Introduction: Basic Introduction to Wood Turning for FUN, for Gifts, FOR SAFETY (updated)

Ive completed a number of guides for various wood turning projects, so I thought I would do one that covered a few of the areas you need to consider before during and after you have made your hand made in wood?? gift.

The question marks are there because wood is not the only material available to you for this hobby.


Examples of materials include:

  • Wood...... Dahhhh but also
  • Resins .. You might have heard about Corian, (this just one brand) another is called Gemstone
  • Deer antler and other forms of horn e.g. buffalo (as long as its not endangered and you get from reputable source)
  • Polyurethane resins .... These you mix yourself and cast your own blanks

Just a few I'm sure there are others.

One thing to keep in mind is that every material will have its own working properties so have a bit of a practice before starting your projects in a new one.

The pictures above are examples of the kinds of things you can make as gifts from wood or other materials using a lathe

At the end of this guide I have included images and links for my other projects created using this tool.

Thanks for reading and if you like please take the time to vote in the entered competitions.

Step 1: SAFETY

There are a number of safety issues related to having fun in a workshop.

  • Sharps
  • Collisions
  • Moving objects
  • Vapors
  • Dermatitis


Watch your fingers, by its nature working with a lathe means that you will be handling chisels which have to be kept sharp, not only so you can do your carving, but also for your safety. A blunt tool can dig in and put you at risk. So handle and store them with care.

For my chisels I have put up an MDF board and attached battery clips to hold all of the tools I need while working, even the jaws for my chuck.

Other chances to cut yourself come from drills, band saws both of which have fast moving cutting edges with which there is a simple rule ...... Keep your fingers clear and your eyes open.


Injuries here come from tools that rotate and include the lathe itself, but also the drill press,band saw and the orbital sander. However these are more likely to cause glancing collisions.

A more serious injury will come from you losing concentration while actually working with the lathe. Its incredibly easy to get your fingers , hand trapped between the tools rest and the rotating work piece, especially if your finishing a piece.

Guides for finishing and turning in general

  1. Use the tool rest - keep your hands behind it when the lathe is operating
  2. Never use fabric for application of polish/wax it can snag and pull your hand in.
  3. Long hair .... Tie it back and don't reach to the floor while the lathe is spinning.
  4. Posture........ Its important to be comfortable while working, make sure the tools are at an appropriate height for you.. This might be a case of trial and error, just take your time.
  5. Noise...... Wear ear defenders
  6. Eyes - you are only born with two and they don't grow back. Make sure you use safety specs or more preferably a full face visor.

Moving objects

All of the tools you use move in one way or another, either under power or by you, make sure to follow manufacturers instructions at all times.

Lighting ..... Get it right:

Fast moving spinning parts in poor lighting look stationary especially while wearing ear defenders and you can be fooled into touching them. To help avoid this shine a light on the turning part(use an incandescent bulb not a fluorescent light)


You will at some point be using glues,was and polish on you projects most of which will give off some form of vapor, flammable or otherwise. Its very important to wear some form of mask especially if you are working for long periods. Its OK having good ventilation, however exposure can be cumulative so remember to take breaks away from the workshop.

Dust is also an inhalation issue being both an irritant and combustible. An old hoover and a brush are a must for keeping your shop tidy and the dust down, as well as moving it between tools like the drill and band saw to remove dust at source. I also have a dust extractor with a pipe to the turning area.

With all that I also use face mask and have recently purchased the teen pro air hood a great buy and well work the money.


This can be an issue and you would think that using gloves is required. Ordinarily yes, but only for work away from the lathe. Use gloves on the lathe at your own risk as it increases the risk of being pulled into the spinning work. Instead use a thicker bit of tissue to apply the polish etc to the spinning project.

Step 2: Turning Differing Materials

Turning is great fun, however starting with a good material will help. There is a huge range:

  • Wood
    • Soft ... Open grain... Easy to turn, but produces more fibrous particles rather than clean shavings
    • Hard... Close grain.. Produces clean shavings. However a lot of hard woods get that way from the closeness of the grain as well as a high resin content. While the clean shavings will help keep the dust down the resin will kill the edge on your tool meaning more frequent sharpening.
  • Self cast resins... Greater for pens, but if you catch it while turning you will get flying bits and chips. Not so bad unless you are close to finishing. I have had a number of pens ruined by this close to being finished.... The important part of this is what I tell my son.

I tell him that the best thing about having to start And he replies... The chance to improve... Hes 9 and gets it.

  • Corian..... This is a propitiatory material used for kitchen work tops and is really great to turn, it works well gives little in the way of catches and chips.

Things to watch out for.... Mainly flaws in natural materials like wood

  • Knots
  • Cracks from drying wood

Ways to deal with this are firstly decide if you like the flaw, if not pick a different piece. If you you like the flaw then use it, but keep your tools sharp this will help, but I think one of the best approaches is to feed the flaw superglue, let it set then take small cuts and when the flaw reappears apply more glue until you done withe the chisels.

Be cautious when changing between materials ....everyone has its own characteristics. For example:

  • Self-cast resins ... Solid and can shatter
  • Corian.............. Solid, will catch to start with, but once the blank is rounded off will turn very smoothly
  • Hard woods..... Nice shavings lower dust than soft wood
  • Soft woods ..... Very easy to turn, lots of fiber dust.

An example of an issue... if you get used to soft wood then switch to hard its easy to catch the spinning material. And can jar you a bit. Don't worry when this happens just try again and ensure your tools are sharp while taking small cuts.

Step 3: Tools to Start Turning

The tools are the easy bit. To start wood turning all you really need is the lathe(with its associated parts ..see individual manufacturers). The next thing you require are the chisels, get a good set ..... Don't use them out of the box, sharpen them first.

For anything specialized like pen turning a pen mandrel is useful, also for the more fancy stuff the Robert Sorry spiraling tool is great. Also for pens a barrel trimming tool is useful for a lot of materials, but not all.

Step 4: Tools for Preparation

A typical list of tools that are helpful for the wood turner is:

  • Pillar drill.... A bench mounted one is sufficient
  • A selection of drill bits
  • An orbital sander.... Really a nice to have.
  • Bandsaw..... Very useful

Step 5: Finishing Your Project


You can get an almost finished piece on a lathe by ensuring the sharpness of your tools and by practising. If you get it weight you may not need to sand.


Buy a rang a sanding grits and work from the course at to finest. The starting grit will depend on how well you turn the piece. When you get to the dinner grit you can also add materials like friction polish or wood wax 22 as you sand to ensure smooth finish.


The shavings you make during turning are not coetely waste. Grab a hand full and use them on the rotating piece,the shavings will polish the wood(simple, cheap and easy)

For pens I sometimes apply supper glue to wood pen barrels and polish using the pen pads(see the images above) the combination gives a fantastic finish if you get it right.

Step 6: Projects I Have Created

The images below are the links to the instructables I've created using a wood lathe

ProjectGuide TitleImage and Link
DecorationsWooden Cube in a sphere Christmas Bauble Tree Ornament
Wooden Christmas tree decorations
Wooden Christmas Carousel Ornament (Roundabout - Decoration)
PensMaking a Pen is Easy and Fun
ToysSpinning Top and Helicopter
A Wand for Harry Potter - Magic

This is a piece made in four parts (2 resin sections and two separate wood components)
UtensilsHand Turned Tea light or Eggcup
Recycling paper to make seed pots
Tools and electronicsLight Spectrometer from a "battery powered" head inspection lamp

I used a Lathe in this project to make some of the components of the spectrometer.
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