Woodturning is a captivating art that has its roots in ancient times, steeped in creativity and craftsmanship. It is a meditative process that connects our history and culture through the beauty of creation, transforming a raw piece of wood into a unique, tangible masterpiece.


Photo Source: Real Milk Paint Co LLC

What is Woodturning?

Woodturning is a form of woodworking where a piece of wood is spun on a lathe, a specialized tool that allows the craftsman to carve, shape, and manipulate the wood into a symmetrical object. This practice is often compared to pottery, as the craftsman guides tools against the spinning material to shape and form it. Unlike other types of woodworking, woodturning is dynamic, characterized by motion and rhythm, where the creative process is as charming as the finished product.


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History of Woodturning

It is believed that the early origin of woodturning was in Egypt, involving simple lathes and manual labour. The earliest, simplest form of a lathe evidence was a strap lathe which a strip of material is wrapped around the wood and pulled manually to make it turn. Until the industrial revolution, factories started leveraging water and steam power that were significantly more powerful and capable of rotating the wood at higher velocities and simplified the turning process. Nowadays,  woodturning merges utility and aesthetics, reflecting centuries of craftsmanship and cultural heritage.

Woodturning Categories

Woodturning can be divided into 2 main categories: Spindle Turning and Faceplate Turning, and each relies on specific tools and methods.

Spindle Turning


Photo Source: Fine Woodworking.com

Spindle turning involves mounting a workpiece, which is known as a "billet" between a lathe's headstock and tailstock, with the grain parallel to the lathe bed. A four-prong spur center is attached to the workpiece from the headstock and four sharp blades is used to grip the workpiece’s end, a live center at the tailstock secures the workpiece firmly yet allows it to spin freely on ball bearings. Examples of spindle turning includes chair and table legs, stair spindles.

Faceplate Turning


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Faceplate turning involves fixing a wooden block (a.k.a. blank) on a plate or a chuck and attached to a lathe's headstock, usually aligning the grain upright to the lathe bed. It uses gouges for shaping, supported by a frequently adjusted tool rest. Suited for various project sizes, it requires lathes with a large swing and low speeds, especially for larger pieces. Examples of faceplate turning includes bowls, platters and vases.


Basic Woodturning Tools


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Woodturning tools use in spindle turning and faceplate turning are different. It is crucial to utilize high quality woodturning tools however, it is equally important to understand how to use them effectively. 

The Woodturning Tools Used for Spindle Turning

1. The Spindle Roughing Gouge


Photo Source: Carter and Son Toolworks


This tool is used for turning a square or off-center workpiece into a cylinder whilst it efficiently removes substantial wood amounts. However, it does not yield the finest finish and it is not ideal for complicated tasks.


2. The Spindle Gouge

Photo Source: Carter and Son Toolworks

After the initial shaping with the spindle roughing gouge, spindle gouge can be used to get a greater precision for the workpiece. It can be used to further refine a spindle’s shape and coves, beads and other details can be created. Spindle Gouge can be recognized by its shallow flute and most of them have a fingernail grind for versatility and clearance.


3. Skew Chisel


Photo Source: Carter and Son Toolworks


This tool is used for planning wood and it creates a smooth flat surface. Although skew chisel is challenging to handle, rounded top and bottom edge ones will add more flexibility than flat ones.

4. Parting Tool

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This tool is used to separate your workpiece from scrap or unwanted materials when turning between centers.


The Woodturning Tools Used for Faceplate Turning

1. Bowl Gouge

Photo Source: Carter and Son Toolworks


Bowl Gouge has deep flutes and are used to shape both the inside and outside of a bowl. There are two standard types of bowl gouges: U shaped and V shaped. The U shaped bowl gouges are designed for smooth deep cuts within a bowl while V shaped bowl gouges are suitable for both inside and outside of a bowl and are designed for roughing and finishing.


2. Scraper


Photo Source: Carter and Son Toolworks

Scraper is used to smooth out any imperfections left by bowl gouges, the wood scrapers should maintain a sharp burr for effective scraping. There are two types of scrapers: round nose scraper and square nose scarpers. Round nose scarpers remove marks on the bowl’s interior whilst square nose scarpers remove marks on the bowl’s exterior. Scrapers that are in larger size are generally considered to be easier to handle.


Photo Source: Wood and Shop Productions & Joshua T. Farnsworth


Woodturning is a mesmerizing blend of artistry and craftsmanship that taps into the age-old connection between man and wood. It not only breathes life into a piece of timber but also unlocks a world of creativity, patience, and tranquility for the craftsman. Whether you're an experienced carpenter or just beginning your journey, woodturning promises a fulfilling and rewarding experience, opening up a world of tangible creativity right at your fingertips.

But if you think you are not quite ready to begin this new journey, you can always visit Mokuomo’s collection to see if you can get something you like. Feel free to check out the products below! Mokuomo believes that every design comes from a story. By exploring different wood arts around the world, we aim to bring different designs together. We believe that innovation is one’s design inspiring the others.


Cover photo: Wood and Shop Productions & Joshua T. Farnsworth