It could be said that a lathe tool is
only as good as the skill of the person wielding it, and in essence, this
is true. Give a master woodturner even the cheapest of turning tools, and
when properly sharpened and honed, they can make that tool work wonders!
And hence we come to the commonly
asked question about turning tools... and that is "Do I need to spend a
fortune on the best turning tools to get good results?"
The answer is no, but higher quality
turning tools will generally require less sharpening and last longer.
Perhaps a more important decision though is what types of turning tools
you need. There are hundreds of profiles available, all designed for
specific tasks, and if you are new to woodturning, you may not want to
spend thousands on top turning tools to find out you don't actually use
half of those you just dished out your life savings for.
Enter the lower priced, budget turning
tools. Here you can buy a starter set or individual tools at a reduced
cost, and when you have the basic skills down, you might like to look at
those higher priced specialty turning tools down the track which might
hold the edge longer and require less sharpening. But as the first
paragraph mentions, you can get master level results from even the
cheapest tools when placed in the well-trained hands.
The new Northwood range of turning
tools claim to offer the best value and quality compromise in turning
tools in the Australian market today. Let's see if that claim holds true!
Northwood Turning Tools
Now, I don't claim to be a master woodturner by any means, but I have
used my fair share of woodturning tools in the past, and
from all different price ranges. I have a set of the cheapest turning
tools I could find ($30 for 8) right up to some of the most expensive
tools on the market today (Robert Sorby, Crown, Hamlet etc) where one
single tool can cost well over $100 alone. My most expensive turning tool
is a specialty gouge retailing for $190!
Northwood turning tools probably fit
somewhere in the middle of this range. Northwood offer 29 different tools
in their turning tool line covering a range of popular profiles and
turning tool types.
The tools from the range I picked up
and have been testing include the following:
Each turning tool features a
comfortable wood handle turned from American walnut stock with what
appears to be a satin varnish finish. The handle is quite traditional
in shape and fits in the hands quite comfortably. Handle diameter varies
along the shaft and varies also between turning tools. The "heavier"
turning tools like the roughing gouge and bowl gouge have larger handles
both in diameter and in length, with these tool handles measuring roughly
13 inches in length. The finer detail tools like the beading tool and oval
skew have much shorter handles. These tools do not require as long a
handle, and in fact, you don't really want a long handle when working with
detail turning tools as they can often be more a hindrance than a help in
these cases. But for the big tools, large and solid handles are certainly
par for the course.
Each tool features a standard brass
ferrule that helps "mate" or transition the wooden handle to the tool
And speaking of tool steel, the
Northwood Tools range of turning tools feature High Speed Steel (HSS) as
standard with a much reduced carbon content (according to the marketing
blurb). This steel is harder than traditional blend carbon steel which is
what makes up most of the really cheap line of turning tools you can buy
(like the $30 set I mentioned above). There are many levels of HSS quality
as well. Some of the most expensive turning tools use M2 HSS, or ASP2060
HSS, all variants of high speed steel that are supposedly stronger and
hold an edge much longer than regular HSS.
Each Northwood tool comes shipped with
its particular profile already ground, as you would expect of course,
however, it is mentioned that each tool will require some honing for best
results and this is indeed true. I did try out each tool on the lathe
briefly straight out of the packaging and while they do work (slowly and
leave a fairly rough surface), they will
need extra work to get them up to their full cutting potential. This is
really not much different from any turning tool brand or range. Even most
of the more expensive brands will come from the factory with non-honed
edges, so expect to spend some time on each tool to hone them to full
cutting order. This may involve a fair amount of time depending on the
profile of each tool. Your straight edge tools can be honed quite quickly
while your rounded gouges will take a little more time. It helps to have a
wet sharpener with appropriate jigs for turning tools to speed this
There is always great debate as to
whether you should have a mirror finish on your turning tools for best
results, or whether tools taken straight from the grinder are sufficient.
There is no hard and fast rule. Make whichever rule for yourself based on
what works best. I have spent a good deal of time mirroring an edge on a
turning tool only to find it cuts only slightly better than one that has
been properly sharpened and touched up regularly on a dry grinder. Indeed,
some particular tools work best when the small burr is left on the tool
after dry grinding. Many pro turners are quite happy to use the dry
grinder only for their turning tools. So don't feel you need to spend
hours on sharpening a turning tool to a mirror finish. Just find what
works best for you. I am quite happy to take my roughing gouges and
scrapers to the dry grinder and touch up the edges then take them straight
back to the lathe. I prefer to use the wet grinder and honing wheel for
skew chisels, parting tools and the smaller spindle or detail
gouges however. You will quickly find what works best for each tool, and
the situation at hand.
As for the Northwood turning tools
holding their edge, I would have to say that they do quite well in this
regard. It is blindingly obvious to me that they hold an edge much longer
than my cheap carbon steel tools, however, they do not match my only
ASP2060 tool's edge holding power, but this is to be expected of course.
As far as I can tell, and there are tons of variables involved here, the
Northwood turning tools seem to hold their edge equally as well as my
Robert Sorby HSS chisels which cost quite a bit more. I do tend to like
the handles on my Hamlet tools slightly better though, but this is all
part of the compromise you make with lower priced tools.
In terms of actual performance and end
results, the Northwood tools work equally as well as my best turning tools
when properly sharpened. Heck, even my carbon steel tools can do as good a
job as my Hamlets or Crown turning tools when correctly profiled and edged, the
difference being primarily in the tool's material and edge holding ability.
I would happily rate the Northwood tools on par with my regular Sorby HSS
tools though. The Northwood tools work quite well and are comfortable to
This is the largest of the tools I tested, and in itself is a
BIG turning tool. With a two inch wide cutting surface, the heavy roughing
gouge makes easy work of turning down a square blank down to round, or
turning a raw branch straight from the tree to true round. It features a
constant radius edge and flat ground face, so it's best used for
"roughing" blanks primarily. Because of the straight edge across the front
of the tool it is not really suitable for forming curves as the flat front
edge does not allow for much swinging of the tool. Rather, it is designed
for a side-to-side rolling action. It could be used on really long-swept
curves for rough shaping, but it is predominantly a rapid material removal
tool and is often used first in the turning process to prepare stock for
other turning tool use. Because of its size, the two inch gouge is ideal
for roughing larger and heavier blanks. One rule of turning is to try to
reduce tool chatter/vibration as much as possible. This makes turning not only
safer, but it also produces a better result and faster material removal.
You will know what chatter/bounce is when you try to rough a large blank using
say a 3/4" roughing gouge. The gouge will be bouncing all over the place
as the heavy blank knocks it around. The chattering may continue up until
the blank becomes perfectly round. With a heavier gouge, the tool actually
weighs more and its size helps to absorb vibrations a little better as
well, allowing the user to control the tool more easily and hence remove
material faster, and better control that material removal.
For this turning tool, the dry grinder
got a workout to refine the edge before use. Once in a working order, the
gouge made easy work of most of my heavier roughing tasks. I was quite
happy overall with the tool. Perhaps another inch or two on the handle
length would have made it ideal for me, but I do have long arms so I
prefer slightly longer tool handles. Nonetheless, if you need a heavy
roughing gouge, the Northwood NWT-13 is a steal at AUD$52.00. Top of the
line two inch roughing gouges can go for up to three times this amount.
There is plenty of steel there to grind away so the tool should last a
fair while too before it becomes too short to be used effectively.
No guessing what this tool is used for... That's right, to turn
bowls of course. However, some turners have found other uses for bowl
gouges, but I am yet to use it for any other purpose. The bowl gouge also
comes in several sizes. Basically you pick the size that best suits the
size of bowl you want to make, although even smaller bowl gouges can turn
large bowls. The 1/2" size seems a good size for smaller to medium sized
bowls. The tool can be used on its own to complete a bowl from scratch.
There are also many flute shapes and designs for bowl gouges but these
tools generally have higher sides (deeper flutes) and narrower mouths. The
NWT-20 gouge has more of a rounded V-shaped flute as opposed to some
gouges with a U-shaped flute. Again, horses for courses on what works
best. It's very much an individual thing.
You an craft a bowl in many different
ways, but personally, I use a bowl gouge almost exclusively. I usually
shape the outside of the bowl first and then only switch to a parting tool
to make a recess in the bowl base for the chuck jaws when I turn the bowl
around. If I am making a bowl foot, I will generally shape this with the
bowl gouge for the most part, then finish with a dovetail scraper for the
foot edge (and usually only for mounting in chuck jaws for turning bowl
around). The deep flutes on the bowl gouge allow more swing and rotation
of the tool while still offering a cutting edge to the workpiece. This is
important for bowls where the tool might be needed to engage a curved edge
at often very acute angles. Once the outside of the bowl is formed I will
flip it and chuck it up and then carve out the inside. Again, the bowl
gouge can be used from start to end because of its shape and grind. The
Northwood NWT-20 bowl gouge has a flat grind around the flute, as opposed
to swept back fingernail grind around the upper flutes. Again, certain
designs must be used in certain ways for maximum effectiveness, but out of
the pack the default grind will work well (after you hone the edge of
course) and being a flat grind, it is much simpler to sharpen and hone.
Again, there is quite a lot of length
to the steel to allow for many sharpenings or perhaps even a re-grind of
the profile to suit your turning style, and at AUD$24, I don't think you
will find a better bowl gouge for that price.
I'll stop well short of saying they
are as good as my Hamlet or Crown turning tools, because the fact is that
they simply are not, but at a third of the price, they work just fine for
me, and my wallet certainly isn't complaining!
Northwood Turning Tools Photos
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The Northwood Oval Skew Chisel
Standard brass ferrule transitions
Handles are quite well finished
The big 2" roughing gouge makes easy work on getting square stock
turned down to round.
Once properly honed, the spindle gouge was a pleasure to use.
The skew chisel provides a great surface finish once you can master it!
Simply the easiest and fastest way to make beads is with the Northwood