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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Woodturning

                                       October 2010

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.      

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.


This month we look at …… Woodturning

WoodturningOn my windowsill in our house we have a lovely wooden vase that was made by a girlfriend. While it is not quite perfect or even symmetrical in shape, the warm red brown colour glows from the polished wood, and the rougher inside adds a real design feature. I love it. The amazing thing was that this was only the second item my friend had ever made in wood. She had only become interested in the hobby after visiting a neighbour who showed her the basics and then she bought her own second hand wooden lathe and she was off.

Working with wood is said to be extremely therapeutic, choosing and handling wood brings a sense of permanency and calm; working with wood that has grown locally or is centuries old all brings unique experiences.

Wood turning has been with us for centuries, the Egyptians used to “turn” wood with a rope while a fellow worker used a sharp tool to cut in the shapes. A number of other methods of woodturning evolved over the years, all based on turning wood against a fixed cutting tool. When the industrial revolution arrived, the development of a motorized lathe heralded a major change in woodturning. Lathe by the way just means the machine that rotates about a horizontal axis so that the wood can be held firmly and rotated while it is shaped by a fixed tool. The introduction of the motorized operation ensured a smooth consistent turning of the wood which meant items could be made with a totally professional finish.

Today in business most woodturning is computer operated, but for people enjoying it as a hobby, there are dozens of different lathes to choose from and costs can vary enormously. Look out for small electrically run lathes which are perfect for home use although, if you are buying second hand, take care to ensure the machine is in good working order. You also need to be willing to invest in woodworking tools and while this all sounds complex, in fact again they don’t have to cost a fortune and you can start very cautiously with limited equipment until you become more enthusiastic and knowledgeable. One experienced wood turner said that for a hobbyist who really wants to make nice items, they would need the following:

Spindle Roughing Gouge about 3/4"
Spindle gouge with fingernail profile about 3/8"
Parting tool 1/8"
Bowl Gouge 3/8"
Round Nose Scraper 3/4" or 1"
Square Ended Scraper 3/4" or 1"
Skew Chisel about 1" or, alternatively a Beading and Parting Tool 3/8"

It looks a bit off putting but you can buy sets in nice little packages and suddenly it all looks a lot less daunting. Again these don’t have to be expensive and many are available through clubs and on the internet. has an online shop where you can purchase a set of good tools for under £100 and there are numerous other avenues where you can buy woodturning tools.

To begin with, most people make very simple wooden objects but as you learn what wood works well and you gain confidence in your skills, it is amazing the intricate wooden items that can be made. Being able to give lovely items to friends, to village fetes, or even to sell at a local market, can turn a fun hobby into a lifetime interest.

Probably the very best way to get started is to join a local class if you can find one or to contact local wood turners. There are clubs in the UK that offer a lot of support for beginners, for instance the Association of Wood Turners of Great Britain ( has branches across the country and offers a mass of information as well as details of numerous branches. These branches are very active, holding regular meetings and often have a program of activities which include demonstrations from both professional and amateur wood turners on subjects such as making better bowls, artistic turning and even decorative work and spirals.

There is another organisation, the British Wood Turners (, which also offer a lot of advice and support.

Like any worthwhile activity, it takes a bit of effort and time to get started, but don’t be put off. Every wood turner in the UK had to start, and most are so enthusiastic that you will find all the support you need to get involved in this lovely pastime.

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