Types of tools

Polelathe Tools The choices presented can seem a bit overwhelming for anyone new to turning, especially when considering what to purchase. However, although a tool may have been designed to fulfil a particular function (as its name may imply), a turner soon learns that most tools can be used for several purposes; whereby different parts of the profile can be used to produce different features. Because of this, a turner can get by with very few (4-5) tools to begin with.

Turning tools for use with a pole-lathe may be considered under three main groupings which are:

  • Chisels
  • Gouges
  • Scrapers


The term ‘chisels‘ is usually reserved for flat-bladed cutting tools which are used to shave away material similar to carpenters’ chisels. These chisels come in a variety of widths. Their primary function is to cut flat surfaces on the work-piece, particularly for finishing cuts. An exception to this rule is the skew chisel, ground at an angle across the blade, and which can be used for intricate profiling as well. It is possibly the most ubiquitous tool in the turner’s tool kit (once mastered!) .




Gouges are similar to chisels and perform the same function by shaving material from the work-piece. The term is usually applied to tools with a blade of curved cross-section. As with chisels they come in a variety of widths and they can be supplied with different radii for a given width. The wider, shallower profiles are often called ‘roughing gouges’ as they provide a means of removing large quantities of material very quickly. By rotating them on their sides to present a flat surface to the work, they can also be used to produce a reasonably flat and straight surface. A roughing gouge is usually the first tool a turner uses on a new work-piece.



Scrapers perform a different function from chisels and gouges. As the name implies, they ‘scrape’ away material instead of shaving. An important distinction between shaving tools and scrapers is that shaving tools rely on grinding and honing the cutting edge to razor sharpness; whereas a scraper relies on leaving burrs on the edge to scrape away the material. Scrapers are much less efficient at removing material than chisels and gouges.

Turners usually make their own scrapers by grinding recycled pieces of medium to high carbon steel.


Other types of tool

Some tools do not fall readily into any of the above categories, as they can be used to shave and scrape. Typical examples are v-point (parting) tools¬† and ‘ferrets’ as shown below.

Parting Ferret

Bowl turning

Bowl turning presents a different set of challenges as much of the turning is carried out at continually changing angles to the centre of rotation. Tools often tend to have longer handles for extra leverage because of the higher forces involved in turning bowls. Specialised tools such as bowl hooks may be used for some of the work. These tend to be produced in limited quantities for sale by pole-lathe turners who also do some blacksmithing work; or by pole-lathe turners exclusively for their own use.


The information presented above is a personal view and other turners may possibly disagree and offer a different perspective. The selection of a particular tool to perform a specific function tends to become a matter of personal preference. The basic rule is to use whatever works (safely and effectively) for you. The best advice is to watch a number of pole-lathe turners (rather than power lathe turners) at work and to form one’s own opinion. Most pole-lathe turners will welcome questions and are very willing to share their knowledge.