the handle. You can make your own handle for carbide bits at <$25 for the wood, steel, drill bit, and tap.

-- We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

View HokieKen's profile


15345 posts in 2058 days

#8 posted 11-24-2016 12:52 PM

Lee makes a good point. FWIW, bowl gouges work great on spindle work too. Don’t use a spindle gouge on bowls though.

I too am a fan of Hurricane tools. I also like the penn state “versa chisels” for broad functionality.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Lazyman's profile


5968 posts in 2307 days

#9 posted 11-24-2016 02:32 PM

I like the Benjamin’s Best sets offered by as a good starter set. They have a full size set that is also available on Amazon for under $80. They also have a micro detailing set for about $50 which might be a little easier to use for smaller items on the mini lathe. Both will require frequent sharpening which is another learning curve you have to come up (and set of tools required) to use the lathe.

For the quickest learning curve without also having to learn sharpening techniques right out of the box, the best thing might be to go with carbide tools offered by Rockler. When a carbide tool gets dull, you simply rotate the cutting blade to a fresh section until the entire blade is dull and then just replace the blade. Carbide tools can be used on both spindles and bowls so is a good general purpose tool. Rockler has their mini version onsale for $100 right now. For a slightly larger, more general purpose set, this one for $130 might be a better option for a beginner who does not know what he is going to like making yet. Rockler may have a store in your vicinity but I think that they have free shipping on orders over $35 so you can get it online too. If you go the carbide route, I would recommend adding a parting tool. While you can use the carbide tools for this a dedicated parting tool such as these will work better.

The next thing to consider is the type of projects that he wants to try. Some of the options for a mini lathe are small bowls, round boxes, pens and handles. There are various kits available for making things like pepper mills or handles for kitchen tools for example. Rocker, WoodCraft Penn State all have kits available., If the lathe didn’t come with a faceplate, that will be a necessary tool for things like bowls unless he also has a chuck which I wouldn’t add until he gets serious about turning. There are tons of Youtube videos, many geared towards beginners, with ideas and techniques. Another option is to look for wood turners clubs in his area. They may have classes and demos for beginners and generally have people who are eager to help get new turners up to speed. If you have a Woodcraft or Rockler store near you, they may offer hands on classes for beginners.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View becikeja's profile


1136 posts in 3733 days

#10 posted 11-24-2016 07:46 PM

Well GamingRabbit, you re only scratching the surface of the turning “iceburg”

Here are a bunch of articles on sharpening. They cover everything from equipment to how to do it.

- HokieKen

Great resource HokieKen – Sharpening gouges has been very frustrating for me. These articles are very intriguing.

Gamingrabbit – make sure you can sharpen whichever tools you buy. I have to admit this is one reason I don’t use my lathe very often.

-- Don't outsmart your common sense

View OSU55's profile


2660 posts in 2909 days

#11 posted 11-25-2016 02:38 AM

Both Benjamin’s Best and Hurricane are good value brands – depending on the tool one may have the advantage over the other but very similar. The HF set is good (red handles, I have it) but only for spindle work. Decide whether you want to turn spindles, bowls/platters, or hollowing – that leads your cutting tool and work holding decisions

An important aspect is a sharpening plan. Most use a bench grinder and a wolverine or similar jig, some use a belt sander, some can sharpen by hand. The type of turning leads to the tool which leads to the sharpening. Select a sharpening method(s) for the various tools.

View Woodman15's profile


3 posts in 1465 days

#12 posted 11-27-2016 08:57 AM

This is what I started doing and I love it!

View Kirk650's profile


680 posts in 1668 days

#13 posted 11-27-2016 04:53 PM

Find a Woodcraft or Rockler store and take a beginner turning class. They’ll teach sharpening too. I think it’s best to get some basics before you start trying to use the lathe. A nephew, knowing nothing at all about turning, didn’t let that stop him from trying. He was very lucky that he didn’t get hurt. He managed to snap a roughing gouge where it joins the handle.

If you live anywhere near central Texas, come visit and I’ll show you the basics of turning and sharpening.

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