Turning Tools & Handles

SabertoothBunny

SabertoothBunny
User
Alrighty everyone, lets discuss tools and handles.

Let's start with tools. What is good, better, best, and bestest concerning brands? Brands (D-Way, Thompson, Carter & Sons, SB, etc)? How about tool sizes for bowl gouges, spindle gouges, scrapers, negative rake, etc. What about tool shaft size (3/8, 1/2, 5/8 etc)? HSS vs carbide - both have their strengths and weaknesses buuuut....

What about tool handle lengths? What type or brand of handles? Wood/carbon fiber/steel?

Yeah I know, it often comes down to "potato" vs "pototo" but I am curious concerning input form some of the more experience turners in here. Please, enlighten me.
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
All depends on what you are making, how often, how big, for sale or for fun, budget, some preferences.

I have a basic Robert Sorby set that I bought in 1995, I think it was $178 then


Then I made an Oland tool.


Since then i have tried and discarded many tools. But these are still in my tool cabinet.

The one other tool I use a lot is a Crown 3/4 inch bowl gouge reground to 40/40 using Ron Brown's set up block..

40 40 Grind Setup Block


If you are a turner you should make your own personal happiness tool handles.
 

beloitdavisja

James
Corporate Member
I have a lot of Robert Sorby tools. I find them to be a good balance of price and quality. If I could afford a whole set of Thompsons, I'd get them. I started off with a set from Harbor Freight (which I don't recommend). I still use the 1/2" and 1" skew from that set, but overall not worth it (and those skews are in line to be replaced).

The tool I reach for most often are my Sorby 1/2" bowl gouge and a skew. But I'm primarily doing bowl turning and pens. The others I use infrequently depending what I'm doing are a 3/4" Woodriver Spindle Roughing Gouge, Woodriver 3/8 bowl gouge, Woodriver 3/8 spindle gouge, Sorby 1-1/4" Oval Skew, Sorby 3/4" bowl scraper. I have a few Sorby specialty tools too: spiraling/texturing system, captive ring,

If I were to categorize into good/better/best:
  • Good
    • Woodriver
  • Better
    • Sorby
    • Crown
  • Best
    • Thompson
    • Carter & Sons
  • Avoid
    • Harbor Freight & other bargain brands. Though some are better than others. You'll definitely notice a difference when stepping up in quality.

For carbides, I recommend getting them from ncwoodturningtools.com. He's a NCWW member, and his prices are very good. EasyWoodTools and the like you're paying for the name. I have his 1/2" rougher on a square bar, 1/2" Finisher on a round bar (if I were to buy again, I'd get the square bar finisher though), and the 3/8" Detailer on square bar.

Also keep in mind that you can have the best tools, they are only good while they're sharp. Better tools keep their edge longer, but it's wise to invest in a good sharpening system (or get really good freehand). I have the Wolverine jig with 2 CBN wheels, and it is quick to touch up my tools. When it's quick and easy, you'll do it more often, and the more often you sharpen, the better they'll perform.

As far as handles go, I have a 22" and 12" Sobry Sovereign handle. I picked up the 22" handle on clearance from Woodcraft years ago, and it has been excellent. I also got the optional weight that you can put in the end of the handle, and I find that I like the heft of it. I usually have my 1/2" bowl gouge in it. The 12" Sovereign I tend to put my carbide tools in. It also has a tang collet insert, and I have a 1/2" oval skew and 3/4" bowl scraper that I'll put in it. At some point I'll probably just turn some dedicated handles for my rougher and finisher carbides. I already turned a handle for my carbide detailer tool.

Handles are going to be a feel and fit for most. The Sovereign handle is straight and round (bad for rolling). The Carter handles look comfortable. Thompson handles solve the rolling problem with a hexagonal shape, though I'm not sure how they would feel in the hand.
 

Hmerkle

Hank
Corporate Member
I have a sheffield set I have had for years (1981?) bought used at an auction...

I still use them , but I have some sorby and some Crown.
The handles are MUCH longer on them and (for me) much more comfortable to use...

BUT, I tend to "cut high" the end handle of my tool is at my belt or even as low as my hip with the tip of the tool (slightly above or below) the centerline depending on what I am turning.

Obviously when end cutting (hollowing a bowl or facing the tool geometry is MUCH different. A lot of work is done 90 degrees to the blank or "spindle-type" turning, even when roughing out, and I find that "triangle" I make with my left elbow to the tool pint to my right hand (locked at my side) is a strong position for tool control.
 

wsrhue

wyattspeightrhue
User
The best tool is the one you reach for most often. I have a sorby 5/8" bowl gouge that came with my lathe. It might have an 1 1/2" of flute left and I replaced the handle 10 years ago, but I still love using it. I have a newer one that I reach for much less. My preference though is for Jerry Glaser tools. I've had some luck finding them on eBay. I highly recommend them.
 

cyclopentadiene

Update your profile with your name
User
Another vote for Thompson. My starter set was Sorby and I moved to Thompson. They hold an edge longer. I prefer easywood for spindle work as I am lazy and these do not have to be sharpened
 

Raymond

Raymond
Staff member
Corporate Member
I have Robert Sorby tools, Crown tools, and Easy Wood Tools - I prefer the 1/2" square shanks on most of my tools with the exception of by bowl gouges, those I like them to be round. I prefer the 16"-18" handles as I do not like to crowd up to the lathe. My favorite tool is my skews - the Robert Sorby oval shank is 3/4" and the other is a 1" flat shank rounded skew (also known as a side cutter or scrapper).
 

Melinapex

Mark
User
Got my first lathe last year and after lots of research bought a set of three from ncwoodturnigtools. Great product, price, and service. These should serve most of my needs and I can figure out what other tools I'll need as I go along...
 

smallboat

smallboat
Corporate Member
I’m probably doing a lot of things wrong but I get results that satisfy me.
Mostly bowl turning which means most often I’m using a bowl gouge.
As an experiment I tuned a dozen or so hickory bowls using only this one tool from roughing to finish. (including no sanding)
Taught me a lot. Mostly how to sharpen.
currently I use a CBN wheel and a Wolverine set up for an Ellsworth style grind.
I touch up frequently on a leather wheel.

For the insides of bowls I have a large scraper I refer to as the “big butter knife” which should give you an idea of its shape.

As for brands - I am satisfied with the price/ performance on the Hurricane brand tools. Favorite is a Superflute bowl gouge that was a gift.

Size - bigger is better for my purposes provided it isn’t in the way of what I need to do. I find the more massive tools are easier to control and make for smooth motions.

Misc- I picked up a Sorby brand tool with a crook neck for reaching undercut bowl rims. Don’t love it but it gets in where my bowl gouge wont. Guess it qualifies as a scraper. I keep a round cutter in it.
Also have a sorby ovel skew that comes in handy sometimes

If you are following someone else’s technique, it’s best to follow their tool choice. If you’re developing your own way of working. Find what works for you.
 

Roy G

Roy
Senior User
Turning tools used to be available with or without handles. The handle length depends on what scale work you are doing. Don't need a 16" handle if you are turning pens. I found a lot of commercial handles are smaller in diameter than I like. Your hand size will determine what you are comfortable with. My first turning tools were Craftsman which had short blades and skinny handles. Still have a few. I think most of my tools are Sorbys but I like the Superflute bowl gouge.

Roy G
 

JonB

Jon
User
As was said earlier, what you are going to turn and how often does make a difference in tool choice. I've been turning for 15 years or so, I've turned just about everything from pens to bowls to hollow forms to spindle work ect. There are really only a few tools needed, but there tons of "specialty" tools to lighten your wallet. With a bowl gouge, spindle gouge, parting tool and skew chisel you can turn just about anything, it's just a matter of size. I won't get into carbide tools (Easywood tools ect.) as I don't use them. They have their place but for those that plan on turning long term it will be beneficial to learn to use conventional tools.
Before the arrival of the younger tool companies (Thompson, D-Way & Carter & sons) the go to were Sorby, Crown & Henry Taylor. There are now some "house" brands such as Wood River & Benjamin's Best, these are generally lower quality but they do work.

Here's how I would break down the list:
Best - Thompson, D-way, Carter & Son - You can't go wrong with any of these, all very good quality steel, all produce size and shape options and all sell handled and unhandled.
Better - Sorby, Crown, Henry Taylor - All good quality but you pay extra for the name (mostly Sorby).
Good - Wood River and other house brands - Usable tools but at a lesser steel quality.
Not so good - Any of the "sets" such as Harbor Freight sets - Usually come with 6-8 tools of which you'll only use a couple. Good for learning to sharpen.

There are many "specialty" tools out there that will claim to solve all your problems and make you an expert turner...some work, some don't, just like anything else.

Handles - I've bought some, I've made some, they're easy to make. There are lots of options to buy with a pretty good range of prices, they all work...there really isn't a "good, better, best", depends on what the user likes. I will say that aluminum handles are cold in the winter, I like wood handles the best.
 

Pop Golden

Pop
Corporate Member
Most of my tools are Crown. I have a couple of Sorby. All of my tools are HSS & wood handles. I use the
Wolverine jig. I have a always expanding tool set. I just upgraded my main lathe to a Nova Saturn. I also have an old Delta midi lathe for little stuff. I run Nova chucks on both. As back-up I have a Shopsmith which in a pinch can be set up as a lathe. Not a great lathe, but a lathe.

Pop
 

Hmerkle

Hank
Corporate Member
@SabertoothBunny I noticed a recurring theme here - you asked about tools and tool handles, and many people eluded to it, but how do you plan to sharpen your tools? If you don't have a grinder, then likely you are thinking carbide, if you do have a grinder or plan to purchase one, your next purchase is a Wolverine jig or a Wolverine-like jig, because like any other "hand tool" you need to be able to sharpen it reliably and with repeatability. YES, just like some handplane people you can learn to sharpen your tools free-hand, while you are trying to perfect your turning skill is not the time to learn to sharpen freehand!
 

bob vaughan

Bob Vaughan
Senior User
My experience is that big handles for big work and little handles for small work seems to be a self-evident solution to the various turning situations.
they say, "no pictures, didn't happen", so here's some entertainment.
I've collected tools for a few years with all sorts of handles. I've made many others. Focusing on the tool's edge being presented to the wood seems more important than the handle. Some handles are radically different from the others. That difference seems to be no big deal.
Some turning tool group photos are for my archives. When I do something that I'll do again, I like to see a photo of what tools I ended up using. That way I don't have to re-invent the wheel each time I try the same project.
Some of the larger tools get their own hanging rack wherever convenient in the shop.
the last shot is of a handle profile I really like for twisty situations. The oval works great. Two sizes. Rectangular stock rounded over either with a router or shaper.
1    handles - 1.jpg
1    handles - 2.jpg
1    handles - 3.jpg
1    handles - 4.jpg
1    handles - 5.jpg
1    handles - 6.jpg
1    handles - 7.jpg
1    handles - 8.jpg
1    handles - 9.jpg
1    handles - 10.jpg
1    handles - 11.jpg
 

gritz

Robert
Senior User
I use Packard, Sorby, Thompson, Benjamín's Best, Pinnacle, Easy Wood, and home made...pretty much in that order.
 

SabertoothBunny

SabertoothBunny
User
My experience is that big handles for big work and little handles for small work seems to be a self-evident solution to the various turning situations.
they say, "no pictures, didn't happen", so here's some entertainment.
I've collected tools for a few years with all sorts of handles. I've made many others. Focusing on the tool's edge being presented to the wood seems more important than the handle. Some handles are radically different from the others. That difference seems to be no big deal.
Some turning tool group photos are for my archives. When I do something that I'll do again, I like to see a photo of what tools I ended up using. That way I don't have to re-invent the wheel each time I try the same project.
Some of the larger tools get their own hanging rack wherever convenient in the shop.
the last shot is of a handle profile I really like for twisty situations. The oval works great. Two sizes. Rectangular stock rounded over either with a router or shaper.
View attachment 200361
View attachment 200362
View attachment 200363
View attachment 200364
View attachment 200365
View attachment 200366
View attachment 200367
View attachment 200368
View attachment 200369
View attachment 200370
View attachment 200371


Do much skew work? That is a lot of tools, wowzers.
 

bob vaughan

Bob Vaughan
Senior User
Do much skew work? That is a lot of tools, wowzers.

I know several guys that have at least that many tools. Like me, they would evolve from one fad (development) to another and never dispose of the bad buying decisions of the past. When looking at the collections of others, I see the various handle sizes and designs. While there may be handle profile preferences, it seems that the priority of changing handles is pretty low. Most, like me, take what handle design we are spoon fed and work around it until that handle design becomes an unbearable annoyance.
 

Per_Dan

New User
Dan
I have a lot of Robert Sorby tools. I find them to be a good balance of price and quality. If I could afford a whole set of Thompsons, I'd get them. I started off with a set from Harbor Freight (which I don't recommend). I still use the 1/2" and 1" skew from that set, but overall not worth it (and those skews are in line to be replaced).

The tool I reach for most often are my Sorby 1/2" bowl gouge and a skew. But I'm primarily doing bowl turning and pens. The others I use infrequently depending what I'm doing are a 3/4" Woodriver Spindle Roughing Gouge, Woodriver 3/8 bowl gouge, Woodriver 3/8 spindle gouge, Sorby 1-1/4" Oval Skew, Sorby 3/4" bowl scraper. I have a few Sorby specialty tools too: spiraling/texturing system, captive ring,

If I were to categorize into good/better/best:
  • Good
    • Woodriver
  • Better
    • Sorby
    • Crown
  • Best
    • Thompson
    • Carter & Sons
  • Avoid
    • Harbor Freight & other bargain brands. Though some are better than others. You'll definitely notice a difference when stepping up in quality.

For carbides, I recommend getting them from ncwoodturningtools.com. He's a NCWW member, and his prices are very good. EasyWoodTools and the like you're paying for the name. I have his 1/2" rougher on a square bar, 1/2" Finisher on a round bar (if I were to buy again, I'd get the square bar finisher though), and the 3/8" Detailer on square bar.

Also keep in mind that you can have the best tools, they are only good while they're sharp. Better tools keep their edge longer, but it's wise to invest in a good sharpening system (or get really good freehand). I have the Wolverine jig with 2 CBN wheels, and it is quick to touch up my tools. When it's quick and easy, you'll do it more often, and the more often you sharpen, the better they'll perform.

As far as handles go, I have a 22" and 12" Sobry Sovereign handle. I picked up the 22" handle on clearance from Woodcraft years ago, and it has been excellent. I also got the optional weight that you can put in the end of the handle, and I find that I like the heft of it. I usually have my 1/2" bowl gouge in it. The 12" Sovereign I tend to put my carbide tools in. It also has a tang collet insert, and I have a 1/2" oval skew and 3/4" bowl scraper that I'll put in it. At some point I'll probably just turn some dedicated handles for my rougher and finisher carbides. I already turned a handle for my carbide detailer tool.

Handles are going to be a feel and fit for most. The Sovereign handle is straight and round (bad for rolling). The Carter handles look comfortable. Thompson handles solve the rolling problem with a hexagonal shape, though I'm not sure how they would feel in the hand.
Worth speaking!
 

Frank McGuire

New User
OutdoorBoy
I have a lot of Robert Sorby tools. I find them to be a good balance of price and quality. If I could afford a whole set of Thompsons, I'd get them. I started off with a set from Harbor Freight (which I don't recommend). I still use the 1/2" and 1" skew from that set, but overall not worth it (and those skews are in line to be replaced).

The tool I reach for most often are my Sorby 1/2" bowl gouge and a skew. But I'm primarily doing bowl turning and pens. The others I use infrequently depending what I'm doing are a 3/4" Woodriver Spindle Roughing Gouge, Woodriver 3/8 bowl gouge, Woodriver 3/8 spindle gouge, Sorby 1-1/4" Oval Skew, Sorby 3/4" bowl scraper. I have a few Sorby specialty tools too: spiraling/texturing system, captive ring,

If I were to categorize into good/better/best:
  • Good
    • Woodriver
  • Better
    • Sorby
    • Crown
  • Best
    • Thompson
    • Carter & Sons
  • Avoid
    • Harbor Freight & other bargain brands. Though some are better than others. You'll definitely notice a difference when stepping up in quality.

For carbides, I recommend getting them from ncwoodturningtools.com. He's a NCWW member, and his prices are very good. EasyWoodTools and the like you're paying for the name. I have his 1/2" rougher on a square bar, 1/2" Finisher on a round bar (if I were to buy again, I'd get the square bar finisher though), and the 3/8" Detailer on square bar.

Also keep in mind that you can have the best tools, they are only good while they're sharp. Better tools keep their edge longer, but it's wise to invest in a good sharpening system (or get really good freehand). I have the Wolverine jig with 2 CBN wheels, and it is quick to touch up my tools. When it's quick and easy, you'll do it more often, and the more often you sharpen, the better they'll perform.

As far as handles go, I have a 22" and 12" Sobry Sovereign handle. I picked up the 22" handle on clearance from Woodcraft years ago, and it has been excellent. I also got the optional weight that you can put in the end of the handle, and I find that I like the heft of it. I usually have my 1/2" bowl gouge in it. The 12" Sovereign I tend to put my carbide tools in. It also has a tang collet insert, and I have a 1/2" oval skew and 3/4" bowl scraper that I'll put in it. At some point I'll probably just turn some dedicated handles for my rougher and finisher carbides. I already turned a handle for my carbide detailer tool.

Handles are going to be a feel and fit for most. The Sovereign handle is straight and round (bad for rolling). The Carter handles look comfortable. Thompson handles solve the rolling problem with a hexagonal shape, though I'm not sure how they would feel in the hand.
Vote for Sorby here for sure. They're cheaper than the top but good enough. Of course, it depends where and how do you use it but for infrequent jobs it's sufficient
 

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