Today’s market offers a dizzying array of turning tools, so we understand how picking a few essentials can seem daunting, Ike.


I'd like to try my hand at turning wood—spindles and bowls—and recently found a good deal on a lathe. Now I need the right tools. Which ones should be purchased first?
—Ike Curran, Charlotte, N.C.


Today's market offers a dizzying array of turning tools, so we understand how picking a few essentials can seem daunting, Ike. But you really only need six tools to complete nearly any turning project.

Even though you're just starting out, avoid the temptation to buy bargain-priced tools in sets. Instead, purchase only the tools you need, and look for high-speed steel blades that hold an edge better than carbon-steel versions. Our contributing turning pro, Brian Simmons, recommends the following tools to get started:

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A. 14 " Spindle roughing gouge. This is the first tool you'll reach for in doing most between-centers work because it helps you turn square or out-of-round stock into a cylinder. Avoid the more-common 34 " roughing gouge—it lacks the mass that provides greater stability and better control. As Brian puts it: "You can do small things with a big tool, but you can't do big things with a small tool."

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B.  18 " Parting tool. This might be the second, and then the last tool used on a project. With spindles this tool finds its purpose—in conjunction with a calipers—establishing diameters at key points along the length of the cylinder, and in cutting tenons. After completing the project, use this tool to separate or "part" the turned item from the waste material that holds it to the lathe.

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C.  34 ​" or 1" Skew chisel. Think of it as a hand plane that helps you cut smooth cylinders. It also comes in handy for cutting V-grooves and beads.

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D.  12 " Spindle gouge. I use this versatile and indispensable tool for nearly all spindle-shaping tasks, including coves and beads.

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E.  18 " Bowl gouge.(Size based on the European standard measuring across the flutes; for American gouges, measured according to the diameter of the steel, look for a 12 " tool.) Few turning tasks prove more enjoyable for a beginner than turning a bowl from a chunk of green wood. This tool helps you quickly shape the inside and outside of vessels from roughing through finishing cuts.

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F.12 " Squarenose or G 38 " bedan scraper. Use either for cutting recesses on the bottom of bowls, or for making tenons. The bedan scraper has a trapezoid profile; its added thickness makes it amply rigid and useful as a wide parting tool for spindle work.

After mastering the tools shown here, you may want to try specialized shapes and different sizes that cater to specific tasks, or explore exotic features such as long-lasting carbide tips or curved necks for hollowing vessels.