There are four things you need to become a woodturner: a workspace, the equipment, some timber and the necessary skills.
This you probably have already, or you would not be considering taking up the craft. The space you can dedicate to it determines what you can do.
Woodturning takes up quite a lot of space. It can be noisy and dusty, and you need somewhere to store materials and expensive equipment, so the workspace is the first thing to sort out. A proper building, secure, insulated, heated, powered, dry and well lit is ideal. But lots of people do great work in a garden shed or garage.
Whatever you use, if possible, have nothing in the workspace that does not relate to turning – no bicycles, lawnmowers etc. They take up the space that you as a turner will need, and detract from the proper dignity of the craft. And, unless your workspace is very large, try to find somewhere else, protected from the weather, for the wood pile.
When you start, the bare essentials are:
- A lathe with a chuck or at least a faceplate. The lathe should be the most substantial one possible. If you start with a cheap, flimsy machine, you will soon want to replace it. A good used machine is much better than a poor new one.
- A grinder for sharpening. Blunt tools will not give you the results you want.
- A sharpening jig for gouges. Scrapers and chisels can be sharpened more easily using the grinder’s own tool rest.
- Some basic turning tools – a good start would be a small roughing gouge, a small spindle gouge, a small bowl gouge, an 18mm skew chisel, a square nose scraper, a round nose scraper and a parting tool
- An instructional DVD or book. There are lots of turning gurus producing them.
- A face shield and dust mask,
- The usual workshop tools – sandpaper, screwdrivers, power drill, handsaw etc.
With these, you can make bowls and vases, boxes, all kinds of spindles, and lots of mess.
Later, you will need a bandsaw, a chainsaw, a drill press, a dust extractor, power sanding equipment, additional turning tools, buffing equipment and lots more. No woodturner ever has all the equipment they would really like. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the latest advertised tool will make you a turner. The only thing that will do that is lots of practice.
In the beginning, you can buy readymade turning blanks, but this is the most expensive way to buy wood. It is better to convert small logs and branches to turning blanks yourself, at no cost. You will enjoy turning unseasoned timber. A hammer and splitting wedges can stand in for a bandsaw. You will soon find you have more timber than you can turn, and will need somewhere to store it.
For practice, almost any timber will do, but it is easier to turn wood that is free of large knots, decay and splits, and not too hard. It is a mistake to buy tropical hardwoods when you are starting out. They are beautiful, but harder to turn than species such as oak, which are just as attractive.
A turner must be able to prepare the wood, sharpen and use the turning tools properly, and come up with pleasing shapes for the finished items.
To develop these abilities, read the books and magazines, study the DVDs, take lessons, join a turning club. If you practice, you will improve. Practice some more. Eventually, practice makes perfect. Learn from people who have gone before, then go your own way to establish your own original style.
There are two options for a turner. Some people use a lathe simply as a means to an end. They use any turning methods that get a result. As scraping tools are comparatively easy, that is what they use. With a little practice, and on suitable timber, scrapers can give excellent results. But they can often leave a very poor surface, which needs heavy sanding and never looks good.
Others set out to learn the more difficult tools – gouges and chisels. They value the craft for its own sake and want to achieve the best possible shape and finish to the work. These tools are more difficult at first, but quicker and more versatile in use, and the effort pays off in the end.
I am a turner making bowls and other gift items. There is a beginners’ troubleshooting guide to wooden bowl making on my web site.