Updated: Aug 12
Starting out on your journey to become a Woodturner is an amazing time of discovery and insight, yet slightly tainted by the sheer quantity of Lathes on the market and the amount of Tools, Chucks, Grinders and accessories you may have to buy to get the best results out of your time. With so much money needed to be spread around, you might be tempted to take an easy shortcut or two and buy something that sounds too good to be true. Yes, I am indeed referring to the Woodturning Chisel Sets that are commonly available on the market today.
Woodturning Chisel Sets
I am just generalizing based on experience here so please don't get mad at me if you are a Tool making company. From teaching, I see students come to me with all sorts of tools both from major brands and cheap crap that shouldn't be left near a Lathe. I believe I've seen enough to be somewhat of an authority on the subject.
The major brands all have these sets as part of their product ranges but you also get the mass produced sets with cheap wooden handles and inferior steel. I'm not going to name any company here, that would not be fair. I just find there is a common theme running through all these sets.
The major brands will have good quality tools in them and while the tools may be useful for a while they are not the ones you should be going for in my opinion. I'm not trying to knock the major brands here, sometimes a box set is just what you need as a quick gift for a Woodturner. No Woodturner, myself included; would be disappointed to receive such a gift. They or you can always reshape the tools into something else that will be useful in the Workshop.
The Box Sets normally come with 6 to 8 Chisels for Spindle Turning and may or may not contain a basic Bowl Gouge. STOP! I constantly warn my students away from buying these sets or using sets of tools that come with some lathes. Why do I not advise buying these sets? You will probably use 2 or 3 of these tools and the rest will sit in the box, unused and wasted. The ones you use from the set may be smaller than what you probably should be using.
In other words and for example, the box will contain a lighter version of a Spindle Roughing Gouge when you should be using the more versatile and stronger 3/4'', like the one I list below. I also sell 1/2'' Roughing Gouges by the way 1/2 inch Spindle Roughing Gouge HCT063 and also the larger Inch and a Quarter Spindle Roughing Gouge HCT065
The Box Sets are cheaper to buy and you may be tempted to go ahead anyway regardless of my advice. Please don't. You are free to choose of course but why not listen to someone with more experience?
I personally recommend buying the tools separately, getting the right ones and spending more. Most Spindle Turning Tools retail in the €30 to €50 range each, so how can some sets be selling for around €100 or so with 6 to 8 tools in a presentation box? Does that sound right to you? I'm a firm believer in paying the larger amount for the right tool, thus buying once and having a decent tool to work with.
Before I go any further, I should add a disclaimer here that not all Woodturning Chisel Box Sets are made the same, some companies may be able to put out less expensive products without skimping on quality. I have not seen or used every Box Set out there so I cannot say for certain that you will not find an excellent one yourself. I do know however for a fact, about the quality of the Tools I sell by using them everyday myself on a variety of different projects and differing wood types.
So what do I Recommend? Buy the tools individually and buy the ones that will be used everyday. I normally tell students to buy 6 tools for Spindle Turning ( see image below) and then 3 more for Bowl Turning. So that's 9 tools only, that you need to buy in total if you want to do Spindles and Bowls. Of course, this is only to get you started. Later on, you will buy more tools to expand your collection and increase the amount of projects that you can take on.
I sell Hamlet Woodturning Spindle Tools because they are excellent and after using some of the other brands they have become my weapons of choice. The 6 Tools in the picture below are currently priced around €273 Total. You don't have to buy them all at once, spread the cost to make it easier for yourself if you'd like. You could do a lot by buying the HCT064, GL7 and HCT092 first and going from there.
I use these 6 tools every single day when turning so I know I am getting great value from them. You can buy the same ones and be happy in the knowledge that you will use them too.
Tools for Spindle Turners
Hamlet HCT064 3/4 Inch Spindle Roughing Gouge
An extremely versatile tool that you will use everyday for Spindle Turning only. There are smaller versions and larger versions but this is great for large or small pieces. If you present the tool at a 45 degree angle to the workpiece you can achieve a very fine finish. I currently have 7 of these for use by myself and my students. You can buy the Hamlet HCT064 3/4 Inch Spindle Roughing Gouge here
Hamlet HCT101 3/4 Inch Standard Skew Chisel
The Skew Chisel is a tough tool to master for planing cuts and curved surfaces and many Woodturners shy away from it. It is a great tool for forming V Cuts and cleaning up endgrain so is a must to buy. I use this for great effect on my Hanging Ornaments and Ring Holders all the time. You can buy the Hamlet HCT101 3/4 Inch Standard Skew Chisel here
Hamlet GL7 1/2 Inch Spindle Gouge
This tool is my go-to tool for all my Spindle work. It is small enough to get in to small areas yet the steel is thick enough to limit vibration. There is a 3/8 version for getting into narrower spaces, I also sell this in my shop.
You can buy the Hamlet GL7 1/2 Inch Spindle Gouge here
Hamlet 3/16 Inch Diamond Parting Tool HCT092
This Diamond Parting Tool is great for plunging kerfs. It's shape cuts down on friction as the tool cuts deeper into the wood. At about 5mm wide, the tool gets into tight spaces and the narrow width means less material to push through. You can add to your collection later by buying the narrower HCT090 which is ideal for box making or narrower spaces. You can buy the HCT092 Diamond Parting Tool here
Hamlet 3/8 Inch Parting and Beading Tool HCT095
Ideal tool for quickly creating depth cuts in spindles. Used carefully and with enough practice, it can also be used to roll perfect beads on Spindles. I mostly use this tool for quickly reducing material on my Hanging Ornaments so it is used all the time to great effect.
You can buy the Hamlet 3/8 Inch Parting and Beading Tool HCT095 here
Hamlet HCT44GL 3/4 Inch Diamond Point Scraper
I use this tool for forming dovetails on my Spindle work and also my Bowls. It is shaped to the 77 degree angle that my Vicmarc Jaws require. If you are using another Chuck brand, you can reshape this tool to suit. Can also be used to form rough V Cuts. This tool cuts with a raised burr and must be sharpened often. You can buy the Hamlet HCT44GL 3/4 Inch Diamond Point Scraper here
So that's it for starters. 6 Spindle Turning Tools that will last you for the rest of your life if treated properly. Of course, if you turn more frequently you may have to buy some of these tools again in a few years as they shorten due to repeated sharpening. If you are interested, you can check out this blog post on Sharpening a Spindle Roughing Gouge here It mentions the Sharpening stations and CBN Wheels which I am fond of using these days.
What about Bowl Turning?
I don't currently stock Bowl Turning Gouges as I am primarily a Spindle Turner but I can share information about what Tools I use when I turn Bowls. I have turned enough Bowls at this stage to know what I am talking about.
I originally bought the Glenn Lucas Signature Hamlet range and I have stuck with these ever since. I find Signature Tool ranges to be a little or a lot beefier that the standard tools and I am willing to pay more for this difference. There are currently 4 Woodturner Signature Tool ranges available from Hamlet. I have stuck with Glenn's range as it is more extensive than the others and it's nice to support someone I know. I don't have product shots of these and there's not much point in taking pictures of my tools which are well worn at this stage. The names are sufficient for you to go shopping for now.
Hamlet GL4 – ⅝” bar ∅ bowl gouge
For rough shaping of wet or dry bowls & for refining. 16″ handle.
This gouge is profiled with a parabolic flute which is the only flute profile you will find on any of my bowl gouges. Far easier to sharpen than the V or U shaped gouges on the market. This gouge will bring a bowl blank quickly to shape. It is sharpened to a 55 degree bevel angle.
Hamlet GL5 – ½” bar ∅ bowl gouge
For refining and for finishing cuts. 16″ handle.
Used for finer cuts inside and out of a bowl sharpened to a 45 degree angle. This will achieve a better finish than the ⅝” bowl gouge (GL4) but won’t reach the bottom interior of a bowl. The ½” bowl gouge picks up where this tool cannot reach.
Hamlet GL6 5/8'' Bar ∅ Bottom Bowl Gouge
For finishing cuts on the interior bottom of the bowl. 16″ handle.
This tool is sharpened with one purpose only and that is the fine finishing of the bottom interior of a bowl. It gives a clean polished finished in the hands of an experienced turner.
These are fine tools for Bowl Turning and can be bought in Ireland, just google the titles above. Glenn Lucas sells these via his website so have a look if you are looking to buy!
If you have read this Blog Post right through to the end, you should have enough information to go forward and buy your first set. If you still go on to buy cheaper tools then you will almost certainly be buying again in the future when you learn first hand of their inadequacies. A few of my students went down the cheaper path even after my warnings, I haven't seen much of them since to be honest.
Lastly my hope is that you do take my advice; buy once and buy the proper gear for the trade no matter how expensive you think it is. Quite often, there may be only €5 to €10 of a price difference between rubbish and quality tools so choose carefully. Happy Turning, maybe I will see you in my Workshop for a lesson one of these days. Until then, Happy Shopping and Safe Turning! David