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Thread: Buying First Turning Tools (set advice and/or individual)

  1. #1

    Buying First Turning Tools (set advice and/or individual)

    After many searches, YouTube videos, various research, etc, I've finally come to you folks for some advice. I'm ready to buy my first turning tools. I have a new midi lathe (Laguna Revo 1216) and will soon have a grinder and CBN wheels on the way. I need help deciding on my first turning tools. I understand they should be HSS, preferably M2 (or better).

    Candidates include:

    PSI / Benjamin's Best [$75] Set includes (8) chisels 3/16" Parting Tool 5/8" Spear Scraper 1" Skew Chisel 5/8" Skew Chisel 5/8" Round Nose Scraper 1/2" Bowl Gouge 3/4" Spindle Gouge 7/8" Roughing Gouge

    Robert Sorby 67HS [$234]
    6 Piece Lathe Turning Set with 3/4" Spindle Roughing Gouge, 3/8" Spindle Gouge, 3/8" Bowl Gouge, 3/4" Standard Skew Chisel, 1/8" Parting Tool and 1/2" Round Nose Scraper 67HS



    ...or others...

    My goals are to begin turning boxes, some mallet handles, tool handles, and also get to doing bowls and other things.
    (No pen turning).

    I've read/seen info that I should begin with these tools, but input gladly appreciated:

    3/8" spindle gouge
    1/2" bowl gouge
    3/4 or 1" skew
    1/8 or 1/4" parting tool
    1/2 or 1" round nose scraper
    3/4 or 1" spindle roughing gouge

    QUESTION OF THE DAY:
    Should I begin with an inexpensive set (PSI), decent set (Sorby or other), -OR- buy a few necessary tools and add quality tools individually?

    I'm not the guy who has to have the best and realize sharpening will be a learning curve, though I am experienced sharpening hand tools already, I know it's different and new. At the same time, I don't really want to waste money only to upgrade later. I will get high quality tools sooner or later. Perhaps a set of tools and a select quality item or two that I'm not thinking about? Is there a specific grind or type of tool I'll likely want and use often that isn't included in one of the sets? Are there a few tools I can buy good quality of and avoid buying a whole set and go that route?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    E TN, near Knoxville
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    One long-time sage advice is if starting and learning to sharpen, buy a set of cheaper tools. You may grind a lot of the useful length away while learning.

    Then later, based on what tools you find the most useful for the type of turning you discover you like, either buy a better set or it may be smarter in the long run to get them individually. Of the set you mentioned, all will be useful. One advantage to buying individually is you might want more variety than what you can find in any set. For example, I use skew chisels from 1/4" to 1-1/4" depending on what I'm turning or teaching. I use spindle gouges sized 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2". I keep a variety of scrapers ground different ways - each is useful for specific things.

    I personally am a big fan of Thompson tools. I never buy them with handles, both for storage reasons and because I'm particular about my handles. I keep several dozen unhandled tools in one wide, shallow drawer. I make handles such that I can insert different tools as needed. For example, I really enjoy spindle turning so I keep multiple 3/8" spindle gouges all ground identically - when one gets dull I lay it aside and put a sharp one in the handle and keep going. When they all get dull I stop and sharpen all of them - this way I only have to set up the sharpening system once for that gouge (the thing that takes the most time), after which sharpening each one only takes 30 seconds or so.

    Remember that even the cheapest tools are more than sufficient for most turning. The difference between different types of steel is mostly how long you can work before resharpening. When I started turning about 20 years ago I bought a set of HSS tools at Sears. I still use some today even though I have an embarrassing number of lathe tools. [hangs head in shame]

    One word of caution about cheap tools. I don't remember about the Benjamin's but some cheap tools are not hardened all the way down the flute. I keep a box of cheap or free tools that I give or loan to students. In testing, I find that some are only hardened for the first inch or so! You can easily test: I use a small triangular file. Try filing on the shank of the tool - if the file skates across the steel without biting in the steel is hardened at that point. If the file cuts into the steel it is NOT hardened at that point.

    JKJ

  3. #3
    I started my traditional gouge purchases very conservatively, because like you, I didn't know exactly what I needed, or how to sharpen properly. I actually used Easy Wood Tools exclusively for many years before investing in traditional tooling and sharpening.

    It is really hard for me to give advice to other turners, because I don't know what kind of projects you have in mind, and then also what direction your turning will take you. As a quick example, for the first many years of turning for me, I was really just doing pens and small pieces, and only recently have I been getting more into bowls (I also have a 12/16, though I started with the midi harbor freight!).

    So, if you plan on doing mostly spindle work, then your purchases should align more with that, and the same mentality holds true if you plan on doing more bowls. Those sets will get you started in either.

    My gut would be to start with the Benjamin's Best kit, learn how to sharpen well, and then just start working at the lathe. Try different kits of all sorts (pens, ornaments, salt/pepper shakers, etc.), try some cups and then bowls, etc. I would always recommend starting small and slow before going big and fast.

    There are some great youtubers out there with really great educational turning content. One that I think has been great, is a fairly small channel still, but I think he has some great content: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDw...756vpxL51zd4Uw

    For sharpening with the CBN wheels, you also need to make a decision on how many wheels, and what grits, as well as your sharpening jig that you want to use. I personally use the Oneway Wolverine system, and I think it is great. I have additional Vari-grind 1 jigs for the different gouges I sharpen, and also a robo rest for my flat tools (unfortunately, he closed up shop, so you can't buy this anymore). For bowl gouges, I also bought the Ellsworth grinding jig, and fashioned setup blocks to use it on the Vee arm of the wolverine system. I've been really liking the Ellsworth grind, and also have the Ellsworth signature gouge, and also use this grind on my D-way 5/8" bowl gouge (these have a 1/2" flute, so you need to check the details of what you are buying if they are referencing the flute or the shaft).

    My main tooling is D-way now, but there are many great manufacturers out there. I actually still have my Easy Wood Tools, and I've also added some Hunter Carbide tools for specialty uses (I have their badger set for hollowing in addition to a #3 Easy Wood tools swan neck hollower). I learned how to sharpen on my cheaper tools first, as D-Way tools aren't cheap! I do really enjoy using my D-way Tools, and have a good number (though not nearly as many as John who posted above me!)

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    One problem with sets is that different tools are better with different length handles and sets tend to come with one size of handle so they look pretty in the box. I almost exclusively buy unhandled tools now and use them in an interchangeable handle system, or if it's a tool I use frequently I make it the perfect handle for my hands and the tool.

    You know yourself, but most people who already know tools will only go through 1/4" of steel or less learning to sharpen; a really good tool will last for 5-20 years. Yo don't want to feel stuck with your practice set.

    Starting out I'd work on spindle turning. For that I think the minimum tool set would be a parting tool, spindle roughing gouge (at least 1"), 1" to 1-3/8" skew. 3/8" detail gouge, and a round nose scraper, probably ground with a negative rake. Those five tools will let you turn about 90% of anything you'd want to do between centers. To expand to bowls I'd add a 5/8" shaft size bowl gouge with an Ellsworth grind. I really like Doug Thompson's tools as well. Those six tools will set you back several hundred dollars, but will last a very long time and can be easily resold if you change your mind. (you can go cheap on the parting tool!)

  5. #5
    Your list of tools above are what I would consider a good starting set. I guess part of selecting what you will want and need is dependent on your lathe. If you have a 16 or bigger lathe, then go with the larger sized tools. If you have a minl lathe, then go with the smaller tools, except for the parting tool, generally thinner is better. Once you get into bowls, you will want at least 2 gouges. One with a more pointed nose, like the 40/40 grind, and a bottom of bowl gouge, which has about a 60 or 70 degree bevel angle. For scrapers, I would suggest 2, one a standard scraper, and one ground to be a NRS (negative rake scraper). Both can be handy, and with the round nose, you can cut in either direction. I would go with at least M2HSS, and not stuff that is just listed as 'HSS' as that kind of quality is not dependable. I have a bunch of videos up on You Tube, mostly about bowl turning, but a lot about sharpening. I am one who prefers to buy better quality tools to start. I still have some tools from the first set I got, back in the days when there were not all the specialty tools around. None of them ever got worn down so short that they were not sharpenable any more. Woodcraft does carry some nice tools. Thompson and D Way have some of the best out there. Packard and Craft Supplies are also good sources, and Lee Valley has some good tools also.

    robo hippy

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by John K Jordan View Post
    One long-time sage advice is if starting and learning to sharpen, buy a set of cheaper tools. You may grind a lot of the useful length away while learning.

    ...
    I'm one of those who offered such advice whenever the subject came up. I still think it can be good advice. However, whether it's a good approach to take depends, in my view on whether or not the new turner will be equipped with a good sharpening station. Even with A/O wheels, with a decent grinder and jig, most can become proficient in sharpening without wasting too much steel. On the other hand, the quality of steel (and tempering) is widely variable. A new turner may not know if his or her problem in getting a clean cut is due to their turning technique, poor sharpening, or the poor quality of the steel in that particular example of Brand X tools. For that reason, if a decent grinding station is available, I recommend getting a few quality tools (that may or may not come in a set) from a reputable brand, such as Sorby, Hamlet, Crown, or Henry Taylor (or a house brand from a turning supply store that's made by one of those brands). Then, if turning becomes a passion, the now some-what experienced turner can step up to more premium brands if he or she desires.
    David Walser
    Mesa, Arizona

  7. #7
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    Cambridge Vermont
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    1,266
    I would buy individual tools. You are going to end up with a lot of stuff that you rarely, if ever, use. Why start out buying a set that you might only use half of and then as you get better you most likely will replace the most often used ones with nicer versions. I would like to add to what David said about sharpening. A good jig is going to reduce the amount of steel being ground off. At first you'll remove a fair bit as the grind on the tool isn't going to match what the jig and your grinder will do. But after it's now ground to the new shape you are only going to be touching it up. You've already thrown a bunch of money at this hobby why save a couple bucks knowing that you'll just spend the money down the road.

    If you're looking for tools on the budget side I would suggest Crown. They seem to have several versions of steel and (at least when I bought one) the prices were more in the middle range. There's several other brands that also fall into this category. I have a Crown bowl gouge that I bought right off. I think it was one of the powdered metal ones. It's my go to when I need to hog out wood or dealing with bark. It's a good enough quality so it holds an edge but I also don't mind abusing it. I'm sure the expensive gouges I have would also do it but I just like saving them for finish work.

  8. #8
    For example, I know I want to use/learn negative rake scrapers and specific grinds for gouges which will be tough if buying a set...

  9. #9
    If I can get my list down we'll enough I may go the individual route. Learning handles when choosing specific tools sold without it tough for me to figure out right now. Buying a grinder, CBN wheels, and jigs (Wolverine) plus tools is balancing act ��. I am refining things a bit by reading this thread and asking some other people. Progress...

    This one looks nice, and I do need one for small boxes, I've been told:

    Crown 236PM 3/8-Inch 10-mm Powder Metallurgy Spindle Gouge

    First I've read anything about PM tools, tbh
    Last edited by Allen Mattsen; 02-02-2021 at 9:01 PM.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
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    Northwest Indiana
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    I'm in need of spindle gouges--and this afternoon ordered the Crown 236RAZ (Razor), after waffling between it and the Powder Metallurgy. Did the 1/4" as well. I bought a variety of used tools over the past few years--but none for spindle work. Most of my starter Benjamin's Best have been used regularly, and are okay tools--i find the spindle gouge lacking. I do have a Taylor with swept wings, great to finish with, but hard to control for shaping. I don't want to alter its grind though.
    earl

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
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    Coshocton Ohio
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allen Mattsen View Post
    After many searches, YouTube videos, various research, etc, I've finally come to you folks for some advice. I'm ready to buy my first turning tools. I have a new midi lathe (Laguna Revo 1216) and will soon have a grinder and CBN wheels on the way. I need help deciding on my first turning tools. I understand they should be HSS, preferably M2 (or better).

    Candidates include:

    PSI / Benjamin's Best [$75] Set includes (8) chisels 3/16" Parting Tool 5/8" Spear Scraper 1" Skew Chisel 5/8" Skew Chisel 5/8" Round Nose Scraper 1/2" Bowl Gouge 3/4" Spindle Gouge 7/8" Roughing Gouge

    Robert Sorby 67HS [$234]
    6 Piece Lathe Turning Set with 3/4" Spindle Roughing Gouge, 3/8" Spindle Gouge, 3/8" Bowl Gouge, 3/4" Standard Skew Chisel, 1/8" Parting Tool and 1/2" Round Nose Scraper 67HS



    ...or others...

    My goals are to begin turning boxes, some mallet handles, tool handles, and also get to doing bowls and other things.
    (No pen turning).

    I've read/seen info that I should begin with these tools, but input gladly appreciated:

    3/8" spindle gouge
    1/2" bowl gouge
    3/4 or 1" skew
    1/8 or 1/4" parting tool
    1/2 or 1" round nose scraper
    3/4 or 1" spindle roughing gouge

    QUESTION OF THE DAY:
    Should I begin with an inexpensive set (PSI), decent set (Sorby or other), -OR- buy a few necessary tools and add quality tools individually?

    I'm not the guy who has to have the best and realize sharpening will be a learning curve, though I am experienced sharpening hand tools already, I know it's different and new. At the same time, I don't really want to waste money only to upgrade later. I will get high quality tools sooner or later. Perhaps a set of tools and a select quality item or two that I'm not thinking about? Is there a specific grind or type of tool I'll likely want and use often that isn't included in one of the sets? Are there a few tools I can buy good quality of and avoid buying a whole set and go that route?

    Thanks!
    Lots of great advice here.
    Just my 2 cents. I started out just like you smaller lathe etc. I bought the Woodriver set from Woodcraft. It served me well and then added higher grade tools as I gained experience.
    D-way became one of my favorite brands. I would recommend purchasing their parting tool right away. It has a design I haven't seen from other manufacturers. It is thicker on the bottom narowwer on top. Helps a lot against binding.
    Sorby also makes decent tools. Benjamins Best? Not so much.
    As to sharpening I'll get beat on here as the CBN wheels seem to be the overwhelming favorite for sharpening. I just love the Sorbey Pro Edge sharpening system. So fast when changing sharpening angles. Fast to change belt grits too.I profiled all my gouges with a sixty grit and the switched to 120 or 180 to maintain sharpness. No learning curve involved, just watch the 5 minute video.
    Have fun.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Allen Mattsen View Post
    If I can get my list down we'll enough I may go the individual route. Learning handles when choosing specific tools sold without it tough for me to figure out right now. Buying a grinder, CBN wheels, and jigs (Wolverine) plus tools is balancing act 😎. I am refining things a bit by reading this thread and asking some other people. Progress...

    This one looks nice, and I do need one for small boxes, I've been told:

    Crown 236PM 3/8-Inch 10-mm Powder Metallurgy Spindle Gouge

    First I've read anything about PM tools, tbh
    Tooling is definitely a huge expense, and I think for many of us, we have spent more on tooling than we did on the lathe at this point. Do you have an idea of the types of projects you want to start with? Maybe get the tools specific to those projects first, and then expand as your desires expand.

    Also, have you thought about chucks? Working between centers is still standard practice, but different chucks or holding methods makes things easier, and in many cases safer as well. Most of us who have turned for a while will have a collection of chucks of different styles and especially different jaws for specific purposes - but that's the thing, you need to figure out what you want to do and be able to do before you start making some of these other big purchases.

    The other thing, as you've noticed, is that we all come from different backgrounds, with different types of turning that we prefer, so we all will have our own individual biases. One isn't right or wrong for you, they just give you a wide perspective of the different ways to approach turning.

  13. #13
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    1,578
    Quote Originally Posted by carl mesaros View Post
    ...
    As to sharpening I'll get beat on here as the CBN wheels seem to be the overwhelming favorite for sharpening. I just love the Sorbey Pro Edge sharpening system. So fast when changing sharpening angles. Fast to change belt grits too.I profiled all my gouges with a sixty grit and the switched to 120 or 180 to maintain sharpness. No learning curve involved, just watch the 5 minute video. ...
    I won't beat you up for liking and using the Sorby Pro Edge. It looks to be very nice. My ONLY concern is that it produces a flat grind. Other grinders, those using wheels rather than a belt, produce a hollow grind. Both types of grinds have advantages. I don't think one is necessarily better than the other. However, if you're used to a hollow grind, a flat grind can make it harder get the 'feel' of a tool. The same works in reverse. My thought when the Pro Edge came out was that might make it harder to turn at a club meeting where everyone is using the tools made available.

    Having said that, I may have bought the Pro Edge when it came out had I not just purchased the Tormek. I really liked Sorby's jigs for using with the Pro Edge, their spindle gouge jig is basically a clone of Tormek's -- which is the best gouge jig. Much better than the Wolverine.
    David Walser
    Mesa, Arizona

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Walser View Post
    I won't beat you up for liking and using the Sorby Pro Edge. It looks to be very nice. My ONLY concern is that it produces a flat grind. ...
    I agree. Although there is nothing wrong with turning with a flat bevel, my concern is compared to a concave bevel it is difficult to effectively hone the tool by hand to restore the edge. (my opinion about this is based on experimenting with both flat and concave bevels.)

    With a concave bevel you support the hand-held hone firmly between the edge and the heel of the bevel, the combination in effect acting as a incredibly easy-to-use hand-held sharpening jig. Honing only removes a tiny sliver at the edge and the support at the heal insures the geometry is not compromised. With a flat bevel honing by hand isn't easy or perhaps not practical to keep the flat geometry.

    Mike Darlow describes this in his '99 book Fundamentals of Woodturning on pages 46-47 and on page 56. Likewise, Richard Raffan has the same advice on pages 60-61 in the third edition of his book Turning Wood. He points out that without contacting the bevel at both the heel and the edge the risk is "you'll either round the edge or create a secondary bevel, which will make the tool very difficult to use." I see Raffan shows the same diamond hones I eventually stick to after trying many, the Eze-Lap - I primarily use the blue extra fine for lathe tools.

    hones.gif

    I typically hone an edge several times between sharpening, then strop for a razor edge on a hard surface (wood or MDF) doped with polishing compound. Honing too many times removes too much metal and becomes counter productive.

    JKJ

  15. #15
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    Jan 2019
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    Newish turner here. I loved turning in Junior High School decades ago, and just bought my first lathe this winter. I am firmly in favor of starting with a cheap set of tools, HSS or better, to learn to sharpen on. You can turn with them while they are sharp of course, but I am really glad I started with a set of inexpensive tools because I made a LOT of sharpening mistakes that took me back to the bench grinder to clean up my mess and start over. I will probably make some more similar mistakes in the future too.

    I got 8 lathe tools off Craigslist for $75, so less than $10 per stick. No sweat. I did get my first $$ tool in the mail just today, but it is a tool I use a lot and one I know how to sharpen correctly.

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