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What Is Woodturning, And How Do I Get Started?

Imagine the thrill of transforming a simple piece of wood into a work of art, or creating functional objects with your own hands. If you’ve ever been fascinated by the art of woodturning, or if you’ve been itching to start a new hobby, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will unravel the secrets of woodturning and guide you through the exciting journey of getting started. So grab your lathe and let’s dive into the world of woodturning together!

What is Woodturning?

Woodturning is a method of woodworking that involves using a lathe to shape a piece of wood into various forms and designs. This craft has been practiced for centuries and continues to be popular among woodworkers of all skill levels. With woodturning, you can create functional objects like bowls, pens, and handles, as well as decorative items such as ornaments and vases. It is a versatile and creative art form that allows you to unleash your imagination and artistic expression.

Understanding the Basics

Tools and Equipment

To get started with woodturning, you will need a few essential tools and equipment. These include a lathe, which is the primary tool used to rotate the wood, various turning tools like gouges and chisels, a faceplate or chuck to secure the wood, and safety equipment such as goggles and aprons. Additionally, a sharpening system is necessary to keep your tools in good working condition. As you progress in woodturning, you may also invest in specialized tools and accessories to expand your capabilities.

Safety Precautions

Woodturning can be a safe and enjoyable hobby as long as you prioritize safety. Always wear appropriate safety gear, including eye protection, a face shield, and a dust mask to protect yourself from wood chips and dust. Make sure you understand how to use each tool properly and maintain a clean and well-organized workspace. It is also important to keep your tools sharp to prevent accidents caused by dull blades. Remember to work at your own pace and avoid rushing to avoid making mistakes or causing injuries.

Choosing the Right Wood

The type of wood you choose for your woodturning projects can greatly impact the outcome. Different woods have unique characteristics in terms of grain patterns, hardness, and texture. Hardwoods like maple, oak, and walnut are commonly used for their durability and beautiful grain patterns. Softwoods such as pine and cedar are more suitable for decorative items. Exotic woods like ebony and rosewood offer distinctive colors and grains for a truly eye-catching result. Consider the purpose and aesthetic you want to achieve when selecting the appropriate wood for your project.

Getting Started with Woodturning

Setting up Your Workspace

Before you begin woodturning, it is important to set up a dedicated workspace. Choose an area with sufficient space for your lathe and surrounding equipment. Ensure the space is well-lit and well-ventilated for a comfortable working environment. Consider installing dust collection systems to minimize the amount of wood chips and dust in the air. Organize your tools and accessories in a way that is easy to access and keep your workspace clean and clutter-free.

Preparing the Wood

Before you can start turning wood on the lathe, you need to properly prepare the piece of wood. Begin by rough-cutting the wood to a manageable size using a bandsaw or a handsaw. Next, use a thickness planer or a jointer to flatten and smooth the surfaces of the wood. Finally, attach the wood to a faceplate or chuck using screws or a mounting system. Ensure the wood is securely fastened to prevent any accidents while turning.

Mounting the Wood on the Lathe

Once your wood is prepared, it’s time to mount it on the lathe. Make sure the lathe is turned off and unplugged before you begin. Attach the faceplate or chuck to the lathe spindle and align it with the center of the lathe. Place the wood onto the faceplate or chuck, ensuring it is centered and securely tightened. Double-check that there is enough clearance between the wood and the lathe bed, tool rest, and tailstock before starting the lathe.

Learning Woodturning Techniques

Spindle Turning

Spindle turning is a common woodturning technique used to create cylindrical shapes such as chair spindles, table legs, and decorative handles. To spindle turn, you need to mount a long and narrow piece of wood parallel to the lathe bed. Use a roughing gouge to shape the wood by removing excess material and creating the desired profile. Proceed to refine the shape using various gouges and scrapers. Pay attention to the grain of the wood to minimize tear-out and achieve a smooth finish.

Faceplate Turning

Faceplate turning involves shaping a bowl or a platter by mounting the wood on a faceplate attached to the lathe. Start by securing the wood firmly to prevent any movement during the turning process. Use a bowl gouge or a spindle gouge to remove material from the center of the wood and gradually work your way towards the edges. This technique allows you to create concave shapes and intricate designs. Maintain a steady and controlled approach to achieve the desired thickness and smoothness.

Bowl Turning

Bowl turning is a more advanced woodturning technique that requires a deeper understanding of the craft. It involves mounting a solid block of wood on the lathe and hollowing out the center to create a bowl shape. Begin by roughing out the exterior shape using a bowl gouge or a spindle gouge. Once the exterior is shaped, carefully remove material from the interior of the bowl using specialized hollowing tools. Take your time and pay attention to the grain orientation to prevent any unwanted tear-out.

Common Woodturning Projects

Creating Pens

One of the most popular woodturning projects for beginners is creating pens. This project allows you to practice spindle turning techniques and create a functional item that can be gifted or kept for personal use. Start by selecting a suitable pen kit that includes the necessary hardware. Choose a wood blank that fits the pen kit and mount it on the lathe. Turn the wood blank into the desired shape using spindle turning techniques, and then sand and finish the pen using sandpaper and polishing compounds. Finally, assemble the pen kit according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Turning Bowls

Turning bowls is a rewarding and challenging woodturning project that allows you to showcase your creativity and craftsmanship. Begin by selecting a suitable piece of wood that has interesting grain patterns and figure. Mount the wood on the lathe using a faceplate or a chuck and rough out the exterior shape of the bowl using a bowl gouge. Gradually hollow out the center of the bowl using specialized hollowing tools, taking care to maintain uniform wall thickness. Sand and finish the bowl, and apply multiple coats of protective finish to enhance the wood’s natural beauty.

Making Handles

Wooden handles can add a touch of elegance and uniqueness to various tools and utensils. Whether you want to make a handle for a kitchen knife, a turning tool, or a barbecue skewer, the process is similar. Begin by selecting a suitable piece of wood with the desired color and grain pattern. Mount the wood on the lathe and turn it into the desired shape using spindle turning techniques. Sand the handle thoroughly and apply a finish that is suitable for the intended use. Attach the finished handle to the desired tool or utensil using appropriate hardware.

Crafting Ornaments

Wooden ornaments make wonderful decorations and personalized gifts. They can be turned into various shapes such as spheres, finials, or even mini sculptures. Begin by selecting a small piece of wood that is suitable for the intended ornament. Mount the wood on the lathe and turn it into the desired shape using spindle turning or faceplate turning techniques. Take your time to refine the shape and add intricate details. Sand the ornament thoroughly and apply a protective finish to enhance the wood’s natural beauty. Attach a hanging mechanism, such as a small eyelet or a loop of wire, to complete the ornament.

Working with Different Types of Wood


Hardwoods are a popular choice for woodturning due to their durability, beautiful grain patterns, and a wide range of colors. Examples of hardwoods commonly used in woodturning include maple, oak, walnut, cherry, and mahogany. Each type of hardwood has unique characteristics that affect its turning properties. For example, maple and oak have tighter grains and are suitable for detailed turning, while walnut and cherry offer rich colors and distinctive figure. Experiment with different hardwoods to discover their unique qualities and create stunning woodturned pieces.


Softwoods are often used in woodturning projects where the emphasis is on decorative aspects rather than functionality. Woods such as pine, cedar, spruce, and fir are commonly used for their lighter color tones and ease of turning. Softwoods generally have wider and more open grain patterns, which can create interesting visual effects when turned on the lathe. While softwoods may be less durable than hardwoods, they can still produce stunning results with proper techniques, finishes, and care.

Exotic Woods

Exotic woods offer woodturners an opportunity to create extraordinary pieces with distinctive colors, grains, and figure. These woods, such as ebony, rosewood, padauk, and purpleheart, are often sourced from tropical regions and are prized for their rarity and unique characteristics. Exotic woods can be more challenging to work with due to their hardness and sometimes unpredictable grain patterns. However, the stunning results they provide make the extra effort worthwhile. If you decide to work with exotic woods, be sure to take precautions and follow proper safety guidelines, as some species may have toxic properties.

Mastering Woodturning Skills

Sharpening Tools

Sharpening your woodturning tools is crucial for achieving clean cuts and optimal performance. Dull tools can lead to tear-out, imprecise shapes, and frustration. Invest in a quality sharpening system that suits your needs, whether it’s a bench grinder, a sharpening jig, or a wet stone. Learn the proper techniques for sharpening different types of tools, such as gouges, scrapers, and parting tools. Regularly maintain and sharpen your tools to ensure they are always in top condition for your woodturning projects.

Understanding Grain Orientation

Grain orientation refers to the direction and pattern of the wood fibers. It plays a significant role in woodturning, as it affects the cutting action and the appearance of the finished piece. When turning spindle-shaped objects, such as pens or chair spindles, align the grain parallel to the lathe bed for smoother cuts and a cleaner finish. For faceplate turning or bowl turning, consider the orientation of the grain to minimize tear-out and create pleasing visual effects. Experiment with different grain orientations to learn how they impact the overall result.

Finishing Techniques

The finishing process is crucial to enhance the beauty and durability of your woodturned pieces. There are various finishing techniques you can employ, depending on the type of wood and the desired outcome. Sanding is an essential step to achieve a smooth surface, starting with coarse grit sandpaper and progressing to finer grits. After sanding, apply a suitable finish such as oil, wax, or varnish to protect the wood from moisture and enhance its natural color and grain. Experiment with different finishing techniques and products to find the one that best suits your projects.

Joining Woodturning Communities

Woodturning Clubs

Joining a woodturning club is a great way to connect with fellow woodturners, learn new techniques, and share your knowledge and experiences. Woodturning clubs often organize regular meetings, demonstrations, workshops, and competitions, providing opportunities to expand your skills and network. Being part of a club allows you to access valuable resources, such as a shared workspace, a library of books and magazines, and discounts on wood and tools. It’s an excellent way to immerse yourself in the woodturning community and build lasting friendships.

Online Forums and Groups

Online forums and social media groups dedicated to woodturning offer a convenient way to connect with woodturners from around the world. These platforms provide a space for enthusiasts and professionals to share their projects, ask questions, and provide advice. Participating in online discussions, posting photos of your work, and seeking feedback can help you gain insights and inspiration. Additionally, you can access a wealth of tutorials, articles, and videos that cover various topics related to woodturning. Embrace the digital woodturning community and enjoy the support and camaraderie it offers.

Workshops and Classes

Attending woodturning workshops and classes can significantly accelerate your learning and skill development. These hands-on experiences provide expert guidance and allow you to practice techniques in a supervised environment. Workshops often focus on specific aspects of woodturning, such as hollowing, surface embellishments, or creating intricate designs. Classes may span several sessions and cover a wide range of topics to help you become a well-rounded woodturner. Consider joining local woodworking schools or reaching out to professional woodturners in your area to find opportunities for learning and growth.

Sourcing Wood and Tools

Local Wood Suppliers

Finding a reliable and reputable wood supplier is essential for acquiring quality wood for your woodturning projects. Local wood suppliers are a valuable resource, as they often offer a wide selection of domestic and exotic woods suitable for woodturning. Visit lumberyards, sawmills, or specialty wood stores in your area to explore the available options. Establishing a relationship with a local supplier can also open doors to discovering unique wood species and accessing hard-to-find materials.

Online Wood and Tool Shops

In addition to local suppliers, online wood and tool shops offer a convenient way to source materials and equipment for your woodturning needs. These online stores typically have a vast inventory of wood blanks, turning tools, abrasives, finishes, and other accessories. They often provide detailed product descriptions, photos, and customer reviews to help you make informed decisions. When purchasing wood online, pay attention to the dimensions, grain patterns, and condition of the wood. Look for reputable sellers that offer reliable shipping and customer support.

Taking Care of Your Woodturning Equipment

Cleaning and Maintaining Tools

Proper maintenance and care of your woodturning tools are crucial for their longevity and optimal performance. After each use, clean your tools thoroughly to remove any wood chips, dust, and debris. Inspect the cutting edges for any signs of wear or damage. If necessary, sharpen or repair the tools before the next use. When not in use, store your tools in a clean and dry environment, away from moisture and extreme temperature changes. Be sure to oil metal parts periodically to prevent rust and corrosion.

Storing Your Equipment Properly

In addition to caring for your tools, it is important to store your woodturning equipment properly to prolong its lifespan and ensure its functionality. Designate a specific area or cabinet to store your lathe, turning tools, safety gear, and other accessories. Keep the space clean and organized, with each item having its designated place. Ideally, store your wood blanks in a cool and dry area to prevent warping or cracking. Consider investing in storage solutions such as racks or cabinets to protect your equipment from dust and potential damage.

By following these guidelines and practicing regularly, you can embark on an exciting journey into the world of woodturning. Remember to start with simpler projects and gradually challenge yourself as your skills improve. With patience, perseverance, and a willingness to learn, you will soon be creating beautiful and functional woodturned pieces that bring joy and satisfaction to both yourself and others. Happy turning!

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