About Woodturning

Wood turning makes a good hobby for people of any age or gender, but the younger you start the better, as with all crafts that need a certain amount of learning. There are courses available at many of the craft suppliers and also at adult continuation education (ACE) centres. I did my first course in Milton Keynes at the Linford Arts centre, it was well worth it as I had a very good professional instructor and the course was limited to 8 people at a time. I still go to the same venue as The North Bucks Woodturning club hold their meeting there every Saturday morning, and all are welcome, be it proffesional, advanced or novice turners. Sound advice can be gleaned from all the experienced turners there chatting or boasting about their latest projects. As I said all are welcome and the club has approximately 40 members but not all of them turn up every week. There are several lathes that can be used under the watchful eyes of the elders of the club.


Woodturning dates back some 3000 years and originated in the Middle East. Some of the earliest records are those found in Persepolis, the ancient capital of Iran. The method of turning wood changed very little in the next 2000 years. The principle was to have a piece of wood fixed between two spikes which was then spun in rotation whilst 'carved' with metal chisel like tools. Having a chair with turned legs was once seen as a status symbol. A fundamental breakthrough came in the 15th century with the invention of the two bearing headstock instead of a fixed spike. This is the basic design for all modern lathes allowing three new forms of turning, faceplate, cupchuck and bowl turning. The early lathes were driven by man power by means of treadles and ropes as with the wooden pole lathes.

Modern Methods

Modern turning methods include electric motor driven lathes that have speed controls in the form of different sized pulleys and belts or electronic controllers that change the speed of the motor via a small dial on the front of a control cabinet. New tools are being developed all the time as turners push the skills further. Production lathes that are used in industry have CNC controls and will turn out work time after time and all being exactly the same. These are fully automated and there is no skill involved on the part of the operator.


The basic tools needed to start tuning are, the roughing gouge, spindle gouge, skew chisel, bowl gouge and parting tool. All basic turning and some advanced turning can be completed with these tools. More advanced tools for hollowing work, texturing, and spiralling are available. Some turners incorporate jigs for holding drills and routers in for a further dimension to their turning. A good electric grindstone is needed for sharpening your tools, as sharp tools are easier and safer to work with. Finally once a piece is turned and shaped the finishing is done. The finishing consists of sanding, sealing and polishing

The Lathe

A lathe can be either freestanding (on its own frame) or a bench lathe that needs fixing to a solid and heavy bench. A lathe and its bench can need an average of six feet of space. The lathe consists of a headstock and a tailstock. These are the two points to which you locate your piece to be turned. For bowl turning a special chuck is used to hold your piece in the headstock only. Some lathes have an outboard facility which gives more space on the outside of the headstock to enable larger pieces of wood to be turned.
The type of lathe used will depend on what type of turning is being done. For example, for bowls and hollowing you need a lathe with an outboard facility or a swivelling headstock, wheras someone doing spindle turning or miniatures only will not. The swivelling headstock lathe can do both spindle work as well as bowls. It allows the woodturner to rotate the chuck forwards giving more space and easier access to the piece being turned. A lathe will have a good range of speeds that are required for different turning tasks. I am not going to go to much further on describing lathes, since it is already getting a bit confusing if you have never heard of any of these terms. So really all you need to know is there is a variety of types and don't buy one until you are very clear about what you want to achieve. Visit you local woodturners club first and experiment.
Popular woods

Here are just a few of the many woods I use for turning. Due to the fact that each piece of wood is unique, each finished piece is individual.







African Padauk










Oak (white)


Spalted Beech

Get Involved

Getting involved in wood turning doesn't need to be difficult or expensive. If you do not have the space or money for a workshop in your garden, or room for a lathe in your garage, there are numerous woodturning clubs up and down the country that you can join.

The web offers lots of sites that can give you advice on the techniques and skills that you will need to aquire to have fun with woodturning. To find your nearest club go to the Woodturners Association website.. Or see the Links page for other sites of interest