Woodturning chisels and gouges are a bit confusing when you’re first starting in woodturning. Let’s clear up some of the confusion.
What tools do I need to start woodturning?
To turn a wood bowl, you can start with a simple 1/2” bowl gouge and nothing more. A 1/2” bowl gouge can perform all the tasks needed to create a complete bowl.
Other wood chisels and gouges can be added to compliment the central bowl gouge. Some of these woodturning chisels and tools include round nose scrapers, tenon scrapers, spindle gouge, specialty gouges, and decorative turning tools.
Start At Ground Level
I suggest purchasing only the tools you need and will use based on what you plan to create. This may sound obvious, but getting excited about turning can be an excellent way to contract “toolitis.”
Be patient when deciding to make purchases, and you will be rewarded with a set of turning tools that serves you well with regular use versus collecting dust on a shelf.
With that being said, you may consider purchasing a basic set of woodturning chisels and gouges if you know you want to turn more than just bowls.
A basic turning chisel set, like this one is a good value and a great way to introduce yourself to a variety of turning options.
The other nice thing about this set that you will learn later is that many of these kit tools can be ground, shaped, and modified to serve more specific goals if you’d like.
For example, a skew chisel can be reshaped to perform the task of scraping a precisely angled tenon dovetail joint.
Bowl Gouge Vs. Spindle Gouge Turning
Let’s clear up something. Bowl turning requires more substantial, more stout tools that can withstand the force of cutting through end-grain.
Spindle turning, because it involves turning with the grain running parallel to the lathe bed, does not experience the same forces as a side-grain mounted bowl blank.
There needs to be a clear line in the sand between side-grain mounted bowl turning tools and spindle tools.
Spindle gouges and especially spindle roughing gouges are never to be used to remove large amounts of material on a side-grain (traditional) bowl blank.
So, if you plan only to turn bowls, you don’t have to worry about acquiring spindle tools.
I do recommend using a spindle detail gouge to shape bowl tenons and add fine detail work to a bowl, but never to be used to rough or remove large amounts of wood.
If you want to turn spindle work and bowls, then a full set of woodturning tools might be a good way for you to get started.
On the other hand, if you only plan to turn bowls, a complete woodturning toolset will include tools you’ll rarely use.
Before The Hardware
Turning wood requires a commitment to time and resources. Before you start to fill your workspace and drain your wallet, consider building your woodturning knowledge first.
** Knowledge is everything**.
Spend some time and read this blog and other woodturning resources in-depth before you begin to turn.
Exploring the nuances of turning in detail will help you familiarize yourself with what it will take to reach your wood bowl turning goals.
Take time to find people that are turning, join your local turning club, take a workshop, or visit a woodturning symposium to see first-hand the process of turning.
Purchase a book or two about woodturning and begin to understand each step along the bowl creation path.
The more Knowledge you acquire both before and during your turning, the easier woodturning will be.
Your increased Knowledge will take the guesswork out of purchasing woodturning chisels and gouges.
Once you thoroughly understand what each tool does, you will better be able to decide if you truly need to own that tool.
The best way to know what woodturning chisels and gouges you will need are to try them first.
Do some exploring and see if you can find a local turner or, better yet, a local group of turners that meet regularly to turn.
If you can’t find an individual or group that meets to turn, find an introduction to woodturning workshop. Some woodworking stores offer weekend woodturning classes to introduce people to woodturning.
Nothing beats getting involved and turning to get a feel for the experience.
The more chances you have to turn and explore before committing to purchasing your tools, the easier it will be for you to know precisely what you will need.
Building The Woodturning Chisels Collection
Whether you are turning with a group, on someone else’s lathe, or working in your shop, you will need specific tools or chisels to turn wooden bowls.
I will systematically go through the woodturning chisel and gouge collection building process in order of importance.
What I’m listing in this collection will have many items and possibilities. Not all of these tools will be necessary to make a bowl.
Customize your wood chisel set to fit your needs.
If we back up and look at which tools get used the most and are the most important, a pyramid begins to take shape.
At the top of the woodturning chisel and gouge pyramid for making wood bowls stands the all-important bowl gouge.
As I mentioned at the beginning, an entire wood bowl can be created with nothing more than a bowl gouge.
While it is true that a bowl can be made with only one bowl gouge, additional tools that perform specific tasks well can be used to complement the bowl gouge.
Let’s build the wood bowl tool pyramid starting at the top and work our way down.
Remember, not all of these tools are necessary, but each does bring different advantages and opportunities to your turnings.
The 1/2” bowl gouge is the one and only tool that should be in every wood bowl turner’s collection, period.
A 1/2” bowl gouge/chisel can is the workhorse of the wood bowl turning tool shed.
In addition, adding a larger bowl gouge, such as a 5/8” or 3/4” bowl gouge to your collection, makes roughing bowl blanks easier and quicker.
On the other side, adding a smaller 1/4” or 3/8” bowl gouge is ideal for making smooth, clean finishing cuts.
Read this article all about wood bowl finishing cuts to understand the benefits of a smaller bowl gouge.
More Bowl Gouges The Better
Additional bowl gouges, of the same size, can be added to your collection.
You might be asking, “why would I want to have duplicate bowl gouges?”
That’s a great question.
A bowl gouge is what you make it to be. Meaning you can decide the bevel angle and shape of a bowl gouge nose and wings to best suit your needs.
What bowl gouge bevel angle is best?
That’s a loaded question. So loaded, that I have an entire article just about bowl gouge bevel angles that you must read.
You can take multiple 1/2” bowl gouges and make each one serve you differently by changing the bevel angle and shape of each gouge bevel profile.
For my main bowl gouges (chisels) that do the bulk of my turning, I use a swept-back bevel profile. Why? Because the swept-back, also called the long-grind, Irish-grind, and Ellsworth-grind, can efficiently perform all four bowl gouge cuts.
With a swept-back bowl gouge, you can make a push, pull, scrape, and shear-scraping cuts with ease. Other gouge bevel profiles execute different tasks, but none are as versatile as the swept-back gouge.
When you first begin to turn, this won’t be a big deal. Find an angle that works for you and start there.
All The Angles
Different angles on bowl gouges and chisels control the angle the tool is presented and how it cuts. An excellent example of a different angle is the micro-bevel gouge.
After you’ve turned for a while, you will find how awkward the inward curve of a bowl rim or deep interior of a larger bowl can be, and you will want to have a micro-bevel “bottom-feeder” bowl gouge.
What’s a micro-bevel bowl gouge? Well, here’s an article all about the micro-bevel gouge.
There will be certain times when only a micro-bevel gouge will be able to give you a clear, smooth cut, and you will be thrilled you have it on hand.
Other bowl gouges and chisels with different angled bevel grinds and shaped wings offer pros and cons for specific applications.
Additional bowl gouges may not get used as much as your main bowl gouge, but they will be used and can offer numerous benefits.
Tenon or Mortise Assistance
As you may know, I prefer to use a tenon on most of my bowls because it can be removed, and a custom base can be designed efficiently, incorporating the tenon material if needed.
If you’re trying to decide between using a tenon or mortise, check out this article for all the pros and cons.
Either way, tenon or mortise, you will need to make an angled dovetail cut to shape the tenon or mortise to fit your four jaw chuck.
While the tenon or mortise cut can be done with a bowl gouge, the bowl gouge often does not form a crisp bottom dovetail angle.
If you’re wondering what the best ways to mess up a tenon shape are, then you must see this article.
A tenon or mortise cut can be made with the push cut of a spindle detail gouge.
Safety Note: Do not use a spindle gouge for removing large amounts of material on a bowl. The spindle gouge is not designed to handle the forces of a full, side-grain bowl blank, in particular the end grain areas. Doing small detail work, such as tenon shaping, is fine.
Another option for shaping a tenon or mortise is a skew chisel.
Also, the skew chisel shape can be changed at your sharpening station to match the dovetail jaws of your chuck.
Making a scraping cut with the skew chisel is somewhat quicker than using a detail spindle gouge.
And finally, a specialized tenon or mortise scraper can be purchased, which is designed to cut the tenon or mortise exactly to fit your chuck. Here’s a link to check it out.
Round Nose Scrapers
Round nose scrapers have the secret ability to cut, not just scrape. Be sure to check this article out next and learn how to cut with a scraper.
Inside the curves of a bowl, the round nose scraper is an excellent tool to smooth and refine.
Many times when the bowl gouge isn’t quite working, the round nose scraper can be just the ticket.
It’s essential to use a round nose scraper that is sized slightly smaller than the curve being smoothed.
If the scraper is too large, it can easily catch on the opposite side of the curve and ruin the bowl surface.
Because it is vital to use the right-sized round nose scraper, I use and recommend this set of three round nose scrapers.
In addition to the set of round nose scrapers, I also have a negative rack round nose scraper that works well for larger bowls.
Flat Scraper Chisels
Flat scrapers can be used in the same manner as the round nose scrapers but on the exterior of a wooden bowl.
A sharp flat scraper with a pulled burr can be used to refine an area outside of a bowl. Here’s a link to a high-quality flat scraper for refining bowl exteriors.
While bowl gouges usually do a better job cleaning and smoothing the exterior of a bowl, the flat scraper chisel is also an option.
Also, like the round nose scraper, different sized flat scraper chisels are available to best match the proportions of the wood bowl being turned.
Decorative Finishing Woodturning Chisels Tools
Tools that will be used the least but that offer unique effects can be categorized as decorative woodturning chisels or tools.
A tremendous multipurpose decorative turning tool is the spindle gouge or chisel.
As mentioned above, a spindle gouge is not to be used as the primary shaping tool for a wooden bowl.
For applying decorative details to the rim or side of a wood bowl, a spindle gouge is an ideal tool.
If rolling beads and handling a spindle gouge is not your idea of fun, special beading chisel tools can be used to create very uniform and even beads on the exterior of a wooden bowl.
Beading tools can be purchased in a variety of bead sizes or in a set. Here’s a collection of beading chisel tools I recommend.
Parting tools, while not suited to part side-grain bowl blanks, can be used to make decorative lines or recessed areas on the exterior of a wooden bowl.
Tools To Avoid
As a bowl turner, there are specific woodturning tools you won’t use often or at all. And some tools are dangerous to use on wood bowls.
Never use a spindle roughing gouge on a wood bowl, period.
The tang or area where the steel connects the roughing gouge to the handle is not made to withstand the end-grain forces of a wood bowl.
Only use spindle roughing gouges on end-grain spindle turnings, not bowls.
Spindle gouges, parting chisels, and skew chisels tools can be used to make light decorative cuts or shape the foot on a wood bowl but should not be used to make significant cutting passes.
Doing your homework
If you do your homework, you will understand what tools you need to make a wood bowl and which tools are best suited for spindle work.
Without a working knowledge of the detailed steps needed to make a wood bowl it can be easy to purchase tools that rarely get used.
This guide is intended to help you make only the woodturning chisel and tool purchases necessary for your needs.
Wood Turning Chisel Pyramid Conclusion
Think of the tools you use based on their usefulness and amount of time in your hands.
A beautiful wooden bowl can be shaped and formed with only a simple bowl gouge.
Several other additional chisels and tools can be used to make the bowl turning process efficient, easier, and more fun.
I hope you use this woodturning chisels and tool pyramid to help guide your tool acquisition process.
Has this helped, and are there different tools you use to turn your wooden bowls? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
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• 3 SURPRISING ROUND NOSE SCRAPER HACKS – FIX INSIDE CURVES