The First 4 Woodturning Questions

The First 4 Woodturning Questions

Luke Howard

Dec 4th, 2018

I started woodturning about 3 years ago after I wanted to make wooden stool legs for these ceramic tops I made. I asked the same exact questions that almost every new wood turner asks me when they come to take one of my classes. Below are a couple of the most commonly asked questions.

Before answering questions we need to talk about one key element: What are you attempting to make on the lathe? This is important because the lathe can help you create a whole world of amazing work. From small items like pens, ornaments, and wands; to large table legs, bowls, platters, and vessels. Knowing the types of things you want to create is the first question to ask yourself.



There are lathes of all different sizes, so you can decide what size works best for you. The foundry has 5 lathes that have a 12” diameter clearance and have a 21” long bed, and most of them are Jet lathes. We also have one Grizzly lathe that is 12” x 42” and has a rotating headstock for larger diameter platters and such. These two lathe types and sizes cover the vast majority of woodturning needs, but there are smaller and larger options out there as well.


There are seemingly endless variety gouges, so where should you start? I would recommend getting an 8-gouge beginner set because it encompasses most of the tools you would use to start off. Most other gouge options are for specific and advanced woodturning techniques. The gouges I use most on spindle projects are:

  • Roughing Gouge
  • Spindle Gouge
  • Parting tool
  • Scraper

It is also really nice to have a skew chisel handy, and a bowl gouge for when you want to take on a bowl or vessel project.

Centers, chucks, etc…

You need to be able to secure your stock material to the machine, and woodturners have a variety of tools at their fingertips. The 2 main basic ways are:

Outside of these 2 main options, you can explore more specialized options like collets, pen mandrels, faceplate, worm screws, drill chucks, etc...


A lathe motor can run at a variety of speeds so it is important to know what speed settings to use for different processes and different materials. The long answer to this question is that prefered speed can be impacted by a number of things like, strength, materials, tools, and preference.  For starters here are a couple good pointers.

The lathe cutting speed safety equation: D” x RPM = 6,000 - 9,000 units. D is the diameter of stock in inches. RPM is the revolutions per minute.  Between 6,000 - 9,000 is safe cutting speed

  • Recommended cutting speeds for stock 3” or under: 2200RPM - 3000RPM
  • Recommended cutting speeds for 6” stock: 1000RPM - 1400RPM
  • Recommended sanding speed: 900RPM - 1400RPM

*This information is for solid stock without defects. With all the possibilities the lathe offers these general rules do not cover a wide array of more obscure or advanced material/techniques that can be used.


There is a large assortment of lathe options and sizes out there, what's best for you depends on your goals. Those who are interested in small objects like pens, ornaments, wands, honey dippers, handles, etc…  could get a small desktop lathe. These small lathes are usually cheaper, more portable, and produce high-quality results. The larger lathes are made for turning very large objects like table legs, banisters, railings, large bowls, and platters, etc… All lathes come with trade-offs, so do some research before committing to any certain size.


This is a great question. With so many options, it is hard to know where to start. Knowing where to get materials is obviously important. If you are an online shopper two of my favorite websites are and I always look at these websites for project ideas, project kits, and materials. I always price check with other websites like If you are looking for local stores that supply materials, finishing supplies and project kits Woodcraft on Bethel road and Wood Werks on Claycraft Rd are two of the best options in Columbus.

The most common materials to turn on wood lathes are wood, plywood, and acrylic. I have also seen people turn, resin cast objects, cork, pawpaw pods,  carrots, and more. It is amazing what you can turn on a wood lathe. That said, most metals are not possible to turn on a wood lathe. Metal lathes are a topic Rachel covers in her Ask A Maker blog!

That is all for today! Thanks for checking in, and feel free to ask questions when you see me around the shop. If you are a member of the foundry you can always reach out to me at and I'll do my best to answer your question!