Quick Tips – Questions & Answers 2

A turner’s basic tool kit

Q: I have no turning experience, but my next tool purchase will be a lathe. I plan to turn everything from bowls to chess pieces. Should I buy a full set of lathe tools? Or would I be better off starting with two or three must-haves and adding tools as I begin to specialize?

A: I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT A TURNING-TOOL SET represents a very poor value. These sets are compiled by merchandising “experts” who are clueless about turning. The result is a collection of tools of which only one or two are actually worth having.

You should buy only high-speed-steel (HSS) tools and avoid the cheaper carbon-steel ones. HSS holds an edge longer and you do not need to worry about burning it on the grinder. Powdered metal tools are now offered; but I find that they do not hold an edge any longer than HSS yet are often twice the price.

When I was young, it was cheaper to buy tools without handles. I still do that, and size my handles so I can tell a 3⁄8-in. gouge from a 1⁄2-in. one. I also use different designs for spindle tools, faceplate tools, and scrapers to make it easier to grab the tool I want. Even if you don’t turn your handles, buying brands with different handles helps you pick out a tool quickly.

I recommend the following starter tools:
½-in. spindle gouge – A shallow flute is better than a deep one.
¾-in. to 1¼-in. spindle roughing gouge – The bigger the better.
1-in. to 1¼-in. skew chisel – Rectangular is the traditional shape, but oval is easier for a beginner.
3⁄8-in. beading and parting tool – Great for sizing work with calipers, sizing tenons, and cutting beads.
1⁄16-in. or 1⁄8-in. diamond parting tool – Diamond is superior to a rectangular cross section.
½-in. V-point scraper – Great for making chucks.
½-in. bowl gouge – T he next size to get is ¼ in.
1¼-in. dome scraper – The wider and heavier the better.
¼-in. to 1-in.-wide old files, screwdrivers, chisels, etc. – These make great scrapers. Grind them into whatever shape you need.

Buy one at a time. A set of turning tools often contains tools you’ll rarely need. This group will get you started on spindle and faceplate turning, plus the different handles will let you distinguish one tool from another more easily.

My laminated curve is shrinking

Q: Two months ago, I laminated a U-shaped curve from approximately 40 strips of 1⁄16-in.-thick African mahogany using yellow glue. The finished piece has a 16-in. radius and 16-in. legs, and is 2½ in. square in cross section. The problem is that the curve has tightened so that the ends of the legs are now more than 2 in. closer together. The lamination shows no sign of slippage. What happened?

A: THE PROBLEM WAS CAUSED by two related factors: too many laminations and the wrong glue. This combination introduced excessive moisture into the wood via the water-based yellow glue. As the water evaporated, it caused the wood to contract. Then the adhesive itself contracted as it continued to harden. To see this happen, leave a few ounces of yellow glue in an old cup and watch it pull away from the sides as it dries.

It should take firm hand pressure to bend an individual lamination around the form. If the laminations are thin and too easily bent, then there may be too many and thus too much glue. Alternatively, if the laminations are too thick, there will be a lot of stress along each glueline. Some springback will occur immediately when removed from the form, with continued movement caused by cold creep (the glue stretching). For your curve, I recommend about 26 laminations, each 3⁄32 in. thick.

A better adhesive than a water-based glue is Unibond 800, which is alcohol-based and eliminates the moisture shrinkage problem. I apply it with a notched metal spreader made by Hyde, model No. 19120. The very small notches leave the perfect amount of adhesive for laminating or veneer work. Finally, the clamping pres-sure has to be adequate and consistent. Otherwise, the uneven glueline will promote unpredictable movement.


1. Thickness the plies correctly. You should be able to bend individual plies around the form using hand pressure alone.

2. Use the best glue for laminating. A two-part urea-formaldehyde glue will not intro-duce excessive moisture into a laminated part, reducing the chances of shrinkage as the glue cures.

3. Apple a thin, even coat of glue. Use a notched metal spreader to apply an even coat of glue to each ply.

Why aren’t all planes skewed?

Q: When planing with a normal plane, I always seem to end up skewing it a little to ease the cut. Also, my Lie-Nielsen skew block plane does everything from raising panels to trimming rabbets to paring end grain on small boards. So why don’t they make all planes skewed?

A: THE SLICING ACTION of a skewed plane, whether the plane is designed that way or is a regular plane used at an angle, lowers the cutting angle slightly and slices the wood fibers, making for a sweeter feel and a superior cut.

However, when you can skew a plane so easily in use, why build one with a skewed blade, bed, and mouth? (Sharpening is more complicated, too.) The only planes de-signed with a skew are those that must work in a straight-ahead manner. The Stanley and Lie-Nielsen No. 140 are designed for situations where you can’t skew the plane.

Uses for skewed planes. These specialty planes are for situations when the tool can be used only in a straight line, such as beveling a raised panel or trimming a rabbet.