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MAY/JUN 2004
Volume 47/Issue 3

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The Ins and Outs of Using Woodturning Chisels
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From the Shopsmith Woodworking Academy
The Ins and Outs of Using Woodturning Chisels
Printer friendly PDF copy of article (1622K)

We're often asked....“What lathe chisels do I need to get started in wood turning and how is each used?” Well, the answer is...there are literally hundreds of specialized lathe chisels available from dozens and dozens of different manufacturers. Many are designed for highly specialized applications such as super-large or super-small projects, extremely deep turnings, turning the insides of vases with very small openings...the list goes on and on.

ChiselsThe Five Most Important Lathe Turning Chisels
For those of you who may just be getting started, we recommend Shopsmith's basic 5-Piece Lathe Chisel Set. It includes a 1" Skew Chisel, a 1" Gouge, a 3/8" Gouge, a 1/2" Roundnose Chisel and a 1/2" Parting Tool. This set will easily handle all of your basic wood-turning needs...until you start turning more specialized projects.

We'll recommend some additional sets for specialized operations later...but first, let's talk briefly about some basic turning techniques.

Rounding The Stock
Two different types of Gouges can be used to round your stock...long or short bevel gouges. Generally, roughing-out gouges have extremely short (steep) bevels. Although they may be slightly better for roughing-out, the longer bevel Gouge in Shopsmith's Basic Set is a better, all-around choice for roughing-out as well as other cove-cutting operations.

Either type is best used by holding the chisel perpendicular to the workpiece and slightly rotated to about 10 to 15-degrees. You may either use the cutting edge across the stock...or by “leading” the cut with the chisel's beveled edge.

Making your initial sizing cuts
Once the stock is rounded, “size” it by marking the locations of the various bead (hill) or cove (valley) diameters with a pencil and ruler.

To gauge the desired diameters accurately, use a pair of Outside Calipers with a Parting Chisel and/or a Skew. There are three types of Parting Chisels that can be used for making these cuts. The first, and by far the most popular of these is the 1/8" carbon steel, Diamond Parting Tool such as the one contained in Shopsmith's Basic Chisel Set. This tool is 1/2" wide and 1/8" thick with a dual-angled tip that's also tapered to be thinner near its outer edges than it is near the center to provide ample clearance for cuts without binding.

The second of these options is a single-fluted model with a tip that's slightly hollow-ground. This style is most typically used with its fluted side down and provides an exceptional finish on end grain work. It's also an excellent choice when you're going from square to round surfaces, such as on table legs.

The final option is called a Bedan. This style has a nearly square shank and tip with slightly tapered sides that slope inward to keep the tool from binding during deep cuts. This is a great choice for making square-edged “coves” and for forming round tenons such as those used in chair-making.

When using the Skew for gauging cut diameters, hold it “upside-down and use the toe of the Skew, lightly touching the pencil lines where your beads and coves are to appear. Next, use either style of Parting Chisel to further define these bead and cove depths.

Periodically, turn the Lathe off and use your Calipers to check the accuracy of your cut depths.

Continue . . .