Beginner chisel set recommendation

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Forum topic by bline22 posted 06-30-2019 04:35 PM 1329 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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27 posts in 3993 days

06-30-2019 04:35 PM


Just got my first lathe and no very little about this but have always wanted to try.

I bought some chisels from Harbor Freight. I understand this is bought barrel but with many saying this is a good starter set.

I opened them up and they did not feel very sharp to me. I guess my expectation based on how to videos i was watching and so on was that they would be at least as sharp as a dull steak knife but these i would claim are slightly more than butter knife sharp? (not sure how else to describe it) Did i maybe just get a bad set that I should try again or is about how share these are?

Is there a better different variety set like this maybe I should consider instead?

To be fair, they did seem to cut the wood but i was seeing more like chucks of wood coming off vs lets a longer shaving that i would see through many how to videos for example.

Hope someone can give me a little help/guidance.


12 replies so far

View OSU55's profile


2938 posts in 3323 days

#1 posted 06-30-2019 06:20 PM

The edge sharpness of new lathe chisels is pretty irrelevant. It is somewhat representative of the overall quality of the tool – thing is you should already have some idea whether you are shopping the low end (HF), a little higher ( psi ben’s best, hurricane), maybe a little higher store brands from craft supplies or packard, then into name brand stuff.

But, any hss chisel will need resharpening and possibly reshaping, so a dull edge is a minor inconvenience. The most important aspect of the tool is the type of steel, and for bowl gouges the flute shape. Anything else is pretty easy to change. The HF tool set 35444 (old # may be different) with wine colored handles is decent and good to get started, take any others back if possible.

For beginners I recommend low cost hi value tools like the HF set, or Hurricane, or PSI Benjamin’s Best (a slight advantage overall). Why? You dont know what you dont know, and there are opinions all over the map as to which brand, what tools and sizes should you use, etc. I recommend hi value tools so you can try more sizes, and regrind to different shapes or bevel angles, so you can figure out how something you heard or read works for you, and grind up a $25 tool learning how to sharpen and try out different things vs not wanting to chew up a $100 tool.

Down the road, possibly years, when ready to replace a too short tool, and knowing specifically what you want, buy the $100+ tool made of unobtainium.

As for what tool shapes/sizes, what size lathe and what are you thinking of turning? What is your sharpening method/system?

View bondogaposis's profile


6096 posts in 3685 days

#2 posted 06-30-2019 06:22 PM

You are going to have to learn sharpen, so you may well jump right in with these. No chisels are ready to use out of the box, higher quality ones will be better than butter knife sharp but still require honing.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3892 posts in 4771 days

#3 posted 06-30-2019 07:32 PM

For most chisels, lathe, woodworking, or even kitchen knives there are bad, good, and great. The bad ones are good to stay away from. But if you can find decent ones then it’s a matter of sharpening. I’ve got various chisels of various qualities. All of them I can get super sharp by correctly sharpening them. The issue is how long they stay sharp. The great ones stay sharp a great amount of time. The good ones stay sharp a good amount of time.

You’ve got to get sharpening stuff and learn how to use it no matter what chisels you have as they will all need sharpening eventually. But you can go with a less expensive brand of chisel if you need to and still be in good shape.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Delete's profile


439 posts in 1705 days

#4 posted 06-30-2019 09:02 PM

I agree with everything that has been said and personally can’t offer much more advise, but you may be interested in reading advise from an old timer who made a living turning wood over a long life. I have posted this link before but you may get something from it.

View LeeMills's profile


702 posts in 2635 days

#5 posted 07-01-2019 01:20 PM

You will need a sharpening system. The statement “all need sharpening eventually” is very true; for me eventually is at least once per turning an item, usually twice. Depending on the wood it may be 4 or 5 times.
As far as getting chunks rather than ribbon shavings it depends on what your a cutting (end grain or side grain) and the tool presentation in a cutting (shavings) or scraping method (chunks).

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

View therealSteveN's profile


9383 posts in 1908 days

#6 posted 07-01-2019 03:42 PM

For purposes of learning, and gaining a better understanding of metals, and the sharpening process. I would advocate that you start with a cheap set of chisels. Something like these

You are learning about turning, so likely you will be using less expensive wood, So not much is going to be a negative. What will happen is right after you sharpen you will be seeing pretty good results, but because of so so metal, they won’t keep an edge, and you will see pretty quick degradation of your results.

Time to sharpen, so as you are seeing that junk metal isn’t the way to progress, it won’t hold an edge, you are also on a speed course about sharpening. If they aren’t sharp you will NOT be doing much quality turning.

It won’t be long before you will gain an understanding of quality metal, and good sharpening are what you want. Then the prices of better quality chisels won’t be wasted on you, and you will already have gotten a feel for sharpening.

Good metal, and good sharpening, go hand in hand.

-- Think safe, be safe

View bline22's profile


27 posts in 3993 days

#7 posted 07-02-2019 11:57 AM

Thanks everyone for the responses.

Could someone give a recommendation on what I would use to sharpen these and a how to?

View OSU55's profile


2938 posts in 3323 days

#8 posted 07-02-2019 12:13 PM

By far the most popular method for spindle or bowl gouges is the Oneway wolverine with Varigrind jig and an 8” slow speed 1750 rpm bench grinder. Scrapers and skews are ground using a tilting platform. Robo Hippy has a platform worth looking at, as well as tool rests. There are many utube videos on sharpening, Lyle Jamieson is one, others will have other names. Some advocate learning to sharpen gouges without a jig, waste of time IMO – if done every day one gets proficient, but hobbyists dont turn every day.

What lathe do you have and what things do you want to make – size of lathe and projects makes a difference for tools.

View bline22's profile


27 posts in 3993 days

#9 posted 07-02-2019 12:34 PM

I will have to check out some of what you mention as none of that is familiar to me yet. I did a look last night on youtube but some were not elementary enough and assumed some skill with this and others were not relevant. However, I will look again tonight using some of what you mention to narrow my search so that helps.

So i was using a drill press and some hacky methods of mounting my palm routers to it to try and make rings for my little girls. They really like them and I was enjoying making them. I always had it in the back of my head this would be so much easier on a lathe and have always wanted to try it even prior to possibly make some bowls. Those were the main things. I haven’t even went to look on how to do either yet on youtube since I feel like that is jumping the gun?

I have a Jet jwl 1221sp. I still have the HF chisels but not sure if i will return them and get a different set referenced here or simply go with another to see if they are better.

When i had thought about the lathe in the past and saw what people were doing it looked relatively safe and very enjoyable. Sill looks enjoyable but i came across a number of videos when simply trying to understand technique last night that displayed and mentioned about the dangers of catches. I have to say after those when i went to try it i was pretty darn timid around it. The very very basic videos are a bit tuffer to come by i found.

View HokieKen's profile


20658 posts in 2472 days

#10 posted 07-02-2019 01:45 PM


When i had thought about the lathe in the past and saw what people were doing it looked relatively safe and very enjoyable. Sill looks enjoyable but i came across a number of videos when simply trying to understand technique last night that displayed and mentioned about the dangers of catches. I have to say after those when i went to try it i was pretty darn timid around it. The very very basic videos are a bit tuffer to come by i found.

- bline22

Don’t be! Do what you can to make it as safe as possible and just turn. You will get catches but it’s rare that a catch is more than a mild annoyance. Sometimes it may ruin your workpiece. Very seldom is it worse than that though. When I was giving a friend (LJ Jeffswildwood) a crash course in turning a couple of years ago, he expressed the exact same fears. I promptly spun up a blank and intentionally initiated a series of catches while explaining to him what I was doing wrong and why a catch was about to occur. If you’re that worried about catches, make yourself a few in a controlled circumstance and you’ll be more at ease.

Also, steer clear of skews until you have a better feel for turning in general to avoid catches. I can’t recall the last time I had a catch with a gouge. I have a couple almost every single time I touch a skew. Start with gouges and learn what it means to “ride the bevel”. Once you learn to keep the bevel in contact with the work, your confidence will increase dramatically.

For turning rings, I would recommend starting with spindle gouges. I have this set and for the money, they are excellent IMO. However as stated above, you’ll have to be able to sharpen them. That may require an investment in a tormek or wolverine system. Alternatively you can find examples of home made clones of some of those jigs online that will save you some cash if you prefer to invest your time instead. It’s kind of a catch 22; I think gouges are the best place to start for learning to turn. But, they’re also the most difficult to learn to sharpen properly.

Finally, I have a set of carbide tools from LJ Dave Kelley. They are great for new turners because there’s no sharpening and the approach angle is flat and on center. However, they’re also a bit of a crutch for the same reasons… Personally, I have and use both HSS and carbide tools and recommend the same to new turners. But, I also recommend picking one starting point, gain a good working knowledge of that type of tool then introduce something else to your aresenal.

Good luck!

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View jgt1942's profile


336 posts in 3222 days

#11 posted 08-04-2019 09:04 AM

Here is my 3 cents. All of the previous post are great. Stepping into woodturning is a super rewarding and can be super expensive. As you are doing ASK a LOT of questions, in general buy the best tools you can afford. Find and join your local club. Also join the AAW (see Often at your club you will find members selling different tools at bargain prices. Most of my tools are used tools and I could not afford all I have if I purchased them new.

Get your girls involved. I just got my 12/10 year old grand daughters involved and they are are super excited. Often a club will let youth member join free or at a super discount. Possibly your wife might like to join in and make it a true family event.

Possibly there are tools that you can make at a fraction of what it would cost to buy. Again you have an opportunity to do something with the family.

One closing note – ENSURE you ALWAYS think and practice safety!

-- JohnT

View ibewjon's profile


2748 posts in 4127 days

#12 posted 08-04-2019 01:21 PM

Many turner’s don’t like carbide because the tools scrape, not shear cut. For starters, buy a round cutter carbide tool. No sharpening. You are just trying this, so I wouldn’t try to invest in a sharpening system and trying to learn that along with turning. If you enjoy turning, you can move on to sharpening. Sorry to insult anyone, but carbide works for me.

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