Budget tool set - help me choose

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Forum topic by JFM74 posted 12-19-2016 01:57 PM 2204 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 1436 days

12-19-2016 01:57 PM

I’m returning to wood turning after a 30 year hiatus. I picked up a HF benchtop lathe off of CL earlier this fall. The seller included the basic $15 HF tool set, a Carbide Magic tool, and a few accessories. I’ve been working on making Christmas tree ornaments the last month or so and have had it with the cheap set of tools. I’m frustrated by how quickly they dull. I’ve about given up on all of them and use the Carbide Magic tool for 90% of my cutting. While it works great for most things, there are things it just can’t do. After Christmas, I plan to upgrade my tool set and want some advice on direction to take.

I realize all of the sets I am looking at are budget-minded and varying degrees of HSS. I know I can buy single Robert Sorby or Woodcraft tools for the price of these whole sets and understand it’s a “get what you pay for” situation. I accept that, but want to get the best bang for my buck.

As far as what I want the tools to do, I guess the best answer is “as much as possible.” I would like to be able to dabble in bowls and end-grain work, but also do regular spindle work. I do some pen making, but the Carbide Magic tool works great for that purpose. As the Penn State sets include bowl gouges, I am inclined in their direction.

Option 1 – Harbor Freight:

Option 2 – Penn State:

Option 3 – Penn State:

Option 4 – Penn State (currently out of stock):

Any thoughts, suggestions, or other similar-priced options out there that I don’t know about?


16 replies so far

View eflanders's profile


329 posts in 2763 days

#1 posted 12-19-2016 02:42 PM

Given that you have tools now, you know which individual tools you use the most. Rather than buying a set, my suggestion is to replace the favorite tools one at a time with true quality replacements. IMO, each company makes some tools very well and to my liking, while others make other tool shapes more to my liking. With this being said, I really like D-Way bowl gouges and his customer service is top notch! But I also own a small Sorby gouge that I love for delicate work.

View brtech's profile


1068 posts in 3835 days

#2 posted 12-19-2016 03:04 PM

I suggest you follow eflanders advice and purchase just the tools you want, and for your budget, consider the Narex tools sold by Taylor Toolworks.

You have the Carbide Magic tool, but if there are others out there with the same problem there is a guy selling the Robert Sorby Turnmaster set, handle-less, with HSS cutters, on EBay for $62 shipped.

  • woops * looks like he sold out; listing gone.
View SuperCubber's profile


1145 posts in 3197 days

#3 posted 12-19-2016 07:58 PM

Guys around here seem to really like the Benjamin’s Best for a budget set. I haven’t used them personally, but they are regularly recommended to folks in your position.

-- Joe | Spartanburg, SC | "To give anything less than your best is to sacrafice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

View Wildwood's profile


2905 posts in 3047 days

#4 posted 12-19-2016 08:03 PM

All of your options consist of spindle turning tools. I echo what other posters have told you and buy individual tools. Harbor Freight doesn’t sell any bowl gouges so would look at Penn State for those. If just need one or two tools Penn State not bad way to go. If need new spindle tools and don’t want to pay shipping option 1 not a bad tool set. All of my x-mas ornament are turned with spindle turning tools.

Resharpening your tools just a fact of life no mater what kind of steel tools you have. Even carbide tools dull over time and eventually need replacement.

-- Bill

View jeff's profile


1257 posts in 4377 days

#5 posted 12-20-2016 02:00 AM

I would purchase tools individually.Penn State offers decent tools at a decent price..I think a 1/2” bowl gouge,3/8” spindle gouge and a parting tool would be a good start..I have the 5/8”-1/2”-and 3/8” bowl gouges from Penn State and do like them..I tend to use the 1/2” bowl gouge more then the others..I recently placed swept back/fingernail grinds on those and considered that practice sharpening-a grind I wouldn’t have tried on my more expensive Thompson tools.

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

View Abter's profile


79 posts in 1540 days

#6 posted 01-12-2017 03:37 PM

Ultimately the cutting properties of any turning tool is based on the steel in it. Fit and finish certainly matter, and a well balanced, well designed tool is a joy to work with. But the ease of sharpening, and ability to hold an edge, is fundamental.

One online article I found is in older (2009) American Woodturner. They did high end steel analysis to determine the specific type of steel in 11 brands of turning tools. All purported to be high speed steel. The brands ranged from HF, Craftsman and Penn State to Sorby and Packard. The analysis tests aren’t cheap, and destroy the tool in the process, so they only tested a single tool from each brand.

The article has a good-but-accessible discussion of steels, results with the % composition of 13 different alloys in each tool’s steel, a key hardness metric (HRC), and their conclusion on what type of steel the tool actually is (e.g., H2, T1, generic HSS, etc). They found that the test results were different than the claims of the manufacturer in a disturbing # of cases.
The results are dated, and it is certainly possible (perhaps even likely) that the types.

Good reading even if the data is old.

If anyone knows of newer info of this source, please let us know.

-- "Many men fish all their lives without ever realizing that it is not the fish they are after." {often mis-quoted as by H.D. Thoreau}

View OldCoach's profile


51 posts in 1787 days

#7 posted 01-13-2017 04:33 AM

I inherited a HF lathe and knew absolutely nothing about turning. After it sat underneath my bench for two years, I finally took it out of the box and started watching youtube. I went to HF and bought the cheapest set of tools for $18. I have lots of cedar on my place so decided to practice. Loved it! Very addicting. Those cheap HF tools are still in my shop and I use them exclusively whenever I turn cedar because they do lose their edge very quickly. But I learned how to sharpen the tools and gained a new skill. I have upgraded to the HF Windsor set. They are 10 fold better than the cheapies. I use them to turn mesquite, oak and cocobolo, all fairly hard and those tools last much longer between sharpening. With a 20% discount coupon,you get a lot of bang for your bucks. Highly recommend.

-- Play cowboy on weekends and make sawdust in between when not watching football

View Woodknack's profile


13512 posts in 3293 days

#8 posted 01-13-2017 05:45 AM

Good reading even if the data is old.

If anyone knows of newer info of this source, please let us know.

- Abter

Interesting, so avoid Grizzly, Craftsman, and Bodger. Benjamin’s Best is spotty. —at least in 2009.

-- Rick M,

View bigJohninvegas's profile


821 posts in 2374 days

#9 posted 01-14-2017 01:12 AM

I agree with most of the other post. You already have a cheap set that will keep you turning for now. Buy one quality tool at a time as you discover what your needs are. Even as you start to replace the cheap tools, keep them. I have a couple Benjamin best spindle gouges that I ground into beading tools, and a harbor freight parting tool ground at an angle for a perfect dovetail.

-- John

View Bill7255's profile


428 posts in 3197 days

#10 posted 01-14-2017 02:10 PM

I’m going to give a little different advice. To me the set you have is is pretty bad. My first set of HSS tools was the HF tools. They have two different sets, one set has red handles and cost about $15 more than the other set. I have the red handle set. I still use several of these tools today. Some I have reground like John. Then I started buying tools I wanted, but were not in that set such as hollowing, speciality, and bowl gouges. I started buying Sorby tools, mostly speciality. I have never been disappointed with any of them. I was making a lot of pens and bought the ShopSmith pen makers set and it is very good. I have one Crown bowl gouge that is very good. I finally bought some Thompson bowl gouges and scrapers that are excellent. I have several homemade carbide insert tools, but not my preference. I did buy the easy wood detailer that I like a lot. Brands I have disappointed in are the BB bowl gouges and the Hurricane roughing gouge. Maybe I got bad ones, but won’t buy either of those brand tools again. I do have the Hurricane HTC 125 chuck and it is very good. My advice is to buy the HF red handle set to start and then start buying tools you want that are not in that set. I would skip the cheaper tools for gouges and buy high end tools for that purpose.

-- Bill R

View Woodknack's profile


13512 posts in 3293 days

#11 posted 01-14-2017 06:36 PM

I’ve been thinking of buying the hurricane roughing gouges, do you mind telling me a little more about them?

-- Rick M,

View Bill7255's profile


428 posts in 3197 days

#12 posted 01-14-2017 07:11 PM

Just didn’t seem to hold an edge. I guess ok for price, but I expected a little better. I may have just got a bad one. I am going to get a Thompson roughing gouge.

-- Bill R

View OSU55's profile


2658 posts in 2902 days

#13 posted 01-15-2017 03:08 PM

I started turning ~4 years ago. I turn bowls, platters, some hollow vessels, segmented glue ups of the same, and smaller spindle stuff – tool handles, ornaments, etc. I have the red handled HF spindle set that I started with, and numerous Benjamin’s Best and Hurricane tools. I don’t have any “name brand” tools. After significant research when I started I didn’t find any consensus on best tool sizes or grinds, so I decided I needed to figure out what I liked to use, as well as learn how to do different grinds especially with gouges. I wasn’t going to grind up expensive name brand stuff in the process.

The red handled HF tools are fine and I still use them, but the BB’s and Hurricane are a bit better. Rather than a tool set, I went with spindle and bowl gouge sets to get a feel for size vs the job. I find I use all the sizes. With those 3 pc sets, the middle tool costs less than 1/2, so what the heck. Diamond parting tool, rectangular 1” skew, 1/2” skew for small stuff, 1” roughing gouge, I use the 2” RG some because I have it. Scrapers – look for the best value. Get the thickest material at the width you want and grind the desired contact shape. I’m still not good enough with gouges to get bowl surfaces “flat enough” with out some scraping/sheering. For bowls, I highly recommend Lyle Jamieson’s videos on you tube.

View Leo Van Der Loo's profile

Leo Van Der Loo

45 posts in 1670 days

#14 posted 01-15-2017 05:08 PM

I started turning as a hobby about 60 years ago, bowl gouges or Wood chucks were not invented yet, so I used scrapers and a 3 jaw metal chuck, had lots of fun and challenges.

What did learn in my professional life and this came also to pass in my hobby wood turning, buy the best tool you can afford and do not buy what you do not need.

Still believe in that today, Idon’t need carbide in my tools, as I do not turn metal, HSS can be sharpened to a sharper edge than carbide, and you do not need diamond or can wheels for sharpening HSS.

As you turn and learn you will know what you should have, buy that and as I said before, buy the best you can afford,
and I mean best, not most expensive cryogenic and other BS types of steel, but good HSS.

Have fun and take care

-- Have fun and take care

View Bill7255's profile


428 posts in 3197 days

#15 posted 01-22-2017 12:26 AM

Just didn t seem to hold an edge. I guess ok for price, but I expected a little better. I may have just got a bad one. I am going to get a Thompson roughing gouge.

- Bill7255

I have used this Hurricane gouge a little more. I have now sharpened it several time and it now seem to be performing much better. No it is not a Hamlet of Sorby, but for the price it is not bad. I’m guessing it was poorly sharpened from the factory and even though I had sharpened it initially, it needed more work to tweak in.

-- Bill R

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