Try Wood Turning

What is Wood Turning?

Woodturning started around 1300BC in Egypt using a strung bow technique according to Wikipedia. It was further developed by the Romans. The modern lathes today use CNC (computer numerical control) to guide the tool. They still spin material and cut it with tools. So turning involves rotating the material (wood) while touching it with (generally) a stationary tool. This results in removing material. If the material is touched on the end it can result in many ‘end’ shapes such as the inside of a bowl. If touched along the outside of the rotating material you can make things such as chair legs or the outside shape of a vase.

turned items

My first interest in woodturning, was my high school years in manual arts training. I went on to be a fitter and turner and worked as a metal machinist for about 8 years before going back to uni to study and work in engineering, then the IT industry. But for one of my relaxing hobbies, I went back to turning. Instead of turning metal while adhering to rigid engineering specifications, I decided to turn wood using hand chisels.  I enjoyed the result of making turned items that showed character through the beauty of the wood grain and more free-form shapes. People who try woodturning for the first time, seem to always talk about how it is pleasing and interesting to see the shape forming.

What Can I Make?

Huon Pine Bowl

Generally round things, but if you leave some surfaces uncut, they can remain whatever they were before you started. This technique is used to leave the top of table and chair legs square ends with the rest of the leg round. Some common items are bowls, handles, clocks, vases and handles. You could partially turn a weathered recycled piece of wood. To view a wide range of turned items just search for “wood turning” or “turned wood” on and select images.

My recommendation is not to make things that can be easily bought or replaced from the average shop. Do something slightly different. It also does not have to be very complex. Try using wood that has very unique grain and colour. Make the item into a shape that is slightly different but pleasing to the eye. Dare I say, unless you are practising don’t bother to use common types of pine. Pine grain tears, it is very common in it’s appearance and is very difficult to stain or coat evenly.

There is a wealth of knowledge that can be gained from YouTube but be aware that the person demonstrating doesn’t know where you are up to with skills and experience.

Machines for Turning (Lathes)

There are a few things to consider, but in general it is much cheaper to buy a reasonable lathe today than it was a decade ago. Before you buy, I would suggest that you try wood turning. You can do that at a local club, if you are near a town and talk to someone who has experience. You will need some guidance to keep safe if you have never done it before but you can produce something worthwhile in a short time. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. One interesting and important fact is that some timber’s dust is toxic (look up “Wood Toxicity”).

The average price for a lathe seems to be between about $300 and $1500 and of course you can spend a lot more if you like.

Tasmanian Myrtle Clock

Things to consider when buying a Lathe:

  • The weight of the lathe. Heavier is better.
  • Price.
  • The swing over the bed. This is the maximum radius of the piece of wood you can start with.
  • Whether you need a bench or not for that lathe.
  • The spindle needs to be compatible with a range of screw-on accessories. A bonus is to have an internal morse taper to fit accessories.
  • The strength of the lathe.
  • The power of the motor.
  • Speed range available with the lathe.
  • The amount of space you have available


Huon Pine Popuri Bowl

You can use a huge range of chisels to do the cutting work. However you can also achieve a lot with as few as five chisels; such as a round nose, skew, parting (for cutting off), square end and a bowl gouge.
You will need something to sharpen the chisels such as a grinder and I recommend a small course diamond wet stone to touch up the edge from time to time. They are about $15AU.

You need sand paper of various grades and something to finish or protect the finished piece. There are clear coatings, wax and stains. I personally prefer not to use stains much, preferring to use the wood’s natural grain colour variation.

So, why not try Wood Turning?

The round shapes formed have a way of displaying the grain beautifully. You start with the rough material that hides what’s inside and as you machine it and smooth the surface you see the wonderful patterns come out. No two pieces are the same. Turning metal was never like that. Well, not on purpose. After that you can finish it immediately with a wax or you can take a little longer and use a type of clear coat that needs time to dry.

If you do some research you can find out how to make small people figurines  that the grandkids will love.

Check out a local men’s shed. They often have wood turning as one of the things you can do. You can give it a go without having to buy the tools up front. You get to try a hobby and meet a few people.

Mango Wood

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