How to Use Chisels & Gouges for a Woodturning Lathe

Written by chris baylor
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How to Use Chisels & Gouges for a Woodturning Lathe
Woodturning on a treadle spindle lathe (Woodman at work image by CJD from

Most woodturning on a lathe is done with either a gouge or a chisel. Roughing gouges are used to round a spindle, and spindle gouges are used to turn beads and other details. Skew chisels and parting tools (a very narrow chisel) are used for cutting flat or square shapes into the spindle. The techniques for using all of these tools safely are the same.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Woodturning lathe
  • Turning chisel
  • Turning gouge
  • Spindle stockwood

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  1. 1

    Insert a spindle blank in the lathe and lock the tailstock. Position the tool rest so that it's parallel to the stock, about 1/4 inch away from the spindle at the closest point when you turn the spindle by hand.

  2. 2

    Turn on the lathe on a relatively low speed.

  3. 3

    Place the roughing gouge on the tool rest with the sharpened end above the wood. Use your strong hand (your right hand if you're right-handed) on the handle of the gouge, and place your opposite hand under the tool against the front of the tool rest. Place your thumb on top of the tool.

  4. 4

    Ease your right hand backwards, lowering the back side of the gouge onto the wood. Keep easing the tool backwards (with the bevel of the gouge in constant contact with the wood) until you begin to cut.

  5. 5

    Slide the gouge along the tool rest (remaining perpendicular to the wood), rounding the stock. When the spindle becomes more round, stop the lathe and move the tool rest to within 1/4 inch again.

  6. 6

    Use the other gouges (with the same motion as the roughing gouge) and chisels to cut shapes into the spindle, by twisting the tool or turning the angle of the tool slightly.

Tips and warnings

  • Remember to always keep the bevel on the bottom of the chisel or gouge engaged with the wood to keep from digging in too deeply. Also, always keep the tool firmly against the tool rest.
  • When using woodworking tools, always wear appropriate safety equipment, including safety glasses.

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