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When Not to use a Woodturning Tool!

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

I have been looking for a specific Woodturning Tool for months, namely a spindle gouge. During every teaching session I would tell students about cheap tools, bad tools & repaired tools and I would look for this Gouge to show as an example of a dangerous tool and every time I would fail to find it. My small workshop is impossible to keep tidy and organized so you might understand why I couldn't find it.

Getting ready for a student today, I finally came across the tool buried under my workbench. I knew immediately that I had to write a post and show pictures of what exactly was wrong with it so new Woodturners could avoid potential catastrophe and hopefully learn something they didn't know.

The Beginning for Every Woodturner

When you first start out as a Woodturner, you have high dreams and hopes of what you are going to buy and what you can afford with the money you have on hand at the time. Those hopes can come crashing down when you see the price of the tools either online or in a Tool Shop. Inevitably, you go looking to cut corners so you can maximise your spend. Nearly everyone who takes up Woodturning is the exact same so please don't think of yourself as unusual. I was no different back in the 90s and when my friend offered me a broken/repaired Sorby Gouge I jumped at it. I had 3 other chisels at the time and felt great having another one to add to my small collection.

Bad Woodturning Tool. What's Wrong with it?

So what exactly is wrong with using a tool like this? Firstly; The steel has been welded together at the break. Welding would have caused an enormous increase in temperature in that area which could potentially weaken the surrounding steel and make it brittle or weaken the tool strength. It is impossible to test this at home without complex testing equipment so why take a risk? Secondly; The brass ferrule broke during the snap and thirdly; the Ash handle is cracked. I think it may have been glued and clamped as a repair but this would not stand up to much punishment. This tool from what I remember, was capable of cutting but any kind of catch could have caused the tool to disintegrate, possibly being fired back at me in front of the Lathe. Thankfully, this did not happen to me.

So What is the Lesson Learned?

Simple, don't ever use broken/repaired tools like this because they can be lethal! I can't believe that I actually used this tool back in the day. As a Carpenter, I should have known better but I didn't think about the negative side at all. Thankfully, I didn't use it for very long before buying a new tool but the consequences could have been severe. You are not saving yourself money by using bad or damaged tools, the cost of a hospital stay will far exceed any expenses you would incur by buying new tools.

I try to warn each of my students about what they shouldn't do but I often see their eyes glaze over when I suggest spending more money than they are willing to part with. My Experience is the reason why I give warnings or advice; I have been there! In truth, I have been very lucky to have many near misses in my Woodturning career but with experience I have gained a lot of knowledge to work as safely as I possibly can. It is worth your time to listen to what I have to say!


Where possible, buy new tools that have been newly manufactured. You are at least assured of their history. Why not second hand? You can of course buy second hand tools but inspect them to make sure

  • The tool looks to be straight and in line with the handle

  • The Tang is inserted into the handle with no gaps

  • The Brass Ferrule is fully intact and not cracked or chipped

  • The handle is not cracked where it meets the steel tang.

The condition of the steel and the shape of the grounded cutting edge should tell you if the tool was looked after or not and by someone who knew what they were doing. Scuffs and scratches are cosmetic and don't indicate ill-treatment. My own tools are well marked at this stage and I do take care of them. Damaged tools with any of the issues in the bullet points above would be immediately taken out of circulation.

FYI; I sell a range of Hamlet Tools here if you want to buy excellent quality Woodturning Chisels. Buy good quality and you only buy once!

Thanks for reading and be safe on the Lathe, David

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