Recommended woodturning tools

In woodturning, the tools you use and the edges that you put on them have an outsized impact on the results that you can achieve. I remember when I bought my first lathe and thought that Harbor Freight chisels would be acceptable. Boy, was I wrong. Cheap steel makes rough cuts, requires frequent sharpening, and can be dangerous if the parts aren't made well enough to handle the pressures generated on a modern lathe. 

I've used some cheaper tools, and I've used some hyper-premium tools, and while the hyper-premium lines are well worth the money, you can still get a lot of value out of lower-prices tools found and traditional retailers. I've listed my recommendations for newer woodturners below.

Hyper-premium tools

In this category, I stick with Carter and Son Toolworks. Their steel is the highest quality that I've ever used, and it holds an edge longer than any other steel I've tried. I have their 16" and 20" metal handles, and they are heavy and basically bulletproof. 

These tools do cost a pretty penny, but if you're spending significant time on the lathe, it's worthwhile to invest in your steel. The less you have to grind, the less material comes off your tools, and the longer you can go with the same tool. The longer you can turn between sharpenings, the more you can get done on the lathe in a single day. Not everybody can afford to spend this kind of money on a single tool, but in most cases I think it's worth saving up for this level of quality.

If I use a tool on a daily basis, or if it handles the majority of my work, I save up from all of my craft shows and I buy Carter and Son tools.

1/2" Bowl Gouge

1" Skew chisel

Starter set


Mid-tier tools

If you can't afford the hyper-premium line of tools, there is a sub-tier of very good tools that can be had for a bit less money, but which won't let you down in terms of construction. I usually buy my less-used tools in this tier (things like parting and beading tools).

In this tier, I tend to prefer Robert Sorby's line of tools. They are a longstanding company with an excellent reputation, and their tools aren't all that expensive. They also offer unhandled tools, which can help you save a little cash if you're willing to do the work of making your own handles. 

3/8" bowl gouge

3/8" Easybeader

3/16" parting tool


Value tools

This tier of tools is reserved for very infrequently-used tools, but I did start out with this tier, and I did find some diamonds in the rough. There are a couple of companies that are producing startlingly-competent tools for rock-bottom prices. My IMOTECHOM 1/2" bowl gouge still sees frequent use in my shop to this day. 

These types of tools are also useful for turners who want to experiment with their grinding. If you botch a $30 bowl gouge, who cares? You've learned a lesson and haven't massacred your pride-and-joy custom-fluted ubertool. 

I've used a couple of these to experiment with bottom-bowl grinds (like Mahoney sells for a pretty price) and Irish grinds. It's nice not to feel like you're going to ruin something valuable when you step to the grinder to try something new. 

That said, I've also found these to be competent tools for the beginner. You might not hand them down to your grandchildren, but they'll get you started producing works that you're proud of.

1/2" bowl gouge

Roughing gouge set

3/16" parting tool