Woodturning tools are the direct connection we, as wood bowl creators, have between us and the wood. While countless woodturning tools are available, only a few select instruments are needed to form an elegant bowl.
These are the gouges, scrapers, and other tools I use while making bowls. Each of the items has an Amazon link to check the current price and availability.
The heart of the wood bowl turning arsenal is the bowl gouge. The bowl gouge can be shaped and sharpened in different ways for different purposes. It’s common to have two exact bowl gouges ground to different cutting tips to serve different purposes.
Bowl Gouges Start Here
If you are just getting started with bowl turning. You don’t have to make things complicated. Two simple bowl gouges will do the trick to get you started.
A medium-sized 1/2″ Bowl Gouge is ideal to gouge to start with. The 1/2″ size is great for shaping and refining small to medium-sized bowls, as well as being great for making finishing cuts.
This larger 5/8″ Bowl Gouge is ideal for removing material and making large cutting passes. The majority of a wood bowl can be made with just this tool and then finished off with the 1/2″ gouge.
For making high-quality finishing cuts, use a smaller bowl gouge like the 3/8″ bowl gouge. This smaller gouge has a smaller cutting area which allows for a very fine finish cut.
My Goto Bowl Gouges
My main bowl gouge is my Heavy Duty 3/4″ Bowl Gouge monster that I have shaped with swept-back side wings. I use this gouge to rough out waste material as well as start shaping bowl exteriors and interiors. This gouge is my workhorse and it takes the beating instead of me and my shoulders. The sheer size and weight of this fantastic gouge seems to part wood just from its presence.
Second, and used nearly as often, is my 1/2″ Bowl Gouge. This gouge also is a Hurricane cryogenic gouge and has a swept back profile like the larger version. I use this gouge to make perfect clean finishing cuts and to shear scrape the exterior of bowls before sanding.
I prefer to use the Hurricane Cryogenic tools because the edge stays sharp longer. However, the same tools are available in a bit more economical high-speed steel version (HSS). I started out with these high-speed steel versions of the tools. I still own these HSS versions of the same bowl gouges and use them frequently.
I have several different bowl gouges made of high-speed steel and they work fine. I’ve found that the cryogenic steel tools by Hurricane are affordable compared to some others and they are a great turning tool. Their bowl gouges hold a sharp edge for a long time and the black handles are sturdy and well balanced.
A great option if you’re starting out and looking for good bowl gouges or if you’re ready to upgrade from high-speed steel to the longer lasting cryogenic steel is to purchase a set of gouges. Hurricane Cryogenic 3-Piece Bowl Gouge set comes with each a 5/8″, 1/2″, and 3/8″ sized gouge. This is the most cost-effective way to purchase these high-quality tools altogether.
On a tighter budget, no problem. Here are two options that match the size of bowl gouges I use daily. You can still get the beefy 3/4″ wood “plow” I use but at a slightly lower price by going with the Sorby model. Check out the HSS 3/4″ Robert Sorby Bowl Gouge and also the HSS Hurricane Turning Tools 1/2″ Bowl Gouge is a great alternative option if cryogenic steel gouges aren’t in your budget at the moment.
Another great way to save money, especially if you plan to do more than just turn bowls, is to purchase a complete set of turning tools. This Hurricane set contains all the tools needed to turn bowls and do spindle turning as well. The individual cost of each tool in this set is MUCH less compared to purchasing tools one at a time.
My next most used gouge is a 1/2″ Spindle Gouge with a long pointed detail grind. This detail spindle gouge, not to be confused with a bowl gouge, is used to form the dovetail undercut on tenons and to mark the tenon centers for easy re-centering later. Or try this optional, less expensive 1/2″ spindle gouge option.
My Secret Weapon Micro-Bevel Bowl Gouge is also the Hurricane Tools 1/2″ bowl gouge but shaped and sharpened much differently to reach hard to access places. See my Micro Bevel Gouge – Wood Bowl Turning Secret Weapon article for all the details on the micro-bevel gouge.
Scrapers play an important role in refining surfaces both on the outside and inside of a bowl. I like to use a large Heavy Round Nose Scraper for the bowl interior areas. And a large Heavy Square Scraper for smoothing bowl exteriors.
Various sized round nose scrapers are very helpful for interior locations. I keep several different sizes available, including; 1-1/4″ Round Nose Scraper, 1-inch Round Nose Scraper, 3/4″ Round Nose Scraper, and a 1/2″ Round Nose Scraper
A great option is to purchase a set of three round nose scrapers. This saves a bit of money and sets you up with a good range of sizes to work with.
Another important tool to have on hand to get the most out of your scrapers is a burnishing tool. The burnishing tool is made of hardened steel and simply by “pulling a burr” across the edge of the round nose scraper, you can change a scraper into a cutting tool that makes super clean smooth cuts.
Parting tools are needed for many tasks while turning wood bowls including; when making end-grain turned bowls and hollow forms and forming mortises. These tools also, come in varying sizes for a variety of purposes.
A standard Diamond Parting Tool is useful for parting and leveling material across the grain and making recessed areas like mortises. This is a staple tool that should be in every turner’s collection.
When making parting cuts in tight areas or if the wood grain needs to later match as best as possible, it’s good to use a very Thin Parting Tool in order to waste the least amount of material in the process.
Specialized woodturning tools are available to scrape the dovetail angle of a bowl tenon perfectly every time. Simply form the cylinder shape of the tenon and then lightly scrape the uncut dovetail area with this special 3/4″ Dovetail Tenon Scraper and the tenon is ready to fit perfectly in the four jaw chuck.
A similar specialized tool cuts from a different angle but performs the same results. The Nova Dovetail Mortise Chisel is available to make the mortise shaping process a breeze. Simply cut the initial mortise recessed area with a bowl gouge or parting tool and create the dovetail mortise angle with this specialized, very efficient dovetail tool.
A skew chisel has many useful purposes, making mortise undercuts is one of those uses. The angled skew chisel is ideal for making the last scrapping cut to finish the dovetail angle of a recessed mortise joint.
Easy Wood Tools are an alternative way to turn wood bowls. While these tools do not incorporate the same turning techniques as traditional bowl gouges, they will remove material with a scraping action. Many people have strong opinions one way or another regarding these scraping tools. However, if they are used correctly a nice finished bowl can be produced. These are also ideal for the woodworker that does not want to dedicate a great deal of time learning traditional woodturning techniques. For the best value, consider purchasing the three-piece set.
- Easy Wood Tools Combo Set (Easy Rougher, Easy Finisher, Easy Detailer)
- Easy Wood Tools Full Size Easy Finisher Round
- Easy Wood Tools Full Size Easy Rougher Square
- Easy Wood Tools Full Size Detailer Diamond
Occasionally I find it necessary to grind away smaller areas of wood as needed.
I encounter this frequently when turning natural edge bowls. Because I need to attach the faceplate to the bark side of the wood bowl blank, I need to prepare a secure area for the faceplate.