Hopefully Helpful Hints: Gallery 1: Traditional Turning


I don’t pretend to be anything other than an average amateur turner. I love my turning, but I have never felt the need to develop my skills to a point when I didn’t need my multi-faceted turning tool (ie abrasive!). I can turn a bead with a skew in the privacy of my own workshop, but cannot make a series of beads the same size along a piece of wood without a beading tool. There, I’ve admitted to all and sundry that I cheat!

I try to turn work that I enjoy and that I would like to keep. There is nothing special about my traditional turning, but I have found a couple of useful tips along the way as a result of numerous disasters and here they are, if you are interested.

Making sure there is no bump in the bottom of a bowl or platter.

I make a lot of very thin bowls / platters in dry timber. The technique for getting thin walls is the same as you would use on wet wood – you do a small section right down to the thickness you want and then do the next one. You never try to go back or you will get chatter (or shatter!!!).

As you progress down the sides of the bowl, you need to keep a hefty amount of wood in the centre over the chuck to give you stability and stop the work from flexing and changing shape.

The reason I use dry wood is so that the final shape will be stable and will not warp enough to notice visibly.

There is a temptation to remove the centre when you get to it and carry on making the curve from where you have got down the side.

As I worked towards the centre of a piece I noticed I would be twisting – but the centre of the twist was not the centre of the bowl – thus leaving a bump in the centre.

I found that if I took off the waste support material flat (ie parallel to the rest) and then started to generate the curve from the centre of this flat area, gradually moving the cut further out, I got a much better curve, and when I reached the edge of the flat, I would have one final cut, the same thickness all the way that blended the 2 curves together.

Perhaps a picture will help:

Removing the bowl centre

It is a bit exaggerated - the step that you end up with is generally about 1mm - but it seems to work - and sinking the curve into the foot seems to help make the curve a really satisfying shape!

Torn grain near the foot of a bowl

I like to raise my bowls up from the surface they are sitting on and never use a recess to chuck the piece. On a thin bowl a recess would soon become a hole and instead of a bowl you would have a lamp shade. I try to cut rather than scrape wood and usually get a reasonable finish from the deep fluted bowl gouges that I use (Henry Taylor super-flute – basic 45 degree angle – straight grind. I rarely use a swept-back grind).

However carefully you cut and however sharp the tool, the 5mm next to the foot is often very difficult to turn without a little torn grain being visible. A pull cut gets close to the spigot but can tear the grain. A pushing cut from the edge to the middle also tends to tear the grain. You want to cut from the middle outwards to get the cleanest result, but you cannot get to the 5mm or so closest to the spigot.

There are all kinds of scraping tools that can be used to save the day – my preference is to shear scrape with a Gary Rance round bar skew chisel with a burr pushed onto the cutting edge with a diamond file (they come in several sizes – I mainly use the ¼ inch and the ½ inch and aim to sharpen them straight across with the grinder set up to 30 degrees). The burr is easily removed when you want to use the tool as a standard skew chisel and I prefer the straight across grind (without a long point) – it is very versatile.

You really want to cut the wood rather than scrape if possible, so the old cabinet-makers trick of putting a burr on one side of the tool by gently sharpening the other side with a diamond file gives you delightful, tiny perfect shavings when you cut with the tool at 45 degrees to the wood and the rest level with the middle of the bowl. It has to be a very light cut – especially when reverse turning the base of a really thin bowl or platter!


As previously mentioned, I cheat! I have never had the determination to do enough practice to be able to make a row of identical beads on a piece. My beads have been most successful using Ashley Isles beading tools – they come in a variety of widths and do not break the bank!

They have a semi-circular flute which is nearly the same width as the tool and the end is ground at about a 30 degree angle to form a point that shows the profile of the bead. It is sharpened by rubbing a diamond file over the sloping face.

You have the tool rest set at about the middle of the piece and set the tool on the rest with the flute downwards. This is not intuitively the way you would present the tool, but it is the right way. You then gently push the tool into the work. I have found that gently rocking the end of the handle up and down can improve the cut. If you push too hard until the whole profile of the tool is in contact with the bead you are cutting, you are likely to pull splinters of wood off the centre of the bead. Stopping just before the centre touches the wood prevents this risk and gentle sanding will complete the bead – or you can raise the handle to drop the point of the tool below centre to complete the cut as the centre starts to make contact.