Wood Lathe Tool Rest (Height, Adjust, Maintain)

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Height Adjust Guide

Probably the most touched, but least talked about part of the entire wood lathe is the tool rest.

The wood lathe tool rest is the critical anchoring point for all our tool contact while turning.

Without the rock-solid support of a well-designed wood lathe tool rest, we would not be able to create what we do on the lathe.

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Defined

A tool rest is an adjustable horizontal surface designed to support and act as a guide for turning tools such as bowl gouges and scrapers used while woodturning.

The wood lathe tool rest consists of a horizontal top edge with a vertical post that mounts in the lathe banjo.

Adjusting the position of the tool rest is completed by loosening and tightening locking adjustments on the banjo.

If you’d like to learn more about the parts of a wood lathe, be sure to see this article next.

Tool Rest Distance From Wood Blank

The distance between the turning wood blank and the tool rest is vital for one main reason, stability.

We want to keep the tool rest as close as possible, but not too close.

The turning wood blank should never touch the tool rest or banjo, that’s way too close.

Instead, the tool rest should be moved back just enough to give the wood space to turn and support the base of the current tool in use.

Each woodturning tool is different, and each needs a slightly different consideration.

The heel of the woodturning tool needs to stay in contact with the tool rest at all times.

If a bowl gouge has a steep bevel angle and the gouge slips from the heel to the bevel, the gouge is then not supported by the tool rest.

Be sure there is enough space from the wood blank and enough space to keep the turning tool appropriately supported.

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Distance From Wood

Tool Rest Distance Vibration

Having the tool rest too close to the wood blank is not as bad as having it too far away.

If the tool rest is too far from the turning wood and the tool extends for a distance beyond the tool rest, almost certainly vibration will be introduced.

If the tool extends too far over the tool rest, stability is lost, and vibration, which contributes to nasty tool marks, can occur.

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Height

We want to cut on the horizontal centerline of the turning wood bowl blank most of the time.

To achieve the centerline cutting location, we need to adjust the tool rest height depending on which tool we use.

A larger bowl gouge will require the tool rest to be lower than a smaller bowl gouge.

Also, the tool rest needs to be set to the cutting point of the tool, not necessarily the top tip of the tool. Most times, bowl gouges, for example, cut on the side of the top curve.

Each time you use a different tool, the tool rest height also needs to be adjusted to accommodate that tool.

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Height

Bowl Gouge Tool Rest Height

In most cases, the presentation of a bowl gouge to the turning bowl blank is from a slightly upward pointing angle.

With this presentation, the tool rest will be located below the center, and the tool heel will rest on the tool rest while the cutting tip protrudes upward to the centerline.

Hold the bowl gouge up to the tool rest in the manner you will be turning to visually see where the tool rest needs to be set.

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Bowl Gouge Tip Height

Scraper Tool Rest Height

Scrapers are different from bowl gouges. When we scrape, we usually want the tooltip to be perfectly level or below level.

If a scraper catches, the tip pointing slightly downward makes the catch less dramatic compared to having the tool pointed upward.

Regardless, we still want to be scraping on the centerline.

To achieve scraping action on the centerline, with the scraper pointing downward, we need to raise the tool rest slightly above the centerline.

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Height Scraper

Stop And Reposition Tool Rest

As you might guess, when you work a bowl blank, you need to adjust and reposition the tool rest as you go continually.

Depending on the tools you use, the tool rest height needs repositioning.

As the material is removed from the bowl blank surface, especially while rough shaping the bowl, you will need to move the tool rest closer to the wood surface continually.

Inward adjustments become less frequent when the bowl reaches the final thickness.

If you are turning a large bowl blank, repositioning the tool rest location several times is necessary to access the entire bowl surface.

Banjo Tool Rest Support Base

The wood lathe tool rest is a solid device with no moving parts. All the movement we’ve discussed so far is done by adjusting the lathe banjo, or tool rest support base.

“Banjo” is an odd name for a wood lathe part you might be thinking. So, did I and I had to know more.

After some research, it’s pretty clear no one knows precisely why it’s called a banjo. Although the term was not first used until the early 1900s.

It also seems that calling things shaped like banjos was common practice at that time.

I suppose the long base that reaches across the lathe bed with a round area to receive the tool rest could look a little bit like a banjo.

Who coined the wood lathe part name and why, we may never know for sure.

Banjo Adjustments

The banjo contains the tool rest lock and the banjo lock adjustments, which are usually threaded turn knobs or levers.

Each tool rest and banjo adjustment works independently of each other.

The banjo moves freely and positions at various angles. It is usually best, when possible, to position the banjo base perpendicular to the lathe bed rails for the most support.

Tool Rest Banjo Lock Handle Lever Knob

Types of Wood Lathe Tool Rests

The standard wood lathe tool rest is usually a straight edge rest, about nine inches long.

Most wood lathes come with a tool rest, as it is a critical component of woodturning.

Additional tool rests can be substituted to fill different needs.

Wood bowl turners can take advantage of an inside curved tool rest to reach inside, and support cuts down into the bowl interior.

Exterior curved tool rests also aid in making smooth continuous cuts along the outside on bowl.

Specialty tools rests can include short straight tool rests to fit in tight spaces, and long J-shaped tool rests to reach into deep bowls or vessels.

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Different Shapes Types

Maintaining Wood Lathe Tool Rests

The wood lathe tool rest is a solid piece of metal with no moving parts, but maintenance still must be considered.

Along the top edge of each tool rest is the most critical surface to inspect and maintain.

The top edge of the tool rest is where we contact and support our tool. Any imperfections on that top edge of the tool rest will transfer to our turned wood piece.

Periodically inspect the tool rest top edge for any nicks, scrapes, gouges, or dents.

If you find any marks, use a metal file, like this one, to remove and smooth these areas.

Many manufacturers supplied tool rests are made from cast metal and are softer than the steel in your turning tools.

Because cast tool rests are soft, they often need to be filed and reconditioned to maintain a smooth top edge.

An even better idea is to upgrade your tool rest to one that needs little to no maintenance or upkeep.

Tool Rest Knicks Dents Filed Smooth

Best Aftermarket Wood Lathe Tool Rests

There is an aftermarket tool rest that far outshines most manufacturer’s supplied tool rests.

Robust Tools makes tool rests that are ergonomically designed well and fitted with hardened steel top edges.

I use the Robust tool rests, and they are all in perfect condition after years of use, free of any blemishes, and I’ve never had to file them smooth.

Here are links to check out a replacement tool rest that will make an excellent upgrade for your lathe, not to mention a much better turning experience.

Mini Lathes Tool Rests (5/8″ Tool Rest Post)
3″ 3-Inch Wide Straight
4″ 4–Inch Wide Straight
9″ 9-Inch “J” Curved
9″ 9-Inch Wide Straight
12″ 12-Inch Wide Straight

Standard Post Tool Rests (Lathes with 16″ to 20″ swing)
4″ 4–Inch Low Profile Straight
6″ 6–Inch Low Profile Straight
9″ 9-Inch “J” Curved
12″ 12-Inch Low Profile Straight
12″ 12-Inch Comfort Rest Straight
12″ 12-Inch Interior Curved
12″ 12-Inch Exterior Curved
14″ 14-Inch “J” Curved
15″ 15-Inch Comfort Rest Straight

Long Post Tool Rests (Lathes with 20″ to 25″ swing)
3″ 3–Inch Low Profile Straight
4″ 4–Inch Low Profile Straight
6″ 6–Inch Low Profile Straight
9″ 9-Inch Comfort Rest Straight
9″ 9-Inch “J” Curved
12″ 12-Inch Low Profile Straight
12″ 12-Inch Comfort Rest Straight
12″ 12-Inch Interior Curved
12″ 12-Inch Exterior Curved
14″ 14-Inch “J” Curved
15″ 15-Inch Comfort Rest Straight

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Height Adjust Maintain

Wood Lathe Tool Rest Conclusion

The wood lathe tool rest is a simple but essential part of the wood bowl turning process.

Using and adjusting the tool rest height and location simply takes a few moments to execute.

Being aware of the tool rest position and making necessary adjustments is all that is needed to operate the tool rest efficiently.

Leave me a comment below. Do you take the necessary time to make sure your tool rest is best adjusted moment by moment as you turn? Let me know.

Check out these other articles:

As Always, Happy Turning,

11 Responses

  1. Thank you Kent read the whole thing answered all my questions.cant waite to get my new tool rest.glad your there for wood turners.

  2. Thank you Very much,I’m new to wood turning,I just ordered my first leath,I should get it in about 3 weeks , I’m looking forward in learning how to use it, I enjoyed read your information,Thanks 👌👍

    1. Gary,
      Thank you for writing and sharing!
      Exciting times! Enjoy that new lathe and the entire process.
      Remember; persistent, patient practice will yield the bowls you imagine creating!
      All the best to you and Happy Turning!

  3. Thanks, your explanation for correctly using the
    tool rest are very helpful to someone like myself
    who is mainly self taught.
    So helpful when like minded people share their
    Many thanks.

  4. Hello Kent. In reference to tool rests, are your guidelines good for spindle turning too or just bowl turning? In other words, do we always want to cut along the center line, other then when scrapping? Thx

    1. Yes, the centerline is the same with spindle turning. You may have some of the spindle tools above center slightly, like the spindle roughing tool, when making a peeling cut.

  5. Hi, I find your information useful and well explained. I consider myself a novice, always turn bowls from fresh cut trees, giving back a completed bowl as a memory. My problem is trying to identify the wood some people give me. Oak, maple, cherry are easy, but sometimes I get wood dropped off with no knowledge of what it is.
    Happy Holiday

    1. Hello John,

      Oh, I know what you mean! It can be soooo frustrating not being able to identify a tree or piece of wood.

      I’ve found that I can’t expect to learn all the wood species at once. Instead, learn one tree at a time.

      When you get a tree, ask around if you’re not sure. Talk to a tree service or do some Google searches and see if you can narrow down what a tree might be.

      Once you know what the tree is, turn it and learn it. It’s funny but the more you turn of a certain tree, the more it becomes locked in your memory. The density, the smell, the texture, the color all become second nature.

      Later, when you find another piece of wood or another tree of the same species, you WILL know what it is without a doubt. Slowly add a new tree species to your list and after a while, you will know most of the trees available around you.

      Let me know if that helps.

      Happy Turning,

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Kent Weakley-Turn A Wood Bowl-About
Hi, I’m Kent

Hi! I’m Kent, a husband, dad, papa, graphic designer, photographer, artist, traveler, birder, dark chocolate lover and I’m addicted to turning wood bowls! Learn more about me, see the online courses I made for you, and join our group on Facebook. Ready for your wood bowl adventure? Click here to Get Started

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